Can Stress Cause Hair Loss? Everything You Need to Know
Dr. Angel Rivera
If you’ve ever experienced unexpected hair loss, you know how taxing the experience can be in terms of emotional stress. Hair loss can be caused by many different factors, including age (like hitting menopause), genetics, certain health conditions, the use of some medications, overall hair health, and more, but no matter when it occurs, it is usually not welcome.
The stressors that we undergo in our daily lives can cause mental, emotional, and physical symptoms, but can stressful events or chronic stress cause hair loss? You might be surprised to find that there are a number of different types of hair loss, some of which may be triggered by stress. Here’s everything you need to know about hair loss due to stress.
Can stress cause hair loss?
There are many reasons why hair loss can occur, including stress. Although there are many different types of hair loss, three are commonly associated with high stress levels: telogen effluvium, alopecia areata, and trichotillomania.
Telogen effluvium is a type of hair loss that occurs as a result of fewer hair follicles growing hair (i.e. less new hair sprouting from the head); it is considered the second most common type of hair loss and is the type of hair loss that many women experience after giving birth. Stress and dietary problems are the most common causes of telogen effluvium. The condition gets its name from the telogen phase of hair growth, during which the follicle is considered to be at rest.
People who experience telogen effluvium find an increased number of hairs starts falling out, with noticeable thinning hair often occurring in patches and near the center of the scalp. While some people lose hair all over their scalp or lose all of their hair, this is uncommon. People of any age and gender can experience telogen effluvium, but the good news is that the condition isn’t permanent and the hair loss patients experience is completely reversible. The hair follicles are not damaged by the condition, which means hair regrowth can occur over a matter of months or years.
Alopecia areata is an autoimmune disease in which the body’s immune system thinks that the hair follicles are foreign bodies and tries to attack them. Although the onset of alopecia areata can be triggered by a number of different factors, one of the most common is stress. As the immune system attacks the hair follicles, hair begins to fall out, often in round patches.
When the condition only affects the healthy hair on the scalp, it is referred to as alopecia areata; when it affects healthy hair on the entire body, it is known as alopecia universalis. Hair lost as a result of alopecia areata can grow back and fall out again a number of times over the course of a person’s lifetime. An estimated seven million people of all ages and genders are affected by the condition in the United States.
Trichotillomania, sometimes referred to as hair pulling disorder, most commonly develops during the preteen years and can continue throughout a person’s lifetime. People with trichotillomania have the urge to pull their hair out from their scalp or from other body parts; the condition is classified as an impulse control disorder.
Researchers aren’t sure what causes some people to develop trichotillomania and not others, but it often runs in families, suggesting that there may be a genetic component of the disease versus being solely based on mental wellness or impulse control alone.
People with trichotillomania may use hair pulling as a coping mechanism to deal with stress or other difficult emotions, but they also often find themselves pulling their hair without any conscious thought. Although each person with trichotillomania is different, many pull hair from their heads, eyebrows, and eyelashes, which can cause noticeable bald patches. The appearance of bald patches can cause additional feelings of stress, which can magnify the desire to pull hair.
Is hair loss caused by stress permanent?
Experiencing hair loss during times of stress often only makes the situation worse, but fortunately, hair loss caused by stress is usually not permanent. While most people are able to regrow at least some of their hair, they may need prescription medications or other hair regrowth aids in order to regrow their hair at their desired rate. If your hair loss is caused by stress, you may need to change your lifestyle in order to lower your stress levels and prevent future hair loss from occurring.
What can I do to help my hair grow back faster?
As noted above, lifestyle changes may be necessary in order to lower your stress and cortisol levels, and promote growth phases in your hair. Dietary changes, stress management techniques, and the use of topical treatments may all help your hair grow back more quickly and prevent further hair loss.
The body can experience stress as a result of not receiving enough of the nutrients it needs, potentially leading to hair growth. In order to minimize stress to your body, make sure that you are eating a healthy balanced diet rich in whole foods like fruits, vegetables, lean protein sources, and whole grains. Some nutrients, including B-complex vitamins, vitamin C, and vitamin E help promote healthy skin and hair, so it is important to ensure that you receive enough of these vitamins. Talk to your healthcare provider to discuss if adding additional dietary supplements might be a helpful treatment option for encouraging hair regrowth.
Stress management techniques
If you experience stress-related hair loss, finding techniques to manage your stress will be critical in helping to lower your risk of experiencing hair loss again in the future and allowing your hair to regrow. Although it is easier said than done, try and remove stress from your life as much as possible by setting aside unnecessary obligations at work or at home. Additionally, trying new stress management techniques can also help lower your stress levels.
- Exercise regularly: Exercise is one of the best ways to relieve stress, and it’s also great for your overall health. Even light exercise, such as going for a walk outside or practicing restorative yoga, can go a long way towards bringing your stress levels down.
- Mindfulness practices: If you’ve never tried meditation or breathing exercises, you’re missing out. Meditation can be challenging at first, but once you’ve learned the technique, you can use it to take a few moments to reset and center yourself during any challenging situation.
- Try a new hobby: Sometimes, lowering your stress levels is as simple as adding something positive to your life. Try a new hobby like gardening, painting, or whatever else sounds like a good way to spend some of your time each day. The goal is to find an enjoyable activity that gives you something to look forward to during stressful times.
- Journaling: Journaling about your thoughts or feelings can be a very helpful way to unwind from a long day. Even writing just a few sentences before bed can help your brain relax and allow you to fall asleep faster.
In addition to making some of the lifestyle changes mentioned above, topical treatments can help stop hair shedding and encourage hair regrowth depending on the type of hair loss you are experiencing. There are several treatments that can help.
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- Minoxidil (Rogaine): Topical minoxidil is easy to purchase over the counter without a prescription and can be found at any pharmacy or big box store. Topical minoxidil comes in the form of a cream, spray, and foam and can be applied to the scalp and face, including the eyebrows and beard. However, it is not designed to be used on other parts of the body. Minoxidil is produced in slightly different formulas for men and women and typically begins to produce results in about four months, although it will not work for everyone, especially in cases of widespread baldness.
- Corticosteroids: Topical corticosteroid creams are available both over the counter and by prescription only, and they are commonly used to treat alopecia areata. Your doctor may recommend the use of topical corticosteroids in conjunction with other treatments depending on the cause of your hair loss.
- Castor oil: Looking for an at-home remedy for hair regrowth? Castor oil is an old folk remedy that is said to improve hair growth in people with hair loss. Although studies on the topic are limited, initial research does show that there may be something to this theory.
Hair loss as a side effect of stress is unpleasant and unwelcome, but it doesn’t have to be permanent. In addition to lifestyle changes that can help manage your stress levels, prescription and over the counter treatments for hair loss are available. Most people who experience hair loss as a result of stress will find that their hair gradually grows back over a period of months or years.