Stress and Hair Loss: Causes, Treatment, and Prevention

Losing hair can be stressful enough, but can stress itself cause hair loss? The answer: Yes, it can.

We’ve got all the deets on how stress affects your luscious locks and what you can do to treat or prevent stress-related hair loss.

Stress-related hair loss is often linked to certain conditions.

Telogen effluvium

The life cycle of your hair involves several phases. One of these, known as telogen, is a period of rest that happens after active growth. When there’s a disturbance in the force your hair’s growth cycle, telogen effluvium can occur.

Telogen effluvium (TE) is a scalp condition most commonly triggered by a sudden change in the number of growing hairs. During TE, your hair is thrown into the resting phase earlier than usual. This leads to lots of extra shedding, especially in the areas at the top of your scalp.

According to the American Hair Loss Association, telogen effluvium is likely the second most common type of hair loss.

TE is usually caused by extreme stress and can affect up to 70 percent of the hairs on your head. TE hair loss often occurs months after the stressful event that triggers it, causing the hair to suddenly thin at once. You may notice more hair in your brush, in the shower drain, or even on your pillow at night.

TE isn’t permanent. While it can take time, the condition is totally reversible and your hair will likely grow back over time.

Stress isn’t the only trigger for TE. It can also be caused by vitamin deficiencies, hormonal changes, and certain medications, among other things.

Alopecia areata

Alopecia areata (AA) is an autoimmune disorder where your immune system basically wages war on your hair follicles. The follicles may start to shrink, causing hair growth to slow down — or even stop altogether.

Between six and seven million people in the US are affected by AA. Alopecia areata hair loss is generally patchy and can happen anywhere on your scalp.

Common AA symptoms include:

  • coin-sized patches of hair loss on the scalp
  • hair loss on other areas of the body
  • strands of hair that are thinner at the scalp
  • sudden and significant shedding over a short period of time
  • simultaneous hair loss and regrowth on different body parts
  • pitting on your fingernails

In more severe cases, alopecia can also impact the hair on the rest of your body.

While there isn’t a cure for AA, your hair can grow back. Because the disease only slows follicle production down rather than “killing” the follicles entirely, they still can be active and jump back into a growth stage — regardless of how much hair you may have lost or how long it’s been.

Because alopecia areata affects the immune system, there are several possible triggers for the condition, including stress, illness, or environmental factors.

Trichotilomania

Trichotillomania (TTM) is a condition that causes people to pull out their own hair. More commonly known as hair-pulling disorder, TTM is classified as a form of obsessive-compulsive disorder in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5 ).

People with TTM find themselves with an impulsive urge to pull hair from not only their head, but also other parts of their bodies, including eyebrows, eyelashes, facial hair, and even the hair *down there.* Some folks with trichotillomania pull their hair out without even thinking about it, while others may pull more intentionally.

Hair-pulling disorder affects around 0.5 to 2 percent of people and can lead to permanent hair loss and thinning if left untreated.

In addition to hair loss, other symptoms of trichotillomania include:

  • breaking off or ripping hair
  • biting, chewing, or eating hair
  • infection, irritation, or scarring
  • playing with pulled-out hair
  • feeling extreme relief after pulling

Hair-pulling is often a response to stress, but the condition itself can also cause stress. This creates a vicious cycle, as visible patches of missing hair from pulling take a toll on a person’s mental and emotional health. In turn, this can then cause them to pull more hair out.

Chronic pulling can damage the follicle, which can affect regrowth. Finding ways to manage the condition can help keep the follicle alive and promote new hair growth. Behavioral therapy or certain medications are the most common forms of treatment for TTM.

Stress-related hair loss can be frustrating and, well, stressful AF. However, regrowth is very possible, and with time, patience, and some good ol’ fashioned effort, you can conquer your stress hair loss.

Managing your stress

Reducing the amount of stress we experience can benefit more than just our luscious locks. Finding ways to manage our stress can positively affect all aspects of our overall physical and mental well-being, including our weight, skin health, and anxiety levels.

You can kick stress to the curb by:

  • Exercising. Getting your sweat on is a great way to boost endorphins (the happy chemicals released when you work out!) and reduce stress.
  • Practicing yoga. Not only is yoga great for stretching and toning your bod, but it’s also a great way to clear your mind and cultivate calm.
  • Breathing. Rolling some breathing exercises into your day can help root yourself in the moment and let what’s stressing you out go.
  • Meditating. Meditation and mindfulness are great ways to clear your mind and ground yourself in the present, ease stress, and enter a state of tranquility. While it can take time to get into the groove of meditating, sticking with it is def well worth the effort.
  • Journaling. Writing out how you feel can help you understand your stress, where it’s coming from, and how you can overcome it.
  • Doing what you love. If you love it, do it! Reading a novel, going for a hike, rocking out to your fave ’00s punk-pop music, or whatever else may spark joy can help you ease feelings of stress or anxiety.

Maintaining a healthy diet

How and what we eat can have a big impact on our entire body, including our hair. By eating a healthful, well-balanced diet, you can promote hair growth and prevent future loss.

Getting plenty of vitamins and nutrients is key to maintaining a balanced diet. Eating foods rich in essential vitamins or taking supplements can help you get your daily dose of hair-healthy nutrients, such as:

Along with eating well, it’s important to drink plenty of that sweet, sweet H2O. Your body thrives when it’s hydrated, so drinking enough water each day can keep your cells in tip-top shape for peak performance. (That includes the cells that stimulate hair growth.)

Using topical treatments

There are many different topical options available to treat hair loss. These are applied directly to the affected area(s) and can possibly stimulate hair growth over time.

Popular topical remedies include:

  • Minoxidil. Made popular by Rogaine, minoxidil is an over-the-counter (OTC) med that’s applied directly to your scalp researchers, brows, or beard. TBH, aren’t completely sure how it works, but they think it may help keep the active growth phase growing longer. You can get minoxidil in a variety of forms, including cream, foam, or spray, and there are different product formulations for men or women.
  • Corticosteroids. Often used in addition to or alongside other forms of treatment, OTC and prescription corticosteroids are sometimes used to treat hair loss — particularly loss caused by alopecia areata.
  • Home remedies. Castor oil, rosemary oil, and black tea have all been used as at-home remedies for hair growth. While anecdotal findings seem promising for these DIY growth methods, more research is needed on each of them.

Whether your topical comes from the drugstore, your derm, or your pantry, it’s important to talk with your doctor before using a topical solution for hair loss — especially if you’re currently using topical steroids or taking certain meds.

Making style changes

Taking care of your tresses can potentially help reduce excessive shedding and prevent future hair loss.

There are many ways you can be kinder to your hair and scalp, like:

  • avoiding tight hairstyles (ponytails, buns, braids)
  • limiting or eliminating heat styling
  • avoiding hot oil treatments
  • being gentle when you comb or brush
  • using products without harsh or harmful chemicals
  • using scalp treatments (masks or deep conditioners)
  • not overwashing hair
  • using a clarifying shampoo monthly to eliminate buildup on your scalp

Stress is just one of the reasons you could be experiencing hair loss.

Other causes include:

  • Genetics. Sometimes, hair loss simply comes down to our genes. If you have a family history of thinning hair or baldness, there’s a chance you could also experience it.
  • Aging. Your body changes with every passing year — including your hair. Hair naturally starts to thin as you age, especially after you hit the big 3-0.
  • Medicines. Hair loss can be a side effect of certain medications, like antidepressants or blood thinners. Hormonal medications, like birth control pills, can also affect hair growth.
  • Chemotherapy. Going through chemo treatments can take a toll on your body, including your hair. Alopecia is a common side effect of chemotherapy.
  • Illness. Getting sick can affect our immune system, which can lead to hair thinning or loss.
  • Hormones. Hormonal fluctuations can alter our estrogen levels, which can affect our manes and lead to thinning, excess shedding, or loss.
  • Nutritional deficiency. If your body is low on certain essential nutrients (like vitamin B, vitamin C, vitamin E, or iron) you may experience thinning hair or hair loss.
  • Chemicals in hair products. Some hair care products or treatments contain harsh or damaging chemicals that can affect your strands at the root, causing breakage, thinning, and loss.
  • Tight hairstyles. If you often wear your hair in a tight, pulled back style, you’re likely putting a lot of strain on your hair follicles. This can lead to stress, strain, and damage, and cause hair to fall out.
  • Pregnancy. Typically, your locks will thrive as your body prepares to give birth, but sometimes, hormone surges, deficiencies, or other underlying causes can make your hair shed like crazy during pregnancy. You may also experience postpartum hair loss after you deliver.
  • Changes in weight. Rapid weight loss, certain diets, and weight loss surgery have all been linked to hair loss.

Stress can wreak havoc on your body and your mind. Stress-related hair loss can be a result of excessively stressful events or environmental stressors, and generally is related to one of three conditions: telogen effluvium, alopecia areata, or trichotillomania.

There are several treatment options available for overcoming stress hair loss. Eating a healthy diet, taking care of your hair, using topical medications, and — most importantly — finding ways to manage your stress can all help keep your tresses in check.

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