Can Stress Cause Hair Loss?
Find out why stress might be causing your hair to fall out!
Updated: Thursday 26 May 2022
It’s normal for the average adult to shed between 50 and 100 head hairs per day as part of the natural hair growth cycle, where they’re replaced by new hair growing beneath. However, if you experience what we deem as ‘hair loss’, you’ll notice thinning hair all over or on your crown, a receding hairline, or hairless, typically round patches on the scalp. There are many different types of hair loss, caused by several contributing factors, and stress is one of these factors that can have a very real effect on your hair health. In this article, we explore how stress can impact your hair growth, how to spot the 3 types of stress-related hair loss, and the best ways to remedy the effects.
What Causes Hair Loss?
With around 7.2 million men in the UK experiencing male pattern baldness at any one time, and around half of women experiencing a form of hair loss at some point in their lives, hair loss is a very common occurrence. There are multiple factors that may cause hair loss, including:
- Genetics - both your paternal and your maternal genetics contribute to your chances of inheriting what’s known as pattern baldness.
- Age - as we age, our hair spends longer in the resting phase of the growth cycle.
- Diet - a poor diet that lacks important vitamins and minerals for hair health can negatively affect the growth of your hair.
- Stress - during periods of high stress, the body may prioritise more essential body functions over hair growth. Certain stress-induced habits might also result in hair loss.
So Can Stress Cause Hair Loss?
Stress can indeed contribute to hair loss in certain circumstances. The following 3 types of hair loss are known to be affected by stress.
This is the most common cause of stress-induced hair loss, and is typically triggered by a period of intense stress, such as a physically traumatic event like a severe accident or undergoing major surgery, or an emotionally distressing event such as the passing of a loved one. Telogen effluvium (TE) occurs when the body is overloaded with stress and responds by doubling down on core functions to protect the body, head hair growth being one that is deemed unessential. Due to the stress, many hair follicles are prompted to enter the resting (telogen) phase of the growth cycle simultaneously, meaning that they reach the shedding (exogen) phase at a similar time, typically around 3 months later. This is visible as an abrupt shedding of hair from all over the head known as diffuse alopecia - you can expect to lose up to half of the hairs on your head when this shedding occurs. Whilst this can be understandably distressing, note that this is a temporary loss of hair characterised by a simultaneous shedding as opposed to a closing of the hair follicle, such as is typical of pattern baldness. This means that in 6 to 9 months later, your hair should regrow at its normal rate to levels similar to the amount of hair you had prior to the trauma. It is best to make sure your diet supports the growth of healthy hair, supplementing your meals with a multivitamin such as OneVit Complete, or with the specific nutrients for hair support such as Vitabiotics Perfectil.
Also known as hair pulling disorder, trichotillomania is when hair loss occurs due to satisfying an urge to pull out the hair. This may be focused on head hair, but could equally be the eyebrows, eyelashes, beard or moustache, or even the hairs in genital area. It is most common in teenagers and young adults, but it can occur at any age. Although it’s not fully known why some people develop this mental health condition, it’s thought that stress may play a significant part alongside factors like genetics or whether they have other compulsive habits or OCD. Since this condition is more about a neurochemical imbalance than an issue with hair production, many people can fully recover from this condition by undergoing therapy such as habit reversal training. However, repeated pulling out of the hair can slow hair growth, and in more severe cases of repetition, can cause an injured hair follicle to stop producing new hairs. This may cause bare patches on the affected area, especially if the hair-pulling occurs in the same region as it often does habitually. Stress and anxiety may prompt this behaviour, so try to find another way to let off steam: squeeze a stress ball, find something your hands can fidget with, practise recognising when you’re stressed and use stress relieving techniques like deep breathing to relieve the negative feeling. Although not always achievable, try to get to the root of your stressors and see if there are ways to reduce the impact of these on your mental health, or eliminate them altogether.
This type of non-scarring hair loss may occur at any age, and is characterised by small round patches of baldness, typically on the scalp but also in other areas. Whilst the hair is lost because it is affected by inflammation, the cause of alopecia areata is unknown. It is thought that the immune system may be responding by attacking the growing hair mistakenly, and indeed someone with the condition is at a ever so slightly higher risk of developing other autoimmune conditions like diabetes or thyroid disease, although the risk is still very low. There is a genetic predisposition for the condition, but there is no link to vitamin deficiencies. Stress appears to be one of the common triggers for alopecia areata, although not for all sufferers, so more research is needed to verify the significance of this link. It’s also unclear why the immune response is localised to these coin-sized patches on the head. The good news is that roughly 4 in 5 people suffering from the condition should completely regrow their hair within 1 year (if you’ve lost a lot of hair, your chances of full recovery are slimmer). You may be able to speed this process along with the help of a topical minoxidil treatment such as Regaine Solution for Men/Regaine Solution for Women or Regaine Foam for Men/Regaine Foam for Women.
How to Treat Hair Loss Caused by Stress
It should go without saying that reducing your daily stressors is a priority for overcoming stress-invoked hair loss and putting your body in the healthiest position to make the quickest recovery. This is often easier said than done, but check out our blog on How to Stress Less for several useful strategies. If the stressful event was more of a one-off and has already resulted in significant hair loss, time is your friend here, as your hair should grow back if the follicles haven’t been scarred from repeated injury.
However, the treatment Minoxidil can be used to reactivate the hair follicles, stimulating them to increase in size and therefore produce thicker and stronger hair. It achieves this by increasing the blood flow and nutrient supply to the follicles, and this can result in an extended growth phase of the hair cycle. Regaine Foam for Men and Regaine Foam for Women is a clinically-proven topical treatment that when massaged into the scalp can help regrow hair in up to 80% of cases. The medication also comes in a solution form as Regaine Solution for Men and Regaine Solution for Women, applied to the scalp in a similar fashion.
Caffeinated shampoos such as Alpecin C1 and Alpecin Double Effect may also help in cases of hair loss caused by stress, similarly working to stimulate the follicles, but are best used in combination with other hair loss prevention strategies.
Another hair loss treatment that has great efficacy rates is Finasteride, and tablet treatment for men, however it’s important to note that it is used for the treatment of male pattern baldness so in this context may not be as effective for stress-induced hair loss.
Authored by Toby Watson
Pharmica Medical Writer
Toby (BSc) is an experienced medical writer, producing educational articles on many areas of health including sexual health, fitness, nutrition and mental health.
He particularly enjoys debunking misconceptions around heath conditions and their treatments, researching each topic in detail and writing easily-accessible content.