Given the slightest opening, stress can run rampant on our lives, costing us sleep, eroding our appetites … and even thinning our hair?
Not long after you learned what stress is, you probably also heard about its ability to make your hair fall out in clumps during especially tense times. Is there anything to this, or is it just a myth?
A healthy person sheds between 50 and 100 hairs a day, according to the American Academy of Dermatology. If you suspect you’re losing more than that, it could be a sign of a condition called telogen effluvium, or excessive hair shedding.
And stress is among the various causes of telogen effluvium.
It’s difficult to say how prevalent telogen effluvium is because it’s widely believed the number of people who experience it significantly exceeds the number who are formally diagnosed. But women appear to be more likely to experience it than men, as it can be induced by pregnancy-related changes to the body.
In these instances, a woman can lose up to a third of her hair volume, but it’s usually temporary.
A delayed reaction
While stress can induce telogen effluvium, the effect is not immediate. Excessive hair loss generally occurs between six weeks and three months after a stressful event, which can be anything from everyday stress related to work or a relationship to a short-term or chronic illness.
In a 2022 study, nearly half of the almost 6,000 people surveyed reported experiencing hair loss after they recovered from Covid.
Stress boosts cortisol levels in the body, a hormone that’s been shown to interfere with hair growth.
What you can do about it
The shedding phase of telogen effluvium usually lasts for several weeks, maybe a few months, before it gradually slows down.
Taking a daily multivitamin containing vitamin D, which is involved in hair growth, and vitamin B12, which has been shown to be deficient in some patients with telogen effluvium (although the data is limited at this point), may help shorten the shedding phase.
An over-the-counter, topical minoxidil treatment like Rogaine could accelerate hair regrowth. Or you can ask a board-certified dermatologist for oral finasteride or oral minoxidil, which are covered by health insurance.
Avoid over-the-counter supplements specifically marketed to treat hair loss that contain biotin. They’ve been shown to interfere with the results of thyroid hormone tests. They can also sometimes cause acne flare-ups.
It’s also OK to do nothing at all. In most cases, stress-induced hair loss will wind down and hair will regrow on its own. If, however, you’re continuing to shed an unusual amount of hair after three or four months, see a dermatologist.