Hair shedding is a part of our normal hair cycle. A few strands in the hairbrush, shower drain, and scattered across the living room floor is nothing to worry about. But if you find that you're pulling hairs out by the handful, it could be a sign that there's something wrong, and stress and anxiety could be to blame. You may have heard the claims that there is a link between emotional stress and hair loss, but is there any truth to that assumption?
Can stress cause hair loss?
Absolutely. Research shows there is a relationship between stress and the natural hair cycle. There are approximately 100,000 hair follicles on the adult scalp, and each hair is continually cycling between periods of rest and growth.
At any given time, most follicles on the scalp are in the growth (anagen) phase of the cycle. Hair strands are shed when the hair follicle begins to transition to the resting (telogen) phase. During stress, a trigger can cause an abnormal, sudden shift of the hair to the telogen phase, which results in dramatic hair loss.
A recent study published in Nature has shown that the reason for stress-related hair loss is cortisol, the stress hormone. Acute or chronic stress cause the release of more cortisol . The Cortisol inhibits the activity of the hair follicle stems cells, which in turn causes a reduction in the production of new hair.
What are the types of stress-related hair loss?
Stress and anxiety can play a role in hair loss and are linked to three conditions that may trigger you to lose hair.
Telogen effluvium (TE)
Telogen effluvium (TE) is one of the most common causes of temporary hair loss seen by dermatologists. In addition to stress, telogen effluvium may be caused by changes in hormone levels and poor nutrition. In most cases, it will last for less than 6 months (acute telogen effluvium), but in some, it can stay long periods of time (chronic telogen effluvium). The good news is that TE's hair loss does not cause permanent damage to the hair follicles and is fully reversible.
Trichotillomania, also known as "hair-pulling disorder," is a psychological condition where people pull on hair from the scalp, face, and other parts of the body to deal with negative emotions such as stress, depression, and anxiety. This leads to patchy baldness in the affected areas. Trichotillomania is most commonly found in preteens and can last a lifetime.
In this condition, the body's immune system attacks hair follicles, causing them to fall out. The exact cause of Alopecia areata is unknown, but doctors suspect that stress may trigger this autoimmune disease. In alopecia areata, the hair in round patches on the scalp or across the entire head may grow back and fall out repeatedly over time.
What are the symptoms of telogen effluvium (TE)?
- Noticeable hair loss during washing that starts abruptly.
- Scalp itchiness and tenderness without scalps redness or visible dandruff (known as trichodynia).
- A generalized hair thinning.
- Dry, dull hair that is easily pluckable.
- Unexplained hair color changes.
What are the best ways to prevent stress-induced hair loss?
Several stressful situations can trigger sudden hair loss, including illness, injury, financial concerns, pregnancy, poor nutrition, and unexpected life events. There are various things to do to prevent worry-related hair loss to counteract the negative effects of stress and protect your hair's health.
Learn and practice relaxation techniques
Learning to manage stress before it can negatively affect your health is key to preventing hair loss. The first step is to identify stressors and discovering ways to overcome them. Exercises such as walking, dancing, and yoga are a great way to minimize stress levels and release endorphins, chemicals that bring feelings of positivity, euphoria, and well-being. Mindfulness activities such as meditation, deep breathing, and journaling are also fantastic at mitigating anxiety and helping to clear the mind of negativity.
Eat a healthy diet and take vitamin supplements.
When you are stressed, it is common to skip healthy food and reach for "comfort food" options such as sweets, fried foods, and high-calorie meals. Over time, nutritional deficiencies can lead to further hair loss.
Foods high in lean protein, iron, and vitamins A, E, K, and B can promote hair regrowth and reverse the signs of telogen effluvium. Additional hair-friendly supplements such as biotin, collagen, and folic acid may also be an option to improve nutritional status.
Be mindful when washing and styling your hair.
A good hair routine is crucial for improving hair health and growth. After washing your hair with a gentle shampoo and conditioner, add a leave-in treatment to protect the cuticle. When styling with heat, always use a protective spray with conditioning ingredients to prevent further damage and breakage to the hair strand.
What are the best treatments for genetically related hair loss?
Topical minoxidil is an over-the-counter (OTC) medication available as a cream, foam, or spray. You can use it on the scalp, eyebrows, or beard to promote and prolong the hair cycle's anagen phase. There are variations available for male and female use.
What are the best treatments for alopecia areata?
Corticosteroids are topical or injectable medications used to treat hair loss caused by autoimmune conditions, including alopecia areta. These treatments often take place every four to six weeks, and one can see hair growth in as little as four weeks. Steroid injections can use them alongside other treatment options to treat hair loss.
The takeaway about stress-induced hair loss
If your hair loss is stress-related, your hair follicles are most likely not damaged. This means effectively managing your stress and increasing your overall health can result in your hair growing back better than ever. Reducing your stress level, combined with the right supplements and a better diet, can in most cases help stop the telogen effluvium and regrow your hair.
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