We are in the midst of a mental and physical health crisis with ongoing serious consequences on our minds and bodies. This type of stress can cause unexpected mood swings, anxiety, tension, anger, and withdrawal. And yes — it can also cause hair loss.
There are several types of hair loss caused by stress and understanding the underlying cause can help you prevent future occurrences. If you suffer from stress-related hair loss, the good news is that it is usually temporary. In this article, we will discuss the possible causes of hair loss as well as treatment plans and preventative measures.
Can Stress Cause Hair Loss?
Yes, stress can cause hair loss.
Stress can a range of physical symptoms including headaches, high blood pressure, an upset stomach, chest pain, sleep problems, sex problems, and many more conditions. It can also lead to a variety of emotional problems including depression, anxiety, and panic attacks. When we are feeling stressed, we may adopt behaviors that help us find relief, such as pulling at our hair.
Researchers have also found that a major stress hormone puts hair follicle stem cells into an extended resting phase, which halts hair growth while we continue to shed 50-100 strands naturally a day. Thus, over time, you may notice you have significantly less hair.
Types of Stress-Related Hair Loss
There are three types of hair loss related to high levels of stress. These include:
Significant stress pushes large numbers of hair follicles into a resting phase, known as telogen effluvium. After a few months with telogen effluvium, you might notice your hair falling out excessively when you brush or comb your hair.
Trichotillomania is when you pull your hair out due to stress. It is an overwhelming urge to pull out hair from your scalp, eyebrows, or other areas of your body. When you pull your hair, you feel some sense of relief, as it can be a way of dealing with negative or uncomfortable feelings. However, it can also cause more stress, as some who deal with trichotillomania experience issues with body image due to hair loss.
Several factors are thought to cause alopecia areata, including aging, genetics, hormonal changes, and medical conditions. Another cause is severe stress. Alopecia areata is an autoimmune disorder where the body’s immune system attacks the hair follicles. You may lose hair in clumps the size and shape of a quarter.
Is Hair Loss From Stress Permanent?
The good news about stress-related hair loss is it’s usually not permanent when there is no underlying health condition. With the right treatment and lifestyle changes, you can make a full recovery after a few months to a year.
Reducing Stress-Related Hair Loss
Hair loss caused by stress is typically curable, and there are several treatment options available. These include stress management and dietary changes, along with topical treatments and medications.
Learning your stress triggers can help you better manage them. The best way to do this is to form a plan that allows you to balance work with your free time. Some activities that can be powerful outlets for stress include:
- Regular exercise
- Spending time outdoors
- Counseling or therapy
Diet and nutrition
Nutritional deficiencies can impact your hair growth rate. A healthy balanced diet is imperative to feeling good about yourself. Starvation, crash dieting, and malnutrition can exacerbate stress and slow down the hair growth process. Eat regular meals and avoid processed foods, fats, and sugars. Make sure your diet is rich in fruits and vegetables, lean proteins, and whole grains. Don’t forget to drink plenty of water.
If your hair loss is caused by an underlying disease, there is treatment available. You can use the following for patchy hair loss:
- Minoxidil (Rogaine): Minoxidil is available over-the-counter in liquid, foam, and shampoo forms. It works by regrowing the hair, and/or slowing the rate of hair loss. Follow the instructions on the label regarding the application. Typically, you should apply the product to the skin on your scalp once daily for women and twice daily for men, ideally when the hair is wet or towel-dried. It may take a few months to tell if the treatment is working for you. Be sure to use gloves and only administer to your scalp.
For serious cases of hair loss, prescription medication may be necessary. Consult with your doctor to determine if the following treatments are right for you:
- Finasteride (Propecia): This prescription drug is available in oral tablet form for men. It is usually prescribed once daily and works to slow down hair loss. You will need to take this medication for a few months before you can tell if it is working for you. It is advised you continue taking it if you see positive results in order to retain the benefits.
- Spironolactone (Carospir, Aldactone): This medicine slows down the production of androgens, which then slows down the progression of hair loss caused by androgenic alopecia.
- Oral dutasteride (Avodart): This medication is a non-FDA-approved oral prescription drug that is sometimes prescribed off-label for the treatment of male pattern baldness. It affects the production of DHT to encourage healthy hair follicles resulting in hair growth.
Other Common Causes of Hair Loss
Most people lose between 50 to 100 strands of hair a day; however, this is usually not noticeable because new hair is always growing back at the same time. And while stress can be a common cause of hair loss, it is not the only possible explanation. The following factors can contribute to hair loss:
- Family history (heredity): If hair loss runs in your family, you may have a higher chance of experiencing it, too. It usually occurs gradually and begins with a receding hairline and bald spots in men. Women may notice their hair thinning along the crown of the scalp.
- Diabetes: There are many ways that diabetes can contribute to hair loss, including blood vessel damage and insulin resistance. Some people have reported that metformin, a drug used to treat type two diabetes mellitus, polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), and insulin resistance, causes hair loss, but there is very little research to support the claim at this stage.
- Hormonal changes: Hormonal changes due to pregnancy, childbirth, menopause, and thyroid problems can cause temporary hair loss.
- Radiation therapy: Radiation therapy for cancer treatment can result in hair loss.
- Medications and supplements: Some medications and supplements list hair loss as a possible side effect. These are usually treatments for cancer, arthritis, hypertension, depression, heart problems, and gout.
- Hairstyles and treatments: Excessive hair styling with hot irons, curlers, or hair dryers can damage hair. Breakage can occur both from heat damage, as well as from the pulling that occurs when you clamp the hair with the hot tools. Certain hairstyles can also pull your hair tightly and cause a type of hair loss called traction alopecia. Additionally, use of hair dyes, bleach, and hot-oil treatments or perms also can cause hair to fall out. If scarring occurs on the scalp, hair loss could be permanent.
When to See a Medical Provider
When lifestyle changes such as diet and a healthy stress management plan don’t work to stop hair loss or encourage healthy hair growth, it may be time to see a medical provider.
They will be able to determine the best treatment plan for you, which may include prescription medication. If stress and anxiety are plaguing you, they may refer you to a psychotherapist or psychiatrist to help you work through the underlying causes of stress and develop healthy coping strategies.
If hair loss is a result of medication, consult your doctor and detail any other side effects you may be experiencing. They may recommend switching medications or lowering your dose. Stress-related hair loss is typically not permanent and there are many treatments available that may help you. Discuss with your doctor the best treatment plan for you.
How K Health Can Help
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Frequently Asked Questions
K Health articles are all written and reviewed by MDs, PhDs, NPs, or PharmDs and are for informational purposes only. This information does not constitute and should not be relied on for professional medical advice. Always talk to your doctor about the risks and benefits of any treatment.
K Health has strict sourcing guidelines and relies on peer-reviewed studies, academic research institutions, and medical associations. We avoid using tertiary references.
How chronic stress leads to hair loss. (2021).
How stress causes hair loss. (2021).
Stress in America™ 2020. (2020).