In honor of Stress Awareness Month, we’re taking a look at how chronic stress can influence the hair growth cycle. So, if you’re feeling anxious about your hair health, take a deep breath, pour yourself some calming herbal tea, and learn how your mood affects your mane!
Chronic stress is literally the worst.
Perpetual anxiety, fear, strain, and pressure affect every part of your cellular health. Stress can accelerate aging, trigger mood disorders, damage cardiovascular health, inhibit the immune response, cause metabolic disorders, impede fertility, and increase your risk of cancer.
Long-term stress can also cause hair loss. Is there nothing that stress won’t destroy?
Stress-Related Hair Loss: What You Need to Know
While stress can indeed trigger hair loss, pattern baldness is not believed to be related to stress. However, recent studies from Harvard University found a link between the hair regrowth cycle and the absence of corticosterone (stress hormone) in laboratory mice.
Stress-related hair loss occurs because of a disruption in the hair growth cycle. There are four phases in the human hair growth cycle:
- Anagen phase. The hair grows from beneath the skin to its maximum length in this phase. This stage can last up to six years.
- Catagen phase. In this transition stage, the individual hair ceases to grow and detaches from the hair follicle.
- Telogen phase. The stage where new hair begins to form and grow from the follicle while the existing hair is at rest.
- Exogen phase. The stage where the fully grown hair naturally falls out and is replaced by new hair.
The types of hair loss associated with extreme or chronic stress are the following conditions:
Telogen Effluvium interferes with the telogen phase of hair growth. It is triggered by the onset of sudden and significant emotional or physical stress, and it causes the hair in the anagen phase to enter the telogen phase prematurely. This disruption leads to significant hair shedding before it has reached maximum growth or new hair develops in the follicle. While hair normally sheds at a rate of 100-200 hairs per day, a person with telogen effluvium will experience double the volume of daily hair loss.
Though hair loss is sudden and sometimes dramatic, the growth cycle will continue even in the absence of treatment. However, if the cause of the stress is an undiagnosed or unmanaged medical issue like a thyroid condition or eating disorder, the condition must be treated for the hair to regrow.
Alopecia areata is an autoimmune disorder that causes the immune system to attack the hair follicles. The resulting hair loss can be patchy or widespread. In some cases, the hair loss is temporary, while in other cases, the hair only regrows partially.
The condition can be brought on by stress and lead to full-body hair loss in some instances. Alopecia areata can also lead to changes in hair texture and color.
Unlike the previous two conditions, trichotillomania is a behavioral disorder that causes a person to physically pull out their hair when they experience severe stress. If unmanaged, this condition can cause long-term follicle damage, leading to permanent hair loss.
While the three conditions above are the most common hair loss disorders, it is also possible to experience stress-related hair loss exacerbated by other medical or genetic factors. It is important to have a thorough medical evaluation if you are experiencing sudden hair loss of any kind.
Hair Loss Treatment
First, you should know the likely cause of your hair loss. If your hair loss is related to a dermatologic condition, you should have a comprehensive evaluation by a qualified dermatologist before undertaking any treatment.
If you experience stress-related hair loss, finding ways to manage your stress levels is critically important. Not only can chronic stress cause periodic hair loss, but it can also seriously damage your health and destroy your quality of life.
Of course, stress management is far easier said than done. Everyone still has to work, fulfill personal obligations, and care for family members. Sometimes it feels impossible to take the necessary time to decompress. Plus, if you are experiencing hair loss due to stress, it’s probably caused you to feel even more stressed. It’s a vicious cycle!
Stop. Breathe. Here are a few things you can do to restore your sense of calm.
- Exercise. Exercise is a fantastic healer; nearly any form of exercise can relieve symptoms of stress. Physical exertion increases the production of mood-elevating hormones, while exercise recovery lowers the production of the stress hormone cortisol. Even if traditional workouts bore you, you don’t have to do aerobics or jump on an elliptical; pretty much any exercise works. Go for a walk. Do yoga. If you like dancing, switch on upbeat music and dance around like no one’s watching!
- Switch off the devices. If your work phone, emails, and social media doom-scrolling keep you on edge, put your devices down. You’ll be shocked by how much better you feel.
- Have nutrient-rich, healthy meals. It’s not uncommon to crave salty, fatty, or sweet processed foods when stressed, but these can exacerbate persistent anxiety. Instead, treat yourself to a colorful meal filled with lean proteins and vegetables and eat it slowly and thoughtfully. This mindfulness helps you enjoy the meal and aids in proper digestion. Also, cut the caffeine.
We also offer highly effective topical treatments designed to promote fuller, more lustrous hair.
If stress has made your locks less than luxurious, Nutrafol Stress Adaptogen MD offers professional-grade ingredients designed to balance cortisol levels and promote hair follicle reactivity.
If you’re experiencing stress-related hair thinning or simply noticing that your hair isn’t as thick as it once was, WestDerm’s Regrowth and Strengthen Kit offers excellent outcomes. This series of products is a highly effective, proprietary regrowth system that improves scalp health and facilitates follicular activity.
For women experiencing hormonal hair thinning due to menopause, Nutrafol Hair Growth Supplement is engineered with concentrated ingredients that minimize menopause discomfort, reduce hair shedding, and inhibit oxidative stress.
If you have concerns about your scalp or hair health, please don’t hesitate to schedule a consultation with a board-certified dermatologist.