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Hair loss due to stress

Dr Karen Martin
Reviewed by Dr Karen MartinReviewed on 19.10.2023 | 3 minutes read
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Stress is an important and often overlooked cause of hair loss. Everyone sheds hair daily as part of a normal hair growth cycle, but at certain times in people's lives the rate of hair loss can pick up momentum, becoming more noticeable. Stress-induced hair loss is common and may result in hair loss from a certain area of the head or from all over the head. It can happen in both men and women of any age.

The good news is that hair will usually grow back once the stressful event has passed, or you have recovered from a significant illness that caused physical stress or even from pregnancy.

How does stress affect my hair?

During stressful scenarios, your body produces more hormones like adrenaline that respond to stressful situations or threats. The change in hormone levels can affect many aspects of your body, including the hair follicles on the scalp. There is typically a delay of several months from the stressful event to the noticeable hair loss.

You might notice patchy hair loss, hair feels thinner, or you are losing handfuls in the shower or onto the floor. In most scenarios, your hair will grow back once the stressors have been identified and addressed.

Are there different types?

Telogen effluvium is a temporary and generalized hair loss of the scalp in response to a significant emotional or physical event. 

Trichotillomania is involuntary and subconscious plucking or picking of hair anywhere on the body in response to stress – this may be hair on the head or eyelashes.

When will my hair grow back?

Hair typically grows about half an inch (1.27 cm) per month, and it will start stubbly and wispy, so it may take several months to notice your hair has been restored. Nevertheless, addressing your stressors as soon as possible is important to begin the regeneration process.

How can I treat stress-related hair loss?

Unless it is an obviously stressful event like an illness or bereavement, many people do not recognize their lives as stressful, despite their body's internal reaction. Be honest about any stressors in your life and take steps to address or avoid them. You know you the best, so take time to invest in what helps you relax. This might be going out for a good dance, listening to relaxing music, or practicing yoga or mindfulness – whatever helps.

Exercise is great for improving circulation to the hair follicles and as a natural stress reduction aid due to the endorphins released.

It might be worth seeing your doctor for consideration of blood tests to check for any underlying cause, or they may offer advice or referral if they think psychological intervention is appropriate.

Little is available for stress-related hair loss. Wigs and hairpieces may be an option, and human hair looks more natural (but is more expensive) than synthetic hair. Camouflage products aim to build the appearance of a full crop with products that temporarily add fibers to existing hair and are available to buy from some pharmacies and specialist outlets.

Minoxidil liquid or foam is medication available to buy from pharmacies to help slow the progress of hair loss. It works by keeping hairs longer in the anagen (the growth phase of the hair cycle), thereby reducing the number of hair follicles in telogen (the shedding phase). However, this can be expensive, it can take 3 to 6 months to see an effect, and it only works for as long as you keep using it.

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Dr Karen Martin
Reviewed by Dr Karen Martin
Reviewed on 19.10.2023
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