Stress is an important and often overlooked cause of hair loss. Everyone sheds hairs on a daily basis 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 once the stressful event has passed, or you have recovered from a significant illness that caused physical stress, or even from pregnancy, hair will usually grow back.
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 but also 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 on the floor. In most scenarios, once the stressors have been identified and addressed your hair will grow back.
Telogen effluvium is a temporary and generalised hair loss of the scalp in response to a significant emotional or physical event.
Trichotillomania is the involuntary and subconscious plucking or picking of hair anywhere on the body in response to stress – this may be hair on the head or, commonly, eyelashes.
Hair typically grows about half an inch (1.27cm) per month, and it will start off stubbly and wispy, so it may take several months for you to notice your hair has been restored. Nevertheless, it is important to address your stressors as soon as possible to begin the regeneration process.
Unless it is an obviously stressful event like an illness or bereavement, many people do not recognise their lives as being 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 practising yoga or mindfulness – whatever helps.
Exercise is great for improving circulation to the hair follicles and as a natural stress reduction aid from the endorphines released.
It might be worth seeing you doctor for consideration of blood tests to check for any underlying cause, or they may offer advice or onward referral if you and they think psychological intervention is appropriate.
Little is available for stress-related hair loss on the NHS, so most treatment options are self-funded. Wigs and hair pieces may appeal, 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 fibres to existing hairs, 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 for longer in anagen (the growth phase of the hair cycle), thereby reducing the amount of hair follicles in telogen (the shedding phase). However, this can be expensive, it can 3 to 6 months to see an effect and it only works for as long as you keep using it.
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