Stress-related hair loss: why it happens and how to treat it

Stress related hair loss

That moment when you suddenly realise your hair feels ‘different’ is extremely upsetting. Whether your ponytail looks thinner, you’ve noticed significant hair loss, or it seems your hair has just stopped growing, there’s always a feeling of instant panic. It’s not unusual for both men and women to experience hair loss and changes to their hair, especially after a turbulent and stressful time. Living through the uncertainty and impact of COVID-19 could be enough to have a knock-on effect on how your hair looks, feels and grows.

So, we’ve quizzed our évolis chief scientist Dr Dominic Burg to find out how stress impacts hair and importantly what you can do to stop it.

Can stress cause hair loss?
Put simply, yes. Stress can trigger hair loss in both men and women, usually in the wake of a highly stressful or traumatic event. “Generally, the stress levels have to be very high for the impact on the hair to be large, such as the loss of a job, death of a loved one, a divorce or bankruptcy,” explains Dr Burg.

Due to the nature of your hair growth cycle, hair fall from stress doesn’t happen instantly. Although you might be feeling highly stressed now, most hair fall will occur three months after a stressful event. If you’re currently noticing more loose strands falling, think back to three months ago and you might be able to pin-point the trauma which could have influenced the increased hair fall.

While a one-off event can influence significant hair fall, constant underlining stress can also have a negative impact on hair. Sustained stress or anxiety can disrupt the hair growth cycle resulting in an increased rate of hair fall, hair that doesn’t grow as well or as fast, and strands that simply look flat and dull.

Why does stress make hair fall out?
Stress is something everyone encounters in their life and when it becomes extreme, it transitions from being a psychological phenomenon to a physiological one, with a knock-on effect on the hair.

“As your body perceives stress, your adrenal glands make and release the hormone cortisol, which is known as the stress hormone. Cortisol kicks your body into fight or flight mode, which means it mobilises your insulin, your glucose, your metabolism changes, and your body shuts down things it doesn’t need – like hair,” says Dr Burg.

There are three types of hair loss generally associated with high stress, with the most common being Telogen Effluvium. “When you’ve got very serious stress, your body shuts down your hair growth and it all kicks into rest. Then about three months later you’ll have a large amount of hair fall,” explains Dr Burg.

The second type of stress-related hair loss concerns people who have the disease Alopecia Areata. “Alopecia Areata is an autoimmune condition where your hair falls out in small round patches. When people with this condition get very, very stressed they can have an exacerbation in the Alopecia Areata which means their hair will fall out even more,” says Dr Burg.

Lastly, some people might experience Trichotillomania, a very rare form of hair loss. “Unlike other types of hair loss linked to stress, Trichotillomania isn’t physiological it’s psychological,” says Dr Burg. “People with Trichotillomania have the urge to pull out their hair and this relieves their stress somewhat. And when they’re very, very stressed their Trichotillomania can become worse.”

Is hair loss from stress reversible?
Stress is something that can be managed. With diet, mediation and exercise, stress levels can be reduced and any impact on hair growth can be changed. In most cases, hair that has fallen out due to stress will grow back and return to full health with a little bit of help.

How to grow hair back after stress
Lifestyle changes and finding strategies to manage your stress is the first place to start. Be sure to get plenty of exercise, says Dr Burg. “Exercise boosts metabolism, which is important for rate of hair growth. Exercise also reduces stress levels, preventing stress hormones from shortening your hair cycle.”

A balanced, healthy diet is critical for maintaining your best hair growth. When under stress your body hijacks the nutrients and energy your hair uses to grow and diverts it to more essential functions in the body, and as a result, your hair suffers. “People on strict and restrictive diets may not be getting all of the nutrients they need for healthy hair growth,” says Dr Burg. Load up on wholefoods, protein, leafy greens and superfoods to support your hair cycle.

As well as lifestyle changes, tweaks to your haircare regimen can also encourage healthier hair growth. Shampoos and conditioners rich in antioxidants and free from parabens, sulphates, silicones and phthalates can improve hair texture, density, and elasticity and protect from further damage from free radicals. évolis can fast-track your hair’s recovery by restoring the hair cycle. If you feel your hair growth has slowed and your lengths are looking lacklustre, évolis PROMOTE range accelerates growth while increasing hydration, elasticity, shine and strength.

For those who have experienced significant hair loss due to stress, évolis REVERSE 3-Step-System inhibits FGF5 (a molecule that causes hair loss and thinning in the scalp) to restore thickness and reverse the impacts of stress on hair.