Everyone gets stressed from time to time but what happens when stress becomes a regular part of daily life? Or when a person faces an emotional upheaval such as divorce, redundancy or the death of a loved one. One of the physical symptoms of stress can be hair loss. Here is some information to explain how stress affects hair growth and expert advice on treatment.
What is Stress-Related Hair Loss?
Stress, illness, medications, childbirth and rapid weight loss can all cause a type of hair loss called Telogen Effluvium. This causes thinning hair all over the scalp. It is often a temporary condition where the hair growth returns to normal approximately six to twelve months after the event.
However, in some cases it can trigger Male Pattern Baldness or Female Pattern Hair Loss in those with the ‘balding gene’. For those people already experiencing these forms of hereditary hair loss, stress can accelerate the rate of shedding. These permanent, genetic conditions may require treatment to prevent severe all-over hair thinning or baldness.
Extreme stress, sudden shock or trauma are all thought to contribute to the onset of the autoimmune disorder, Alopecia Areata.
This presents as rounded bald spots or patches and, whilst in this scalp-only form, alopecia areata treatment can be successful in regrowing hair. However, there are also more extreme phenotypes of this condition – alopecia totalis and alopecia universalis – which cause total baldness of the head, and from head to toe respectively, for which an effective treatment is yet to be found.
How Does Stress Cause Hair Loss?
When a person feels intense stress – whether emotional or physical, the body releases a large amount of adrenaline; this transmits a signal to the hair follicles which causes them to enter the telogen (resting) phase early, where they stay for three months.
During this phase there is no new hair growth. This results in an uneven hair growth pattern which leads to thinning hair and then hair loss from all over the scalp. It is typical for around 50 per cent of hairs to be affected in cases of Telogen Effluvium and Chronic Telogen Effluvium, also known as Diffuse Thinning.
Why Does Stress Cause Hair Loss?
Hair growth is considered to be a non-essential bodily function. Therefore, when the body feels under attack – meaning stress in any form, from an underlying illness, sudden trauma, to emotional stresses or other issues that place unusual strain on the body – it diverts its attention away from these ‘lesser’ processes in order to put all its energy into maintaining the normal activity of critical functions. As a result, the hair growth cycle can be affected.
Some forms of stress can also lead to an increased chance of poor lifestyle choices such as smoking and unhealthy eating. These too have been linked to hairloss, particularly in relation to oxidative stress which researchers have found may prematurely bring on male pattern baldness in young men.
Furthermore, stress also has a drying effect on the body, meaning the hair can appear dull and dry during particularly intense bouts.
How to Treat Stress-Related Hair Loss
Examples of how to deal with ‘small’ stresses include taking up a hobby you enjoy, exercise, meditation, spending time with friends and reading. It is important that this becomes a regular part of your routine to help the body relax and release tension. For stress that is more severe, such as divorce, workplace bullying, job loss or the death of a loved one, it is advisable to seek the help of a counsellor, support group or therapist – your doctor should be able to recommend appropriate organisations or refer you, as necessary.
Once the underlying stress is being managed, if shedding persists and does not clear up of its own accord, it is possible to use appropriate hair loss treatments following a consultation with a hair specialist to ensure the optimum products are recommended based on the condition and the patient’s medical suitability. In addition to established medications, hair growth supporting products can also be used to supplement the pharmaceutical approach.
Whatever is causing the hair loss, trying to cope with it can add to the stress already being experienced. A specialist will be able to give you an accurate diagnosis, answer any questions you have and discuss treatment options. This kind of support can be invaluable, as we often hear from clients who feel like a weight has been lifted once they take that first, proactive step of having even just an initial consultation and find out that help and support is available.
The Belgravia Centre is an organisation specialising in hair growth and hair loss prevention with two clinics and in-house pharmacies in Central London, UK. If you are worried about hair loss you can arrange a free consultation with a hair loss expert or complete our Online Consultation Form from anywhere in the world. View our Hair Loss Success Stories, which includes the world’s largest gallery of hair growth comparison photos and demonstrates the levels of success that so many of Belgravia’s patients achieve. You can also phone 020 7730 6666 any time to arrange a free consultation.