It’s difficult to be under stress and hair loss can make it even worse. Find out how stress affects hair loss and what you can do about it.
We have all had days when stress makes us feel like pulling our hair out, but can stress actually cause hair loss? The (perhaps surprising) answer is yes, stress and hair loss are linked. Medical experts cite extreme stress as the cause of two different forms of hair loss: telogen effluvium and alopecia areata. To understand how stress can affect your hair, it is helpful to know how hair grows.
How Hair Grows
Hair grows from the hair follicles just under your skin’s surface. Your soft tresses are composed of the same protein (keratin) that your nails are. The follicles produce live keratin cells, but the hair you see is composed of dead keratin cells.
Each follicle has a life cycle of its own, which is divided into three periods: anagen, catagen, and telogen. The anagen stage is the growth stage and it can last from two to six years. The catagen stage is a two or three week transitional period between the growth stage and the resting stage. The telogen stage is the resting period, which lasts eight to twelve weeks. At the end of the resting period, your old hairs are shed and new hair replaces them as the growth cycle starts.
The majority of your scalp follicles are growing hair at the same time, but the rate of growth can be affected by your health, your age, and your stress levels.
It is normal to lose some hair every day. The average adult has over 100,000 strands of hair on their scalp and it is common to lose around a 100 strands a day. Don’t worry about some hair loss, unless it is excessive or you begin to notice that your hair looks noticeably thinner.
Stress and Hair Loss: How are they related?
One-time Stressful Events
Chances are if you are suffering from telogen effluvium hair loss you will have some idea of the source of the stress. This condition with the tongue-twisting name is directly linked to a serious one-time stressful event such as surgery, injury, or sickness.
When the body experiences a stressful event such as injury, surgery, or illness it responds by targeting all its energy to recovering from the problem, rather than growing hair, nails, and so on. Many hair follicles enter into a resting stage prematurely and hair from the resting follicles begins to fall out at a noticeable rate two to three months after the initial problem. You might notice big handfuls in your brush or comb, or on the floor.
This type of stress related hair loss is certainly alarming, but there is no cause for concern. You can’t go bald from telogen effluvium hair loss, although on some days it may seem like you might. Experts assure us that hair lost from this form of stress will return in six to nine months, likely just as thick and healthy as ever.
Hair loss from the stress of a one time health problem does not need treatment, but the stress-related hair loss caused by alopecia areata frequently does need treatment. Alopecia areata is believed to be caused by chronic stress as well as genetic factors and is itself quite stressful and distressful.
Alopecia areata is an inflammatory disease–your immune system on overdrive. Hair growth is stopped when white cells (the body’s disease fighters) mistakenly attack the hair follicles. The affected hairs begin falling out shortly after the growth stops. Round bald spots occur with alopecia and some unfortunate patients may become entirely bald. Medical treatments help some people, but not all alopecia patients.
Will my Hair Ever Grow Back?
Fortunately, in both telogen effluvium and alopecia areata the hair follicles are not damaged; they are simply dormant.
It is rare for telogen effluvium to lead to permanently thinner hair.
In alopecia areata, your hair may return on its own after a period of several months. Sometimes hair re-grows in alopecia areata only to fall out once more. It is not unusual for alopecia areata patients to experience several cycles of hair loss and re-growth. The returning hair maybe thinner, finer, and even a different color than previously. While this cycle of hair re-growth is frustrating, it is a sign that the hair follicles are still working.
Stress and hair loss are linked. If you are suffering from hair loss caused by stress you can take heart that it is likely not a permanent condition. Remember that stressing over the problem can just make matters worse. Instead of fretting, take simple steps towards a healthier lifestyle and you may find that stress-induced hair loss eases on its own.