Can Stress Cause Hair Loss? Can You Prevent It?

Medically reviewed by Dr. Shruti Chavan, MBBS Dermatologist
Written by Arshiya Syeda

Scientific evidence shows that stress hormones impact hair follicle development, affecting your hair cycle (1). Therefore, if left unaddressed, stress-induced hair loss can result in disorders like alopecia, telogen effluvium, and baldness.

But here’s the good news – controlling your stress levels can restore your hair health. Simply put, stress-related hair loss is fully reversible or temporary (2). Want to know how? Read on to understand how to prevent stress from getting to your head(literally).

How Can Stress Cause Hair Loss?

Hair follicle development is a cyclic activity. It is broadly divided into phases that show

growth and hair formation (anagen), senescence/shrinkage (catagen), and dormant/resting (telogen).

Several growth factors govern the transition of hair follicles between these phases. The latest research suggests that molecules produced during stress response (stressors) also affect the hair follicle development. These molecules either directly interfere or interact with the governing growth factors and impede the smooth transition (1).

When your body is under stress, there are chances that the stressors push hair follicles into the telogen or catagen phase. They may also alter the gene expression in the hair stem cells. As a result, the hair shafts show poor anchorage, low protein (keratin) levels, or stunted growth in the hair fibers. Such situations ultimately cause excessive hair fall, thinning, balding, loss of pigmentation, and scalp disorders (1).

Although researchers are exploring the relationship between stress and hair growth, a few studies link a few prevalent hair fall disorders to stress levels.

Types Of Hair Loss Linked To Stress

  1. Telogen effluvium (TE): This form of hair loss happens 2-3 months after your body has undergone significant stress caused by prolonged illness, major surgery, chemotherapy, or a severe infection. TE can also occur after a sudden change in the hormone levels, especially in women after childbirth.

Hair thinning is one of the symptoms of TE. You will experience significant hair fall from all parts of the scalp. However, large bald spots are rare (1).

  1. Alopecia areata: In this condition, the hair falls out in small patches on the scalp(1). This is an autoimmune disease, and the causes are unknown. It can be associated with vitiligo, thyroid, atopy, asthma, and Down syndrome. It is also seen in patients with cancer who take a drug called nivolumab (3).
  1. Trichotillomania: This is more of a psychiatric condition in which the person has a strong urge to pull hair from the scalp, eyebrows, eyelids, and other areas despite repeated attempts to stop hair pulling. Trichotillomania is linked to emotional and psychiatric stress, anxiety, and depression (4).

Other than stress, physiological, genetic, environmental, and other factors can affect hair growth. The question is – will the hair grow back in the bald patches? Is stress-induced hair loss permanent? Keep reading to find out.

Is Stress-Related Hair Loss Permanent?

No, it is generally not. In disorders like telogen effluvium, hair loss can last for two or more months, and the hair may regrow in 3-6 months (5). Alopecia also shows signs of regrowth in bald patches within 6-12 months. However, there is no treatment for this condition, and new bald patches may develop (6). When the factors inducing stress are eliminated, trichotillomania cases show improvement. Habit Reversal Training and other behavioral therapy can help in this regard (7).

In some types of hair loss, the hair follicle is scarred or damaged, minimizing the chances of hair regrowth. Heredity and not addressing hormonal disturbances can further lower the chances of regrowth.  However, research indicates that hair regrowth is possible when stressors are removed or managed in most stress-related hair loss (3).

How do you deal with hair loss? Find out next.

How To Control Stress-Related Hair Loss

  • Stay away from known stress triggers.
  • Increase your protein intake. Add plant and animal sources of protein to your diet.
  • Switch to a medicated anti-dandruff shampoo.
  • Use gentle hair care and styling products. Keep a check on the water quality.
  • Treat scalp infections immediately. They may aggravate hair loss if left untreated.
  • Practise meditation and relaxation techniques to bring down anxiety.
  • Keep your dermatologist informed about excessive hair fall in the initial stages. This makes treatment easier and effective.
  • Be patient. Hair grows only half an inch every month.

Stress-related hair loss is not a life-threatening condition. But you are left with very few treatment options when you realize the damage because it is asymptomatic.

What Treatments Are Available For Stress-Related Hair Loss?

  • Biotin supplements under medical guidance can rejuvenate the scalp and hair follicles.
  • Over-the-counter drugs like minoxidil prescribed by dermatologists can control hair shedding.
  • Multivitamins, particularly zinc and selenium, replenish nutrients in hair fibers.
  • Using products with natural stress relievers (adaptogens) with no preservatives can be another option.
  • Blood examinations may be required to identify and mitigate infections and autoimmune diseases.
  • Keratin restoration treatment may temporarily strengthen the hair.
  • Regular exercise improves overall blood circulation and stress tolerance.
  • Correcting the sleep-wake cycle and eating habits can also help promote hair regrowth.

Conclusion

There is no tried and tested, one-size-fits-all treatment option for hair loss. It primarily depends on the underlying factors, apart from stress. For acute hair loss conditions like telogen effluvium and some alopecia cases, drugs and stress management are viable options. In cases of genetic hair disorders or trichotillomania, hair regrowth is minimal.

It is best to keep a watch on the hair fall levels. Consult a dermatologist if you see a sudden spike in hair fall. Above all, be patient with your hair. It may take time to see the difference, but you certainly will. Stop stressing about the hair fall and get professional help as soon as possible.

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Sources

Articles on StyleCraze are backed by verified information from peer-reviewed and academic research papers, reputed organizations, research institutions, and medical associations to ensure accuracy and relevance. Read our editorial policy to learn more.

  1. Stress and the Hair Follicle
    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1868107/
  2. Hair and stress: A pilot study of hair and cytokine balance alteration in healthy young women under major exam stress
    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5397031/
  3. An Overview of Alopecias
    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3935391/
  4. Burden of Hair Loss: Stress and the Underestimated Psychosocial Impact of Telogen Effluvium and Androgenetic Alopecia
    https://www.jidonline.org/article/S0022-202X(15)30963-5/fulltext
  5. Telogen Effluvium: A Review,
    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4606321/
  6. Alopecia Areata: Review of Epidemiology, Clinical Features, Pathogenesis, and New Treatment Options,
    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5939003/
  7. Habit Reversal Training for Trichotillomania,
    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3358939/
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Arshiya Syeda is an editor and certified counselor. Ever the lover of the written word, she served on the editorial boards of her school and college newsletters. Writing articles on hairstyles, hair care, and nutrition helped her combine her love for reading, writing, and research. As an editor, she helps her team members deliver polished and meticulously researched content. Arshiya is fluent in English, Urdu, and Hindi and aims to become a multilinguist by learning German and teaching herself American Sign Language (ASL).