Hair loss is a common issue that affects both men and women. If you’re experiencing hair loss all of a sudden, stress may be the culprit. Stress-related hair loss is a real phenomenon and can have a significant impact on your emotional and mental well-being. In this article, we will explore the link between stress and hair loss, the types of stress-related hair loss, and how you can encourage hair regrowth.
Understanding Hair Growth and Hair Loss
To understand how stress affects hair health, it’s essential to understand the hair growth cycle. Human hair growth occurs in a cycle of four phases: anagen, catagen, telogen, and exogen. The anagen phase is the active growth phase that lasts for two to seven years. During the catagen phase, the hair follicle begins to shrink and lasts for two weeks. The telogen phase is a three-month resting phase, and during the exogen phase, the follicle sheds the hair and begins new growth.
All of your hair follicles are in different stages of the hair growth cycle at any given time. Hair loss occurs when the growth cycle is disrupted due to various factors, including stress.
Types of Stress-Related Hair Loss
Not all hair loss is caused by stress. However, there are three types of hair loss that are associated with high stress levels: telogen effluvium, alopecia areata, and trichotillomania.
Telogen effluvium (TE) is one of the most common types of hair loss caused by stress. It occurs when there’s a change in the number of hair follicles that are growing hair. If this change occurs during the telogen or resting phase of hair growth, it can result in shedding.
TE often presents as thinning hair on the top of the head, especially toward the center of the scalp. People affected by TE usually don’t lose all of their scalp hair. In more extreme cases, you may experience thinning hair on other parts of the body, including the eyebrows or the genital area.
TE is fully reversible, and it doesn’t permanently damage the hair follicles. The cause of your TE will affect whether your hair grows back in a few short months or longer.
Alopecia areata (AA) is an autoimmune disease that develops when your immune system attacks your hair follicles. This may be triggered by stress, and it can result in hair loss. Hair may be lost in round patches on the scalp, or across the entire scalp. In a more severe form of AA known as alopecia universalis, hair is lost from the entire body. The hair may grow back and fall out repeatedly over a period of time.
There is no known cure for AA, though there are some prescription medications that may help those with over 50 percent hair loss.
Trichotillomania is an impulse control disorder that involves the urge to pull out hair from your scalp or other parts of your body. Hair pulling from the scalp, eyebrows, and eyelashes is often noticeable. This may cause additional stress, perpetuating the cycle of the disorder.
Trichotillomania most often develops in preteens and can last a lifetime. Although it isn’t clear what causes trichotillomania, research suggests that it may be genetic.
How Stress Affects Hair Health
Chronic stress can have a significant impact on your hair health. Stress can cause hair follicles to prematurely enter the telogen phase, leading to hair loss. Stress can also cause hair-pulling behaviors, further exacerbating the issue.
In a recent study by Harvard University researchers, the biological mechanism by which chronic stress impairs hair follicle stem cells was identified. The study found that a major stress hormone puts hair follicle stem cells into an extended resting phase, without regenerating the follicle or the hair. The researchers identified the specific cell type and molecule responsible for relaying the stress signal to the stem cells and showed that this pathway can be potentially targeted to restore hair growth.
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Managing Stress-Related Hair Loss
If your hair loss is caused by stress, managing your stress levels may help you reduce your risk for further hair loss. Here are some tips to help you manage stress-related hair loss:
Diet and Nutrition
Eating a balanced, nutritious diet of whole foods is necessary for the health of your body and your hair. While it’s important to include all of the essential vitamins in a healthy diet, there are some that may be vital to hair growth. Vitamin C is essential for building collagen, the skin’s connective tissue that is found in hair follicles. Foods that contain vitamin C include citrus fruits, broccoli, bell peppers, and strawberries. Vitamin B promotes a healthy metabolism, as well as healthy skin and hair. B vitamins can be found in foods like dark leafy greens, beans, nuts, and avocados. Vitamin E contains potent antioxidants, which can contribute to a healthy scalp. Foods rich in vitamin E include sunflower seeds, spinach, olive oil, broccoli, and shrimp.
Learning how to effectively manage your stress levels may help you reduce your risk for further hair loss. Exercise is a great way to eliminate stress. Try taking a light daily walk, signing up for a dance class, or doing some yard work. Occupying yourself with something that you enjoy doing can be a great way to combat stress. Consider doing volunteer work, joining your local community theater group, planting a garden, or starting an art project. Try taking a few minutes each day to write about your feelings and the things that cause you stress. Reviewing the daily items that trigger your stress may help you to discover ways of coping with it. Meditation and breathing exercises are great ways to allow yourself to focus on the present moment. You may also wish to try techniques that combine meditation with physical exercises, like yoga or tai chi.
There are a number of topical creams, oils, and other products that may help with your hair loss. Topical minoxidil is an over-the-counter medication that can be applied to your scalp, eyebrows, or beard up to twice daily. It’s thought to prolong the growth phase of the hair follicle and may not work for everyone. Topical corticosteroids, like prednisone, are sometimes used to treat alopecia areata. They’re often used alongside other treatment options. Castor oil is a popular folk remedy for hair regrowth, although research to support this is limited.
Stress-related hair loss is a real phenomenon that can have a significant impact on your emotional and mental well-being. Understanding the link between stress and hair loss can help you take steps to manage your stress levels and encourage hair regrowth. By following a healthy diet, managing stress levels, and trying out topical treatments, you may be able to reduce your risk for further hair loss and encourage hair regrowth. If OTC measures aren’t working or you aren’t seeing results, see your doctor. They can help diagnose the reason for your hair loss and advise you on any next steps.