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Stress and Female Hair Loss: What You Need to Know

Kristin Hall

Medically reviewed by Kristin Hall, FNP

Written by Our Editorial Team

Last updated10/20/2020

Feeling stressed? According to data from the American Psychological Association, Americans are feeling more stressed than ever.

Stress can originate from a variety of sources. A difficult personal life, challenging job or tough financial situation can all cause and worsen stress, lead to symptoms ranging from insomnia and fatigue to headaches, aches, pains and a weakened immune system.

Hopefully, you are doing all you can to overcome stress by engaging with essential wellness resources. Managing stress is different for everyone so be patient with yourself as you find what works for you.

Physical stress is one of several factors that can contribute to hair certain types of hair loss. If you’re feeling overly stressed, it’s possible that you might notice your hair starting to fall out and thin, even if you’re not genetically prone to female hair loss.

Below, we’ve explained how stress can affect your hair health, as well as what you can do to treat hair loss from stress. We’ve also listed other potential causes of hair loss in women that are easy to mistake for stress-induced hair loss.

How Does Stress Cause Hair Loss? 

Most of the time, hair loss is caused by hormonal and genetic factors such as a sensitivity to dihydrotestosterone (DHT). However, in some cases, external factors such as stress can take their toll on your hairline, causing everything from thinning to patches of total hair loss.

Stress is linked to a type of hair loss called telogen effluvium, which can interrupt your hair’s natural growth cycle.

Like your skin and nails, your hair doesn’t grow in just one stage. Instead, each hair completes a complex growth cycle that involves multiple stages, from growing from the follicle to reaching its full length, breaking away and repeating the cycle.

In the first stage — the anagen phase — your hair starts to grow from the hair follicle, growing by about six inches every year. Each strand of hair continues to grow for two to six years before it reaches its full length.

After the hair reaches its full length, it enters the catagen phase. In this phase, the hair follicle starts to shrink. The strand of hair detaches from the follicle and stops growing. Since the hair isn’t attached to the follicle, it’s no longer supplied with nutrients from your body. 

After about two weeks, the hair exits the catagen phase and enters the telogen phase. At this point, a new hair will start to grow from the follicle, causing the old strand of hair to detach from your body and shed. 

It’s normal for between 10 percent and 15 percent of your hairs to be in the telogen phase at any time. With a normal, healthy hair growth cycle, telogen hairs are quickly replaced by new hair follicles, helping you maintain a full, healthy head of hair.

When you’re feeling extremely stressed, your body can push more hairs than normal into the telogen phase of the hair growth cycle for some time. When the hairs eventually re-enter the growth phase, they typically fall out, causing rapid hair loss. 

This means your hair could start shedding quite quickly after a stressful event, leaving you with noticeable thin patches and fewer actively growing hairs. 

Telogen effluvium can be triggered by a single stressful event, such as the death of a loved one, breakup anxiety, or a major personal setback. It can also occur gradually as a result of lasting, long-term stress, such as a challenging, high-pressure job or stressful living environment. 

Read more in our blog on the best jobs for someone with anxiety and depression.

Behaviors that stem from sudden or chronic stress, such as crash dieting, can also contribute to telogen effluvium and worsen your hair loss.

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How to Identify Stress-Induced Hair Loss

Telogen effluvium (stress-induced hair loss) usually causes diffuse thinning, a type of hair loss that affects your entire scalp. If you have telogen effluvium, your hair will normally look thinner and less dense than normal, especially under bright light.

Normally, telogen effluvium doesn’t cause a receding hairline, crown hair loss or other common symptoms of androgenetic alopecia (hormonal hair loss). It also usually doesn’t cause patches of hair loss, which are a common symptom of alopecia areata (spot baldness). 

How much hair loss is normal in the shower? It’s normal to lose between 50 and 100 hairs every day. Diagnosis of telogen effluvium is usually made if you shed more than 100 hairs daily, or if you don’t quickly regrow the hairs you lose as a result of stress-induced hair loss. 

Stress-induced hair loss can usually be identified by looking at the hairs you lose. Since the hair loss from telogen effluvium occurs during the telogen phase, many of the hairs you lose should have a small, white bulb at the root

If you’re worried that you might have telogen effluvium, the best option is to schedule a meeting with your healthcare provider. They’ll be able to identify and diagnose the type of hair loss you’re experiencing, making it easier to choose an effective treatment.

How to Treat Stress-Induced Hair Loss

Stress-induced hair loss is usually temporary. While hair loss medications minoxidil and finasteride can help you regrow the “lost” hair, an effective treatment is to change your lifestyle to reduce or eliminate the root causes of your stress.

Sometimes, stress-induced hair loss occurs as the result of a one-off stressful event, such as a death, breakup or traumatic experience. Surgical procedures can also cause you to shed some hair as part of the recovery process. 

It’s also possible to experience temporary hair loss after a severe illness, which can affect your hair growth cycle. 

This type of one-off hair loss usually resolves by itself after three to six months, meaning you usually won’t need to make any changes to your habits or lifestyle. Instead, it’s best to spend your time focusing on recovering from the traumatic or stressful event.

Lifestyle Changes

For hair loss caused by chronic stress, such as a stressful career or personal life, changes to your lifestyle to minimize stress can help you reduce and end hair loss. These can include:

  • Changing to a less stressful career, or making changes to your work situation that allow you to reduce stress and anxiety.

  • Exercising more frequently. Studies show that physical activity plays a key role in stress management, meaning that exercising more frequently could help you get stress under control and avoid further hair loss.

  • Yoga, meditation and mindfulness exercises can also help to reduce stress, helping you to better manage your career and personal life without feeling overwhelmed.

  • Improving your sleep habits. Sleep disorders such as insomnia and stress are closely linked, meaning you can often worsen stress by sleeping too late, not sleeping enough or waking up frequently during the night.

  • Reducing your stimulant intake. Consuming too much caffeine can make you feel more stressed. Also, limiting or completely avoiding caffeine in the late afternoon and evening can help you sleep better, which also helps in reducing stress.

  • Keeping a stress diary. If you feel stressed, try writing down all of the events that make you feel stressed, as well as things you’re grateful for, in a stress diary. Sometimes the act of writing things down can provide helpful stress relief.

Medication to Manage Stress 

If you have chronic stress or anxiety, your healthcare provider might recommend medication to help you get your stress under control. A variety of medications are used to treat stress, ranging from SSRIs to anti-anxiety medications. 

Hair Loss Medication

While hair loss medications won’t directly stop hair loss from stress, they can help you regrow hair you’ve lost as a result of stress-induced hair loss.

Minoxidil, a topical medication that’s designed to speed up and increase hair growth, is widely used to treat telogen effluvium. It works by increasing the speed at which your hair follicles go into the anagen phase, promoting faster, more effective hair growth.

Our guide to minoxidil for female hair loss explains how minoxidil works, as well as how you can use it as a treatment for stress-induced hair loss.

Hair Loss Supplements

There are a variety of over-the-counter supplements designed to improve hair growth, but it’s important to note their efficacy isn’t always backed by science. Some have proven more effective than others, but remember: use them at your own risk, and don’t expect any miracles. 

Some of these supplements include:

  • Biotin: Biotin is important in maintaining proper skin, nail and hair health, and a biotin deficiency will certainly cause hair loss. Naturally, people believe that if you up your biotin intake through supplements, you’re hair, skin and nail health improve. 
    However, the research supporting this is thin. Different meta-analyses tracking the efficacy of biotin have shown that in studies where biotin-deficient subjects were given biotin supplements, their hair, nail and skin health did improve — but that’s generally because they were biotin deficient. 
    However, a biotin deficiency is extremely uncommon, and there’s no real evidence to suggest that biotin abundance helps anything. 

  • Vitamins and minerals: Minerals and Vitamins for hair loss in women: Deficiencies of certain vitamins and minerals like vitamin D, vitamin C and iron have been shown to improve the symptoms of certain types of hair loss — including telogen effluvium, androgenic alopecia and, depending on the vitamin or mineral, alopecia areata.
    However, plenty of supplements containing zinc, vitamin B12 and vitamin E are touted as miracle cures for hair loss, but the research doesn’t support those claims.

  • L-Cysteine and keratin: Both of these amino acids are crucial to skin and hair health, and the science says they’re crucial to maintaining proper hair health. However, in supplement form, as with biotin, unless there’s a deficiency, the research doesn’t support their efficacy in hair growth or regrowth.

How Long Does It Take to Regrow Hair

Most of the time, any hair you lose from stress-induced hair loss will come back. After you’ve treated the root cause of your hair loss, it’s normal for your hair to grow back over three to six months. 

However, because it can take several years for hair to grow to its full length, it can take quite a lot of time for your hair to completely restore itself after stress-induced hair loss. 

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Learn More About Telogen Effluvium

From stress to surgery, nutritional deficiencies and more, a wide range of factors can contribute to telogen effluvium. 

Our Female Hair Loss 101 guide goes into more detail on how temporary hair loss can occur, as well as what you can do to treat it. 

This article is for informational purposes only and does not constitute medical advice. The information contained herein is not a substitute for and should never be relied upon for professional medical advice. Always talk to your doctor about the risks and benefits of any treatment. Learn more about our editorial standards here.

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