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.
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.
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, a difficult breakup 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.
Behaviors that stem from sudden or chronic stress, such as crash dieting, can also contribute to telogen effluvium and worsen your 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).
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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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:
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.
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.