Hair loss is clinically known as alopecia. Both men and women may experience hair loss in their lifetime. If you’re experiencing hair loss, it may be caused by stress.
Keep reading to learn how stress can affect your hair health, whether its effects are permanent, and what you can do to help encourage regrowth.
Not all hair loss is caused by stress. There are three types of hair loss that are associated with high stress levels:
Telogen effluvium (TE) occurs when there’s a change to the number of hair follicles that are actually growing hair. If this change occurs during the telogen — or resting — phase of hair growth, it can result in shedding.
This thinning may not occur all over the head. It’s often seen in patches, 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. This includes the eyebrows or the genital area.
TE may be the second most common type of hair loss seen by dermatologists. It can happen to men and women at any age.
The hair loss that occurs from TE is fully reversible. TE 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. It 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. AA can affect men and women of any age, affecting over six million people in the United States.
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 also known as hair pulling disorder. It involves the urge to pull out the hair from your scalp or other parts of your body. It’s considered an impulse control disorder.
You may find that hair pulling happens without much thought, like when you’re bored or distracted. The hair pulling may also be more intentional and used as a means to relieve stress or other negative emotions.
Hair pulling from the scalp, eyebrows, and eyelashes is often noticeable. This may cause additional stress, perpetuating the cycle of the disorder.
If your hair loss is caused by stress, it’s possible for your hair to grow back in time. The rate of regrowth will be different for everyone.
Human hair growth occurs in a cycle of four phases.
The average human scalp has about 100,000 hair follicles. At any given time, each of your hair follicles is in a different phase of this cycle:
- Anagen phase. This is the growing phase of hair. It lasts two to seven years
- Catagen phase. This is a short, two-week phase that occurs when the hair follicle begins to shrink.
- Telogen phase. This is a three-month resting phase.
- Exogen phase. This phase occurs when the follicle sheds the hair and begins new growth.
If your hair loss has been triggered by stress, managing your stress could be the key to returning to a healthy rate of hair growth.
There are a number of things that you can do to reduce hair loss and encourage new growth.
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. This vitamin 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. This complex of many vitamins 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. This vitamin contains potent antioxidants, which can contribute to a healthy scalp. Foods rich in vitamin E include sunflower seeds, spinach, olive oil, broccoli, and shrimp.
If you aren’t getting enough of these nutrients in your diet, talk to your doctor about supplements. They can discuss your options and recommend the best dosage for you. You should never add nutritional supplements to your routine without your doctor’s supervision.
Keeping properly hydrated is also essential to overall good health. Every cell in your body relies on water to function properly.
Men should aim for 15 1/2 cups of water per day, and women should aim for 11 1/2 cups per day. That amount can come from food, water, and other beverages. A reasonable goal is to drink 8 glasses of water per day, and allow the rest to come from your diet and other beverages.
Learning how to effectively manage your stress levels may help you reduce your risk for further hair loss. Of course, this is often easier said than done.
You may have to try several different stress-management techniques before you find what works for you.
Popular ways to reduce stress:
- Exercise. 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.
- Hobbies. Occupying yourself with something that you enjoy doing can be a great way to combat stress. Consider doing volunteer work, joining your local community theatre group, planting a garden, or starting an art project.
- Writing. 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.
- Breathing and meditation. 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 exercise, 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 (Rogaine). Topical minoxidil is an over-the-counter (OTC) medication. It’s available as a cream, spray, or foam. You can apply it to your scalp, eyebrows, or beard up to twice daily. It isn’t appropriate for other parts of the body. There are variations formulated specifically for male or female use. Although it isn’t clear how minoxidil works, it’s thought to prolong the growth phase. It may not work for everyone, and results may take up to four months to see.
- Topical corticosteroids. Topical OTC and prescription corticosteroids, like prednisone, are sometimes used to treat alopecia areata. They’re often used alongside other treatment options.
- Castor oil. This is a popular folk remedy for hair regrowth. Although anecdotal evidence suggests that topical use can increase hair growth, research to support this is limited.
It’s possible that your hair loss isn’t stress related. There are many factors and conditions that could cause you to lose your hair.
Other common reasons for hair loss include:
- medications, like some blood thinners or antidepressants
- illness or recent surgery
- hormonal changes, like childbirth or menopause
- nutritional deficiency, like a lack of sufficient protein or iron
If your hair loss is stress related, your hair follicles haven’t been permanently damaged. Managing your stress and taking good care of your health could result in your hair returning to a normal rate of growth.
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. If regrowth is possible, they can help determine the best treatment plan for your symptoms.