If you've ever experienced stress, you'll recognise symptoms like poor sleep, headaches, and difficulty concentrating. But you may not know that stress can also take a toll on our hair health.
In this guide, we'll walk you through everything you need to know, including why stress causes hair loss, the types of stress-related alopecia, how to regain hair loss from stress, as well as some tips for managing stress.
Why does stress cause hair loss?
When we encounter stress, our body's natural "fight, flight, or freeze" response kicks in, triggering the release of stress hormones like cortisol to help us deal with potentially dangerous situations.
But if stress becomes chronic, these hormones can disrupt the hair growth cycle, leading to a higher number of hair follicles entering the resting phase (telogen). And this can cause increased hair shedding and thinning over time.
Types of stress-related hair loss
Telogen effluvium (TE)
Telogen effluvium is one of the most common types of hair loss associated with stress.
Not all the hairs on our heads are actively growing, and according to the NHS, it's normal to lose between 50 and 100 hairs a day, often without noticing. But, when experiencing intense or prolonged stress, more hair follicles can prematurely enter the resting phase (telogen). After a few months, these hairs are shed, resulting in noticeable hair thinning — this is known as telogen effluvium.
Alopecia areata is an autoimmune condition where the body's immune system mistakenly attacks hair follicles, leading to hair loss.
Although the exact cause of alopecia areata is unknown, stress is thought to be a triggering factor, disrupting the immune system and making things worse for people who are already susceptible. It can cause sudden patches of hair loss on the scalp and may also extend to other areas of the body, like the eyebrows and eyelashes.
Although managing stress alone won't completely fix alopecia areata, it can ease the severity of symptoms in some cases.
Trichotillomania is a hair-pulling disorder often linked to stress and anxiety. People with this condition have an irresistible urge to pull out their hair as a way to find relief or control, leading to hair loss in specific areas.
Does hair loss from stress grow back?
Whether stress-related hair loss grows back depends on the type of hair loss you have.
For people with telogen effluvium, hair growth usually resumes once the underlying stress is addressed. As the stress diminishes, hair follicles return to their normal growth phase, and regrowth occurs. The same is true for trichotillomania — once the hair-pulling habit is controlled, the affected areas can recover.
On the other hand, alopecia areata can be unpredictable since it's an autoimmune condition, and the extent of hair follicle damage varies, resulting in different outcomes. While some may experience regrowth after a few months once stress is managed, others might find it more challenging to stimulate growth, especially in severe cases.
How long does stress-related hair loss last?
The duration of stress-related alopecia can vary from person to person. In many cases, once the underlying stress is effectively managed or resolved, hair loss may gradually improve and eventually stop.
But for some, it might take a few weeks to several months for the hair to start regrowing. And for others with conditions like pattern baldness, hair loss might continue despite stress reduction efforts.
How to regain hair loss from stress
Each type of stress-related hair loss requires specific approaches to manage and promote hair regrowth. Let's explore the treatments for each of the common conditions:
When telogen effluvium is caused by stress, the primary focus should be on managing stress levels. But over-the-counter medications like minoxidil (Regaine) can help. You can apply it daily to the scalp, promoting increased blood flow and delivering essential nutrients to the hair roots. With consistent use, you may notice hair growth and a reduction in thinning or balding.
Managing alopecia areata involves addressing the underlying autoimmune response.
- Injections — dermatologists may administer corticosteroids, synthetic drugs that mimic the effects of natural hormones, directly into the affected areas. This helps to reduce inflammation and suppress the immune system's attack on hair follicles.
- Topical creams — Corticosteroid-containing creams can be applied directly to the affected scalp areas to manage inflammation and immune response.
- Immunotherapy — This treatment involves applying an allergen to the scalp to trigger an allergic reaction, which redirects the immune system's focus away from attacking the hair follicles. It aims to shift the immune response and create a more balanced environment on the scalp, allowing for hair regrowth.
If you're struggling with trichotillomania, stopping the hair-pulling habit is vital for hair regrowth. Behavioural therapy, cognitive-behavioural techniques, or habit-reversal training can help you gain control over the urge to pull out your hair. Identifying triggers and adopting healthy coping strategies can significantly support the recovery process.
Tips for managing stress
Managing stress is essential, not only for your mental well-being but also for your hair health. Stress can contribute to hair loss, but the good news is that there are practical ways to handle it, including:
Understanding what is causing you stress
Whether it's a problem at work, relationship struggles or financial worries, figuring out what's causing you stress can help you deal with it better. By pinpointing the source, you can take control of the situation and work towards making positive changes, ultimately reducing stress — and your hair will thank you for it!
Make time for activities that help you relax and unwind, like meditation, yoga, or practising a hobby. But remember, self-care can take various forms, and it may differ for everyone. The key is prioritising time for yourself because nurturing your well-being is essential for leading a happier, less stressful life.
According to Harvard Health, exercise reduces stress by triggering the release of feel-good chemicals in your body, like endorphins, while also lowering stress hormones. It can also help take your mind off worries, make you feel good about yourself, and improve sleep, all of which lead to less stress and a happier mindset.
Eat a healthy diet
A well-balanced diet provides the necessary nutrients, vitamins, and minerals that support the optimal functioning of your body and mind. And when your body is well-nourished, it can better cope with stress.
Practice breathing exercises
According to the NHS, incorporating breathing exercises into your daily routine can be a simple yet effective way to manage stress and promote relaxation.
Here's a short step-by-step guide to doing a basic breathing exercise:
- Find a quiet space — Choose a quiet and comfortable space where you can sit or lie down without distractions.
- Take a comfortable position — Sit or lie down with your back straight and shoulders relaxed. Place one hand on your chest and the other on your stomach.
- Inhale slowly — Take a slow, deep breath through your nose, allowing your stomach to expand as you inhale. Feel the breath filling your lungs and expanding your chest.
- Exhale gently — Exhale slowly and steadily through your mouth or nose, whichever feels more natural to you. As you exhale, feel your stomach gently fall, pushing out the air from your lungs.
- Focus on your breath — Pay attention to the sensation of your breath as it moves in and out of your body. Focus on the rhythm and the feeling of relaxation with each breath.
- Count your breaths — If it helps, you can count the duration of your inhales and exhales. For example, inhale for a count of four and exhale for six.
- Repeat several times — Continue this deep breathing pattern for a few minutes, ideally at least five minutes, or longer if you have the time.
Set realistic boundaries to prevent feeling overwhelmed. Learning to say "no" when necessary can reduce stress because it allows you to focus on your priorities, manage your time effectively, and avoid taking on more than you can handle.
Consider a hair transplant with FUE Clinics
Stress-related hair loss usually improves once you manage stress effectively, but some genetic conditions like pattern baldness may persist regardless of stress levels.
Hair transplantation is a permanent treatment for alopecia, providing lifelong results when you choose a reputable clinic like FUE Clinics. The newly transplanted hairs blend effortlessly with your existing hair, creating a natural appearance that can significantly enhance your confidence.
To learn more, read our guide to everything you need to know about hair transplant surgeries.
Book a free, no-obligation consultation to understand if you're a candidate for a hair transplant and how we can help you achieve your desired hair restoration goals. Or, check out our FAQ section to discover more about our clinic and the procedures we offer.