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Stress could be the reason you’re experiencing hair loss. Here’s what you can do

Stress could be the reason you're experiencing hair loss.

Stress has a whole host of impacts on your health, both mental and physical. But one of the most distressing can be hair loss. It can be a vicious cycle — you’re stressed so your hair falls out, making you more stressed.

Unfortunately, stress is a fact of life. So what can you do to manage excess hair loss caused by stress?

We spoke to Dr Lauren Thomas from Software about how best to manage hair loss and encourage new hair growth.

What’s the link between stress and hair loss?

“Telogen effluvium, the official name given to hair loss from stress, is a condition that causes global or diffuse thinning, occurring around three months after a stressful event has occurred,” explained Dr Thomas.

Stressful events that may result in hair loss include:

  • Pregnancy and birth
  • Rapid weight loss
  • Surgery
  • Illness
  • Psychological stress (e.g. work, relationship break-ups).

It’s important to keep in mind that stress is unique for everyone and the triggers for different stress events are deeply personal. But why exactly does excess stress impact the health of your hair? The answers may lay in understanding the hair growth cycle.

Understanding the hair growth cycle

It’s a common misconception that your hair grows continually.

You might not realise but the hairs on your head are incredibly complex and each individual follicle is made up of blood vessels, nerves, a hair papilla, hair bulb, root, follicle and shaft.

In fact, your hair goes through quite a complex process to grow, carrying out four distinct phases:

Anagen phase

“This is when the hair is actively growing. During this time, which can last anywhere from two to seven years, hair is firmly fixed to the scalp,” said Dr Thomas.

Blood flow in the scalp provides oxygen to cells in the hair bulb that divide and produce keratinocytes, which are essentially hardened cells. These hardened cells eventually form a protein called keratin, creating a strong strand of hair.

Catagen phase

Next comes the catagen phase.

“This is a transitional period where growth slows down and hair detaches as the blood supply is cut off,” said Dr Thomas.

Typically lasting about two to four weeks, the catagen phase stops the production of keratinocytes, causing hair follicles to shrink and growth to stop.

Telogen phase

Then comes the resting phase, known as the telogen stage. This is where the clinical name for hair loss, telogen effluvium, gets its name.

“Hair is shed as part of this phase, making space for new hairs to grow. It’s normal for 10-15 per cent of hairs to be lost during this phase, however, if you’re experiencing telogen effluvium there is a shift in the percentage of hairs and which growth phase they are in. Hair loss is typically categorised when 25-50 per cent of scalp hairs are in the telogen, or resting phase,” explained Dr Thomas.

Exogen phase

Then the final phase is called the exogen phase which is the active shedding of hair.

Once a hair is shed, the process starts all over again and active growth begins. On a healthy scalp, new hair growth cells are constantly being formed.

Dr Lauren Thomas

Dr Lauren Thomas.

What does stress-induced hair loss look like?

Recognising signs of stress-related hair loss can help in addressing the issue quickly. Common signs include:

  • Sudden hair shedding — experiencing a significant amount of hair fall, especially when washing or brushing your hair
  • Patchy hair loss — noticing bald patches or thinning areas, particularly on high traction areas of the scalp around the hairline
  • Widening part — observing a gradually widening part in your hairline
  • Thinner ponytail — feeling like your ponytail is thinner than usual.

Tips to manage hair loss caused by stress

Maintaining good general hair care is one of the most effective ways to manage hair loss. This includes things like:

  • Limiting unnecessary handling of hair — avoiding excessive washing or brushing
  • Avoiding anything that may cause breakage — bleaching, keratin straightening, styling with heat
  • Avoiding tight hairstyles
  • Having periods with your hair down.

But when it comes to stress, Dr Tomas said being kind to yourself is key.

“This may be the body’s way of telling you to slow down,” she said.

Maintaining a balanced diet and talking with someone to process your emotions are two important ways to manage stress levels.

However, time may ultimately be one of the most important factors.

“Generally speaking, you don’t need to do anything drastic. A lot of the time, the triggering event, being three months prior, has already been resolved. For example, if you experience a viral infection or undergo surgery, it will run its course and then the amount of hair you lose will return back to normal, restoring your hair density,” said Dr Thomas.

If your hair loss persists, it’s best to see your GP, as there may be underlying causes, for example:

  • Thyroid hormone imbalance
  • Anaemia (low haemoglobin)
  • Vitamin or nutritional deficiencies
  • Autoimmune conditions.

Experiencing stress-related hair loss can be difficult, but understanding the link between stress and your hair is key to helping reduce periods of hair loss.

And while stress management is personal and unique to everyone, finding ways to effectively manage your stress won’t only benefit your hair, but also your overall wellbeing.