Can stress cause hair loss?

There are many different types of hair loss, some of which may be related to stress, such as trichotillomania, telogen effluvium and alopecia areata. Hair loss itself can be a distressing experience, so if you’re experiencing stress-related hair loss, it’s important to try to break the cycle to help you recover. Here we discuss three types of stress-related hair loss, what you can do to reduce your stress levels and some hair loss tips.

Stress-related Hair Loss

Trichotillomania

Trichotillomania is a mental disorder in which an individual feels the compulsion to pull out their own hair - usually from the scalp, eyebrows or eyelashes. It is quite a common condition with 1-2% of adults suffering from trichotillomania. People with trichotillomania, sometimes use hair pulling as a way to deal with negative emotions such as stress, frustration or loneliness. Behavioural therapy can lead to a full recovery and is sometimes combined with medications. The hair should begin to regrow in time, although some hair follicles may have been damaged, so hair may grow back grey or thinner than normal in some cases.

Telogen effluvium

Telogen effluvium is another form of hair loss. In telogen effluvium, the number of hairs lost each day increases and the number of new hairs that grow decreases resulting in a thinning of the hair. This condition usually occurs a few months after a trigger event. Common triggers include childbirth, trauma, illness and stressful life events, such as a death in the family. Telogen effluvium usually resolves without treatment being required, but it can take several months for the hair to return to normal.

Alopecia Areata

The exact cause of alopecia areata is not yet known, but it is thought to occur when the body’s immune system attacks the hair follicles. This inflammation may be triggered by stressful events, although alopecia areata is also found in people who have not experienced any significant recent stress. People with mild alopecia areata may experience some hair regrowth, but in more severe cases, the hair loss can be permanent. Some treatments, such as steroids and immunosuppressants may be given to help the hair follicles recover.

 

How to reduce stress

Everyone experiences stress differently and for different reasons. It may be useful to identify the cause of your stress and then seek more relevant help. For example, support groups for PTSD, grief etc. There may also be specialist support available for sufferers of trichotillomania. Use the internet or contact local health providers for more information.

While stress is very individualised, there are some tips that may help you reduce your stress levels:

1. Get enough sleep

A lack of sleep can make you tired, which can make it harder for you to deal with emotional difficulties and stress. Most adults need 7-9 hours every night, but if you have a highly physical job, you may need more rest. Try to establish a regular sleep pattern and avoid stimulating activities, such as scary movies or coffee, before bed, so you can sleep more deeply. If you have difficulty getting to sleep you may be suffering from insomnia. Have a look at these tips for insomnia, or speak to a doctor or sleep therapist for more advice.

2. Eat well

Having a healthy balanced diet can help you better cope with stress while maintaining the energy levels you need throughout the day. During times of stress, we often crave high fat and high sugar foods, but it is important to avoid eating too much of these foods, to be as healthy as you can be.

3. Exercise

Exercise has been proven to reduce stress and anxiety. When you exercise, your body releases endorphins. Endorphins are chemicals that relieve pain, improve your mood and make you feel good. Highly physical aerobic activities can produce more endorphins, but you may find that more calming activities such as yoga or tai chi can help relieve your psychological stress.

4. Therapy

If your stress is interfering with your life or your health, it may be a good idea to see a therapist or counsellor. They should be able to help you understand the causes of your stress and more healthy ways to process the emotions and events involved. If you don’t want to see a professional, it can also help to open up to friends or family about how you’re feeling.

 

Tips for Hair Loss

Unfortunately, some hair loss can be permanent, but there are several things you can do to help promote new hair growth as quickly as possible:

1. Avoid damaging your hair

Avoid using hair dyes and heated hair styling products i.e. hairdryers, hair straighteners etc. These products can damage your hair increasing hair loss. Hair that is regrowing after hair loss may be more delicate and susceptible to damage than normal hair, so it is important to be gentle with it. It is also a good idea to avoid washing your hair too often as this strips the natural nourishing oils from your hair.

2. Eat a protein-rich diet

Protein is involved in growth and repair in the body, so is really important for hair regrowth. If the body does not get enough protein, hair growth is one of the first things, that it will cut off, to reserve protein levels for more important repairs.

3. Use moisturising hair products

Hair masks and moisturising products designed for dry or brittle hair, should help re-hydrate and protect your hair from further damage.

4. Stop smoking and avoid toxins

Smoking can be related to hair loss, as it reduces circulation and pollutes the blood, which can lead to damaged hair follicles. Stopping smoking and excessive drinking should help encourage hair regrowth.

View our hair loss treatments.
 

Sources:

Mental Health America > Trichotillomania

Trichstop > Hair Loss

British Association of Dermatologists > Telogen Effluvium

British Association of Dermatologists > Alopecia Areata

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