Can Stress Cause Hair Loss?

September 14 2015

We have all heard it before. A parent of a preteen or a friend struggling with financial issues or a family member who is stressed at work punctuates a discussion about their problem with an exasperated, “It’s going to make me lose my hair!” or “It’s turning me grey!” So, is it true? Can stress really make you lose your hair?

The Effect of Stress on the Body

A difficult child or a tough week at work are not direct causes for hair loss. In other words, working one 70 hour week doesn’t automatically mean you are going to start seeing hair falling out in clumps. However, stress caused by such external factors typically impacts the body in a number of ways, and physical stress with an underlying psychological cause can and often does lead to follicle stress, damage, and loss. For example, a person going through a divorce is likely to experience a very high level of stress. The emotional toll may make them lose their appetite and/or stay up at night unable to sleep, and those factors can, in turn, cause hair loss.

Telogen Effluvium

The most common link between the physical impact of stress (change of appetite, lack of sleep, increased risk of illness, etc) and hair loss is telogen effluvium. This term describes a change in the usual hair growth cycle that forces a larger percentage of follicles into the resting state. On a normal, healthy scalp at any given time, approximately 90% of the hairs are in the anagen, or actively growing, phase while the other 10% are in the telogen, or resting, phase. When external or emotional stressors lead to physiological stress, the body responds by essentially taking the attention it was giving the hairs in the anagen phase and reallocating it to other areas in need, thus pushing a larger number of follicles into the resting state. After a few months, these resting hairs begin to shed. While it is normal to lose telogen phase follicles, the abrupt loss of so many new resting hairs when stressors have caused telogen effluvium makes a regular cycle of loss and growth into an unbalanced and noticeable process of hair thinning.

The good news is that hair loss caused by stress and telogen effluvium is not permanent. Stress reduction and positive lifestyle choices can improve the physiological impacts and a hair restoration specialist can help guide the process of effective regrowth.

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