It’s Normal for Stress to Cause Hair Loss—Here’s What You Can Do About It

If you’ve noticed more hair in your shower drain lately, doctors say stress is a likely culprit.


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Being stressed out can lead to any number of physical consequences. Say your boss spends every Friday yelling at you and colleagues about how disappointing the sales numbers are. After these meetings you feel so stressed that maybe you get a knot in your stomach, a headache, or a bout of nausea, and you spend every weekend worrying about whether or not you’ll have a job come Monday. These are a few of the immediate results of stress, but there are some longer-term impacts, too, including hair loss

Eight to 12 weeks after that particularly stressful stretch at work, you might notice more hair than usual falling out while shampooing and brushing. While hair loss can be alarming, it is a fairly normal reaction to undergoing a high-stress physical or emotional event, whether its extreme work stress, childbirth, intense illness or injury, a mental health crisis, or surgery.

How Does Stress Impact Hair Loss?

There are three types of stress-related hair loss: telogen effluvium (temporary hair loss), trichotillomania (the urge to pull out your hair), and alopecia areata (that stems from an immune system issue). 

“Stress triggers a certain type of hair loss known as telogen effluvium (TE),” says board-certified dermatologist Chris G. Adigun, MD, the owner and medical director of Dermatology & Laser Center of Chapel Hill. “T.E. causes diffuse, non-scarring hair loss and can be transient or chronic.”

After male and female pattern baldness, telogen effluvium is the second most common cause of hair loss. Telogen effluvium occurs when scalp hair follicles enter the resting phase of the growth cycle, but don’t start the next growth phase, so when the hair falls out, no new hairs grow in to replace it like it typically should. 

“Normally our body keeps the hair growth cycles in perfect balance between growth of new hairs and shedding of old hairs,” explains Monica Rani, MD, board-certified dermatologist with Advanced Dermatology and Aesthetic Medicine in Chicago. “When our bodies are under stress, it can disrupt this cycle causing an imbalance of when our bodies make new hairs and shed the old.” 

The impact of stress on hair growth has a lot to do with cortisol, a major stress hormone. “Significant stress can raise cortisol levels and force a large number of hair follicles into the telogen (resting) phase,” explains Marvelette Bailey, a trichology health practitioner, and CEO of MB3 Beauty Boutique and TrichoScience Clinic in Chicago. 

Researchers from Harvard University published a 2021 study in the journal Nature identifying “the biological mechanism by which chronic stress impairs hair follicle stem cells” in mice. The study confirmed that the major stress hormone cortisol “puts hair follicle stem cells into an extended resting phase, without regenerating the follicle or the hair,” The Harvard Gazette reported. 

So during hair growth, the stem cells that live in the hair follicle divide to become new cells to regenerate hair. However, in this resting phase, the cells become inactive. When we’re undergoing periods of stress, hair can essentially become stuck in the telogen phase with excessive shedding, but without new hair regeneration. This imbalance, Bailey says, is what causes telogen effluvium.

Fortunately, the study also found promising evidence that simply removing the stress hormone helped restore and regenerate hair growth that had been stunted when the mice were under stress.

Signs You’re Dealing With Hair Loss From Stress

The signs of telogen effluvium are pretty straightforward. Noticing more hair around your home, in the shower drain, in your hands while washing your hair, or in your hair brush are common clues, as is noticing a smaller or thinner ponytail, Dr. Adigun says. You may also note less or thinner hair at the temples, crown of your head, or around where you typically part your hair.

Don't Panic: Stress-Related Hair Loss Is Usually Temporary

While this can be shocking, the reassuring news is that if you don’t have an underlying hereditary, autoimmune, or inflammatory condition (like certain types of alopecia), most trauma-based hair loss will not last forever. According to Dr. Rani, “you should see your hair growth improving in three to six months.” She adds that if you’re concerned or the hair loss continues you should definitely follow up with your doctor, dermatologist, or trichologist (who specializes in hair loss and scalp conditions).

Stress-Related Hair Loss Solutions

There are many steps you can take to work directly on your scalp and hair, like looking into hair growth products, scalp care strategies, and adopting growth-promoting hair habits. But you’ll also want to get to the true root of matter by finding some effective stress relief practices and healthy coping mechanisms, which luckily also benefit your health in a number of other ways, too. 

Prioritizing on decreasing your stress levels and making self-care a priority can be a huge help. Bailey recommends focusing on relaxation techniques, whether it’s breathing exercises, meditation, prayer, massage, reading, taking a bath, a pre-sleep wind-down routine, or generally carving out more time for a hobby you love. She also encourages prioritizing positive thinking, which you can work on by journaling, practicing mindfulness, or working more formally with a therapist to rewire negative thought patterns.  

Being mindful of nutrition and diet is another unexpectedly helpful way to promote hair growth. For one, Bailey says that stress can often lead to either an increased or decreased appetite and eating habits, both of which can have adverse effects on hair growth. 

Regarding nutrition for healthy hair, Bailey cites nutrients like B vitamins, vitamin D, vitamin E, zinc, biotin, iron, and folic acid as essential. Vitamins B12, B6, and folic acid (B9) play a role in creating red blood cells, which carry oxygen and nutrients to the scalp and hair follicles. According to Bailey, “consuming foods such as eggs, fish, leafy green vegetables, nuts, protein, and fruits,” can really help your hair. Bonus: Most of these nutritious, hair-supporting foods and nutrients support stress relief and management as well. (Bailey adds that you should always consult your physician before making any major dietary changes.)

Exercise is another fantastic way to keep stress at bay. Find forms of physical activity that get you moving without feeling like another stressful burden. Some forms of low-impact exercise are themselves directly beneficial for stress relief because they combine movement, mindfulness, and breathing to help regulate the nervous system while building strength. Some of these stress-busting movement practices include yoga (particularly restorative yoga), walking, tai chi, and qi gong.

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