Reports of hair loss during the pandemic are rising.
Hair loss isn’t painful or dangerous, but that doesn’t make it any less scary. Unearthing clumps of hair in your shower drain or discovering that your hardwood floors have suddenly become a human carpet is a distressing experience—to say the least. But don’t panic! Before you stalk a specialist or dive into thinning hair remedies, keep in mind that hair loss is totally normal. In fact, we shed approximately 50 to 100 strands of hair each day.
So when does hair loss reach a point of concern? “A person will generally know how much hair they see fall out in their brush or in the shower on a daily basis,” says Gretchen Friese, certified trichologist for BosleyMD. “If you’re losing way more hair than usual or if the hair is coming out in clumps, that would be considered abnormal or excessive.”
If you’ve been going through an unprecedented (2020’s favorite word) hair loss phase, you’re not alone. Throughout the pandemic, people have been reporting a host of seemingly unrelated symptoms, including episodes of hair loss. The alarming symptom—sometimes in otherwise healthy individuals who never had coronavirus—is understandably confusing, but it turns out there's a common thread among many of these conditions: chronic stress.
“I have had a number of clients who have noticed increased hair loss since quarantine in March,” says Friese. “This is not from the virus itself, but from the physiological stress of fighting it off.” The stats back it up—nationwide, surveys have found increasing rates of depression, anxiety, and suicidal thoughts during the pandemic. “People are losing their jobs, cannot see families, and aren’t able to participate in their regular exercise routines. They are also being forced to homeschool children," says Friese. "Naturally, any of these lifestyle changes can contribute to an overwhelming amount of stress."
This phenomenon is called telogen effluvium (also called “shock hair loss”), a temporary hair loss from excessive shedding due to a shock to the system. According to Friese, this usually begins several months after a stressful experience. “Women who have given birth will often experience this kind of hair loss in the months following,” she says.
In the case of coronavirus hair loss, this may be related to increased levels of cortisol, a stress hormone. Think of the life cycle of a follicle in three stages (growing, resting, and shedding). “A hormonal imbalance can pause the growing phase and put large numbers of hair follicles into a resting (telogen) phase,” says Friese. “This is the third phase of hair growth and the one before the hair sheds (exogen phase). When a larger than normal amount of follicles go into this resting phase, it will force more hair loss in the final shedding stage.”
There may be other factors at play, too. “People are stress eating, eating poorly, and consuming more alcohol than usual. A poor diet can take a toll on the whole body, including the hair follicles,” says Friese.
Cabin fever is another health concern. “Lack of sunlight is known to affect hair loss. Your hair needs vitamins, so without enough vitamin D from the sun (as well as the circulation your body gets from activity), you aren't providing these essential nutrients for your hair,” says Laura Polko, a celebrity hairstylist in Los Angeles, Calif.
The good news? Coronavirus hair loss—even if you have telogen effluvium—is completely reversible. Because it’s a hormonal imbalance and not genetic (like alopecia), your hair loss is likely not going to be a permanent issue. If anything, take it as your body’s wake-up call to check in with yourself and prioritize your mental health, both of which are more critical than ever these days.
“Keeping stress levels down as much as possible is key. A good diet, sunlight exposure, exercise, and meditation are all great practices in stress management,” says Friese. “Also, reach out to loved ones. Even a phone call can help lift spirits and help people feel more connected and less isolated when we can’t see each other in person.”
Using products to help prevent hair loss—as well as regrow lost hair—can also help. “Don't overdo the dry shampoo which can clog the follicles and work against you,” says Polko. “Instead, wash your hair regularly with products that promote hair growth, like NatureLab Tokyo's Perfect Volume Shampoo and Conditioner ($14 each; ulta.com).” You may also want to look into personalized haircare services that provide targeted remedies. BosleyMD offers customized formulas for any stage of hair loss and will deliver the products straight to your home.
The takeaway: Stay calm. Stressing about hair loss is only going to work against you, so a levelheaded attitude is the best medication for a full head of hair. And be patient: Hair growth takes time—usually half an inch a month. Even hair-loss treatments that work take time, so you usually won’t see results for three to four months. And if it still isn’t improving? Book an appointment with a trichologist or dermatologist. “Hair loss is much more common than most women realize,” says Friese. “There are really good solutions out there—we just have to find the right one for you.”
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