Dr. Suneel Chilukuri, MD, is a board-certified, internationally recognized expert on cosmetic and reconstructive surgery. In response to today’s stress and its effects on hair health, he’s sharing his approach to targeting stress as a root cause of hair thinning with a combination of clinical treatments and medical-grade stress adaptogens that can be found in no hair supplement other than Nutrafol.
Get hair, health, and science news delivered right to your inbox.
Dr. Suneel Chilukuri reopened his cosmetic dermatology practice eight weeks ago, and in light of today’s environment, he’s put stress at the center of his approach.
“Stress has become a part of every single conversation now,” he says. “As soon as I raise the stress question, people jump on the opportunity to discuss their hair thinning.” At his Houston-based practice, Refresh Dermatology, Dr. Chilukuri has seen a rise in hair loss cases, which he attributes to the initial acute stress of the pandemic, as well as the chronic effects he’s seeing as patients adjust to their “new normal.” While an acute stressor can lead to hair loss within three to six months, Dr. Chilukuri says he expects to see even more hair loss patients beyond that time frame due to chronic stress.
Below, Dr. Chilukuri explains his approach to today’s stress and thinning hair, as well as how he’s using the medical-grade stress adaptogens in Nutrafol to drive a more holistic program of hair wellness in his office.
How has today’s stress informed your approach to hair loss?
SUNEEL CHILUKURI, MD: In the past, I never asked about stress. But now the first question I ask is, ‘How has COVID treated you, mentally and physically, and what have you changed in your behavior or habits?’ So that’s a big difference.
Stress has become a part of every single conversation now.
Are you seeing a rise in hair loss cases?
DR. CHILUKURI: We’re seeing that there’s a lot more hair loss right now. As soon as I raise the stress question, people jump on the opportunity to discuss their hair thinning. And when we start talking about stress, I ask if they’ve noticed more hair loss over the last three to five months or if they’re starting to notice hair loss now. Because with that shock to the system [from stress], it takes three to six months to go from the anagen phase [of the hair growth cycle] to catagen to telogen. So I’m expecting to see even more hair loss over the next several months.
What types of stress are contributing to this increase in hair loss?
DR. CHILUKURI: I think chronic stress is at an all-time high. At the beginning of the pandemic, when everything was starting to shut down, it was a little bit of an acute stressor, but I think now it’s more long-term and we can’t really see an end in sight. So if we’re settled in this new normal, which I predict to continue for the next two years at minimum, we’re not traveling as much, people are worried about staying in hotel rooms, people are worried about going to the gym… the lifestyle change is so great. I think I’ll be seeing the effects of chronic stress in hair more and more.
How does chronic stress affect hair and wellness?
DR. CHILUKURI: There’s a chronic elevation of what’s called the HPA axis. So when our body is experiencing all of this stress, it’s activating the pituitary gland to send signals to the adrenal gland and say, ‘Let’s produce more cortisol so that our body can adapt to this new level of stress.’ With that stress being chronic and constant, the elevated cortisol levels are then affecting the rest of the body, including causing stress on the hair. What happens? We’re diverting our resources and energy away from the hair, skin, and nails and toward internal preservation of the brain and the heart, in addition to inducing catagen and follicle regression.
The lifestyle change is so great. I think I’ll be seeing the effects of chronic stress more and more.
How do you help patients with hair loss when stress is a root cause?
DR. CHILUKURI: My first step is Nutrafol. My wife is on it, I’m on it. It’s helped us and so I make the same recommendation to my patients. In addition to Nutrafol, if we’re talking about pure stress-related hair thinning, we’re also using a cap by REVIAN Red. That system has two wavelengths of light that combine and lead to production of nitric oxide in a localized fashion in the scalp. So the outcomes that we’re seeing on the scalp and the hair follicle are further improved by putting not just the systemic effect of Nutrafol, but the localized effect of this hair cap.
Nutrafol uses Sensoril® ashwagandha to target stress. Have adaptogens like ashwagandha always been a part of your approach?
DR. CHILUKURI: They have never been part of my approach up until last year, when we started bringing Nutrafol into our practice. I did my research before that: I talked to endocrinologists, holistic medicine doctors, and naturopathic doctors who know more about it than we do in dermatology, and there’s definitely a legitimization of the adaptogens.
The other thing is, after talking to the Nutrafol science team, I started doing more research on what we can do at home to reduce our stress. Two of the things that are always referenced are meditation, or mindfulness, and exercise, but the third thing that I’ve found quite often is tea. So I reached out to a local tea master and we got into an hour-long discussion about tea and stress. And so for the last 11 weeks, we’ve been posting on different tea leaves that help with stress and metabolism. That’s something we’re sharing with clients and online followers to improve their overall health in combination with recommending Nutrafol for hair growth.
Everybody who works in my practice is now on Nutrafol … My wife is on it, I’m on it. It’s helped us and I make the same recommendation to my patients.
How are you and your staff managing stress and promoting wellness amongst yourselves right now?
CHILUKURI: Everybody who works in my practice is now on Nutrafol, so that’s helped. We are still seeing only between 25 to 30% of our normal volume. So we’ve booked extra long appointment times with each one of our clients, because I want to make sure that we have the opportunity to visit. It’s not just about the physical treatment that we’re doing, it’s more about the overall wellness of that person and their mental health and what questions can we answer.
We are able to spend more time with our clients, and I think they’ve appreciated that. My favorite part of the whole thing is that every morning I wake up to texts from patients just saying, “Thank you for taking the extra time with me. I learned so much.” We don’t have the socialization that we used to. So we’re all adapting to this together and we’re all in it together. I see it as an opportunity to better connect with our patients.