Stress is a leading cause of hair thinning — and the effects of the stress we feel today can show up in our hair within three to six months.
“Our hair can be a manifestation of what is happening internally. When we are experiencing stress, it affects our whole body and can contribute to chronic conditions, including hair thinning,” notes Dr. Sophia Kogan, MD, co-founder and chief medical advisor at Nutrafol.
In the midst of a global pandemic, we’re dealing with the effects of both acute and chronic stress. Dr. Kogan explains that acute stress is “on the spot,” like the stress we all felt at the onset of COVID-19. But as micro-stressors from our “new normal” stack up, “it becomes more of a chronic picture,” she says. All the while, your body is grasping for resources to maintain homeostasis. Hair, unfortunately, isn’t a top priority for the body, so its resources are diverted — and that’s why many of us may notice more hair in the shower or on our clothes than usual.
Below, Dr. Kogan dives deep on the connection between today’s stress and hair thinning, as well as her favorite adaptogenic herbs and lifestyle practices to support hair wellness in times of stress.
How is today’s stress different from normal everyday stress?
Get Hair, Health & Science News
DR. KOGAN: Stress is a response to danger. The body is wired in a way that it responds to danger with specific mechanisms that we’ve developed since prehistoric times. For example, if a lion chases you, you have a fight or flight response. Especially in the U.S. and other developed countries, we don’t usually see life-threatening dangers — our stress is often chronic and cumulative. However, right now we’re going through a pandemic and we actually have legitimate fear for life. So this is one of those fight or flight times.
Why do we shed hair during stressful times like this?
DR. KOGAN: When the body feels stress, it will pull resources internally for survival. Hair is important to us, but it’s not the number one organ to the body. As we experience elevations in stress, the hormone cortisol signals the hair follicle to stop growing and to prematurely shed. Additionally, the body diverts nutrients away from the hair follicle to other key areas of the body during stress, leaving the hair without essential nutrients it needs to build hair.
How long does it take for today’s stress to impact hair?
KOGAN: When stress levels increase during major life events, a large group of hair follicles can prematurely shift into telogen, a phase of the hair growth cycle when hair can no longer grow and is preparing to fall out. The impact of the event everyone is experiencing right now may show up as hair thinning in three to six months.
How does Nutrafol target stress as a root cause of hair thinning?
KOGAN: Nutrafol targets stress with the stress adaptogen ashwagandha, which has been shown in clinical studies to balance elevated cortisol levels in chronically stressed adults. Stress adaptogens work two ways: They help lower cortisol levels to a healthy state and they help moderate your adaptation response to stressful events. The idea isn’t to get rid of stress, the idea is to adapt. And that’s why I love adaptogens so much.
What’s your advice for staying calm in this stressful environment?
KOGAN: You want to tap into those things that bring back a sense of normalcy. It’s different for every person — what brings you joy, what makes you lighter. For you it might be putting makeup on, for me it might be dancing, but it makes you feel normal. I think that it’s really important to find hobbies or interests that are going to take you out of panic mode.
Are there any lifestyle practices to help control stress?
KOGAN: Meditation and yoga have been shown to physically decrease levels of stress hormones and the activation of your sympathetic nervous system, which is that fight or flight response. So if you’ve never meditated before, this might be the time to start. It doesn’t have to be perfect; just a few minutes a day. That meditation can also come in the form of hobbies or whatever makes you feel relaxed and calm.
What can we do at a dietary level to nurture hair in times of stress?
KOGAN: It’s really important to keep a good nutritional balance, because stress tends to deplete your nutrients. Look for foods and supplements with zinc, magnesium, biotin, fatty acids, B vitamins, vitamin A, vitamin D, and vitamin E. You need a range of nutritional support for yourself. The organs that make stress hormones are adrenals and they sit on top of your kidneys. When adrenals are depleted, they need extra nutritional support. Protein is also important here.
How are you supporting your hair and health right now?
KOGAN: Just recently I started making new teas to support myself. And of course I’m taking my Nutrafol and eating healthy and ensuring that what I put into my body is organic. Right now I’m starting to cook more and next I want to get into gardening and growing my own herbs and food.