The Top Qs About Stress & Hair Thinning, Answered

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Stress is something we all experience in some way, shape, or form. Though we deal with it internally, its effects can show up externally in places like our skin and hair — and that can stress us out even more. When it comes to hair, stress is a leading cause of thinning. Within three to six months of a stressful event, whether it be physical, emotional, or mental, your hair health can take a turn. 

Why does this happen? What can be done to prevent it? And how do you determine stress as the cause of your hair thinning? We’re diving into all of your most frequently asked questions about the stress-hair connection below.

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Does hair thinning from stress grow back? 

Stress does have the unfortunate power to shorten the growing phase of the hair growth cycle. But here’s some hopeful news: Once that stress has passed, hair has the chance to recoup, recover, and bounce back into its regular growth schedule.

Thinning usually lingers for about six months after you’ve addressed the stressful triggers. New growth can begin six months after that, but it may not be noticeable to the naked eye for up to a year. If stress-related hair thinning doesn’t improve after 18 months or more, this may be an indication that either 1) your stress response still needs some support, or 2) something else may be behind your hair changes.

How can I stop my hair falling out from stress? 

You can best arm yourself against stress-induced hair thinning by supporting how strongly your body responds to stress. Experts agree: It’s not about the stressor itself, but rather, how your body perceives (and reacts to) that stressor. 

If your body decides that a trigger is worth panicking over, it keeps the stress hormone cortisol flooding through your body. Left unregulated, cortisol, along with a gang of inflammatory substances, can cause a domino effect of damage, including kicking your hair follicles out of their growth phase too soon. Thankfully, research supports that adaptogenic herbs like ashwagandha do a fantastic job of “re-educating” the body’s response to stress, balancing daily cortisol release, and increasing tolerance to stressful triggers. Since we also know that stress comes with an impairment in natural antioxidant activity around your hair follicles, researchers argue that antioxidants such as vitamin C may be a great tool for halting this secondary cause of hair damage.

How quickly can stress cause hair thinning? 

Often hair thinning due to stress is seen three to six months after the stressful, triggering event has passed. Why the delay? While it is possible that severe physiological stress, such as an episode of high fever, can cause immediate hair thinning, stress doesn’t usually send hair right into its shedding phase (aka the phase where you find hair all over your apartment). Instead, hair is commonly sent into the telogen or resting phase first. This phase lasts about two to three months before the hair graduates to the next phase and then sheds from the scalp.

Does anxiety cause stress-related hair thinning?

It can. Anxiety falls under the category of psycho-emotional stress, essentially meaning stress stemming from mental or emotional pressure. This kind of stress has the power to trigger inflammation in the environment of your hair cells, causing damage to your hair follicles and cutting your hair growth cycle short. Long-term emotional stress has been shown to pause hair growth, force hair follicles into longer than usual periods of rest, and delay their return to the growth phase.

How will I know if my hair thinning is because of stress? 

Unfortunately, no test can conclusively confirm that stress is behind your hair thinning. Certain signs, such as sudden hair thinning across your entire head, indicate stress is likely to blame. Exploring your stressors, as well as potentially testing stress markers like cortisol, may also help guide your doctor in determining if stress is the most likely cause of your hair thinning. But keep in mind that most people have several or multiple root causes of hair thinning. Work with your physician to explore other potential causes. Asking about your history, examining your hair, and doing lab tests may help them narrow down the culprit(s).

What types of stress cause hair thinning? 

Essentially, anything that stresses out your body — mentally, emotionally, or physically — can potentially stress out your hair cycle and lead to thinning. That’s because most stressors, regardless of where they’re coming from, cause the body to be thrown out of balance and over-secrete substances that can lead to a snowball effect of hair growth obstacles. While appropriate amounts of exercise can be great to support stress management, even overdoing exercise can increase stress levels. Whether coming from emotional stressors, long-term or sudden illness, a crash diet, a change in medication, or a recent surgery, these stressors all have the power to throw off the delicate balance of your body, causing it to react by setting loose potentially damaging stress hormones.

How can I lower my stress to help my hair?

Identifying what your stressors are is an important first step. Sometimes they’re things we can avoid or change, like a job that’s no longer the best fit or a stressful living situation. Sometimes they’re harder to avoid, like the stress of a family member falling ill or the pressure of graduate school. Especially if these second circumstances ring true, integrating stress management techniques like meditation and yoga is a great starting point. 

When extra help is needed, stress management support in the form of adaptogenic herbs can be a lifeboat to help teach your body how to respond and better adapt to stress. These herbs, such as ashwagandha, have been shown to help improve one’s resistance to stress and can be a powerful tool to help lower the body’s stress burden. Ashwagandha is a key ingredient in each Nutrafol Core formulation and is shown to balance cortisol hormones in the body to promote a healthy hair growth cycle.

MEDICALLY REVIEWED BY
DR. MELISSA ANZELONE, ND

on April 29, 2020

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