Pulling your hair out? Stress and hair loss

Stress can be directly linked to a number of health problems. Its effects on the body are well-documented and too much anxiety can certainly be hazardous for both your emotional and physical health. But could it be the cause of hair loss?

It has long been claimed that excess levels of stress can have an impact on your hair follicles, whether that’s turning you prematurely grey or causing you to lose your locks. One 2013 study published in Nature Magazine claimed that the hormones we produce in response to long-term stress can accelerate the depletion of melanocyte cells in our hair follicles. These determine our hair colour and when levels drop our hair turns white or grey.

However, other research has shown that there are many factors that determine hair colour and, currently, there has been no clear link has been established between colour changes and stress. Hair loss, though, is a different matter.

What types of hair loss are associated with stress?

There are many conditions that result in hair loss and it is important to note that not all of them are linked to stress. The three most common types that have proven links to stress include:

  • Trichotillomania
  • Telogen effluvium
  • Alopecia areata

Trichotillomania is a self-inflicted form of hair loss and involves a compulsion to literally pull your own hair out. It doesn’t just affect the hair of the scalp; sufferers will often feel a compulsion to pull out their eyebrows or body hair. It becomes a coping mechanism that is comforting and a way of relieving negative thoughts and feelings.

Telogen effluvium can also occur during stressful periods. All hair follicles are in a growth cycle and excess stress levels can cause more hair follicles to enter the resting phase than normal. Then, once the resting phase ends, all affected hairs fall out at the same time, leaving noticeable bald patches.

Alopecia areata is one of the most severe types of hair loss and while the exact cause is unknown, stress has been linked to the condition. High stress levels can cause problems for the immune system, causing it to start attacking the body’s own cells, including the hair cells.

So, stress DOES cause hair loss?

The simple answer here is, yes, stress can cause hair loss. However, the key thing to understand is that you would have to undergo constant, excessive amounts of stress for it to result in serious, permanent hair loss.

When the body becomes stressed, it stops functioning correctly. Its systems stop working as efficiently as they should. In terms of hair loss, the capillaries within the scalp can be affected and they prevent the hair follicles from getting the nourishment they need to produce healthy, thick hair.

Under extreme stress, the bulbs of the hair also weaken, eventually falling out completely. The hair that is reproduced will also be a lot weaker as it grows back, leading to noticeable thinning.

Hair loss can also be triggered indirectly by other health issues caused by stress. For example, excessive stress can lead to problems with the immune system, in turn limiting healthy hair growth. It can also alter hormone levels, another factor in hair growth.

The good news is, while stress can lead to hair loss, its effects are usually only temporary. Once the stressor is eliminated, the hair should return to normal. It may take a few months, but there are treatments available that can help in the meantime.

If you are worried that your hair loss may be related to stress, the first thing you should do is consult a doctor. It is very important to get the cause diagnosed before seeking out appropriate hair loss treatment.

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