Stress and Hair Loss: Causes and Treatment Options

Stress and Hair Loss: Causes and Treatment Options

Noticed yourself losing more hair than normal? You’re not alone. Hair loss is a common issue that affects two thirds of American men by the age of 35 and approximately 85 percent of men by the age of fifty.

Although most hair loss in men is caused by male-pattern baldness, other factors can also take a toll on your hairline.

One of these factors is stress. Stress and anxiety are linked to several forms of temporary hair loss that can cause everything from mild thinning to patchy hair loss or even complete hair loss across your scalp. 

Below, we’ve explained how hair loss from stress happens, as well as the numerous factors that may cause you to feel stressed. We’ve also discussed the options that are available for treating hair loss from stress, from medications to therapy, lifestyle changes and more. 

Stress and Hair Loss: The Basics

Stress can take a major toll on your health, affecting everything from your mood to the strength of your immune system. When stress is severe or ongoing, it may also affect your hairline. 

Although it’s normal to feel stressed from time to time, chronic or traumatic stress may lead to a form of hair loss called telogen effluvium

Telogen effluvium isn’t like male-pattern baldness — the form of hormonal and genetic hair loss that affects many men. Instead of being caused by a hormonal factor, telogen effluvium occurs when stress or trauma causes your hair to prematurely enter a telogen, or shedding, phase.

Telogen effluvium usually follows a stressful or traumatic event, and tends to cause steady hair shedding over the course of a few months. If you have telogen effluvium, you may notice more hair shedding than normal a few weeks or months after a period of extreme stress.

Hair loss caused by telogen effluvium typically isn’t permanent, meaning you’ll usually grow the affected hair back over time. In general, it’s rare for telogen effluvium to last for longer than six months.

Common Symptoms of Stress-Related Hair Loss

If you’re experiencing hair loss due to stress, you’ll usually notice the classic symptoms of hair loss:

  • Extra hairs on your pillowcase and bedding
  • More stray hairs on your shower or bathroom floor
  • Lots of stray hairs in your shower drain catch
  • Less density and a thin look to your hair, especially under bright light

Hair loss is often subtle, meaning you might not notice it day to day until you look at yourself in a mirror or see your hair in a photograph. 

If you’re worried that you might have hair loss due to stress, it may help to take regular photos of your hair to track any changes in thickness over time. 

You can also try counting the hairs that you lose. It’s normal to lose about 100 hairs per day. If you have telogen effluvium, you may lose an average of about 300, making it easy to detect a change in your hair shedding.

Stress-Related Hair Loss vs. Male-Pattern Baldness

Hair loss from stress is often confused with male-pattern baldness. When you start to notice extra hairs on your pillow or in the shower drain, it’s easy to assume that it’s an early sign of long-term, permanent hormonal hair loss that affects many men.

There are several key differences between stress-related hair loss and male-pattern baldness, from their cause to how they’re treated:

  • Stress-related hair loss typically isn’t permanent. The type of hair loss caused by stress is called telogen effluvium. It’s a type of temporary hair loss in which hairs are prematurely pushed into the telogen, or resting, phase of the hair cycle.

    Once you treat the underlying cause of telogen effluvium, your hair should begin to grow back like normal. Male-pattern baldness, on the other hand, is caused by hormones and genetics, and typically causes permanent damage to your hair follicles.
  • Stress-related hair loss usually affects your whole scalp. Unlike hair loss caused by male-pattern baldness, which can often present as a receding hairline or thinning around the crown of the head, stress-related hair loss usually affects the whole scalp.
  • If your hair loss is caused by stress, you may also lose body hair. Telogen effluvium hair loss — the type of hair loss linked to stress — typically affects your scalp. However, it can also cause you to shed more body hair than you normally would.

    If you have telogen effluvium, you might notice thinning of your pubic hair and the hair in your armpits. Some people with stress-related telogen effluvium may even lose 30 percent to 50 percent of their body hair.

How to Treat Stress-Related Hair Loss

If you’re worried that you’re losing hair because of stress, or just have concerns about hair loss in general, it’s best to talk to a healthcare provider.. 

Telogen effluvium can be diagnosed via examination of your scalp and hair, or through a hair pull test. To do this, your healthcare provider will pull on a cluster of your hairs to check for loose strands that may be affected by telogen effluvium.

Hairs that fall out in the telogen phase of the growth cycle tend to look different from those that fall out naturally. Hairs in the telogen phase usually have a white bulb at their end -- a sign that can be used to diagnose stress-related telogen effluvium.

If the cause of your hair loss isn’t obvious, your healthcare provider may recommend a scalp biopsy to rule out other potential causes of hair loss.

Depending on your symptoms, health history and the factors contributing to your hair loss, your healthcare provider may recommend one of the following treatment options:

Medications

Because hair loss from stress isn’t directly caused by the hormone dihydrotestosterone (DHT), medications like finasteride, which works by blocking the production of DHT, aren’t effective at stopping or reversing this type of hair loss.

Most of the time, any hair that you lose due to stress will grow back over time. If your hair isn’t growing quick enough or it hasn’t grown back fully, your healthcare provider may prescribe medication such as minoxidil (commonly sold as Rogaine®) to speed up and improve your hair growth.

Minoxidil works by increasing the blood supply to your hair follicles and prompting your hair to enter the anagen, or growth, phase of its cycle. Studies have found that it’s highly effective at promoting hair growth, although it can often take several months to see results

Habits and Lifestyle Changes

Changing your lifestyle and habits can often help to reduce stress. If you often feel stressed, try using the techniques below to limit your exposure to sources of stress and manage stress when you experience it:

  • Recognize when you’re stressed. Take note of your response to stress, whether it’s difficulty sleeping, feeling low in energy or something else. Being able to identify when you’re stressed can help you to track your stress-reduction progress.

  • If work is stressing you, take steps to cope and manage. Work is a very common source of stress. If you’re feeling stressed at work, there are numerous steps that you may be able to take to manage and reduce your stress over time.

    The American Psychological Association (APA) has a detailed list of steps for coping with stress at work that you can use to manage workplace stress and develop a less stressful work environment.

  • Exercise. Exercise doesn’t just keep you physically healthy — it also causes your body to produce smaller quantities of stress hormones such as cortisol, all while ramping up its production of stress-reducing endorphins.

    Over the long term, exercise can also improve your self-image, which may result in its own benefits. If you haven’t been physically active recently, there’s no need to overdo things — a 20-minute walk is usually enough to reduce stress and improve mood.

  • Use relaxation techniques. Simple, at-home relaxation techniques, like mindfulness meditation and breath focus, can help to make you feel less stressed. This guide from Harvard Health lists six techniques that you can use to relax and relieve stress.

  • Get support from friends and family. Sharing your feelings and concerns with others may help to relieve stress. Try reaching out to a trusted friend or family member to let them know what’s troubling you — there’s a good chance they may be able to help.

  • If your stress is related to a financial issue, get help. Financial difficulties are some of the most common sources of stress, affecting as much as 76 percent of all American adults.

    If you’re stressed because of a financial issue, consider getting help. You can also contact a financial planner or credit counseling service for help with improving your finances.

In Conclusion

Although stress doesn’t contribute to permanent hair loss caused by male-pattern baldness, it’s possible to lose hair after a stressful or traumatic event. This type of hair loss is typically known as telogen effluvium.

Hair loss from stress typically isn’t permanent. By taking steps to reduce stress, your hair should grow back over the course of months. In the meantime, treatments such as minoxidil may help to promote hair growth and may speed up your results. 

Learn More About Hair Loss

Worried you’re losing your hair? The faster you take action, the easier you’ll find it to slow down or stop hair loss and keep your existing hair. Our guide to the earliest signs of balding goes into more detail about what to look out for, as well as the steps that you can take to treat hair loss. 

This article is for informational purposes only and does not constitute medical advice. The information contained herein is not a substitute for and should never be relied upon for professional medical advice. Always talk to your doctor about the risks and benefits of any treatment.