Whether you're dealing with thinning in certain parts, excessive shedding, or a little bit of both, losing your hair can be incredibly emotionally taxing. Adding insult to injury, there's a lengthy laundry list of things that can cause hair loss. Everything from genetics to styling habits can play a role, and more than one factor is often to blame. That makes figuring out the root cause tricky, and once you understand what's causing your hair loss, treatment usually requires a multi-prong approach.
But of all the various types of hair loss out there, stress-related hair loss is somewhat unique. Yes, it's still a pain to deal with, but, unlike other types, it's temporary. Ahead, experts explain how stress causes hair loss, how to tell if that's what's happening with you, and what you can do about it.
Meet the Expert
How Does Stress Cause Hair Loss?
Stress-related hair loss is technically called telogen effluvium (TE). At any given time, all of the hair in your body is in one of three phases: anagen (growth), catagen (transition), and telogen (resting). During the telogen phase, the old hair is pushed out to make room for new hair; it's a normal type of hair shedding (more on that point in a moment). Telogen effluvium occurs when physical or emotional trauma to the body forces an abnormally large amount of hair into the telogen or resting phase, explains Gaunitz. "Normally, only about 10% of hair is in the resting phase, but TE can force up to a third of all of your hair into this phase, resulting in a massive dumping or shedding of the hair," he says.
As mentioned, the inciting trauma or stress can be either physical, emotional, or both. But we're not necessarily talking about day-to-day, chronic types of stress. Rather, it's most often a singular, stressful event that's the culprit. Common examples include illness, surgery, break-ups, deaths, and even childbirth, points out Bhanusali.
How Can You Identify Stress-Related Hair Loss?
"Telogen effluvium always happens 90 to 120 days after the stressful event," says Gaunitz. "That's simply how the hair cycle works, it will always be within that window." So, if your hair seems to suddenly be falling out for no reason, think back to what was happening in your life three to four months ago. If there was some type of major incident, you may very well be experiencing TE. To that point, this isn't a subtle type of hair loss; it will be sudden, rapid, and intense.
"We all lose 100 to 150 hairs per day, and most of the time, that type of normal shedding isn't noticeable," says Gaunitz. You'll notice telogen effluvium because one day you'll be totally fine and the next day you'll be dumping hair, filling up a brush or comb in a few days, he says. Bhanusali adds that many people tend to notice it in the shower when they suddenly start to see excessively large clumps of hair falling out and in the drain.
How Can You Treat Stress-Related Hair Loss?
The good news here is that, most often, after this sudden shedding, the hair growth cycle will normalize, and your hair will eventually grow back normally, says Gaunitz. The caveat? That's so long as there are no other types of underlying hormonal, genetic, or nutritional factors at play, he notes. If your hair loss is concerning, it's always a good move to see a dermatologist or trichologist who can help make sure there are no underlying issues and confirm that it is, in fact, temporary telogen effluvium.
"The hair usually grows back on its own, although there are things we can do to help speed up the process," notes Dr. Bhanusali. He says topical steroids can help slow shedding, while treatments such as minoxidil or finasteride can help stimulate hair growth. Anti-inflammatory red LED treatments may help slow the shedding, and there is also growing evidence that treating TE with PRP injections may be beneficial, Dr. Bhanusali adds.
Is There Any Way to Reverse Stress-Related Hair Loss?
Unfortunately, not really, given that this type of hair loss occurs months after a stressful event. That being said, Gaunitz says that making sure you're not deficient in vitamin D3 and ferritin can help minimize the likelihood of telogen effluvium occurring in the first place. Ensuring optimal levels of these nutrients in the blood can decrease the propensity for TE to happen, he says.
Whether or not you're already dealing with stress-related hair loss or are worried it's on the horizon, maintaining healthy hair and scalp habits is always a good idea. That means minimizing how often you color your hair, turning down the temperature on hot tools, and not using dry shampoo every day (because it can clog the hair follicle), according to Dr. Bhanusali.
If you go through a stressful experience and are worried that your hair may start falling out after the fact, it's also wise to start taking photos of your hair. "I always have my patients take baseline photos and then repeat these every two to three weeks," says Bhanusali. That way, if you do start experiencing hair loss, you'll be able to have concrete evidence of where you started. He suggests snapping pics of your full frontal hairline, including the temples and middle part.
The Final Takeaway
Stress-related hair loss is a very real thing. If you start suddenly losing abnormal amounts of hair three to four months after a particularly stressful event, you're likely experiencing telogen effluvium. But take heart in knowing that this is temporary and will most likely improve on its own with some time. And if it's still stressing you out, see a dermatologist or trichologist who can help rule out any other underlying conditions and provide you with some tools to help slow the shedding and speed up the hair growth process.