The saying “everything in moderation” applies very well when it comes to stress.
Stress, in small amounts (called eustress), has been shown to have several positive benefits. But, everyone knows that too much stress can have a host of negative side effects on the body. It can cause headaches, low energy, diarrhea, aches, pains, insomnia, low libido, and more, and if that wasn’t enough already, stress can also cause hair loss.
That’s right, whether you have androgenic alopecia (AGA; male/female pattern hair loss) or not, being overly stressed can lead to lackluster locks, but how does it affect people who do have AGA specifically?
In this article, we are going to discuss exactly how stress causes hair loss, if it affects pattern hair loss or not, and finally some of the most effective ways to reduce/prevent stress-induced hair loss.
How does stress cause hair loss?
Don’t worry, hair loss from stress is usually not permanent.
When you are stressed your body releases the hormone cortisol: the body’s “fight or flight” hormone. When cortisol is released at healthy doses it is very important for the body as it keeps inflammation down, regulated blood pressure and blood sugar levels, gives you energy, and more, but when there is too much cortisol (released from stress) problems will begin to arise.
Both long-term elevated cortisol levels and/or short extreme bursts of cortisol (likely due to an highly stressful experience which shocks the body) can lead to a condition called telogen effluvium (TE).
TE is a fancy term for the process by which hair follicles are forced to transition from the anagen (growth) phase of the hair cycle to the telogen (resting) phase.
Note: the hair cycle follows this pattern: anagen -> catagen (transition) -> telogen -> exogen (shedding). Every hair follicle must complete the cycle in that order. Normally a hair is shed every 3-5 years, to which it is replaced by a new one.
Normally only 10-15% of hair is in the resting phase, but TE forces more hair into the resting phase, most of which was not ready to transition yet. The resting phase of the hair cycle lasts about 3 months, and the hair sheds immediately after. So, when people are experiencing TE, they may not start to see the hair fall until 2-3 months later, which can be confusing (and ironically stressful).
In summary: stress causes the body to release cortisol, cortisol causes the hair to prematurely move into the resting phase and fall out 2-3 months later resulting in diffuse thinning.
Does stress-induced hair loss affect pattern hair loss?
Once stress has been managed any hairs that were lost to TE will more than likely grow back. It is going to take time (up to 6 months) due to the nature of the hair cycle, but nonetheless most, if not all, of stress related hair loss is not permanent. But what about for someone who is dealing with AGA?
Stress-induced hair loss does not affect AGA.
AGA is caused by DHT (and other factors) which is an androgen not associated with cortisol (in terms of hair loss). People have tried to push the narrative that increased cortisol can cause increased testosterone (DHT is derived from testosterone), but there is not any data supporting that claim. In fact, some studies (1) have even showed the opposite: that cortisol decreases testosterone levels.
Now that’s not to say that stress-induced hair loss is not going to physically affect your pattern hair loss, it will. But it will not physiologically worsen pattern hair loss. TE is going to cause your hair to thin, likely in the areas where pattern hair loss typically occurs (temples and crown for men, part line for women). But again, hair lost to TE can be naturally regrown once stress is managed whereas hair lost to AGA is much harder to regrow and will not naturally correct itself.
What to do to reduce stress
Managing stress is the most effective, and pretty much only, way to prevent stress-induced hair loss. Not only will it help your hair, but your body will benefit in many ways too including better sleep, weight loss, better mood and more.
Some of the most effective, scientifically proven ways to manage stress are:
There are also several supplements that you can take that may help reduce stress. One plant in particular: ashwagandha, has been shown to have powerful stress relieving benefits. Several studies (2,3,4) have shown that ashwagandha is very effective at reducing cortisol levels and subsequent stress.
If you are suffering from AGA and/or stress-induced hair loss one of the best things you can take is a hair supplement. If it contains the right combination of ingredients it can improve your hairs health while also reducing stress and preventing damage. Our supplement Follicle Foundation does just that.
Several of the ingredients that are included provide benefits such as protection from inflammation and oxidative stress, increasing blood flow, blocking DHT, and optimizing scalp/hair health. But, unlike many other hair supplements, ours also includes ashwagandha so that you can improve your hair health while also helping mitigate possible stress-induced hair loss.
Stress induced hair loss affects many people worldwide. As society continues to put pressure on people to work harder we are seeing elevated stress levels throughout our communities.
Fortunately, stress induced hair loss will not affect pattern hair loss and is generally reversible. But both people with and without pattern hair loss can benefit from learning how to manage stress. Meditating, exercising, optimal sleep, and supplements with stress relieving ingredients like ashwagandha can all help reduce cortisol levels and stress.