How Stress and Hair Loss Are Linked—and What You Can Do About It

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When you have thick, curly hair like mine, it’s totally normal to lose more than your fair share while washing and detangling it. But lately I’ve noticed more than my typical hair loss at the bottom of my shower. Trying not to panic, I thought back to changes to my hair habits recently, such as washing my hair less and wearing it in a bun more than I’d like to admit.

Another thing that changed recently: my stress level. I’ve had plenty of “hair-raising” financial, health, work-related worries these days, so losing my hair because of stress didn’t seem so farfetched. After talking to two dermatologists, I learned that this really is possible.

“Our bodies perceive mental stress the same way it perceives physical stress, and any dramatic stressor on the body can cause hair growth to become arrested,” Michelle Henry, MD, a dermatologist based in New York, tells Health. “And when hair growth is arrested, it sheds.” This process is known as telogen effluvium, says Dr. Henry, or the excessive shedding of hair induced by stress.

How does stress cause hair loss?

When we feel stressed, the stress hormone cortisol is released. Cortisol in turn can affect the hair follicle cycle and lead to hair loss, Angelo Landriscina, MD, a Washington, DC-based dermatologist, tells Health. This shedding won’t typically occur until roughly three months after a stressful event. “Many times it’s unexplained why telogen effluvium happens, but it has been linked to significant stressful life events, physically stressful events like being acutely ill or having surgery,” says Dr. Landriscina. Stress literally “shocks” your hair into falling out, he adds.

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