Causes

Hair loss from stress

Stress and hair loss

High levels of stress can directly cause hair loss. Unfortunately, modern society is plagued by high levels of stress and there are a growing number of people suffering from stress-related illnesses. Some level of stress can actually be healthy, helping to improve cognitive function and your immune system. However, extreme levels of unmanageable stress can have a significant negative impact on your body, and can often result in temporary hair loss.

There are three types of hair loss that can be linked to high levels of stress:

  1. Telogen effluvium: this is where you have suffered an extremely high level of stress (e.g. the death of a family member), causing a large number of hairs to prematurely move from the growth phase to the resting phase of the hair life cycle. Hairs may suddenly fall out two to three months after the traumatic event.
     

  2. Trichotillomania: this is a mental health disorder where you have the urge to uncontrollably pull-out hairs from your scalp, eyebrows, and other parts of your body. You may not even realise you are doing it. It is a method of coping with high levels of stress.
     

  3. Alopecia areata: this is an autoimmune disease where your immune system attacks your own hair follicles. It may be triggered by a variety of factors, and in the past stress was believed to be a factor. Although newer studies have shown stress has a very limited role, we have included it for your own information.

Telogen effluvium

Attentive therapist listening to patient

It is common for people to experience hair loss after a traumatic event, such as the following:


•    Death of a family member
•    Job loss
•    Extreme and prolonged stress
•    Infection/illness
•    Surgery
•    Crash dieting

As you can see, these traumatic events cause very high levels of physical and/or mental stress on the body. The hair loss typically starts around two to three months after the traumatic event, and will rarely occur at the time of the actual event. It is identified by a sudden large loss in hair, to the extent that you may be pulling out clumps of hair from your head. You may find large amounts of hair on your hair brush, in the shower plughole, or on your pillow in the morning. The hair loss occurs all over the scalp, rather than being focused in any one place. 

The scientific term for hair loss after a traumatic event is telogen effluvium. The traumatic event causes a large number of hairs to prematurely move from the growth phase (anagen phase) to the resting phase (telogen phase) of the hair’s life cycle. It is this dramatic shift in the natural cycle which means the hair loss occurs around two to three months after the traumatic event, as it takes time for hair to shed during the resting phase. A normal person should expect to lose 50 to 100 hairs from their head a day, but telogen effluvium may cause a person to lose up to 300 hairs a day. 

The good thing about this type of hair loss is that it is not permanent. Once the underlying cause of the stress has been resolved, the hair will grow back. This usually takes up to six months, but no specific treatment is needed and the hair will gradually grow back in volume and thickness. The only recommended solution is to try to identify the traumatic event, and find ways to manage or cope with stressors to minimise further impact.  

You should still nourish and care for your hair by applying some of the products we have picked out in the following article. You should also check out the apps such as Calm and Headspace designed to support your mental health and wellbeing. 

Trichotillomania

Hair loss in scalp. Patchy hair loss

Trichotillomania results in patchy hair loss if pulled from the scalp

Trichotillomania is a mental health disorder in which you have an uncontrollable urge to pull out your own hair. This may be from your scalp, eyebrows, eyelashes, or elsewhere on your body. People who suffer from trichotillomania may not even be aware that they are pulling out hairs from across their body, while others are very aware of what they are doing. 

People who suffer from this disorder typically have patches of bald spots where they have pulled out their hair. The level of trichotillomania varies from person to person, with very severe cases resulting in almost complete hair loss on the scalp. The person is very aware they are pulling out their hair, and there is often an immediate positive feeling after the hair is removed. However, this disorder causes significant distress to the sufferer and may be accompanied by behaviour such as biting nails or chewing lips. 

Trichotillomania is considered an obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), and is often seen in people suffering from anxiety or depression. There is also some evidence to suggest that genetics may play a role in this disorder – if you have a close family member who suffers from trichotillomania, you may be more likely to develop it. As it is a mental health disorder, you should seek guidance from your doctor or medical professional. Remember, do not hide the hair pulling as it will make diagnosis for your doctor much harder. Your doctor will be able to diagnose whether trichotillomania is the cause, and may refer you to a mental health specialist who will help you manage your condition. You should still nourish and care for your hair through our 15 steps to better hair in tandem with managing your mental health.

Alopecia areata

Alopecia areata is an autoimmune disorder in which the immune system attacks the hair follicles, causing hair loss. The body mistakes your healthy hair cells as foreign substances. Researchers currently do not know what causes this response to occur in the body, but previously believed that it could be triggered by stress. However, in newer studies there has been little evidence to suggest stress is a cause. 

Alopecia areata has three different patterns: 

  • Patchy alopecia: small circular bald patches on any part of your body 

  • Alopecia totalis: complete hair loss on the scalp 

  • Alopecia universalis: complete hair loss across the entire body. 
     

Alopecia areata is an unpredictable condition, and hair loss can be sudden or gradual over many years. If you start noticing hair loss that looks like one of the above patterns, you should consult with your doctor as they will be able to confirm whether alopecia areata is the cause of your hair loss. As it is an autoimmune disorder, there may be a variety of causes and treatments and your doctor will be able to provide further advice. 

Reducing stress to improve hair loss
 

There are a number of ways to address stress depending on your situation and you should first discuss these with your doctor.


There are certain activities which are shown to help reduce and manage stress levels, such as taking up exercise, walking, eating a balanced diet, and improving your sleeping patterns. You can also consider counselling or medication as referred by your doctor. 

References

Please click below if you want to read the science behind this article.

Recommended for you

At the pharmacy

Read more about the top prescription-free products to boost hair growth naturally.

Woman washing hair

Read more about the best shampoos for hair loss.

Women with thin hair there are pulses from the hair

Read more about common treatment methods and alternative therapies for hair loss.