Stress And Hair Loss… Hair Loss And Stress, Are They Connected?
Research has shown that stress undoubtedly affects the hair cycle and that losing your hair can cause stress. However, which one triggers the other? Did the stress of meeting that deadline last month cause you to lose some hair, or was it the hair you noticed on your pillow last week that triggered a stress episode? In this article, I have discussed the effects of stress and hair loss, looking at both sides of the equation.
Does Stress Cause Hair Loss?
The exact role of stress as it relates to different types of alopecia is difficult to assess accurately. Under most circumstances, increased hair shedding occurs between 6 and 16 weeks after the trigger has occurred. But, most people attribute an increase in hair shedding to what happened yesterday or last week, not a couple of months ago. If your stress levels are ‘normal’ at the time you contemplate your thinning hair, you are unlikely to associate your problem with a stressful situation that occurred say 3 months before. However, although it is difficult to pinpoint a specific stress episode as the cause of hair loss, there is evidence that acute and/or chronic stress may precipitate certain hair loss conditions.
Genetic Hair Loss
Since male hormones trigger genetic hair loss, many researchers believe that stress can aggravate the condition because, during stressful episodes, the adrenal glands increase their output of certain hormones that can lead to the production of more testosterone, thus increasing dihydrotestosterone levels and potentially accelerating hair loss. Some researchers also believe that the skin becomes more sensitive to the effects of testosterone during stress, thus increasing the chances of hair loss.
Severe stress can also influence diffuse shedding of hair (telogen effluvium), though this condition tends to be reversible. One possible explanation for stress-induced telogen effluvium could be that the body’s uptake of glucose is increased during a stress episode, leaving less available for non-essential tissues, such as the hair, causing it to be shed prematurely. One study in Britain of 800 professional women who worked in a highly stressful environment backs up the link between stress and hair loss as it found that over 30% were experiencing hair loss.
Alopecia areata, or “patchy” hair loss, has also been connected to stress episodes. One study showed that over 90% of patients with alopecia areata were under high levels of stress, though an additional study found that the stress was actually a result of the condition itself. As alopecia areata is believed to be partly a product of an auto-immune response, the stress influence on reducing the immune system is thought to be a factor in the condition.
Trichotillomania, the compulsive habit of repeatedly pulling the hair, is also associated with stress, as well as more severe psychological problems. Amongst other factors, it is stress that tends to be a very important influence in both the onset and continuation of the condition.
Does Hair Loss Cause Stress?
“I have no confidence in my appearance because of my hair loss.”
Bob, a 28 year old garage mechanic.
“Losing my hair has been the most disturbing event of my life.”
Debbie, a 23-year-old secretary.
Since hair is very important for an individual’s physical attractiveness (how others view you) and body image (how you view yourself), it follows that hair loss can affect a person’s self-image, self-esteem, and overall quality of life (your everyday life and outlook). As a result, people who are losing their hair tend to become very worried about the consequences. Many cases have been reported of people becoming introverted and withdrawn due to the worry of losing their hair. This has been confirmed by research studies among men and women who are losing their hair. Many participants reported that their lives had changed and their stress levels increased after they noticed a worsening of their hair quality/quantity, not before.
The manner in which people with genetic hair loss are affected by their condition is usually sex dependent. Women tend to be more ashamed, distressed, anxious and concerned about their hair loss; have lower self-esteem; and have more social problems than men with hair loss or women with normal amounts of hair. They also feel more uncomfortable in the presence of others. Studies of men with genetic hair loss are more conflicting. Some report minor social concerns but claim to maintain normal self-esteem and psychological profiles. Conversely, other studies have concluded that hair loss is indeed stressful to men, causing diminished feelings of attractiveness and social functioning; manifested by lower self-esteem and body-image; and increased stress. These psychological effects seem to be influenced by a person’s age, extent of hair loss, and marital status. Hair loss problems have been described in both sexes as symbolic for obtaining help for other underlying psychological or personal problems.
Overall, therefore, it seems that both sides have an excellent case. Stress can cause hair loss and hair loss can cause stress. So what should you do? Well, the most important thing initially is to find out why your hair is falling out by seeing a hair loss specialist. Besides treating the other causes of your hair loss; if stress is also a factor, either as a cause or a consequence, it is advisable to start a stress reduction program such as an exercise regimen and/or relaxation techniques. It might not cure your hair loss by itself, but it may help.