Stress and hair loss

Can stress, which is said to be responsible for many ailments such as weight loss or gain, mood swings, sleep disorders, etc., also influence the way you feel? life cycle and even accelerate hair loss?

To find out, we first need to agree on what is meant by the word 'stress', which is so easily used and, admittedly, not always advisedly.

Nowadays, stress is defined as a reaction to a given unusual situation, when we feel 'attacked'. It's a survival reaction to what we perceive to be a danger, a response written deep in the memory of our species. Our brain is sending out an alarm signal of sorts.

But stress can also be seen as a source of motivation, positive stress in a personal or professional context. So it's not necessarily a bad thing!

By extension, however, we have become accustomed to calling any tension or negative situation "stress"; in a professional environment, acute stress has become "burn-out" in recent years.

So, does hair fall out more when you're stressed, or is it simply due to the fact that you break down to the point of wanting to 'pull your hair out'? Can we talk about stress-related alopecia?

And if stress is a cause of alopecia, what can be done to restore healthy hair in this case? What are the hair growth factors after a period of stress leading to hair loss? How can hair follicles be stimulated to produce healthy, strong, long-lasting hair?

Firstly, what are the physiological mechanisms of stress?

Stress is the psyche's way of evacuating an external aggression that it cannot manage on its own, and is expressed by a series of reactions, via hormonal messages. The stress alert is first transmitted by the brain to the pituitary gland, which in turn sends the message to the adrenal glands. The adrenal glands then release a discharge of hormones: adrenaline, cortisol and adrenal androgens.

For men and women who do not have a genetic predisposition to hair loss, this androgen stimulation has no effect on their hair, so they will not suffer any hair loss.

But for those whose scalps are sensitive to androgens, stress can significantly amplify the loss process. What's more, each bout of stress causes the blood vessels at the roots to contract, which contributes to the thinning of the hair.

The development of a hair loss in men for example, is aggravated by stress, and therefore depends to a large extent on the periods of nervous tension that the person concerned goes through in their life.

As we all know, hair is a veritable "data bank" and a microscopic examination can, among other things, reveal any stressful episodes you may have experienced.

  • Example of "stress pinch" - the stem is narrowed at the base of the root, as if it had been pinched. The root is atrophied and there is no sign of renewal.
Stress and hair loss 1
Weak root with stress pinch
  • Example of a perfectly healthy root: perfectly curved and oxygenated root, a sign of renewal (a new hair is being prepared in the hair follicle).
Stress and hair loss 2
Root in perfect health

A distinction is made between 3 types of hair loss commonly associated with stress :

  • Telogen effluvium : This term refers to any diffuse hair loss (i.e. hair loss that is not confined to a specific area of the scalp, unlike androgenetic alopecia) and hair loss in excess of the normal amount (see "How much hair can be lost on average"?) of hair in the telogen phase (see the life cycle of the hair). Although this is a fairly benign and, above all, temporary episode, hair loss can nevertheless be impressive and difficult to cope with because of the amount of hair lost in record time. Rest assured: telogen effluvium generally only lasts a few months, after which the hair grows back as before. More common in women than in men, this type of alopecia frequently occurs during intense stress or emotional shock. Post-partum hair loss is classified as telogen effluvium.

Extra info: we have found that in women prone to androgenetic alopecia and stress, this combination often leads to a loss of hair density at the temples. 

Not to be overlooked: the vicious circle that can develop when stress causes hair to fall out and you start stressing because too much hair is falling out! Stress feeds stress and hair loss intensifies.

  • Trichotillomania : This OCD (obsessive compulsive disorder) is difficult to combat, although it can be controlled by behavioural and cognitive therapies and/or medication. Under the influence of anxiety, people with this irrepressible disorder will pull out their hair to relieve their stress. They will either concentrate on a single area of the scalp or change the area. This condition affects women almost exclusively, up to 90 %, and occurs mainly in adolescence. As a result of drawing on the hair's capital, irremediably bald areas may appear: in this case, no regrowth is possible.
  • Pelade. An autoimmune disease whose precise causes are still poorly understood, this type of hair loss affects both men and women, especially young people. However, it can occur at any time in life and disappear forever, or reappear suddenly, particularly when we are under stress. It is characterised by hairless areas of varying size; sometimes a small amount of residual down covers the affected area; if the hair loss extends beyond the scalp, the entire hair system is attacked (eyelashes, eyebrows, body hair): this is known as universal or decalvating hair loss. While several factors seem to favour the onset of alopecia (vitamin D deficiency, heredity, other autoimmune diseases, etc.), many scientists agree that stress can be a significant aggravating factor. Because of the way it looks, especially when the affected areas are extensive, alopecia can be a source of concern for both sufferers and those around them. However, it is not a contagious disease and there is not necessarily a relapse, no matter how long the first episode lasts. After several months, the hair can resume its normal life cycle and grow back as if nothing had happened.

What can be done to stop stress-related hair loss?

We can tackle the various causes, but, easier said than done, taking a step back, taking up yoga or doing some exercise or meditation to reduce the deleterious effects of stress on our bodies is good advice, of course, but not always easy to put into practice!

On the other hand, by tackling the symptom, i.e. hair loss, we will not only stimulate new hair growth and encourage long-lasting, high-quality regrowth but also, by a domino effect, reduce the stress directly generated by excessive hair loss.

What's more, as well as hair loss directly linked to stress, this condition can also encourage the appearance of unpleasant symptoms: dandruff, irritated or oily scalp, itching, even psoriasis or seborrhoeic dermatitis. These varying degrees of discomfort are not to be taken lightly, and it's best to deal with them as soon as possible to quickly regain a healthy scalp.

As we saw earlier, in the case of teleogenic effluvium, hair loss is generally reversible without damage. If it continues for more than 3-4 months, it is necessary to take action to prevent this phase from continuing.

A blood test may detect any deficiencies: a healthier lifestyle, a course of vitamins adapted to the needs of the hair and, in most cases, this hair loss will soon be a thing of the past.

In cases of trichotillomania and alopecia, comprehensive treatment is often necessary. However, our experience has shown that simply taking care of oneself by adopting a suitable hair routine can help patients to regain their self-confidence.

In addition to this purely psychological aspect, the cosmetic function of a Clauderer treatment will produce tangible beneficial effects: scalp massages combined with the Cleansing Milk will provide real well-being and soothe nervous tension while encouraging the Clauderer active ingredients to penetrate to the heart of the hair follicle. Stimulated in this way, weakened hair follicles can regain their strength and generate new hair. Of course, if attacks of trichotillomania persist, the hair capital will be depleted prematurely and it will not necessarily be possible to regain sufficient hair density. As for alopecia, if it is treated in its early stages (areas 1 to 2 cm in diameter), with patience, it is possible to stimulate the area concerned sufficiently and see some regrowth. Results vary greatly from one person to another.

In short, as soon as you notice that you're losing more hair than normal, you need to keep an eye on things, but don't panic if a few extra hairs are left on the brush!

Let's not forget that our hair reflects our emotions, so let's help it to give off positive vibes by giving it the care it deserves.

Questions

Does stress cause hair loss?

Yes, it is quite possible to suffer from stress-related alopecia. What's more, stress feeds on stress and you can lose even more hair as a result of seeing it fall out so much. Chronic stress or a violent emotional shock (bereavement, painful break-up, etc.) will provoke a defensive reaction from the body, which will try to protect itself by stimulating a hormonal response via the adrenal glands.

How can I stop my hair from falling out too much due to stress?

Don't panic, if you manage to control your stress or if the acute stress attack subsides - in this case, if you don't suffer from any aggravating factors such as deficiencies, heredity, etc. - then your hair will grow back normally after a few months. In the meantime, look after your hair with quality hair care products, massage your scalp to relieve tension and stimulate blood circulation, take a course of vitamins to boost your immune system and, above all, take care of yourself!

Jean-François Cabos

Jean-François Cabos is the creator of a unique hair care method based on the research he coordinated, which led to the publication of the book "Cheveux, Racines de Vie" with Hélène Clauderer by Robert Laffont (Collection "Réponses/ Santé").

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