When you’re stressed, you know it. You might feel tired, anxious, angry—or just head straight to fridge. But there are other ways that stress can take a toll, and one big one involves your hair: stress-induced hair loss. While it’s common to shed 80 to 100 individual strands each day, if you’re noticing large clumps of hair collecting near your shower’s drain or hair breakage on your brush, stress could be the culprit.
In fact, research published in the journal PLOS One found that stress may actually interfere with the immune response in a way than hampers growth. “There are three known types of hair loss that can be attributed to stress,” says Evan Rieder, M.D., who is dual board-certified in psychiatry and dermatology. And it’s more common than you may think, he says.
Now onto the good news: There’s plenty you can do to address this phenomena if you’re starting to feel things are getting a little thinner when you run your fingers through your hair. Here, Rieder and Amy Wechsler, M.D. (also a dermatologist with additional training in psychiatry) show you what a head-first stress management strategy looks like.
First, how stress affects your hair.
Both Rieder and Wechsler say that the type of stress-induced hair loss that affects most people is known as telogen effluvium. “The condition commonly surfaces two to three months after a stressful event such as a medical procedure, illness, psychological stressor, weight loss, or even the start of a new medication,” says Rieder. Essentially, your hair follicles suddenly shift from the anagen, or growth, phase to the resting phase, called telogen, Wechsler explains. And the loss can be quite dramatic.
Though there’s much we don’t know about how telogen effluvium strikes, additional research suggests that cortisol, a stress hormone, may interfere with normal functioning of the hair follicle. Bottom line: If you’re pumping out cortisol because you’re feeling tense or anxious, your hair may react accordingly.
Another less common condition called alopecia areata occurs when your immune system attacks your follicles. “Like all autoimmune diseases, this can be brought on in susceptible individuals by a stressor,” explains Wechsler. Even less common is trichotillomania (trying say that three times fast), which is when stress leads you to pull out your hair.
Will it grow back?
In most cases, thankfully, yes. “Telogen effluvium is often a temporary thing,” Rieder says. “The vast majority of cases will resolve within a few months purely on their own.” In the case of alopecia areata, says Wechsler, steroid injections are often prescribed. “The effects of the injection typically last a month, and then I’ll bring a patient back in for another round—it usually takes several,” she explains. In both conditions, topical minoxidil, a commonly used hair loss medication, probably won’t do a thing. So pass on the Rogaine.
There’s a supplement that may also help.
Wechsler will occasionally recommend that her patients take five to ten milligrams of biotin daily. The B vitamin is essential for converting certain nutrients into energy, and if you’re not getting enough through your diet, you may experience hair loss or a skin rash. Two small studies show that subjects with thinning hair noticed significant regrowth after taking a biotin supplement for ninety days.
But Wechsler isn’t convinced that pricier supplement cocktails geared toward hair loss are the answer. “They’re expensive, and they’re just not proven to work,” she says.
What about haircare and styling products?
Because of the fleeting nature of the conditions described above, both Rieder and Wechsler insist there aren’t necessarily any products that you can’t use if you’re experiencing stress-induced thinning. “There’s no reason you shouldn’t be able to style and color as you normally would,” says Wechsler. “The only thing I’d try to steer clear of are hairstyles that may pull at the hair and damage the follicles, like tight ponytails or braids.”
Of course, creating the right scalp environment for hair health can help, too. That could mean using a calming shampoo or a CBD hair oil that can nourish and pamper follicles. And it should be an essential part of your routine. “A lot of my patients with hair loss get so worried that they don’t wash their hair as often,” Wechsler adds. “And that’s definitely not the best thing to do.”
So what can I do about stress?
Of course, one of the best ways to address stress-induced hair loss is to deal with your stress. That means finding the stress management techniques that work for you—and making them part of your regular self-care routine. “I typically recommend deep abdominal breathing, yoga, Pilates, meditation and even ASMR,” says Rieder. “All can be very helpful.”
So take a deep breath, relax, and chill out—your hair will thank you.