It is not uncommon to link stressful periods of time with changes to hair. Lamenting their adolescent children’s behaviour, a parent may say: ‘they’ll turn me grey’; or an employee, up against deadlines and huge workloads, may cry: ‘I’m tearing my hair out’. Beyond colloquialisms, what is the link between alopecia and stress?
Will any type of stress cause me to lose my hair?
Emotional stress on its own, be it caused by a relationship break up or a tough time at work, is not likely to make you lose your hair. However, emotional stress can soon turn into physiological stress where your appetite changes significantly, your weight fluctuates wildly, or through a hormonal change – and you then may notice some hair loss. Stressors that can trigger hair loss include pregnancy, surgery, illness, strict low-calorie diets and severe infections.
Why does stress cause hair loss?
The hair growth cycle goes through three phases: growing, resting and shedding. The first phase lasts for two or three years and, at any one time, all but 10% of the hairs on your head are in this phase. When the hair reaches the end of it, it will move into resting for 3 to 4 months before moving onto the shedding phase and, subsequently, back into growing. This cycle keeps the hair on the head healthy and strong, and usually with a good coverage of hair. However, when your body’s routine physiological functions are altered – perhaps by a sudden drop in weight, or the recovery from major surgery – the hair cycle may react by moving a disproportionate number of hairs quickly into the resting phase. The immediate effect will not be noticed; however, three or four months later when that phase is complete, a larger than normal number of hairs will fall out causing some alarm. Stress-related hair loss usually happens after some delay – so to identify it as such, you may need to delve further back than in the stresses of today.