Stress and Hair Loss: What Are The Causes of Hair Loss?

Stress and Hair Loss Are Linked, As Are Several Other Factors

Young woman combing hair
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If your hair is thinning or falling out, you are probably anxious to find out why. Is hair loss due to stress, heredity, or some other factor? The answer is “yes” to all three. The following are some types of hair loss, with information about each:

Normal Hair Loss

We all lose about 100 hairs per day, out of the 100,000 contained by the average scalp. This is due to a few factors:

  • Lifespan: The average lifespan of a single hair is 4.5 years; the hair then falls out and is replaced within 6 months by a new hair.
  • Styling: Shampooing, blow drying, and brushing hair can all cause a few hairs to fall out; most of us do this regularly.
  • Aging: After the age of 30 (and often before), men and women both start losing hair, though men tend to do so at a faster rate.

Hereditary Hair Loss

Genetic hair loss isn’t due to excessive amounts of hair falling out, as many believe, but to an insufficient amount of hairs growing back to replace the hairs that have been shed. Hereditary baldness is associated with a few factors:

  • Gender: Hereditary, or “pattern” baldness, is much more common in men than in women.
  • Age: By age 30, 1 in 4 men is balding; by age 60, 2 in 3 men are balding or bald.
  • Hormones: Pattern baldness is associated with testosterone; women who have more of it in their system as they age tend to lose (or, technically, fail to re-grow) more hair. This is also why more men experience pattern baldness.

Stress and Hair Loss

You may have heard that stress can cause hair loss, and it’s true.

Excessive physical or emotional stress, like that associated with injury, illness or surgery, can cause one of two types of hair loss:

  • The more common type is called telogen effluvium. With this less severe type of hair loss, the hair stops growing and lies dormant, only to fall out 2 or 3 months later. Then it grows back within 6 to 9 months.
  • The other type of stress-induced hair loss is known as alopecia areata, and involves a white blood cell attack on the hair follicles. With this type of hair loss, the hair also falls out within weeks (usually in patches), but can involve the entire scalp and even body hair. Hair may grow back on its own, but treatment may also be required.

Other Hair Loss Factors

There are other factors that can also cause hair loss, including but not limited to:

  • Illness
  • Hormonal changes
  • Pregnancy, childbirth, and birth control pill usage
  • Nervous habits
  • Chemotherapy

If your hair is thinning, or you’re experiencing baldness and it seems abnormal (i.e. if you’re in your teens or 20s, if it’s an odd pattern, etc.) it’s a good idea to see your doctor to determine the cause. Also, if you’re concerned that stress is the culprit, it’s always a good idea to cut down on lifestyle stress and find some effective coping techniques for the stress that remains. Specifically, the following resources can help.

Lifestyle Changes To Relieve Stress

You can't always prevent stress from occurring in your life, but you can often minimize the amount of stress you experience, and when you cut down on stress in some areas, you have more energy to manage stress that can't be avoided.

 These techniques can help you cut out stress in your life when possible.

Use Stress Management Techniques To Quickly Relieve Stress

Quick-fix stress relievers aren't just "band-aid solutions"--if you can reverse your stress response in the moment, you can minimize your experience of chronic stress.  It helps to have a somewhat comprehensive stress management plan, and techniques that act quickly are an important part of that.  Learn more about breathing exercises and other fast-acting stress relievers.

Build Habits That Increase Resilience Toward Stress

Some habits are highly effective for managing stress in the moment and building resilience toward future stress as well.  The key is to make them a regular part of your life, even when you aren't feeling overwhelmed by stress.  Meditation, exercise, and other habits can help you to create in yourself a greater ability to withstand stress--learn more about them.


National Institute of Health

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