How can I stop stress hair loss?

Stress hair loss, also known as telogen effluvium, is a common condition that can cause noticeable thinning of hair. It occurs when stress pushes large numbers of hair follicles into a resting phase, causing hair shedding. The good news is that for most people, stress hair loss is temporary and hair will regrow once stress is reduced and managed. Making lifestyle changes, finding healthy ways to cope with stress, and being patient as hair regrows can help stop and reverse stress hair loss.

What causes stress hair loss?

Hair follicles have cycles of growing and resting. Each follicle can remain in the growing phase for 2-6 years. Then, they enter a resting phase for about 2-3 months before the hair falls out. At any given time, about 85-90% of hair follicles are in the growing phase while 10-15% are in the resting phase. Stress hair loss happens when stress triggers more follicles than normal to suddenly enter the resting phase at the same time. About 1-2 months after the stressful event, large amounts of hair can shed in a seemingly alarming way.

Types of stress that can cause hair loss include:

  • Severe emotional stress or trauma like death of a loved one, divorce, etc.
  • Major surgery
  • Severe illness
  • Drastic changes in hormone levels from childbirth, discontinuing birth control pills, menopause, etc.
  • Nutritional deficiencies like low protein, iron, or B vitamins
  • Rapid weight loss or crash dieting
  • High fever or severe infections
  • Metabolic stress from thyroid disorders, diabetes, etc.

The stressful event pushes hair follicles into the resting phase prematurely. About 3-4 months later shedding occurs, and suddenly there seems to be hair falling out everywhere. Thankfully, once the source of stress is resolved and managed, the hair follicles revert back to the normal cycle and start regrowing hair.

What does stress hair loss look like?

In stress hair loss, there is diffuse shedding all over the scalp. Unlike male or female pattern baldness, the hairline and temple areas remain unaffected. However, there may be noticeable thinning throughout the scalp. Compared to normal shedding of 50-100 hairs per day, people with stress hair loss may suddenly lose clumps of hair when brushing or washing. Excessive amounts of hair can collect in the shower drain or hair brush. The hair strands that shed are mostly in the anagen or growing phase, characterized by white club-shaped bulbs on the hair root. If shedding continues for months, the thinning may become more prominent.

How is stress hair loss diagnosed?

Doctors can often diagnose stress hair loss from the history, distribution of hair loss, and hair shedding patterns. They may ask about any major stressors, illnesses, or hormonal changes in the last few months. To confirm the diagnosis, a trichoscopy hair and scalp exam may be done to visualize club hairs and look for lack of miniaturization or patterned loss. Blood tests can check for nutritional deficiencies, thyroid disorders, or hormonal imbalances contributing to shedding. A scalp biopsy is rarely needed but can help rule out other causes like alopecia areata.

What is the treatment for stress hair loss?

The main treatment for stress hair loss is identifying and resolving the underlying cause of stress. Lifestyle changes, stress management techniques, counseling, nutritional supplements, hormonal therapy, or treatment of illness may help stop ongoing shedding. Hair that is lost may take 3-6 months to visibly regrow once shedding has ceased. No medications can speed up the hair growth cycle. However, using volumizing shampoos, conditioners, sprays or styling products can temporarily make hair appear fuller while waiting for regrowth. Transplants, hairpieces, or other cosmetic treatments are generally not recommended for temporary hair shedding.

Tips to manage and reduce stress include:

  • Get enough sleep
  • Exercise regularly
  • Practice relaxation techniques like meditation, yoga, deep breathing
  • Make time for hobbies and socializing
  • Consider counseling or therapy
  • Get organized and make to-do lists
  • Listen to music, read, or do an enjoyable activity
  • Avoid overly restrictive diets
  • Limit caffeine, alcohol, and stimulants
  • Communicate feelings and needs with others

Making healthy lifestyle choices and learning to cope with and reduce stress in daily life can help minimize stress-related hair shedding. If an underlying medical issue is contributing to hair loss, get proper treatment to stop the trigger.

What nutrients help with stress hair loss?

Ensuring adequate intake of key nutrients can help support normal hair growth cycles and reduce shedding. Important nutrients for healthy hair include:

  • Protein – Necessary for hair structure. Insufficient protein intake causes more hairs to enter the telogen phase. Aim for 15-20% of calories from protein sources like meat, dairy, eggs, fish, beans, and nuts.
  • Iron – Carries oxygen to follicles which is needed for growth. Low iron (anemia) is linked to excessive hair shedding. Consume iron-rich foods like red meat, seafood, nuts, spinach, and beans.
  • Zinc – Involved in cell division and protein synthesis for hair. Lack of zinc has been associated with telogen effluvium. Eat zinc foods like oysters, beef, nuts, seeds, and legumes.
  • Biotin – Plays a key role in keratin production for hair. Deficiency may contribute to hair thinning. Get biotin from foods like organ meats, egg yolks, salmon, avocado, raspberries, and sweet potatoes.
  • Vitamin D – Thought to help regulate the hair cycle. Low levels are linked to alopecia areata. Get vitamin D from sunlight, fatty fish, and supplements.

If diet alone cannot correct nutritional deficiencies, specific supplements such as iron, vitamin D, zinc, or biotin may be recommended by a doctor to help halt hair loss.

When should I see a doctor for hair loss?

See a dermatologist or doctor if:

  • Hair shedding lasts longer than 6 months
  • Hair loss worsens or spreads to other areas
  • You have bald patches, skin lesions, or inflamed areas
  • You are unsure of the cause of hair loss
  • Additional symptoms like itchiness, pain, dandruff, or weight changes accompany hair loss
  • Hair loss severely impacts daily life or emotional well-being

A doctor can assess any underlying causes and provide treatments if necessary. Seeking professional help earlier can improve chances of regrowth.

How long does stress hair loss last?

For most people, noticeable shedding from stress hair loss may last around 3-6 months. However, it can take time for full thickness to return. Some factors that influence regrowth include:

  • Severity of triggering stressor – Very traumatic physical or emotional stress may prolong hair cycling disruption.
  • Pre-existing hair loss conditions – Those with genetic pattern hair loss may have increased susceptibility to stress-related shedding.
  • Age and hormonal status – Post-menopausal women or elderly may have delayed regrowth.
  • Nutritional deficiencies – Correcting deficiencies can aid regrowth.
  • Ongoing stress – Continued high stress levels hinder hair recovery.
  • Medical conditions – Managing conditions like thyroid disorders or diabetes can assist normal regrowth.

Stress hair loss from short-term stressors like a surgery, pregnancy, or dietary change may reverse within 6-9 months. Chronic stress or illness may prolong the shedding phase to 12 months or longer before hair recovers. Being patient and maintaining a healthy lifestyle can support the hair regrowth process.

Can stress cause permanent hair loss?

In the majority of cases, hair lost from temporary stressors fully recovers and stress hair loss is not permanent. The hair follicles were not damaged – they were just shifted prematurely into the resting phase, and will eventually restart the growth phase. However, in some rarer instances, severe or prolonged traumatic stress may cause scarring alopecia and permanent hair follicle damage. Examples include:

  • Trichotillomania – Compulsive urge to pull out one’s own hair. Can lead to permanent bald patches if done severely.
  • Major surgery – A small percentage may suffer permanent loss at incision sites from anesthesia or tension.
  • Serious illness – High fevers may occasionally result in some follicles unable to re-enter growth phase.
  • Childbirth – Postpartum hair loss is usually temporary but excess shedding is possible.
  • Crash dieting – Extreme or rapid weight loss stresses the body which can impair regrowth.

However, most patients with typical stress hair loss recover all or most of the lost hair. See a doctor if hair does not regrow within 6-12 months.

Can you prevent stress hair loss?

It is difficult to completely prevent stress in life that may trigger hair loss. However, you can take steps to lower daily stress and anxiety levels, build resilience to better handle stressors, and lead an overall healthy lifestyle – which may help minimize excessive stress shedding:

  • Get enough sleep and take time to relax
  • Eat a balanced, nutritious diet with sufficient protein
  • Take deep breaths, meditate or try calming exercises like yoga and tai chi
  • Talk to friends, family, or a mental health counselor
  • Exercise regularly to naturally reduce anxiety
  • Practice positive thinking and be gentle with yourself
  • Keep stress levels low after major stressful events like surgery or childbirth
  • Consider nutritional supplements if you have deficiencies

While you cannot always prevent stressful situations, developing healthy stress coping skills can reduce their physical impact on your body – including minimizing unnecessary hair shedding.

What is the first sign of stress hair loss?

The first signs of stress-induced hair shedding include:

  • Noticeably increased hair loss while brushing, washing, or showering
  • Seeing more hair in your hair brush or shower drain
  • Feeling like you are losing more hair throughout the day
  • Finding loose hairs on your clothes or furniture
  • Starting to see less density or your part widening
  • Scalp becoming more visible

Stress hair loss typically occurs about 3-4 months after a physiologically stressful event. Excess shedding is the first noticeable sign as more hair abruptly enters the telogen or shedding phase. As hair falls out, you may start to notice thinning hair volume.

Does stress hair loss cause bald spots?

Stress hair loss alone usually does not lead to bald spots or circular areas of complete hair loss. In stress hair loss, also called telogen effluvium, there is diffuse shedding all over the scalp due to the hair growth cycle being disrupted. Unlike alopecia areata which causes patchy bald spots, stress hair loss typically shows generalized thinning without distinct bald patches.

However, it is possible for stress to unmask or trigger underlying alopecia areata. The immune attack on hair follicles from alopecia areata may be brought on by severe stress. Trichotillomania, which is compulsive hair pulling due to stress or other psychological factors, can also result in bald patches. See a dermatologist if stress-related hair loss is accompanied by round bald spots.

Does stress cause hair loss in females more than males?

Stress-induced hair loss can affect both men and women. However, women appear to be more susceptible for a combination of reasons:

  • Estrogen levels and hormonal changes from events like childbirth or menopause can increase diffuse shedding.
  • Iron deficiency anemia is more common in premenopausal women.
  • Harsh hairstyling or chemical treatments like keratin straightening may worsen hair shedding.
  • Women are more likely to crash diet and experience nutritional deficits.
  • Women report higher overall stress levels according to stress surveys.

Studies indicate over 30% of women report excessive hair shedding related to stress compared to around 20% of men. In any case, both genders should take steps to manage stress and lead a healthy lifestyle to prevent or minimize temporary stress hair loss.


Stress hair loss can be alarming when sudden, excessive shedding occurs. However, most cases of telogen effluvium from temporary stress are reversible once the source of stress is removed and daily stress is well-managed. Being patient while hair regrows and focusing on healthy lifestyle habits can help reduce anxiety about temporary thinning. See a doctor for any persistent hair loss, bald spots, or lack of regrowth within 6 to 12 months. Catching and correcting any underlying issues early gives the best chance of restoring your hair to its normal fullness.

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