Hair Loss from Chronic Stress

The stress and anxiety associated with a myriad of experiences during the global pandemic have caused many people to gain weight, suffer skin problems or lose excess hair.  But as we begin to see some light on the horizon, it may be encouraging to know that researchers are closer to understanding how chronic stress impairs hair follicle stem cells.  New treatments for hair loss may not be far behind. 

Both men and women frequently experience hair loss, whether due to underlying health problems, heredity, age, hormone imbalances or stress. But according to a recent Harvard University Medical Xpress report, a new study using mice was able to identify the specific cell type and molecule that relays a stress signal to hair follicle stem cells, causing them to remain in an extended resting phase without regenerating.  Researchers can now confirm that chronic stress does delay stem cell activation and has an impact on skin and hair. 

During the resting phase of the hair’s growth cycle, hairs shed more easily and are not regenerating.  By regulating the body’s stress hormone, cortisol, researchers are studying how hair follicles could be regenerated, even among older adults.  Stress may also lead to premature graying of hair, and with further study, researchers may be able to reactivate stem cells under stress.  

Until this new research yields a treatment for hair loss resulting from stress, it’s important to find a way to reduce stress and anxiety with exercise, music, guided meditation, journaling, breathing exercises or spending time in nature.  A healthy diet and proper rest are also important for overall well-being and stress reduction. 

Hair regrowth will be gradual while getting stress under control. People who have experienced hair loss in the past year may want to get a shorter cut to give volume to thinning hair.  Keeping the scalp clean and massaging the roots can help boost blood flow and remove any buildup that could impede new hair growth.  Some people find a supplement like collagen or biotin may also support hair regrowth – the drug Minoxidil (Nioxin) has also been found to reduce hair fallout and promote greater density.  But talk with your doctor or pharmacist first before taking any new medication or supplement.