As a woman with long hair, shedding is a part of life. A few strands in your hairbrush or the shower drain (followed by the inevitable “clean up your damn hair” text from your live-in partner) is nothing to worry about—you’ve got hundreds of thousands of ’em on your head, after all. But if you’re pulling out hair by the fistful or waking up with a full-blown nest on your pillow every morning, it could be a sign that you’re losing your hair due to stress.
“Women are mostly complaining of shedding—they’re losing hair in the shower, they’re losing hair when styling, they’re losing hair when they’re running their hands through their heads, and that shedding is our clue that it’s coming from a stressful source,” explains naturopathic doctor, Tess Marshall, ND who works with hair-growth supplement Nutrafol. “When we’re stressed, our adrenal glands produce this hormone called cortisol, and then the cortisone signals our hair follicles to shift from the growth phase, out of growth phase into catagen [a transition phase], and then hair will fall out.” This is called telogen effluvium. If you’re losing more than 150 strands per day (it depends on the length of hair, but it should be a relatively sparse palmful) or noticing a significant change in how much hair you’re losing, stress could be to blame. In addition to shedding, hair loss from stress may also happen primarily around your temples.
I know, I know: Just what all need in 2019, another reason to be stressed out about our stress levels. But in case it provides any solace, anyone who’s dealing with stress-induced hair loss is far from alone. Studies indicate that stress is a common reason that women are losing their hair, and anecdotally, that number doesn’t seem to be declining. “I think it’s becoming a lot more common now, in women especially, just because of this increase in stress in modern society,” she says.
In addition to stress, there are a few other reasons your hair could be falling out. Hormones, environmental factors, medications, and your diet could all play a role. “What we’ve found is that there’s multiple factors effecting the hair follicle at the same time,” says Dr. Marshall. If you’re seeing hair fall out in patches instead of a general shedding pattern, something other than stress is likely behind it: Hormonal hair loss tends to present as a receding hairline or widening part, and immune deregulations (like alopecia areata) will usually cause hair to fall out in patches.
But back to the topic at hand. The first—and most important—way to deal with stress-related hair loss is to work to lower your situational stress levels (at least, as best you can). “Reflect on your lifestyle and see where these stressors are from,” says Dr. Marshall, who recommends adding things like exercise, yoga, and meditation to your routine. “I think that self-care and really monitoring how you’re reacting to stress is really important to improve that resiliency in our bodies without any supplements at all.”
Then, it’s time to change up your products. “One of the targets that increase inflammation and oxidative stress in our hair follicles is coming from the outside world, so when we’re using products that have chemicals in them that disrupt all of our hormone system, that can have a negative effect on our hair,” she explains, and suggests replacing anything with chemicals like sulfates with botanical-based shampoos and conditioners from brands like Verb and Prose. She also suggests adding an adaptogenic ashwaganda supplement, like Nutrafol, to your daily routine in order to help balance out stress levels in your body.
And most importantly, keep things in check: As long as you get ahead of the game, your hair brush (and pillow, and shower drain) should get back to normal in time. If they don’t connect with a dermatologist to form a plan on how to best treat your hair loss.
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