Does Stress Really Cause Hair Loss?

Posted by Nicole on October 7

If you’ve been feeling stressed lately and have found yourself pulling clumps of hair out of your brush, you might be wondering whether there is a connection between the two. Can stress really cause hair loss, or is that a myth?

The answer is yes, stress can cause hair loss—under certain conditions.

The National Institutes of Health wrote a post in 2021 where they described research into chronic stress and its connection to hair loss conducted by Dr. Ya-Chieh Hsu of Harvard University. The team experimented on mice and discovered that stem cells that promoted hair growth were not able to do their jobs as effectively in the presence of certain stress hormones.

Mayo Clinic says that several types of hair loss can all show up during times of high stress. One type is telogen effluvium, where “significant stress pushes large numbers of hair follicles into a resting phase. Within a few months, affected hairs might fall out suddenly when simply combing or washing your hair.”

Stress can also exacerbate alopecia areata, an immune condition that leads to hair falling out. Finally, there is trichotillomania, a condition where people feel a compulsion to tug at their own hair. It can be a stim that some people find soothing when stressed.

With all of that in mind, not all stresses are equal. The type of stress that causes hair loss needs to be either:

  • Chronic.

Or …

  • Intense and acute.

What stressors qualify as “intense” enough to cause hair to fall out are going to vary from one individual to another, as we all have different stress responses. But we can safely say that certain low-grade stressors are not likely to cause hair loss.

For example, if your mother-in-law calls you on the phone one day and is particularly irritating for half an hour, she probably isn’t responsible for your hair loss.

But if you recently had a high fever or severe illness, a surgery, or a life event that disrupted your hormone production, those are the types of acute stressors that could cause hair loss.

Major life events that cause severe or ongoing emotional stress may also be related to hair loss. This small study, for example, found that divorce and separation were factors that increased the chances of hair loss. If you engage in unhealthy behaviours to cope (like not eating), that could make maters worse.

What can you do about it? Well, there are some stressors that you might not be able to escape. But if you can remove stressors from your life, it could make a difference.

For those you cannot, you may be able to cope more effectively if you have a healthy lifestyle. Eat a nutritious diet, exercise, try to get enough sleep, and consider using deep breathing and other techniques to help you relax. Hopefully soon, you will be feeling less stressed. With any luck, perhaps your hair health will improve as well.