The connection between stress and hair loss is a significant concern for many, given the increasing stress levels in modern life. This relationship is multifaceted, involving biological mechanisms, various types of hair loss, and numerous management strategies. Dr Jennifer Martinick of Martinick Hair Restoration says, “While genetic and medical factors are primary causes of hair loss in both men and women, stress plays a significant role, particularly for those genetically predisposed to hair loss conditions.”


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Types of Stress-Related Hair Loss

Several types of hair loss are associated with stress:

Telogen Effluvium. This condition is caused by significant stress pushing large numbers of hair follicles into a resting phase, leading to hair shedding. [3]

Alopecia Areata. Stress can trigger this condition, where the body’s immune system attacks hair follicles, resulting in hair loss. [4]

General Thinning and Hair Pulling. High levels of anxiety are correlated with slower hair growth, hair thinning, and, in some cases, the compulsion to pull one’s hair out. [5]

Biological Mechanisms of Stress-Induced Hair Loss

Stress impacts the body’s hormonal balance, particularly the production of cortisol. Chronic stress keeps the levels of this hormone elevated, disrupting the normal hair growth cycle. This disruption can lead to thinning hair or exacerbate existing hair loss conditions. [1]

Researchers at Harvard University have further identified how chronic stress impairs hair follicle stem cells, which is a key factor in understanding how stress contributes to hair loss. The researchers found that a major stress hormone puts hair follicle stem cells into an extended resting phase (telogen phase) without regenerating the follicle or the hair. [2]

The hair growth cycle is a complex and fascinating process that can be significantly impacted by stress. This cycle consists of three distinct phases: Anagen, Catagen, and Telogen. Each phase plays a crucial role in the healthy growth and shedding of hair.

Anagen Phase (Growth Phase). The Anagen phase is the period of active hair growth. During this phase, which can last several years, the hair follicles actively produce new hair strands. Genetics, age, and overall health determine the length of this phase. Typically, hair grows about half an inch per month during Anagen.

Catagen Phase (Transition Phase). The Catagen phase is a transitional stage that lasts about 2-3 weeks. In this phase, the hair follicle begins to shrink and detach from the dermal papilla (a structure at the base of the hair follicle that provides nutrients). This is a natural part of the hair cycle, preparing the hair follicle for the resting phase.

Telogen Phase (Resting Phase). Lasting around three months, the Telogen phase is when hair growth stops; the old hair rests while new hair begins to form beneath it. At the end of this phase, the resting hair falls out (a process known as shedding), and the hair follicle re-enters the Anagen phase to start the cycle again.

Long-Term Impact of Stress on Hair Health

Chronic stress poses risks for various health issues, including depression, anxiety, digestion, and sleep problems. It has also been linked to hair loss, although the exact reasons for this link were not fully understood until recently. The hair growth cycle involves several stages, and stress can disrupt this cycle. [6]

Accelerating the Transition to Telogen Phase. Chronic stress can cause more hair follicles to enter the Telogen phase prematurely. This phenomenon, Telogen Effluvium, increases hair shedding, leading to noticeable hair thinning and loss. Stress hormones like cortisol can disrupt the normal hair cycle, shortening the Anagen phase and hastening the onset of the Telogen phase.

Impact on Hair Follicle Health. Sustained stress can also affect the health of hair follicles. It can lead to inflammation and constrict blood vessels, reducing the supply of nutrients and oxygen to the hair follicles, which is vital for healthy hair growth. Additionally, stress can impact the absorption of nutrients critical for hair health, further exacerbating hair loss issues.

Psychological Impact Leading to Behavioural Changes. Stress can lead to conditions like Trichotillomania, where individuals cope with emotional distress by pulling out their hair, further disrupting the natural hair growth cycle.

Dr Martinick observes that stress can trigger sudden hair loss, as opposed to the gradual thinning typically seen in genetic hair loss. This sudden shedding is often a result of traumatic life events and can exacerbate conditions like alopecia areata or telogen effluvium. She notes that while modern life is often blamed for stress-related hair loss, the phenomenon has been a long-standing issue, reflected in expressions like “tearing my hair out” due to intense situations.


Help Hair Australia Stress and Hair Loss

Diagnosis, Treatment and Management Strategies

Understanding the link between stress and hair loss is crucial for addressing this common health concern. The condition is often reversible with the proper management strategies, but professional medical advice is essential for effective treatment.

In her practice, Dr Martinick highlights the importance of thorough diagnosis and treatment for both men and women. She emphasises that male hair loss is often hastily attributed to male pattern baldness, potentially overlooking stress-related causes. For women, she recommends comprehensive blood tests to assess various health markers. Dr. Martinick also enquires about recent traumas, stressors, or significant life events that could contribute to hair loss.

Many patients visit Dr Martinick during recovery, where reassurance is key. For chronic cases, lifestyle changes to alleviate stress are discussed. Medication, counselling, and adjunctive therapies like relaxation techniques, such as mindfulness, yoga, and meditation, are beneficial in some scenarios. A balanced diet rich in nutrients that support hair growth is also crucial. Dr Martinick advocates using Help Hair™ Shake, a whey protein shake formulated to support hair growth. This shake, along with a nutritious diet, can provide essential nutrients for hair health. In some cases, medical treatments or topical applications may be recommended.

Recognising the signs of stress-induced hair loss and seeking proper medical guidance for effective management and treatment is essential. Dr Martinick’s approach, emphasising accurate diagnosis, customised treatments, and a blend of lifestyle changes and nutritional support, showcases the need for a holistic perspective on hair loss. This approach takes into account both physiological and psychological aspects, ensuring comprehensive care.


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