What do changes in sleeping patterns, weight loss or gain, irritability, and digestive issues have in common? They can all be caused by stress. That’s all pretty common knowledge by now. But did you know that your hair loss, gray hair, and even eczema might be coming from that same source?
We are all living through some stressful times right now. The global pandemic that is COVID-19 has given many of us a lot to stress about. From stay at home orders leaving us restless to economic hardships and fear about loved ones (or yourself) getting sick, you’re likely stressed. And you’re not alone.
Changes in our skin and hair are often some of the earliest signs that you’re experiencing stress. You might notice these changes before you even register that you are stressed out. You might be so good at functioning under stress (like many of us are) that you don’t connect the dots at first.
But your hair might be trying to tell you that you’re stressed out. Read on for more information about what your hair might do when you’re under stress. And some tips on how to manage that stress for the sake of your health and your hair. Because it’s not all in your head. Or on your head.
Stress-Induced Hair Loss and Breakage
Hair loss is one of the first things that many naturalistas will notice. Some hair loss is normal. we naturally lose 150-200 strands of hair a day. When you have curly or coarse hair, it doesn’t fall out daily, so you might notice two weeks of natural shedding all at once. So don’t fret if you’re losing a small hairball in the shower on wash day. As long as you’re detangling correctly and practicing good protective techniques, you shouldn’t worry about a little bit of shedding.
But if you’re noticing that hairball getting bigger, or you’re pulling out clumps of hair. If you’re seeing bald patches or thinning areas and you’ve ruled out some of the usual culprits like tension alopecia from too tight braids, or harsh chemical products, then your hair loss might be a sign of stress.
Stress doesn't only cause you to lose hair from the root. It can also contribute to brittleness and breakage. So if you’re noticing that your hair is dryer and more brittle, no matter how much you moisturize and protect it, it might be stress.
There are three types of stress-related hair loss according to the Mayo Clinic:
- Telogen effluvium: Stress pushes your hair follicles into the resting phase, which means it will come out in clumps.
- Trichotillomania: This is a disorder that causes a person to pull out their hair compulsively.
- Alopecia areata: This type of alopecia causes your immune system to attack the follicles.
Itchy Scalp, Eczema and Anxiety
Anxiety is not the first thing you might think of when you have an itchy scalp. And it might not be the issue. If you’re using the wrong products, or not clarifying your hair often enough (or clarifying too often) you might have an itchy scalp. But if you’re doing everything right and you’re still scratching up a storm, it could be a sign of anxiety.
Anxiety doesn’t directly cause an itchy scalp, but some of the causes of anxiety can also contribute. For instance, your skin can become more sensitive. Your scalp might also be itching because of Eczema, which can also be brought on or exacerbated by stress.
Or your body might be producing inflammatory hormones that cause your scalp to become inflamed. Using products with natural anti-inflammatory ingredients (like ours) can help soothe the discomfort.
Gray Hair and Lack of Shine
They say that if you step on a crack, you’ll break your mother’s back. There is no scientific evidence to back that up. But science does show that your shenanigans could have been the cause of your mother’s gray hair. As we age, we naturally lose the pigment in our hair. That leaves it looking gray.
But studies show that stress can also contribute to early graying. Stress-induced hormone “noradrenaline” which is released during our “flight or fight” response has been shown to permanently damage the pigment that naturally colours our hair.
Stress not only impacts the colour of our hair, but also the shine and lustre. This impact is a little less direct. But when we are stressed, our diet is often compromised. Getting nutrients and vitamins like Omega 3 fatty acids, and vitamin c (which helps collagen production) are essential to shiny locs.
What not to do:
Ignore the signs
Don’t ignore it! If you’re losing hair or experiencing an itchy scalp or grays, take it as a time to investigate. It might not be stress. It could be another medical problem, or it could be the products you're using.
Put on your scientist hat and track your symptoms. Use a journal or a planner to note what you’re noticing so you can bring it up to your doctor, dermatologist, or even your hairstylist.
Don’t think “my hair is just damaged” or “it will always be this way.” Try to think about it as your hair communicating with you. It’s ringing an alarm bell, trying to help you before you experience actual health problems.
You are not your hair, and your hair problems are not judgements upon you. This is temporary. We all experience stress-related hair issues and we are all in this together as a natural community.
Treat it with superficial treatments
Our hair and skin will often tell you you need to make some changes. A friend of mine went to the dermatologist in high school. Her appointment happened to be right after her mother passed away. She didn’t think to tell the doctor about this and she was treated for cystic acne.
She spent years battling this skin problem with harsh chemical treatments. It wasn’t until she got rid of them and started using natural products for sensitive skin that she realized she didn’t even have an acne problem, but that her stress level was showing up on her face.
The same will go for your hair. If you try to treat stress-related problems with harsh treatments, you’ll yoyo back and forth. Stick to natural products, consistent regimes and protective styles. That way, you’ll be able to notice when your hair is trying to tell you something and you can treat the cause, not the symptom.
Some ways to manage stress:
If you’re experiencing stress, there are lots of resources out there for you. You don’t have to battle it alone. There are plenty of science-backed ways to help. Do it for yourself, and for your hair! Especially in these challenging times, it’s important to take care of yourself.
- Meditation: Try a free meditation app for guided meditation, or just take time for silence. You can do this by sitting, laying down or walking. Light some incense or a candle and be calm for 5-20 minutes a day.
- Exercise: Get moving! Exercise releases endorphins that fight stress. Some forms of exercise are more effective for stress reduction than others. Whether you’re doing yoga, going on a run, or boxing, try to get your heart rate up and break a sweat for 20-30 minutes a day.
- Therapy: Talking to friends and family can really help but sometimes you need to bring in a professional. There are so many ways to access therapy these days. You can even do it from the comfort of your own home.
- Mindset: We tend to always be on the go as a modern society. Sometimes it’s important to give yourself permission to relax. Change your mindset about work. Prioritize self-care and give yourself a break!
Stress and Hair Loss, Are They Related? The Mayo Clinic
Hair Breakage 12 Possible Causes and Solutions Healthline.com
The Effects of Stress on Your Hair and Scalp Canyonranch.com
How Stress Causes Gray Hair National Institute of Health
The Healthy Hair Diet Pureology.com