Stress & Hair Thinning-What You Need to Know

04 August, 2023


Hair is often considered an essential aspect of physical appearance, and its health and vitality can significantly impact our self-esteem. Various factors contribute to hair thinning; one such factor that has garnered significant attention is stress. In its various forms, stress has been linked to numerous physiological and psychological effects on the human body. This blog will explore the connection between hair thinning and stress from a scientific standpoint, shedding light on the intricate mechanisms at play.

Understanding Stress and Its Effects

Stress is a complex physiological response that arises when individuals perceive threats or challenges that exceed their ability to cope effectively. It triggers a cascade of hormonal and chemical reactions within the body, primarily involving the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis and the sympathetic nervous system. This response is commonly known as the "fight-or-flight" response, designed to help us survive in threatening situations.

The Impact of Stress on Hair Health

Telogen Effluvium: Chronic or severe stress can disrupt the natural hair growth cycle, leading to telogen effluvium. In this condition, an increased number of hairs prematurely enter the telogen (resting) phase and subsequently shed. This results in noticeable hair thinning or even temporary hair loss.
Trichotillomania: Stress can also trigger behavioural changes, such as trichotillomania, which is an irresistible urge to pull out one's hair. A condition often associated with anxiety disorders and can lead to significant hair loss and thinning in the affected areas.

Mechanisms Underlying the Hair-Thinning-Stress Connection

Hormonal Imbalance: Stress activates the HPA axis, resulting in the release of the stress hormone cortisol. Elevated cortisol levels can disrupt the delicate balance of other hormones, such as androgens and estrogen. Androgens, particularly dihydrotestosterone (DHT), can contribute to hair thinning by shrinking hair follicles and shortening the growth phase.
Inflammatory Processes: Chronic stress can induce a state of chronic low-grade inflammation in the body. This sustained inflammation can negatively impact hair follicles by impairing their function and promoting premature hair loss.
Autoimmune Disorders: Chronic stress has been linked to developing or exacerbating autoimmune disorders, such as alopecia areata. In this condition, the immune system inadvertently attacks hair follicles, causing hair loss and thinning. Stress can trigger or worsen these autoimmune responses.
Oxidative Stress: Stress increases the production of reactive oxygen species (ROS), leading to oxidative stress. Excessive ROS can damage hair follicles and disrupt their normal functioning, contributing to hair thinning and premature ageing.

Managing Stress to Preserve Hair Health

Stress Reduction Techniques: Incorporating stress reduction techniques into one's daily routine can be beneficial. These may include mindfulness meditation, deep breathing exercises, regular physical activity, and engaging in hobbies or activities that promote relaxation.
Balanced Lifestyle: Maintaining a balanced lifestyle is crucial. This involves prioritizing proper nutrition, regular exercise, sufficient sleep, and a supportive social network. A healthy lifestyle helps the body better cope with stress and promotes overall well-being, including hair health.
Seeking Professional Help: For individuals experiencing significant hair thinning or chronic stress, it is essential to consult with healthcare professionals or dermatologists. They can guide stress management and recommend appropriate treatment options for hair thinning.

Specialized Hair Care Products For Thinning Hair

When dealing with hair thinning caused by stress, focusing on hair care products that promote a healthy scalp and support hair growth is important. While specific product recommendations may vary depending on individual needs, here are some categories of hair care products that can be beneficial:
Mild and Nourishing Shampoos: Look for anti-thinning shampoos that are gentle on the scalp and free from harsh chemicals, sulphates, and parabens. Nourishing shampoos for thinning hair can help maintain scalp health and create a favourable environment for hair growth.
Conditioners for Hair Strength and Volume: Anti-Thinning Conditioners that provide moisture, nourishment, and support to the hair shaft can help improve the appearance of thinning hair and enhance volume.
Scalp Stimulating Treatments: Certain products, such as anti-thinning hair serums or tonics, contain ingredients that promote circulation, stimulate hair follicles, improve hair thickness, and support hair growth.

The Bottom Line

Hair thinning is a multifaceted issue influenced by various factors, and stress has emerged as a significant contributor. The intricate interplay between stress hormones, inflammation, and oxidative stress disrupts the normal hair growth cycle, leading to noticeable hair thinning and loss. Understanding these underlying mechanisms and adopting stress reduction strategies can help mitigate the negative impact of stress on hair health. Individuals can maintain healthier hair and promote overall well-being by managing stress effectively.

References:

Sinclair, R. D. (2015). Chronic telogen effluvium: a study of 5 patients over 7 years. International Journal of Trichology, 7(4), 141–143.
Katsuoka, K., & Sugimoto, Y. (2018). Stress-induced hair graying and subsequent restoration. Molecules, 23(2), 30.
McMichael, A. (2016). Female pattern hair loss (androgenetic alopecia in women): pathogenesis, clinical features and diagnosis. UpToDate. Retrieved from https://www.uptodate.com/contents/female-pattern-hair-loss-androgenetic-alopecia-in-women-pathogenesis-clinical-features-and-diagnosis

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Reviewed By:Dr. Poonam Jalan

Dr. Poonam Jalan (MBBS, MD-Dermatology, Venereology & Leprosy), DNB-Dermatology & Venereology. anthi Hair Thinning Advisory Panel Member.