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- American actress
A growing number of COVID-19 survivors often referred to as "long-haulers" — people who've been experiencing symptoms for months instead of the average of two weeks the World Health Organization (WHO) says is the usual span — have been sharing their personal experiences with the disease on social media. Oftentimes, they reveal that they're suffering from symptoms that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) do not indicate as COVID-19 symptoms, like hair loss. And now, Alyssa Milano has become one of the highest-profile survivors to reveal she's been experiencing exactly that.
"Hi, everybody. I just wanted to show you the amount of hair that's coming out of my head as a result of COVID," Milano says in a new Instagram video, holding her up favorite detangling brush to show there's no hair between the bristles before she starts brushing. After passing it through her hair several times, she pulls an undeniably alarming amount of hair from her head — clearly much more than she's used to seeing come loose with brushing.
"One brushing. This is my hair loss from COVID-19," she says, holding up the clump of hair. "Wear a damn mask."
Milano is one of many survivors blaming COVID-19 for their hair loss. A recent survey conducted by Natalie Lambert, an associate research professor of medicine at Indiana University School of Medicine, and Survivor Corps, a grass-roots organization that connects COVID-19 survivors with resources, showed that out of more than 1,500 long-haulers who participated, 423 said they experienced hair loss.
According to Cassandra Pierre, a physician specializing in infectious diseases and the medical director of public health programs at Boston Medical Center, it may not be the disease itself that causes the excess shedding. "There are so many things that people are attributing to COVID-19. Many of them really are directly applicable, and we are learning more and more about this every day or at least every week," she tells Allure. "It probably is not a specific effect of the disease, but more related to the stress the disease causes itself."
Many diseases can increase stress, and COVID-19 is no exception. That increase in stress is associated with an increase in the hormone cortisol, Pierre says, which may eventually lead to hair loss. "It could be weeks to months before it happens, which could fit into what Alyssa Milano is stating because she's been having symptoms for a long time," Pierre explains. "You can certainly see lots of hair loss with that."
Another possible explanation for long-haulers seeing a lot of hair fall: When you're feeling ill, you simply may not prioritize brushing your hair for a while. "We just want to get better, survive, and so we're not brushing our hair or combing it as much," Pierre tells Allure. "And when you get that buildup over time [and] we start brushing and combing again, you're going to have the normal loss of hair compounded over the period of days for which you may not have been paying as much attention to it."
None of these possible culprits makes the experience of losing hair any less scary, especially when you're already feeling sick and stressed, but Pierre says there is good news: "We certainly have seen that much like other short-term causes of hair loss, like pregnancy, hair loss is restored over time."
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Originally Appeared on Allure