If your hair is falling out at an alarming rate, it could be yet another pandemic-related experience. Both the science world and the celebrity world have recently brought COVID-related hair loss into the spotlight. And it may confirm what you’re seeing in the mirror, your drain, your comb.
Actress Alyssa Milano recently posted her COVID-related hair loss on Instagram. And a survey (not a study) conducted by Natalie Lambert, PhD., of Indiana University School of Medicine and Survivor Corps, a grassroots educational group for COVID-19 survivors, found that about a quarter of people with lingering symptoms experienced hair loss.
They’re likely experiencing a type of hair loss called telogen effluvium, and you might be experiencing the same thing, even if you didn’t have COVID-19. Christine Shaver, M.D., has seen this type of hair loss in people who have had the disease caused by the novel coronavirus. “But we’ve seen many more patients with shedding who are stressing out from the coronavirus pandemic, but have not actually had the disease,” she says. “While illness is a common cause for telogen effluvium, a sudden increase in hair loss may result from stressors such as job loss, the death of a loved one, or major changes in lifestyle, such as extreme dietary or exercise changes. Unfortunately, all of these have been related to the recent COVID epidemic.”
Why would stress or illness make your hair fall out?
When your body has other major things to focus on—like dealing with extreme stress or fighting an illness—some of your hairs enter a resting phase to allow your body to focus on more essential, life-sustaining duties.
When your body is ready to start hair growth again, that new growth can push out the old hairs (although sometimes hairs shed on their own). Often, the hair will begin to fall out three to six months after entering the resting phase. So if you had a major life or physical disruption in March, you might just be seeing the effects now.
How much hair loss are we talking about?
Telogen effluvium isn’t just a strand or two falling out. It’s a noticeable difference in hair loss—much larger than usual amounts of hair are in the shower, your brush or comb, or even all over the chair you’ve been sitting in.
Normally, about 15 percent of your hair is in that resting phase, says Dr. Shaver. “During telogen effluvium, there is a higher proportion of hair that can prematurely enter telogen and can be upwards of 50 percent,” she says. And while the amount of hair loss is different for everyone, she says it can correspond to severity of the stress.
Does the hair grow back?
For most people who experience this type of hair loss in response to stress, the hair does grow back (although there is such a thing as chronic telogen effluvium, where you shed a lot of hair every day, but that’s much less common).
Which is great news except…it takes a while. “After the stressor is resolved, then the hair will slowly return to its normal cycling, and will eventually regrow in fullness,” says Dr. Shaver. It might take one to three months for the shedding to slow down or stop, and up to two years for hair to completely return to its former fullness. Which means the best treatment is also the hardest: Patience. “It’s important to be patient as telogen effluvium will self-resolve,” she says. “But further stressors should try to be managed.” Even though there’s no drug or treatment for it (but you can try boosting the look of fullness with these shampoos), it’s smart to see a dermatologist if you’re experiencing a sudden increase in hair loss to rule out other causes.
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