What You Need to Know About Hair Loss & Stress

Science supports the notion that significant emotional stress may be linked to one type of hair loss: telogen effluvium. There are approximately 100,000 hair follicles on the adult scalp. Each follicle cycles between growth and rest. Most of the hair follicles are in the anagen (growth) phase at any given time. When the hair follicle transitions to telogen, or the resting phase, the hair is shed. Hair loss occurs when there is an episode of telogen effluvium. This is when a trigger causes a sudden, abnormal shift of hairs into the telogen phase all at once. One trigger for this sudden shift is significant emotional stress. 

What qualifies as significant emotional stress? A major, negative life event (i.e., loss of a loved one or divorce). While a single bad day at work shouldn’t meet this threshold, severe and prolonged stress secondary to an illness, condition or the pandemic, for instance, could certainly qualify.

Hair loss associated with telogen effluvium is abruptdiffuse, and temporary. Telogen effluvium is characterized by the abrupt onset of hair loss. It usually begins about three months after the inciting event. Once hair follicles prematurely enter the telogen phase, it takes about three months for the cycle to complete and for the hair to shed.

The pattern of hair loss associated with telegen effluvium is diffuse. Individuals experiencing telegen effluvium may notice their ponytail is thinner, or there are more hairs in the shower.

The hair loss from this condition is usually temporary. Hair should return to its pre-effluvium density, although it may be slow. It can take months for the shedding to stop and then months to years for the lost hair to grow back at approximately 1/2 inch per month.

In some circumstances, hair does not fully return to full density.