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What Causes Stress Alopecia and How Can it Be Reversed?

April is Stress Awareness Month, and we would like to take this opportunity to raise awareness around our area of expertise and suggest methods to help you avoid stress alopecia (hair loss). Hong Kong is a fast-paced city and its residents have always been subjected to high levels of stress, especially so in the past year due to political unrest and now the ongoing pandemic. Stress and anxiety can cause adverse physiological changes to our bodies, and one of which is hair loss. Luckily, stress-related hair loss can be controlled if the level of stress can be managed.

What Causes Stress Alopecia?

Stress triggers our bodies to go into ‘fight or flight’ mode which is a physiological response to something that is physically or mentally frightening. The response is triggered by a release of hormones into the bloodstream where they travel to targeted areas of the body. This brings about physiological, psychological, and emotional changes to enhance our drive to either deal with the problem head-on, or to flee from it to safety. As a result, energy will be redirected to parts of the body which are vital for survival, restricting the capillaries from delivering nutrients and oxygen to hair follicles. This prematurely pushes the hair into its resting phase called the telogen phase.

This stress response causes most hairs to enter the telogen phase at the same time and fall out together in much larger amounts, sometimes up to 10 times as much! The shedding usually happens about 3 months after the onset of intense levels of stress, as the resting phase lasts for about 100 days. This will lead to the hair becoming thinner all over the head, as opposed to more common types of genetic balding at the crown area only. Emotional stress, which may be aggravated by the hair loss process itself, can also exacerbate the effects.

High levels of stress hormones (cortisol) can cause inflammation, oxidative stress and other hormonal disruptions that also affect hair growth. These ‘stressors’ can trigger issues such as bacteria, fungus, or a dry, itchy scalp.

Ways to Reverse Stress-Related Hair Loss

Fortunately, stress-related hair loss can be improved over time by managing and reducing stress levels. Here are some common and effective ways to reduce stress:
  • Exercising: Physical activities help to reduce stress hormones, such as adrenaline and cortisol. It also stimulates the brain’s feel-good neurotransmitters, called endorphins. Some great exercises to reduce stress are jogging, swimming, yoga, pilates, tai chi, and dancing.
  • Woman painting at deskMeditation: Taking 5 to 20 minutes to clear your mind through meditation helps to reset your body to a calm and relaxed state. This helps the body to repair itself and prevent any damage from the physical effects of stress.
  • Head massage: Massaging your head 2 to 3 times a week can help to reduce stress levels as well as boost the blood circulation to your scalp.
  • Hobbies: Occupy your mind with something fun you enjoy doing to relax, release any tension and lift up your mood! Some ideas are making arts and crafts, playing music, gardening, reading, and puzzles.
  • Writing and journaling: Take a moment to be away from computer screens and electronics to write about your feeling and things that may have caused you stress. Identifying the triggers can help you to find ways to cope with it.

To reduce the effects of inflammation and oxidative stress on your scalp and hair follicles, use hair products that are free from harmful chemicals such as sulfate, parabens and sodium chloride. Detoxify your scalp with natural shampoo and conditioner that purifies the scalp and enhances blood circulation back to the follicles.

If you are experiencing stress-related hair loss, the first thing you must do is to RELAX, to avoid compounding to the stress that you are already experiencing. Take comfort in the fact that this type of hair loss is commonly reversible once the stress is managed and reduced, but the process will take some time for the new hairs to naturally grow out again. If you would like some support in speeding up and optimizing your hair re-growth, feel free to get in touch with us for a chat and a complimentary hair consultation.

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