This is a guest post by Worthy & Spruce.
We live in a stressful world, no doubt about it, and this stress can have many negative effects on our health and wellbeing. As well as increased blood pressure, lack of sleep leading to over-tiredness, muscle pain due to tension, headaches, loss of concentration, and general crankiness, one of the most outwardly obvious signs of stress among men can be the premature greying of hair and outright hair loss. As if you didn’t have enough to stress about, now you find out that your stress is causing stress-induced hair loss, which is, you know, pretty stressful. Vicious circle anyone?
I met up with a friend for coffee last week. It was the first time I had seen him for a month or two but we’d spoken on the phone and I knew he had been under a lot of stress recently at work. When he walked in I could immediately spot the bags under the eyes and the wearisome expression. However, what struck me most was the appearance of some distinctly white hairs where none had been before (he’s only 34) and, more alarmingly, some fairly noticeable chunks of hair missing around the temples and through the beard.
As we got to talking it became apparent that on top of all the stress of work, he now found himself stressing about the hair loss too and was deeply concerned that it would be irreversible. So, with my Worthy & Spruce investigative hat on, I got to work…
What are the Causes?
Ok, we’re going to go into a bit of the science here so bear with us. There are three commonly accepted mechanisms that can lead to stress-induced hair loss. Namely;
Surprisingly not a spell from Harry Potter. At any given time, around 85% of your hair follicles are actively growing and are said to be in the Anagen Phase, about 12% have finished growing and are said to be in the Catagen Phase, and about 3% are in the Telogen Phase where the hair follicles just kick back and chill for a bit. That’s the normal growing cycle, Anagen to Catagen to Telogen and then back round again.
However, extreme psychological and physiological stress on the body can push as much as 70% of the follicles into the Telogen Phase prematurely, meaning the follicles essentially say ‘Nope. Can’t deal with this.’ and go to sleep for a while, leaving the hair to become detached from the follicle and fall out with normal combing or washing. This is the condition known as Telogen Effluvium.
Trichotillomania, whilst sounding vaguely whimsical, is actually characterised by an irresistible urge to pull one’s hair out from the scalp, eyebrows, beard, or any other areas of your body. For some, hair pulling can be a way of dealing with stressful or negative issues such as anxiety, boredom or frustration.
Trichotillomania is considered to be more of a psychological rather than physiological response to stress in so far as the sufferer is actively engaged in pulling the hair out rather than it falling out due to changes at the follicle level.
Again, not sure who’s coming up with these names but this one sounds like a delicious pasta dish if you ask me. Alopecia Areata (AA) is also known as spot-baldness and it’s the most common of the three types of stress-induced hair loss. In fact, it’s the very one that my aforementioned friend was likely suffering from around the temples and in his previously lustrous beard.
AA is believed to be an auto-immune disease whereby the individual’s own immune system mistakenly attacks the hair follicles causing the normal growing cycle to be interrupted and the hair to become detached from the follicle. Just why AA develops in the first place is not well understood, however, research seems to indicate that elevated levels of cortisol and adrenaline brought on by stress may be at play.
So those are the mechanisms by which stress can affect the density and health of your hair. The stress itself can be brought on by any number of factors, both internal and external, such as increase in work commitments (as in the case of my friend), financial difficulties, relationship issues, chronic illness, or injury.
So, What’s the Solution?
Well, there’s good news and bad. Bad news is that while you remain stressed, the situation is unlikely to improve, and may in fact deteriorate. You could of course resort to hair plugs or the like but it’s not addressing the cause, only the symptom.
The good news however is that, more often than not, stress induced hair loss is not permanent. Unless in the case of Trichotillomania where you may have done some serious damage to the follicles, when the stressor is removed usually the follicles will recover and return to their normal growth cycle.
Your primary goal therefore, and not just for your appearance or the health of your hair, should be to address the cause of the stress in your life. Of course, it’s difficult to avoid stress altogether and, in fact, stress would seem to be a vital evolutionary development; part of the fight or flight response which helps us to avoid being ingested by particularly ravenous animals. Except that in the modern world our highly developed cortices allow us to worry endlessly about work, money, love, traffic, the footy, etc. It’s this endurance of a perpetually stressed state, rather than temporary reactive stress, which can result in hair loss.
The techniques for handling stress could fill many, many volumes and we won’t insult your intelligence by suggesting you ‘just chill out’, or ‘take a deep breath’. There are a few tried and tested techniques such as meditation of course but nothing beats actually addressing the root cause of the stress rather than just finding ways to live with it. Notwithstanding, If you’re under a lot of stress and you’re finding it difficult to cope then I’d recommend either a consultation with your doctor who can put you in touch with some proper counselling services or get in touch with Beyond Blue who offer excellent support services.
What Can You Do in the Meantime?
Whilst you’re addressing the causes of your stress, there’s a couple of things you can do to help the process along. It’s common knowledge, verging on cliché, that the holy trinity of eating well, sleeping well, and drinking lots of water will work wonders for your health. This advice is oft-repeated for good reason so don’t be too quick to brush it off.
Additionally, foods that are rich in Omega-3 fatty acids such as salmon, cod liver, and walnuts are thought to be good for promoting healthy, strong hair. Zinc is also believed to play a role in stimulating the growth of hair so foods like spinach and beef should feature in your diet.
There are also some styling tricks you can use to help you through the rough patch. If you’ve got short cropped hair then the bald spots might be fairly noticeable but if your hair is a little longer there may some magic that your barber can work to hide the patches until the hair naturally returns. Similarly, if the patches are in your beard and you’ve gone from ZZ Top to Keanu Reeves seemingly overnight then there’s plenty of styling that you can do to get around the issue. Check out the jump here for some top tips.
Lastly, it’s worth nothing that if the stressors are removed and you feel yourself returning to normality but the bald patches show no sign of improving, it may be worth booking an appointment with your GP to rule out any other underlying medical conditions.
And there you have it. A quick and dirty guide to stress-induced baldness. So if you’re stressed that your stress has been stressing your hair and it’ll never recover, then fret not. Take care of yourself and your hair will likely bounce back better than ever. I’ve been Andy, Head of Good Grooming at Worthy & Spruce. Hit me up in the comments section below or via email if you have any questions, queries, or quandaries.
Andy is the Head of Good Grooming at Worthy & Spruce. As well as being purveyors of essential beard care, shaving, and general grooming supplies, the Worthy & Spruce team also like to blog prolifically on all things grooming related…and many things not. It’s essential reading for the modern Australian gent.