Patients who have suffered prolonged and heavy onset of coronavirus about 2-4 months prior are now reporting severe hair loss. Hair loss is not on the list of the official symptoms, so at first it’s easy to become alarmed around potentially one more symptom to look out for. Notably, it occurs after the onset of the disease rather than prior. This can be a result of severe stress that patients who suffered a severe or prolonged form of coronavirus, otherwise known as telogen effluvium – stress-related hair loss.
Three phases of hair growth
Let’s take a look at how our hair cycle usually operates. Our hair follicles go through the stages:
- anagen or growth stage (2-7 years)
- catagen or transition (10-14 days) and
- telogen or resting stage (3-6 months).
Usually 85-90% of our hair follicles are in the growth stage, 1% in transition and the remaining 9-14% are resting in the telogen stage.
Hair growth and stress during coronavirus
In periods of extreme stress, the body focuses its effort on maintaining vital functions and organs: heart and cardiovascular system, lungs and respiratory system, liver and kidneys. In a life-threatening situation, even our digestive tract might get ignored, let alone hair growth.
Our body shuts down non-key functions that may push up to 70% (!) of our follicles to enter telogen stage. That means that in 2-4 months after the onset of a stressful episode, those hairs start falling out. The process is your body’s way to protect you, divert blood and nutrients to where it is most needed to ensure that you make it through the crisis. Having to stay in a hospital for prolonged periods of time and struggling to breathe – is that critical situation. And, let’s, perhaps, agree that this is more vital than supporting hair growth.
Closer look at the resting stage (telogen)
So what happens to your hair as you might be losing it during excessive telogen shedding? Telogen effluvium comes from Greek word “tel” that means “end”, and a Latin word “effluere” that means “flow out”. As a hair comes out from the growth stage, it detaches itself from the root (derma papilla) – a tiny finger-like projection that exists in our hair bulb through which hair receives oxygen and other nutrients during growth.
During telogen, hair tends to remain in the follicle until it is pushed out by the growth of a new hair as it enters anagen phase again. A mechanical pull – for example brushing your hair, especially when it’s wet, or styling can also cause the hair to leave the follicle during that period. A lot of cellular activity happens during telogen, so that the tissues within the hair root can regenerate and grow new hair. Thus, the telogen phase is crucial to the formation of healthy strands.
Will hair grow back after coronavirus?
We might have some good news for you. In most cases telogen effluvium is fully reversible and hair grows back at the usual rate, provided you eliminate stress factors and nourish your body during recovery. What patients might observe is what is known in young mom’s circles as ‘baby bangs’ – noticeable new hair growth at the hairline, approximately 3-6 months after the initial onset of hair loss. This is a sign that your body is returning to normal. Is it time to call it “corona bangs”? Let’s hope so, though not so fast. To support your body through this recovery process in addition to the doctor’s prescribed routines and treatments, it helps to adopt a variety of external as well as internal nourishing techniques:
- Blood check on vitamins and hormones to help identify any specific deficiencies and address them
- Physical exercise will help promote healthy cardiovascular system, but its main benefits lie with helping our body get rid of excess cortisol – a stress hormone, as well as strengthening our impaired immune system
- Nutrition – forget fad diets and ensure intake of high-fiber vegetables and fruits, and good quality fats from nuts, oils and fish
- Supplements – multivitamins, fish oil, especially vitamin C given it’s role in collagen synthesis, and magnesium citrate to strengthen your nervous system
- Mindfulness practice stands on its own as it calms the body as well as providing you the extra space to breathe and relax.
- Scalp massage is both relaxing to the mind and stimulating for scalp blood flow
- Derma rolling would ensure through microwounding that sufficient collagen is being produced in the hair follicle sacks to support new hair
- Castor oil + peppermint oil are both vasodilators having a widening effects on your blood vessels improving blood flow to scalp
Hair loss, but no coronavirus?
What about people who never contracted the disease themselves, have reported noticeable hair loss as the pandemic unfolded? We are all weighed down by the worries we have about our jobs, income security. We worry about our loved ones, and while we may be stuck at home – it is not a vacation, but we home-school the kids, we don’t have enough space for ourselves as we otherwise navigate the uncertainty, which is an inherently distressing and difficult task.
Tackling hair loss should be the least of your worries, so we hope that this article reassures you that IF you are dealing with stress-related hair loss in relation to coronavirus – it is reversible. Allow yourself space to reflect and be with the difficult emotions that are arising as a result, taking care of your mental and physical health and health of others.
As a parting word from us, equipping yourself with patience, long-term approach to holistic health as well as focusing on scalp blood flow will help your body rebuild new follicles quicker and better.
Telogen effluvium as a consequence of COVID-19 infection (1)
Telogen Effluvium: Original study of 1961 (2)
COVID-19 “Long Hauler” Symptoms Survey Report (3)
A preliminary observation: Male pattern hair loss among hospitalized COVID‐19 patients in Spain (4)
Pathologic dynamics of hair loss. Telogen Effluvium (5)