Patients who have suffered prolonged and heavy onset of coronavirus about 2-4 months prior are now reporting severe hair loss. While hair loss is not on the list of the official symptoms, it’s easy to become alarmed around potentially one more symptom to look out for. Notably, hair loss 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 loss 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 will 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 and the recovery. 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. But question remains, is there anything that can be done?
Stress and telogen – resting stage of hair follicle
What happens to your hair 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. This detachment means that hair no longer grows.
During telogen, it will remain in the follicle until ita new hair pushes it out of the way as the follicle 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.
Does hair loss reverse after coronavirus?
There is some good news. 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 back to 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.
So, 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. Below are a few examples:
- Blood check on vitamins and hormones to help identify any specific deficiencies and address them
- Physical exercise helps promote healthy cardiovascular system. Its main benefit is helping our body get rid of excess cortisol – a stress hormone. Both factors strengthen our impaired immune system.
- Nutrition – forget fad diets and ensure intake of high-fiber vegetables and fruits. Easy plant-based proteins can be obtaied from legumes and good quality fats from nuts, oils and fish.
- Supplements – multivitamins, fish oil, especially vitamin C (important for collagen synthesis). Magnesium citrate can help further strengthening your nervous system.
- Mindfulness practice stands as a standalone recommendation own. It calms the body as well as provides the extra space to breathe and relax as you recover.
External / topical treatment:
- Scalp massage is both relaxing to the mind and stimulating for scalp blood flow.
- Derma rolling through microwounding ensures collagen production in the hair follicle sacks which support new hair growth.
- 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. We home-school kids, we don’t have enough space for ourselves as we otherwise navigate the uncertainty: 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. It will grow back. Allow yourself space to reflect and be with the difficult emotions that are arising as a result. Take care of your mental and physical health, before you start caring for the 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.
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)