COVID-19 and Hair Loss - Is There a Link?
There’s no sugar-coating it: 2020 has been a stressful year for everyone. A global pandemic, a divisive election, civil unrest — and let’s not forget the murder hornets. If ever there was a time to cuddle puppies and radiate kindness, it’s now. In an era of masking-up before leaving the house, arming yourself with hand sanitizer, and staying six feet apart, the last thing you need barreling toward you is another curveball.
Yet there it is, circling your shower drain and fringing from your sweater: your hair is everywhere. What gives? We’re aware of the hallmark symptoms of COVID-19 (high fever, chills, cough, loss of taste and smell), but is hair loss one of them?
The CDC says no, but experts say there’s more to the story.
COVID-19 CAUSE HAIR LOSS
We consulted with Dr. Andy Goren, dermatology researcher, President and Chief Medical Officer at Applied Biology, who has devoted his career to researching androgens, the sex hormones implicated in Androgenetic Alopecia (common baldness), to shed light on the link between COVID-19 and hair loss.
Dr. Goren has been at the forefront of emerging research and published 19 peer-reviewed papers on the subject. His insights?
“Dermatologists all around the world are seeing an increased amount of patients with hair loss. In most cases the new COVID related hair loss - COVID effluvium is related to stress, depression and the many things happening in life due to this catastrophe. There are more and more cases, but in most cases it is a temporary type of hair loss.”
For many people, including actress Alyssa Milano, hair loss is yet another unfavorable side-effect of COVID-19. In a Twitter video, the actress opened up about her post-COVID hair loss with a video showing a clump of strands falling from a single brush stroke.
And she’s not alone. Search traffic for hair growth products reached a two-year high in September — 6 months after the initial COVID wave hit the U.S.
Another recent survey found that 27% of COVID patients had significant increases in hair loss during recovery.
Stress isn't the only factor. Dr. Goren said that men with Androgenetic Alopecia are disproportionately at higher risk of developing severe COVID symptoms.
But what if you’ve never had COVID and your hair is shedding excessively? Could the stress of enduring a global pandemic thin your tresses, or is it the result of overactive androgens?
Many players are on the board here — including genetics, hormones, and stress triggers — but COVID is far from checkmate because you are strong, and your hair is resilient.
There’s a definitive link between COVID-19 and hair loss, but it’s not as simple as cause and effect. The truth lies somewhere beneath the surface, so let’s dive in.
CAN COVID-19 CAUSE HAIR LOSS?
Hair loss doesn’t immediately mean you have COVID, but it could be a residual effect of environmental triggers and stress. Over the years, we’ve learned that various factors contribute to hair loss, including genetics, diet, life events, medication, and emotional well-being, among others.
Androgens play a significant role, according to Dr. Goren.
“Androgenetic Alopecia isn’t happening due to SARS-CoV-2 (Coronavirus); people who are bald are more susceptible to SARS-CoV-2 because they share a high androgen sensitivity.”
Stress and Your Hair
Even if you dodge COVID, extreme stress triggered by financial loss, a sick loved one, or the overarching doom and gloom of the daily news can cause Telogen Effluvium — a disruption to the hair growth cycle.
The pandemic is mentally and emotionally taxing, leading to chronic worry, economic uncertainty, and overall anxiety and depression. Interestingly, many patients experiencing excessive shedding aren’t diagnosed with COVID.
A Wakefield Research study conducted for HairClub found that out of roughly 1,000 adults, about 40% experienced quarantine-induced hair loss caused by stress.
Considering COVID has us all reaching for chocolate and binge-watching happy news, it’s within reason that the emotional trauma of 2020 alone is enough to send strands scattering.
Another study from Survivor Corps found that out of 3,900 recovered COVID-19 patients, 32% experienced hair loss.
Ultimately, hair loss is a natural occurrence, but excessive shedding may indicate a broader issue at play, whether it’s stress or hormones.
What Is Telogen Effluvium?
Telogen Effluvium is a form of stress hair loss caused by an extreme shock to the body that triggers a follicular response. Undergoing major surgery, emotional trauma, physical injury, infection, dietary changes, excessive weight loss — or living through a global pandemic — can shock the body into fight or flight mode.
In turn, the body releases high levels of the stress hormone cortisol, which is proven to disrupt the hair growth cycle.
Normal growth processes halt as the body protects primary functions like digestion and cardiovascular health.
But Why Does Hair Fall Out?
Hair grows in cycles, and ordinarily, most strands are in the anagen (growing) phase. Only about 10% of hair is in the telogen (resting) phase, during which hair sheds and falls out. With Telogen Effluvium, hair strands move to the telogen phase en masse, causing excessive hair fall.
Rather than losing your average 50-100 strands a day, you might suddenly notice a perpetual downpour of strands. It’s essential to remain calm because as distressing as hair loss is, Telogen Effluvium is temporary.
When this happens, COVID-19 isn’t the source of hair loss but the catalyst. It’s prevalent enough that researchers are coining it “COVID Effluvium.”
You may start to notice excessive shedding and hair fall around three months after the precipitating event. The event could be COVID or the emotional turmoil of living in a COVID world. But don’t worry, because hair will resume its normal growth cycle after 6-9 months.
What if the root of the issue isn’t stress-induced?
HOW DOES CORONAVIRUS AFFECT HAIR?
Dr. Goren has conducted numerous studies about COVID-19 and hair loss, so what does the science say?
COVID-19 is a respiratory virus, and for a patient to contract COVID-19, the SARS-CoV-2 virus must enter the host lung cells. SARS-CoV-2 accomplishes cell entry by binding the ACE2 receptor and having its spike protein cleaved by the TMPRSS2 enzyme. TMPRSS2 in humans is known to be androgen-driven. Yes, androgen, those pesky hormones that cause genetic hair loss.
“People who are bald are likely to be more susceptible to SARS-CoV-2 because they share a high androgen sensitivity… because they have an underlying androgen connection. A bald man might be at higher risk of developing severe (COVID-19) symptoms,” Dr. Goren said.
Does the Same Apply to Women?
In one recent study, Dr. Goren’s research team surveyed 141 female patients with severe COVID symptoms and found that 58% of patients had Androgenetic Alopecia; however, the association has not been demonstrated yet.
While COVID-19 might not directly cause hair loss, people with hereditary predispositions to hair loss may be at higher risk for contracting a severe case of COVID. Still, more research is needed to define these correlations.
We know that stress alone is enough to cause hair to fall out (and many of us to pour a glass of vino… or two), so what can you do about it?
WHAT TO DO IF YOU ARE EXPERIENCING HAIR LOSS?
As researchers conduct ongoing clinical studies into COVID-19 and hair loss, it’s vital to have solutions on hand to empower you with a strong sense of self-confidence.
Minimize Hair Loss
INTACT is an anti hair shedding treatment that enhances your hair follicles’ resistance to daily tugging and pulling during washing and brushing.
“Studies on INTACT have shown that it's extremely effective at reducing shedding induced by mechanical force. INTACT contracts the arrector pili muscle. It's a mechanical way of stopping the hair from falling," Dr. Goren said.
Find Out if Medication will Work for You
Dr. Goren suggests that the first step to treating hair loss is to consult with your dermatologist. For patients with Androgenetic Alopecia, Minoxidil is an over-the-counter topical medication that can stimulate hair regrowth. Consult with your doctor see if Minoxidil is right for you.
Hide Hair Loss
Managing hair loss is an emotional experience, and during this uncertain time, it’s imperative to maintain a sense of self. As you explore treatment options, consider concealing hair loss with FOLLEA premium human hair wigs and toppers.
MANAGE HAIR LOSS TODAY!
As research develops about COVID-19 and hair loss, more solutions will rise to the surface. Dr. Goren is conducting clinical studies on androgen-deprivation therapy, a treatment that has thus far proven to minimize COVID-19 symptoms.
The studies are focused on administering low-dosage anti-androgen treatment to at-risk healthcare workers on the pandemic’s front lines.
“We’re trying to see if they’re less affected by it, which could be a game-changer for people during this pandemic.”
Despite the onslaught of obstacles this year, there is always hope. Minimizing stress triggers is a proactive way to protect yourself from stress-induced hair loss. Curl up with a good book, go for a long walk, or pick up a new hobby to keep the bad vibes at bay. Zoom yoga, anyone?
A lot is happening in the hair health space. Discover the latest research, solutions, and answers to all your hair-loss questions today!