COVID-19 can cause hair to shed more than usual, often referred to as acute telogen effluvium.
Physical and emotional stress due to COVID-19 can increase the level of stress hormones in the body, which can put hair follicle stem cells into an extended resting phase, alter cells at the base of hair follicles (dermal papilla), and inhibit molecules necessary for hair growth.
The severity of hair loss is not necessarily linked to the severity of illness; some people with mild COVID-19 infection may experience severe hair loss, whereas some with severe COVID-19 symptoms may have mild hair loss.
Why does COVID-19 cause hair shedding?
The human body has around 5 million hair follicles, which cycle through three stages:
- Anagen or growth stage: Lasts 2-4 years, in which the hair grows and pushes through the skin
- Catagen stage: Involves the death of hair follicles
- Telogen or rest stage: Lasts 2-4 months, in which there is hair regeneration and shedding
Normally, you lose approximately 50 to 100 strands of hair per day. COVID-19-induced stressors, on the other hand, can disrupt the growth-rest cycle and result in increased hair loss.
A study also found that about 30%-50% of hair follicles may remain in the telogen stage compared to a normal range of 5%-10% (extended resting phase) several months after a COVID-19 infection.
What are other causes of hair loss?
The cause of temporary hair loss is not just limited to COVID-19. It can occur due to various other factors such as:
- Other viral infections
- Hormonal changes
- Physical and emotional stress
- Overuse of drugs
How long does COVID-19 hair loss last?
Unlike other COVID-19 symptoms, hair loss is typically noticed 2-3 months after infection.
People who experience hair loss after COVID-19 usually notice their hair falling out in clumps whenever the scalp is agitated (during brushing or after a shower). This is followed by hair thinning and shedding within a few weeks of seeing the clumps.
Fortunately, COVID-19-related hair loss is usually a temporary problem, and because the follicles are still present, the hair eventually grows back.
With patience and proper care, most people can see regrowth within 6-9 months. However, for women with longer hair, it may take up to 2 years or more for the hair to regrow to its original length and volume.
What can you do to reduce hair loss after COVID-19?
The following measures may help you avoid further hair loss after COVID-19:
- Use a conditioner when showering to reduce tangles
- Do not tug on your hair when combing or brushing
- Avoid hairstyles that exert tension on your hair
- Avoid curling irons, hair straighteners, or other heat tools that can damage or weaken hair follicles
- Wear a hat to reduce damage from ultraviolet rays
- Stay hydrated
- Eat a well-balanced diet high in protein
- Take vitamin supplements, especially biotin, which is a water-soluble B-vitamin
- Avoid stress and practice stress-relieving techniques such as meditation or yoga
If you notice no improvement in hair shedding related to COVID-19 even after several months, contact a dermatologist. They can evaluate your condition and recommend treatments to reduce hair loss and help with regrowth.
CAN COVID-19 CAUSE HAIR LOSS? American Academy of Dermatology Association https://www.aad.org/public/diseases/hair-loss/causes/covid-19
Prevalence of telogen effluvium hair loss in COVID-19 patients and its relationship with disease severity. NIH https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC9262270/
How COVID-19 Might Be Causing Your Hair Loss. Cleveland Clinic https://health.clevelandclinic.org/how-coronavirus-might-be-driving-more-stress-related-hair-loss/
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