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A Derm Explains How to Combat COVID-Related Hair Loss

The coronavirus does a lot of damage, and anecdotally, hair loss may be a condition to add to the growing list of symptoms. We checked in with a board-certified dermatologist and founder of The Derm Institute, Dr. Annie Chiu, for how to combat COVID-related hair loss and the connection between these two.

Does COVID Cause Hair Loss?

Dr. Chiu points out that at the moment, there isn’t a non-independently reviewed study directly associating hair loss specifically to COVID infection. This means there simply isn’t enough data to 100% confirm the connection. With that said, “acute illnesses that can cause fever, weight change, or severe sudden stress can lead to hair loss,” comments Dr. Chiu. She stresses that this condition, telogen effluvium, is not uncommon with any acute physical stress on the body.

“Normally, about 85% of hair is in an active growth phase called anagen, with 15% of hairs in the resting telogen phase, where it can be shed. Physiological or major psychological stressors on the body can essentially shock up to 70% of growing hairs into the telogen phase, where more hairs are shed in a short period of time. This can happen to people of all ages and genders,” she continues.

What Does COVID-Related Hair Loss Look Like?

To recognize this type of hair loss, know what to look out for. Telogen effluvium is typically “diffuse, not patchy,” says Dr. Chiu. It is characterized by handfuls of hairs coming out with showering, brushing, or even on their pillowcases, which can obviously be emotionally and cosmetically very distressing. 

“Timing-wise, once a hair is pushed into telogen, people typically notice the dramatically increased hair shedding about two to three months after the acute event or illness, so it would explain why these hair loss symptoms are experienced later than active infection. Up to 50% of hair can be shed through a process of telogen effluvium, and that is incredibly scary when it is happening to someone. But is there something specifically different about the COVID virus that causes a different type of hair loss? That would be hard to determine based on available data, as these symptoms can occur after any acute illness or stress, even after the regular flu, loss of a job, etc.”

Thankfully, telogen effluvium is usually self-resolving. Our bodies eventually reset the ratio of growing to resting hairs back to normal. Unfortunately, this process can take months to see. 

In order to usher yourself out of the telogen effluvium phase, be smart about what you’re putting in your hair. Dr. Chiu advises staying away from anything that can weaken your hair or cause more breakage and avoiding products with SLS/sulfates and alcohols (which can be drying), as well as heavy silicones. She also adds taking a break from heat-based styling and dying, which can also lead to more breakage.

And of course, you are what you eat. “It’s also important to supply the body with a well-balanced diet that supplies the nutritional needs to grow hair efficiently. Nutrients that are specifically important to hair growth include iron and biotin. If someone has been sick, sometimes it is helpful to replenish these vitamin levels at home with hair growth supplements like Foligain’s Anti-Thinning Hair Supplement, which has biotin, ginkgo biloba, copper, ginseng, and saw palmetto extract. Also, try collagen drinks like Skinade or BareOrganics’ Beauty Water Enhancer. Or, try using topical follicle-stimulating products like Folligan’s Topical Scalp Solution. Even psychologically, it helps to actively do something that can potentially help rebound from hair loss like aromatherapy, drinking chamomile tea, and exercising to manage stress better. If seeing a board-certified dermatologist is an option, I highly recommend a series of platelet-rich plasma (PRP) injections in-office as they can be extremely effective for many types of hair loss,” she continues.

There’s no doubt about it, we are living in a period of highly stressful events right now. This likely correlates to higher rates of stress-induced hair. To keep calm (at least about your hair), it’s important to get educated on telogen effluvium and continue to remember that time almost always improves this condition. “As a dermatologist, I empathize with patients and recognize how overwhelming and upsetting it is to see this rapid increase in hair shedding,” says Dr. Chiu.

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