Covid-19 and Hair Loss: What’s the Link?
Those suffering from Covid-19 have reported a wide range of symptoms, hair loss being one of them. But is there evidence to suggest causation? We explore how they might be linked, below.
Updated: Monday 31 January 2022
Over the past year, we’ve been continually updating our understanding of how Covid-19 might impact our health and which symptoms might indicate that we have the virus. You are likely to have asked yourself: how high is my temperature, have I developed a continuous cough, has my sense of smell or taste weakened? Whilst these have proven to be strong indicators, not all unusual bodily changes have quite as clear a connection with the virus, hair loss being one of them. Early indications suggest hair loss could be a potential long-term effect of Covid-19, with many people reporting losing their hair after recovering from the illness. In this article, we explore how the coronavirus could be affecting hair loss, how factors such as stress can contribute, and what you can do about it.
What Causes Hair Loss?
Hair loss is a common condition, especially amongst men, affecting around 6.5 million men in the UK, and there are numerous factors that may lead to this:
- Heritage - pattern baldness is typically inherited, with both paternal and maternal genetics contributing.
- Age - the natural process of our hair spending longer in the resting growth phase as we age.
- Diet - consuming a balanced, vitamin and mineral rich diet will give your hair all the required nutrients for healthy growth.
- Stress - during high stress periods, the body prioritises essential bodily functions over hair growth, sometimes leading to hair loss all over the scalp.
Does Covid-19 Directly Cause Hair Loss?
Thankfully, we haven’t yet seen evidence produced that suggests the novel coronavirus directly causes hair loss. At this stage, reports that suggest a direct link are largely anecdotal, as it is too early to draw definitive conclusions, and we expect future research to delve a bit deeper and produce some reliable findings. Additionally, there’s no evidence to suggest that hair loss is an early indicator of contracting Covid-19. However, the ripple effects of the pandemic seem to be connected to hair loss, as we explore below.
How does Covid-19 Amplify Common Hair Loss Causes
Doctors have cited stress-related hair loss as strongly linked to Covid-19. Telogen Effluvium (TE) is a reversible condition whereby sufferers experience hair loss a few months after a traumatic event or emotional distress, major surgery, or a severe fever or illness. This is consistent with reports from those becoming ill from the coronavirus, whose fever and/or the emotionally draining experience of going into ICU has led to hair loss 2 to 3 months into their recovery.
So, how does Telogen Effluvium work?
The hair goes through different stages of growth: Anagen (growth), Catagen (transition), Telogen (resting) and Exogen (shedding). A healthy head of hair has around 100,000 individual hairs, each at a different stage of growth, meaning your hair always appears full as your scalp grows and sheds hairs continually. However, following a physically or emotionally stressful event, TE occurs, causing a large amount of hairs to stop growing and begin the resting (telogen) phase. Hairs typically remain in this phase for around 3 months, before entering the shedding (exogen) phase, explaining the delay between the stressful event and the hair loss. When there’s a shock to the system, the body focuses its energy on essential functioning, and hair growth is often one of the first areas the body slows resource allocation to. Telogen Effluvium tends to affect less than half of the scalp, and will last between 6 and 9 months, before hair typically starts to regrow at a normal rate.
Whilst physical illness can lead to TE, stress is also an important trigger. One study of quarantining Covid-19 patients observed TE developing in 28% of participants who had to stay at home for long periods of time, pointing to the stresses of quarantining as a significant contributing factor. Stress-related TE has even been known to affect those caring for an ill loved one, those who have experienced a loss of a loved one, or those whose lives have otherwise been severely disrupted by the virus.
Does Hair Loss During Covid-19 Affect Everyone Equally?
It has now been well-documented that Black, Asian and minority communities have been hit proportionally harder by the pandemic, with greater mortality rates and Covid-19-associated poverty. A 2020 study conducted in the USA, following coronavirus patients in Brooklyn and Manhattan hospitals, experienced an abrupt increase in telogen effluvium in low income, racially diverse neighborhoods, with a 400% increase in cases of hair shedding amongst patients of colour. Therefore, it is suggested that this significant increase in TE hair loss in minority communities is a consequence of higher than average stress levels experienced as a result of coping with the pandemic.
What Can You Do to Treat Covid-19-provoked Hair Loss?
With the observed rise in hair loss amongst those with Covid-19 largely attributed to Telogen Effluvium, reducing stressors should be your focal point when it comes to preventative measures. For those already experiencing TE, it’s important to remember that your hair will almost certainly grow back, but it will take 6 months to a year. Whilst not quick, knowing that your hair will once again begin it’s growth cycle is critical, as the stress of your hair loss can often elongate the recovering process, becoming part of the problem. Taking a walk, going to green spaces, and contacting friends and family are the nation’s favourite ways to cope with pandemic-induced stress, according to the Mental Health Foundation. Identifying and reducing your stress triggers, as well as eating a nutrient-rich diet, exercising, and avoiding smoking, will contribute to a healthy lifestyle that encourages quicker hair growth.
The interim period can be distressing for those experiencing hair loss, which is why using clinically proven treatment options can help to stimulate quicker hair growth. Here are some recommended treatment options.
Research concluding that Covid-19 directly causes hair loss is largely anecdotal. However, some Covid-19 symptoms and associated psychological stresses are likely to prompt the body to halt new hair production, known as telogen effluvium, leading to hair loss two to three months after the eventful period. If this is the case, hair should naturally grow back, but this may take up to a year, so it’s essential to try to reduce stressors in your daily life, as well as trialling clinically proven hair growth treatments to speed up the hair regrowth process.
- Sperling LC. “Alopeica.” In: Fitzpatrick JE, Morelli JG. Dermatology Secrets Plus (fifth edition). Elsevier, China, 2016:179-84.
- Turkmen D, Altunisik N, Sener S, Colak C. Evaluation of the effects of COVID-19 pandemic on hair diseases through a web-based questionnaire. Dermatol Ther. 2020;33(6):e13923.doi:10.1111/dth.13923.
- Henryford.com. 2020. Hair Loss During The Pandemic: You're Probably Not Imagining It.
- University of Manchester, 2020. Rapid Evidence Review: Inequalities in relation to COVID-19 and their effects on London.
- University of Bristol, 2020. Poverty Dimensions of the Impact of COVID-19 on BAME Communities
- Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology, Elsevier. A surge in the incidence of telogen effluvium in minority predominant communities heavily impacted by COVID-19.
- YouGov, 2021. Wave 9: pre-Christmas 2020. [online] Mental Health Foundation.