High levels of stress, changes to your diet and hair-care routine, and a lack of vitamin D during quarantine create the perfect storm for sudden hair loss.

By Sara Spruch-Feiner
June 02, 2020
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A couple of weeks into quarantine (which, tbh, feels like a lifetime ago), I started to notice what felt like suspiciously larger-than-usual clumps of hair pooled on my floor post-shower. Then, on FaceTime with a friend, she mentioned the exact same phenomenon. What gives, universe? If you've also noticed excessive shedding as of late, you're not crazy—this time in isolation seems to have brought about an uptick in hair loss (like you needed something else to worry about).

"Hair loss is multifactorial, which means that there are many different causes," says Joshua Zeichner, M.D., director of cosmetic and clinical research in dermatology at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City. Between extremely high levels of stress (understandably!), changes to your diet and hair-care regimens, and a lack of vitamin D, quarantine presents a bit of a perfect storm for sudden hair loss. "In the context of coronavirus, changes in schedules, routines, and quarantine, we anticipate continuing to see changes in hair in the upcoming months," says New York City-based dermatologist Marisa Garshick, M.D. (Related: 10 Products That'll Make Your Thinning Hair Look Thick AF)

Ahead, experts discuss how the changes in your life due to the impact of COVID-19 have impacted the health of your hair—even triggering unexplained and unusual shedding and thinning. The good news? Experts in the field (dermatologists and trichologists) offer practices and products you can use to help combat hair loss. (Related: Asking for a Friend: How Much Hair Loss Is Normal?)

Possible Causes of Sudden Hair Loss

Stress

As if being stressed isn't, well, stressful enough, it can also take a toll on your physical health—and hair loss is one of those frustrating side effects. Your sudden shedding during quarantine could be caused by telogen effluvium, a form of hair loss that is typically temporary and happens after a stressful or traumatic event, physical or emotional stress, changes in weight, pregnancy, illness, medication, or dietary changes, explains Dr. Garshick.

But what if everything seemed normal at the start of quarantine (or XYZ life event), but you're just now starting to notice more hair in your brush after a few months of quarantine? With telogen effluvium, the hair loss often occurs weeks to months after the initial event, with some people noticing sudden hair loss 3-6 months after a certain trigger, says Dr. Garshick.

It's always best to manage stress as best as possible. While that's often easier said than done, these stress-relieving activities may help. Practices like yoga and meditation are particularly helpful as they help balance the nervous system. (Related: This Lululemon Yoga Mat Got Me Through 200 Hours of Yoga Teacher Training)

Lack of Vitamin D

Turns out, vitamin D (which you usually get from the sun) is not only crucial for your digestive system, immune system, and is useful as a mood booster, but "vitamin D is known to stimulate growth in hair follicles, so a deficiency can lead to hair loss," points out Sophia Kogan, M.D., co-founder and chief medical advisor of Nutrafol. Thanks to quarantine and shelter-in-place mandates, you are likely spending a majority of your time indoors, meaning you're on short supply of sunlight; it's possible your vitamin D levels have taken a plunge, causing some excessive hair shedding.

If you feel like you could be low on vitamin D, Dr. Kogan recommends incorporating foods such as salmon, eggs, mushrooms, and dairy that is high in the vitamin into your diet. Many healthcare professionals don't suggest taking a vitamin D supplement since most people aren't deficient in vitamin D. However you should consult your doctor to see if adding one—such as the PhiNaturals Vitamin D3 (Buy It, $25, amazon.com)—could help in your specific case. (Related: 5 Weird Health Risks of Low Vitamin D Levels)

Changes In Diet

First of all—go easy on yourself. Being home or working from home during a global pandemic is not easy, and there's no need to beat yourself up if your diet has been less than perfect—or if you've had cereal for dinner multiple times (guilty!). But your new diet could be the culprit for why your hair is thinning. "What you see happening to your hair is usually a manifestation of what's happening inside your body—so nutritional deficiencies are a common contributor to overall hair health," says Dr. Kogan.

"While being in quarantine, you might have found yourself gravitating toward sweets, fried foods, and foods heavy in fat as a source of comfort," she says. "This can disrupt the normal balance of bacteria within the gut, compromising the microbiome and leading to less absorption of nutrients." The bottom line: When the body lacks essential nutrients that are building blocks of hair, hair production can be compromised.

The fix? Add iron-rich foods into your diet. "A deficiency in ferritin (stored iron) commonly causes hair loss, especially in menstruating women," says Anabelle Kingsley, trichologist and president of Philip Kingsley. She recommends red meat, dried apricots, beetroot, dark, leafy greens, and blackstrap molasses. (Related: 12 Foods to Boost Your Immune System This Flu Season)

Your Hair-Care Routine

When it comes to what you're actually doing to your hair—quarantine has its pros and cons. On one hand, social distancing from colorists means a break from harsh chemicals for those who dye their hair; on the other, getting frequent trims helps the hair not break from the ends, and without the ability to go into the salon for a cut, you may find that your hair appears less healthy, explains Dr. Kogan.

And while it may be tempting to slack on hair washing, it's not the best idea for your hair health. Your scalp is simply an extension of the skin on your forehead, and you wouldn't skip washing your face," points out Kingsley. Cleansing, massaging, and exfoliating your scalp will not only promote circulation but also new hair growth. Another misconception is that when you notice more hair loss, you should reduce your hair washing frequency. "I always explain to patients that while it seems like a lot is coming out in the shower, it is hair you would have still otherwise lost, so simply washing your hair is not the underlying cause of the hair loss," says Dr. Garshick. (Related: Why You Should Treat Your Scalp to a Detox)

Kingsley recommends not going more than three days without shampooing, and to give your scalp some love, too (more on that below). Also, consider using this time at home to give your hair a break. Let it air dry, skip the hot tools, avoid color and dyes (you can always use a spray-on root coverup if you're desperate), and just let your hair do its (natural) thing. Finally, Dr. Kogan recommends making sure your shampoo and conditioner are free of sulfates, parabens, and other chemicals as they can lead to immune or endocrine disruption, both of which can cause damage to the hair follicle. (Related: 8 Hair-Washing Mistakes You May Be Making)

Being Sick

If you've been very sick, had coronavirus, or a fever, hair loss probably wasn't at the top of your mind, but if you experienced it and it upset you, the good news is that it's likely temporary. "For those who may have become infected with coronavirus, we know that any period of intense illness or hospitalization can cause stress on the body, which may lead to subsequent hair loss that is generally temporary," says Dr. Garshick. With regards to fevers, in particular, those over 102 degrees will almost always cause hair loss 6-12 weeks later (called post-febrile alopecia), notes Kingsley. "This is because your body shuts down the production of non-essential cells (including hair cells) in order to focus all energy on keeping your body functioning," adds Kingsley.

Focus on recovery rather than hair shedding, and be sure you are continuing to take care of yourself. "No need to take any action, this will stop of its own accord. However, being very unwell can deplete your body of nutrients, so it is important to eat nutritious and regular meals as soon as you can," says Kingsley. (Related: The Best Way to Start Exercising Again After Being Sick)

When to See a Doctor for Sudden Hair Loss

In general, there are many different reasons for hair loss as well as different types of hair loss, so if you are noticing any changes, it is always best to check with your doctor. "We generally say that it is normal to lose approximately 50-100 hairs per day, and while it is not necessary or recommended to count each hair, I often find patients have a sense of when it increases beyond that based on what they are finding on the floor, in the shower, on the pillowcases or brushes," says Dr. Garshick.

"It is always important to be evaluated as there are other medical conditions that can also be associated with hair changes, such as thyroid disorders," she adds. Early intervention is super important, as it can help minimize hair thinning, which ultimately translates to better outcomes, adds Dr. Zeichner. (Related: How to Tell If You're Losing Too Much Hair)

The Best Products to Combat Hair Loss

From shampoo and conditioner to scalp treatments and supplements, there are a number of options that can help when it comes to fighting hair loss and stimulating new growth.

Nutrafol Women’s Hair Growth Supplement for Thicker, Stronger Hair

AMAZON

This cult-favorite supplement combines a proprietary blend of 21 powerful ingredients, including a patented form of ashwagandha, a stress-busting adaptogen that helps balance elevated cortisol levels and build resilience to stress. The brand claims that 75 percent of those taking Nutrafol see a visible reduction in shedding in just two months. (Learn more about Nutrafol for Women.)

Nioxin System 1 Cleanser Shampoo

AMAZON

Nioxin has a ton of hair-loss product options (you can choose depending on your hair type)—and they come dermatologist-recommended. "This can help to improve the appearance of the hair that is there while waiting for the hair to grow back," says Dr. Garshick. "Many of these shampoos contain proteins that help to make the hair appear fuller." (Related: The Best Shampoos for Thinning Hair, According to Experts)

Philip Kingsley Exfoliating Weekly Scalp Mask

AMAZON

Give your scalp the treatment it deserves. This mask features BHA to clarify and zinc to balance the scalp and reduce excess sebum. This one's especially useful for those who like to stretch the time between washes. (Related: Do Electric Scalp Massagers Really Stimulate Hair Growth?)

Amika Thicc Volumizing and Thickening Styling Cream

SEPHORA

This styling-treatment hybrid works for as both a short- and long-term solution for hair loss. It immediately helps volumize hair to improve its appearance and also features redensyl, which is a patented blend of ingredients that work together to stimulate hair follicles to encourage growth. (Related: How to Prevent and Style Thinning Hair)

Rene Furterer Vitalfan Dietary Supplement

DERMSTORE

Specifically formulated for sudden, temporary hair loss resulting from imbalanced hormones, diet, or stress, this supplement uses black currant to stimulate microcirculation alongside amino acids and fatty acids to encourage hair growth and keratin production. It's recommended to stick with it for three months for the best results.

Philip B Russian Amber Imperial Insta-Thick

BLOOMINGDALE'S

When you want an immediate boost, turn to this volumizing spray. Dry shampoo meets hair-plumping polymers in this formula that instantly gives the appearance of fuller-bodied locks. (Related: The Best Post-Workout Dry Shampoo for Super Sweaty Hair)

John Frieda Volume Lift Weightless Conditioner

AMAZON

Despite it being so lightweight, this conditioner is "designed to thicken and has been reported to increase hair volume by up to 40 percent," says Dr. Garshick. Keep in mind that with conditioner, a little goes a long way—too much conditioning, especially near the roots, can weigh hair down.

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