What You Need to Know About COVID-19 and Hair Loss
Post-COVID hair loss is a growing struggle among coronavirus “long haulers.”
Another day, another head-scratching new fact to learn about coronavirus (COVID-19).
ICYMI, researchers are starting to learn more about COVID-19’s long-term effects. “There are social media groups that have formed, with thousands of patients, who specifically are suffering prolonged symptoms from having had COVID-19,” Scott Braunstein, M.D., medical director of Sollis Health, previously told Shape. “These people have been referred to as ‘long haulers,’ and the symptoms have been named ‘post-COVID syndrome.’”
The latest post-COVID symptom to emerge among “long haulers”? Hair loss.
A scroll through social media groups such as Survivor Corps on Facebook—where COVID-19 survivors connect to share research and firsthand experiences about the virus—and you’ll find dozens of folks opening up about experiencing hair loss after COVID-19.
“My shedding is getting so bad I’m literally putting it up in a scarf so I don’t have to see the hairs falling all day long. Each time I run my hands through my hair, another handful is gone,” wrote one person in Survivor Corps. “My hair has been falling out way too much and I’m scared to brush it,” said another. (Related: How to Cope with COVID-19 Stress When You Can’t Stay Home)
In fact, in a survey of more than 1,500 people in the Survivor Corps Facebook group, 418 respondents (nearly one-third of those surveyed) indicated that they’d experienced hair loss after being diagnosed with the virus. What’s more, a preliminary study published in the Journal of Cosmetic Dermatology found a “high frequency” of hair loss among male COVID-19 patients in Spain. Similarly, the Cleveland Clinic recently noted “an increasing number of reports” related to COVID-19 and hair loss.
Even Alyssa Milano has experienced hair loss as a COVID-19 side effect. After sharing that she was sick with the virus in April, she posted a video on Twitter in which she’s seen brushing literal clumps of hair out of her head. “Thought I’d show you what COVID-19 does to your hair,” she wrote alongside the video. “Please take this seriously. #WearaDamnMask #LongHauler”
Why does COVID-19 cause hair loss?
The short answer: It all comes down to stress.
“When the body’s health is compromised [by emotional trauma or a physical illness like COVID-19], hair cell division can temporarily ‘shut down’ as hair growth demands a lot of energy,” explains Lisa Caddy, consultant trichologist at Philip Kingsley Trichological Clinic. “This energy is required for more vital functions during an illness [like COVID-19], so the body may force some hair follicles out of their growth phase into a resting phase where they sit for around three months, then subsequently shed.” (Related: Everything You Need to Know About Hair Loss—Like How to Stop It)
The technical term for this type of hair loss is telogen effluvium. “While it is normal to lose up to 100 hairs per day, telogen effluvium can result in as many as 300 hairs being shed in a 24-hour period,” says Anabel Kingsley, brand president and consultant trichologist at Philip Kingsley. Telogen effluvium can happen after any “internal disturbance in the body,” including both mental and physical stress, adds Caddy.
But as noted, hair loss often doesn’t follow emotional trauma or physical illness (like COVID-19) until weeks or months later. “Due to the hair growth cycle, telogen effluvium is often expected 6 to 12 weeks or so after the period of illness, medication, or stress that triggered it,” explains Kingsley.
As of now, experts say it’s not clear why some folks experience hair loss as a COVID-19 side effect while others don’t.
“The reason some people might experience telogen effluvium in response to COVID-19, while others might not, may have to do with their individual immune and systemic response to the virus, or lack thereof,” says Patrick Angelos, M.D., a board-certified facial plastic and reconstructive surgeon and author of The Science and Art of Hair Restoration: A Patient’s Guide. “Since it has been shown that some blood types may be more susceptible to COVID-19 infection, it is plausible that other genetic differences and intricacies of our own immune systems may play a role in how one’s body responds to COVID-19 infection. That ultimately could affect who may have hair loss or not related to COVID-19.” (Related: Here’s Everything You Need to Know About Coronavirus and Immune Deficiencies)
COVID-19 symptoms during the illness—specifically, fever—might play a role, too. “Many people get a high temperature during COVID-19, which can trigger telogen effluvium a few months later, called ‘post febrile alopecia,’” says Caddy.
Others theorize that hair loss after COVID-19 could be related to vitamin D levels. “Telogen effluvium can be more common in individuals who have lower vitamin D3 levels and lower ferritin (iron storage protein) levels in their blood,” notes William Gaunitz, certified trichologist and founder of the Gaunitz Trichology Method.
Regardless of the cause, telogen effluvium is usually temporary.
“Although it can be extremely distressing, rest assured the hair will almost certainly grow back once the underlying issue has been resolved,” says Caddy.
Understandably, you might be afraid to wash or brush your hair if you have telogen effluvium. However, experts say it’s totally fine to stick to your usual hair-care routine during this time. “We would emphasize you should continue to shampoo, condition, and style your hair as normal as these things will not cause or worsen shedding and will ensure the scalp remains as healthy as possible to help encourage hair growth,” explains Caddy. (Related: The Best Shampoos for Thinning Hair, According to Experts)
That said, if you want to show your shedding locks some extra love, Gaunitz suggests looking into FoliGrowth Ultimate Hair Nutraceutical (Buy It, $40, amazon.com), a supplement with ingredients such as biotin, folic acid, vitamin D, and vitamin E to help support hair growth. “Additionally NutraM Topical Melatonin Hair Growth Serum (Buy It, $40, amazon.com) will help calm telogen effluvium, reduce shedding, and potentially assist hair regrowth,” explains Gaunitz.
Similarly, Dr. Angelos recommends supplements such as biotin (Buy It, $9, amazon.com) and Nutrafol (Buy It, $88, amazon.com) to help support hair growth during telogen effluvium. (Here’s a full breakdown on what to know about biotin and Nutrafol supplements, respectively.)
Plus, experts say a balanced diet, adequate sleep, and stress reduction techniques (think: exercise, meditation, etc.) can go a long way in maintaining healthy hair in the long-term.
While “most cases” of telogen effluvium resolve on their own, if you find that your hair loss isn’t temporary, not to mention you can’t seem to pinpoint the root cause, it’s best to see a trichologist (a doctor who specializes in the study of the hair and scalp) to help you determine what’s going on, suggests Caddy.
“[Telogen effluvium] can be either acute (short-term) or chronic (recurring/continuous) depending on the cause and the severity of the disturbance to the body,” explains Caddy. “Treatment will depend on what exactly is causing the telogen effluvium.” (See: This Is Why You’re Losing Your Hair During Quarantine)
“As long as there are no underlying conditions like male or female pattern hair loss, adrenal fatigue, or nutritional problems, telogen effluvium will resolve on its own,” echoes Gaunitz. “If any of those things are present, it may hold back future progress of hair regrowth and those reasons for loss must be treated.”
The information in this story is accurate as of press time. As updates about coronavirus COVID-19 continue to evolve, it’s possible that some information and recommendations in this story have changed since initial publication. We encourage you to check in regularly with resources such as the CDC, the WHO, and your local public health department for the most up-to-date data and recommendations.