We’re learning all the time about the symptoms of Covid-19, and hair loss is now among them.
During the last month, those who have recovered have reported hair falling out weeks after other symptoms ended.
And while it may seem trivial given Covid-19 can be a killer, it’s important to appreciate that our hair is an indicator of our health.
“In order to understand why health affects hair growth, we must keep in mind hair is not essential to our survival, so when we have a health problem or internal imbalance our hair is the least of our body’s priorities,” says Anabel Kingsley, a consultant trichologist at Philip Kingsley.
Medical columnist Dr Rosemary Leonard says though there is no published research on the effect of Covid-19 on hair, any illness, even flu, can affect hair growth and cause loss.
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Psychological stress can also trigger it, so being unsettled by lockdown could in theory have an impact.
“It is known that many people experience a general thinning of their hair several months after a physical or emotional shock,” says Dr Leonard.
“So just the huge mental stress caused by the Covid-19 pandemic, with many people being furloughed or losing their jobs, or trying to cope with home schooling children while working from home, could be enough to cause some hair loss.”
While it’s normal to lose up to 100 hairs each day, excessive daily hair shedding – up to 300 in 24 hours – is known as telogen effluvium, a form of widespread, non-concentrated hair loss on the scalp.
It occurs when the hair’s growth is cut short by an internal disturbance.
“It makes complete sense,” says Anabel. “Due to the hair growth cycle, telogen effluvium is often expected six to 12 weeks or so after the period of illness, medication or stress that triggered it.
Although it can be extremely distressing, rest assured the hair will almost certainly grow back in around three months, as long as the underlying issue has been resolved.”
So what other health problems could trigger hair loss, and when do you need to worry?
Your thyroid gland produces two hormones which regulate metabolism and they must be balanced to ensure the body functions properly.
“For many, hair shedding is one of the first signs thyroid hormones are imbalanced,” explains Anabel.
“Thyroid-related hair loss occurs anywhere on the scalp and can also result in loss of eyebrow and body hair. It may also cause your hair to become dry and brittle, and nails to become thin.”
The good news is that thyroid-related hair loss usually rectifies itself once your condition is treated.
This can disrupt hormone balance. It increases cortisol levels, which in turn increases sebum (oil) production and disrupts the skin’s barrier function, triggering skin irritation and inflammation.
You may find your scalp gets itchy, flaky and greasy when you are going through a stressful period.
“People who suffer from scalp conditions, such as psoriasis and dandruff, often find their condition is made worse by stress,” says Anabel.
Whether you’re crash dieting, have an eating disorder or have changed your diet dramatically – for example by going vegan – what you eat can have a big impact on your hair.
“As hair is non-essential tissue, it is the last part of you to receive nutrients you intake,” says Anabel.
“Even a small deficiency can cause hair loss, long before it affects your general health. The most common deficiencies are iron, ferritin (stored iron), vitamin B12, vitamin D and zinc deficiency.
“Lack of dietary protein, not eating enough complex carbohydrates and crash dieting are also common causes of hair loss, or hair not growing to full length.
“Hair is made of protein so I recommend adding at least a palm-sized portion of protein to breakfast and lunch, and having a serving of a complex carbohydrate with each meal for easily accessible energy.”
Hair changes are common leading up to and during menopause.
“When you go through the menopause you have two main things occurring that can impact your hair,” says Anabel.
“The first is a decline in oestrogen levels, which helps to keep strands in their growth phase. This decline is one reason why many women initially experience diffuse shedding in the early stages of menopause.
“The second is that once oestrogen levels have dropped, your hair has a more androgen (male hormone) heavy environment to contend with.
“For women who have a genetic predisposition to follicle sensitivity, even normal levels of androgens can cause hair follicles to become smaller and hairs to grow back finer.
“As with any hair loss condition, optimising your nutrition and general health and managing stress levels are key.”
- For more information visit the Philip Kingsley site here.