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Can Covid-19 cause hair loss?

Hair falling out a bit more than usual? It's probably due to stress, and we have discovered a potential culprit

A few months ago I noticed that my hair was falling out a bit more than usual. Since then I've been constantly plucking hairs off my clothes, and finding my long strands covering various surfaces in my flat.

Washing it was also rather stressful; despite having a good headful of medium textured hair, this unexpected and abnormal hair fall was pretty alarming so I decided that one way to deal with it was to have it cut.

But that didn't really help much, and I’m still constantly depositing hair in the bin.  I then heard that hair loss was rather common in Covid-19 patients – I had suspected Covid last April but it was a relatively mild case and I recovered at home.

My hairdresser told me that the worst thing you can do is worry, and that it would likely be only temporary. But three months later and my hair is still shedding more than usual, possibly not helped by a second, this time confirmed, bout of the virus in the new year.

It turns out that any kind of illness can cause shock hair loss, due to stress and the bodies' immune response. Searching for answers, I asked Anabel Kingsley, Brand President and Consultant Trichologist at Philip Kingsley what was going on, and she confirmed that the hair loss was stress related.

“We have indeed seen an increase in the number of our clients suffering with an increase in hair loss due to stress and especially related to Covid-19,” she said. “The response we have also had on social media with enquiries related to shedding and what to do about it has been astronomical.”

Kingsley says it’s important to note that stress will usually not cause hair loss straight away. Most hair loss will present itself anywhere from 6-12 weeks after a stressful event, due to the nature of the hair growth cycle. However, on Long Covid Facebook groups, some sufferers have reported increased hair loss even later than 12 weeks post-Covid.

Telogen effluvium is a form of diffuse (widespread, non-concentrated) hair loss on your scalp. A temporary condition, it occurs when the anagen (growth) phase of the hair growth cycle is cut short by an internal disturbance in your body. This causes many more hairs than usual to move from their anagen phase into their telogen (shedding) phase, resulting in excessive daily hair fall.

Stress is one of the most common causes of telogen effluvium. This is because when we are stressed we often do not look after ourselves as we should. For instance, we may skip meals or eat more processed foods than usual – which, while convenient, have little nutritional benefit.

Stress also impacts digestion and your body’s absorption of vital nutrients. Because hair is a non-essential tissue, it is often the first thing to suffer if your body is lacking in nutrients. Vitamin imbalances, iron deficiency, inadequate protein intake, and meals that contain too few calories can all contribute to hair shedding.

Your scalp is your hair’s support system, and so a healthy scalp is key to the production of healthy hair. During lockdown, your scalp’s condition is just as important as ever – if not more so – as stress, which we are all feeling, can negatively impact the health of your scalp and, subsequently, hair growth. This is especially true if you already suffer from dandruff or other scalp conditions.

Kingsley says that the best way to maintain a healthy scalp is to shampoo regularly. Your scalp is simply an extension of the skin on your forehead – it’s a living tissue that sweats, produces oils and sheds skin cells. Like the skin on your face, it needs be cleansed frequently to be kept in optimal condition.

As well as frequent cleansing, she recommends using a targeted scalp mask once a week, as well as a scalp toner such as Philip Kingsley Stimulating Daily Scalp Toner or Philip Kingsley Flaky/Itchy Anti-Dandruff Scalp Toner.

We also rate and recommend Viviscal, a clinically proven supplement containing biotin,  zinc and a unique marine protein complex that works from the inside to promote healthier hair.

“I always recommend regular brushing to encourage a healthy scalp and hair,” says Viviscal Brand Expert and celebrity hairdresser Adam Reed. “Brushing your hair regularly and properly doesn’t make hair fall out more – it does just the opposite. Regular brushing makes hair brighter, more revitalised and makes it grow much faster and stronger. Don’t believe the myth!”  

Anabel Kingsley’s hair health tips:

  • Take advantage of time saved not commuting and working from home and use a pre-shampoo deep conditioning mask 1-2 times per week such as Philip Kingsley Elasticizer. My clients have been working it into their hair before at-home exercise sessions and are loving the results – the heat from working out helps the product to penetrate.

  • If you are a bleached blonde or highlight your hair, do not be tempted to touch-up your roots at-home unless you have done it before and are comfortable doing so. Bleach can burn your scalp and break your hair if it’s applied for too long, allowed to touch the scalp, or mixed incorrectly. Instead, try using weekly intensive products to brighten blonde hues. I love our Blonde Booster weekly intensive shampoo and mask. I’m also a big fan of root touch-up products, which are more like a ‘paint’ and do not run the risk of damaging your hair or scalp.

  • Hair health is closely linked to diet. Being non-essential tissue, your hair is the first part of you to suffer when you aren’t eating well. This is because your body will always prioritise the needs of essential tissue, such as your heart and lungs – your hair being the last to receive the goodness from what you eat. To add to this, high stress levels (which we are all feeling at the moment) can impact how effectively your body absorbs nutrients. Dust off your favourite recipe books, or turn to food blogs for healthy recipe inspiration so you can create nutritious, balanced meals at home. This will benefit both your hair and your body. A ‘hair healthy meal’ should always have at least a palm sized portion of protein, a serving of a complex carbohydrate, plus healthy fats, vitamins and minerals – the more colourful your plate the better! Alongside a healthy diet, you may also wish to take a nutritional supplement to give your hair an extra boost. I recommend Philip Kingsley PK4 Soy Protein Boost and Tricho Complex Multi Vitamin and Mineral Supplements.

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