Can Stress Cause Balding

We all experience stress from time to time. It's an inevitable part of life, whether it's due to work pressures, personal relationships, or unexpected challenges. Sometimes, this stress manifests physically, and one of the most alarming ways it does so is through hair loss.

Watching clumps of hair fall out can be terrifying, triggering a wave of panic and fear that it might never stop. This can leave you feeling helpless and anxious about the future.

The truth is, stress can indeed cause significant hair loss, but it’s important to remember that you are not alone, and there are ways to manage and even reverse this condition. By approaching the situation calmly and knowledgeably, you can explore effective solutions and minimize the impact of stress.

Stressed man at a desk with head in hands, surrounded by people handing him documents, a tablet, a smartphone, and a pencil, depicting overwhelming demands.

Normal Hair Shedding vs. Hair Loss

To address stress-related hair loss effectively, it's important to first educate ourselves about what constitutes normal hair shedding versus hair loss that warrants concern. This foundational knowledge can help differentiate between the natural hair cycle and conditions that may require intervention.

Normal hair shedding is a part of the hair growth cycle, which includes three phases: anagen (growth), catagen (degeneration), and telogen (rest).

On average, individuals lose between 50 to 100 strands daily as part of this natural cycle. During the anagen phase, strands actively grow from the follicles. This phase can last several years, allowing them to reach their full length. The catagen phase follows, lasting a few weeks, during which growth ceases, and the follicle begins to shrink. Finally, in the telogen phase, the follicle is dormant, and the strands eventually fall out, making way for new growth.

This cycle ensures continuous hair regeneration throughout a person's life. However, when hair loss exceeds the typical 50 to 100 hairs per day, it may indicate an underlying issue.

Excessive hair loss, known as telogen effluvium, occurs when a significant number of follicles enter the telogen phase prematurely. This can be triggered by various stressors, including severe weight loss, childbirth, major life events, illness recovery, and discontinuation of certain medications like birth control pills.

In contrast to normal shedding, pathological hair loss may involve noticeable thinning, bald patches, or excessive shedding that persists beyond six months. Conditions such as alopecia areata, an autoimmune disorder where the immune system attacks follicles, and trichotillomania, a psychological disorder involving compulsive pulling, represent more severe forms of hair loss that require medical attention.

Following this, let's delve into a more detailed explanation of each condition.

Types of Stress-Induced Hair Loss

Telogen Effluvium

Telogen Effluvium is a form of temporary hair loss characterized by the premature transition of hair follicles from the anagen (growth) phase to the telogen (resting) phase.

Causes of Telogen Effluvium

  • Severe stress: Psychological or physical stress, such as trauma or significant life events.
  • Major illness or surgery: Recovery from severe infections, high fever, or major surgical procedures.
  • Hormonal changes: Postpartum period, discontinuation of birth control pills, thyroid dysfunction (hyperthyroidism, hypothyroidism).
  • Nutritional deficiencies: Insufficient intake of essential nutrients like protein, iron, zinc, and vitamins (A, B, C, D, E).
  • Medications: Certain drugs, including retinoids, beta-blockers, calcium channel blockers, antidepressants, and NSAIDs.
  • Rapid weight loss: Extreme or restrictive diets.

Symptoms of Telogen Effluvium

  • Diffuse thinning: Noticeable thinning of hair across the entire scalp.
  • Increased shedding: Excessive hair loss observed during brushing, washing, or on pillows.
  • Scalp sensitivity: The scalp may feel tender or sensitive, although it appears healthy without rash, itching, burning, pain, or flaking.


  • Medical history: Evaluation of recent life events, illnesses, medications, and dietary habits.
  • Physical examination: Inspection of the scalp for diffuse thinning and assessment of hair loss patterns.
  • Pull test: Gently pulling a small clump of hair (40-60 hairs) to check for excessive shedding; more than 4-6 hairs with white bulbs at the roots suggest telogen effluvium.
  • Blood tests: Checking for underlying conditions like thyroid disease or nutritional deficiencies.
  • Scalp biopsy: Occasionally performed to distinguish this from other types of alopecia.

Short-term vs. Chronic Telogen Effluvium

Short-term telogen effluvium typically resolves within six months once the underlying trigger is addressed. Hair shedding begins 2-3 months after the triggering event and gradually decreases as hair follicles return to the anagen phase. The condition is self-limiting, and hair regrowth occurs naturally without intervention.

Chronic telogen effluvium persists beyond six months and can last for several years. The cause may not always be clear, and the condition can be more challenging to manage. This condition often involves continuous shedding, and while it usually does not lead to complete baldness, it can significantly affect hair density and overall appearance.

In both short-term and chronic cases, addressing the underlying cause is important. Treatments may include nutritional supplements, stress management techniques, and, in some cases, medications like minoxidil.


Trichotillomania, known as hair-pulling disorder, is a psychological condition characterized by an irresistible urge to pull out one's own hair. This condition is classified under obsessive-compulsive and related disorders (OCD) and often begins in late childhood or adolescence. The hair-pulling behavior can occur on the scalp, eyebrows, eyelashes, or other parts of the body.

Common Triggers

  • Emotional distress: Feelings of tension, boredom, loneliness, frustration, or anger.
  • Psychological factors: Presence of other mental health disorders, such as depression, anxiety disorders, or OCD.
  • Environmental factors: Stressful life events or changes, such as trauma, abuse, family conflicts, or academic pressures.


  • Persistent and compulsive pulling from the scalp, eyebrows, eyelashes, or other body areas.
  • A feeling of increasing tension or anxiety before pulling.
  • A sense of pleasure, gratification, or relief after the episode.
  • Specific patterns or rituals associated with the behavior, such as choosing specific strands or pulling in a particular manner.


  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT): A primary treatment approach that helps individuals identify and change the thought patterns and behaviors associated with hair-pulling. Habit reversal training, a component of CBT, is particularly effective in managing Trichotillomania.
  • Medications: In some cases, medications such as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) may be prescribed to address underlying anxiety or depression.
  • Behavioral strategies: Techniques such as keeping the hair short, wearing gloves, or using fidget toys can help reduce the urge to pull hair.

Alopecia Areata

Alopecia Areata is an autoimmune disorder characterized by sudden, patchy hair loss. The immune system mistakenly attacks hair follicles, particularly those in the anagen (growth) phase, causing the hair to enter the catagen (degeneration) phase prematurely. This results in small, round bald patches on the scalp and can affect other areas of the body, including the beard, eyebrows, and eyelashes.

Psychological stress is known to be a significant trigger for the onset or worsening of Alopecia Areata. Stress can exacerbate the autoimmune response, leading to increased baldness.

Common triggers 

  • Genetic predisposition: A family history of autoimmune disorders increases the risk.
  • Environmental factors: Exposure to certain environmental triggers, such as toxins or allergens.
  • Psychological stress: High levels of stress can trigger or exacerbate the condition.
  • Infections: Viral or bacterial infections may act as a trigger.
  • Hormonal changes: Hormonal fluctuations can influence the onset or progression of the condition.


  • Patchy hair loss: Sudden, well-defined bald patches on the scalp or other parts of the body.
  • Exclamation mark hairs: Short hairs that taper at the base, often seen at the edges of bald patches.
  • Nail changes: Some individuals may experience pitting, ridging, or other changes in their nails.


  • Topical corticosteroids: These are commonly prescribed to reduce inflammation and suppress the immune response in affected areas.
  • Corticosteroid injections: In cases of patchy Alopecia Areata, corticosteroid injections directly into the bald patches can stimulate hair regrowth.
  • Topical immunotherapy: Used for more extensive cases, this treatment involves applying chemicals to the scalp to induce an allergic reaction, which may distract the immune system from attacking follicles.
  • Minoxidil (Rogaine®): Although primarily used for other types of hair loss, minoxidil can be beneficial in promoting regrowth in some cases of Alopecia Areata.
  • Systemic treatments: In severe cases, systemic corticosteroids or other immunosuppressive drugs may be prescribed to control the autoimmune response.

Mechanisms Linking Stress and Hair Loss

Understanding the intricate mechanisms by which stress influences hair loss is important for developing effective treatments. Research has revealed several pathways through which stress hormones, particularly cortisol, impact follicle function and growth.

Role of Cortisol and Other Stress Hormones

Cortisol, known as the "stress hormone," is produced by the adrenal glands in response to stress. Chronic stress leads to sustained elevated levels of cortisol and other hormones, such as corticotropin-releasing hormone (CRH) and norepinephrine. These hormones play a significant role in the body's "fight, flight, or freeze" response but can have detrimental effects when present at high levels over prolonged periods.

Key effects of cortisol and these hormones include:
  • Immune system modulation: Chronic stress can suppress and over-activate the immune system, leading to increased inflammation.
  • Impact on hair follicles: Elevated cortisol levels can disrupt the normal functioning of the cells.
Impact on Hair Follicle Stem Cells
Stem cells in hair follicles are critical for regeneration. They reside in the bulge area of the follicle and are responsible for producing new strands during the anagen (growth) phase. Stress can adversely affect these stem cells in several ways:
  • Cortisol and other stress-related hormones can prevent follicle stem cells from entering the anagen phase, thereby inhibiting growth.
  • High levels of cortisol can push follicles into an extended telogen (resting) phase, during which strands do not grow and are more prone to shedding.

Research Findings

A pivotal study led by Dr. Ya-Chieh Hsu at Harvard University, supported by the NIH’s National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases (NIAMS), explored the mechanisms by which stress hormones inhibit hair growth. The researchers investigated the role of corticosterone (the rodent equivalent of cortisol) in hair loss using a mouse model.

Key findings include:
  • Adrenalectomy in mice: Removing the adrenal glands, which produce corticosterone, resulted in rapid and continuous regrowth. This indicated that the absence of stress facilitated follicle regeneration.
  • Restoration with corticosterone: Reintroducing corticosterone to adrenalectomized mice halted regrowth, confirming the hormone's inhibitory effect on follicle stem cells.
  • Chronic stress effects: Subjecting mice to mild stress elevated corticosterone levels, which led to follicles remaining in an extended resting phase and reduced regeneration.
The study also uncovered the crucial role of the GAS6 pathway in hair regrowth:
  • Dermal papilla cells: Research revealed that corticosterone does not directly act on follicle stem cells. Instead, it affects dermal papilla cells located beneath the follicles.
  • GAS6 molecule: Corticosterone prevents dermal papilla cells from secreting GAS6, a molecule that activates follicle stem cells. Without GAS6, follicles remain in the telogen phase.
  • Restoration of growth: Administering GAS6 to the skin of mice exposed to chronic stress or fed corticosterone restored growth. This suggests that the GAS6 pathway can counteract the inhibitory effects of stress on follicles.

How to Differentiate Between Stress-Related and Other Types of Hair Loss

To differentiate stress-related hair loss from other types of hair loss, look for specific patterns and triggers. Stress-related hair loss, such as Telogen Effluvium, often follows significant stressors like severe illness, surgery, or major life events and presents as diffuse thinning and increased shedding 2-3 months after the event.

In contrast, Alopecia Areata appears as sudden, patchy hair loss, and Trichotillomania involves compulsive hair pulling resulting in irregular bald patches. Diagnosis involves a thorough medical history to identify recent stressors, a physical examination of the scalp, and possibly blood tests to rule out nutritional deficiencies or thyroid issues.

What Are the Therapeutic Solutions for Stress-Induced Hair Loss

Minoxidil (Rogaine®)

Minoxidil is a topical medication that stimulates growth and slows loss. It is applied directly to the scalp and is available over-the-counter in various strengths. It helps increase blood flow to follicles, prolonging the anagen (growth) phase and promoting thicker strands.

Aloe Vera and Niacinamide

Ampoules infused with ingredients like aloe vera and niacinamide (vitamin B3) are applied topically to the scalp. Aloe vera has soothing, anti-inflammatory properties that can help reduce scalp irritation and promote a healthy environment for hair growth. Niacinamide improves blood circulation and strengthens hair, contributing to overall scalp health and hair vitality. A proven product in this category is the hair growth ampoules from Nordic Biolabs.
Before and after images of a man showing significant hair regrowth over 120 days using Nordic Biolabs hair ampoules. The images illustrate progress at 1 month, 3 months, and 6 months.

Corticosteroids are used to reduce inflammation and suppress the immune response in conditions like Alopecia Areata. They can be administered as topical creams, lotions, or through injections directly into the affected areas. Corticosteroid injections are particularly effective for patchy hair loss.

Topical Immunotherapy

This involves applying chemicals such as diphencyprone (DPCP) to the scalp to induce an allergic reaction. This reaction can redirect the immune system away from attacking hair follicles, thereby promoting hair regrowth. This treatment is typically used for more severe or chronic cases of Alopecia Areata.

Red Light Therapy

Also known as low-level laser therapy (LLLT), red light therapy uses specific wavelengths of light to stimulate hair follicles, increase blood flow, and reduce inflammation. This non-invasive treatment can promote hair growth and is often used as an adjunct to other therapies.

Today, red light laser caps are becoming increasingly popular due to their ease of use, and they have been proven to deliver excellent results.
Before and after images of hair growth using a red light laser therapy cap with 272 diodes at 650 nm frequency, showing significant improvement in hair density over 120 days.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)

CBT is a highly effective psychological intervention for managing the stress and anxiety that often accompany hair loss conditions like Trichotillomania and stress-induced Telogen Effluvium. It helps individuals identify and modify negative thought patterns and behaviors associated with hair-pulling and stress.

Nutritional Support

To support overall hair health, ensure you maintain a balanced diet rich in essential nutrients like iron, zinc, and vitamins A, B, C, D, and E. This can enhance the effectiveness of other treatments you might be using. Consider adding leafy greens, fruits, lean proteins, nuts, seeds, and whole grains to your meals.

How Can I Prevent Stress-Induced Hair Loss

You won’t hear anything new when we say that the most important thing is to work on prevention... But if you have already gone through a stressful period during which you experienced hair loss and managed to regain control, try to maintain good hair care habits to prevent the undesired condition from returning.

Stress Management Techniques

Box Breathing

Inhale deeply for four seconds, hold the breath for four seconds, exhale slowly for four seconds, and hold the breath again for four seconds. Repeat several times.

This simple yet powerful technique helps calm the nervous system, reduce anxiety, and lower stress levels.

Guided Imagery

Close your eyes and visualize a peaceful and calming scene, such as a beach or a forest. Engage all your senses by imagining the sounds, smells, and sensations of the scene.

Guided imagery promotes relaxation, reduces stress, and can improve overall mental well-being.

Progressive Muscle Relaxation

Systematically tense and then relax different muscle groups in your body, starting from your toes and working your way up to your head.

This technique helps reduce physical tension, alleviate stress, and promote a sense of calm.

Lifestyle Changes to Reduce Stress

Ensure You Get Enough Sleep

Aim for 7-9 hours of quality sleep per night. Establish a regular sleep routine by going to bed and waking up at the same time each day.
Create a restful sleep environment by keeping your bedroom dark, quiet, and cool. Avoid screens and stimulating activities before bedtime.


Engage in at least 30 minutes of moderate exercise most days of the week. Activities like walking, jogging, yoga, or swimming can help reduce stress, improve mood, and support overall health.

Incorporate exercises specifically designed to reduce stress, such as yoga, tai chi, or pilates.

Tips for Maintaining Healthy Hair

Scalp Care
  • Use mild, sulfate-free shampoos and conditioners to cleanse your scalp without stripping natural oils. Regularly clean your scalp to prevent buildup and maintain a healthy environment for hair growth.
  • Regularly massage your scalp to increase blood circulation, which can promote hair growth and improve scalp health.
Avoid Harsh Treatments
  • Minimize the use of heat styling tools like blow dryers, flat irons, and curling irons. When necessary, use heat protectant sprays to shield your hair from damage.
  • Avoid harsh chemical treatments, such as perms, relaxers, and bleaching, which can weaken hair and cause breakage.
Healthy Hair Practices
  • Establish a consistent care routine that includes regular washing, conditioning, and deep conditioning treatments. Use products formulated for your specific needs.
  • Opt for styles that reduce tension on the scalp. Avoid tight ponytails, braids, and buns that can cause stress on the follicles.
  • Trim every 6-8 weeks to remove split ends and maintain healthy growth.

Remember, hair loss does not define you. With the right support and strategies, you can regain control over your hair health and confidence. Your hair has the potential to grow back stronger and healthier, and there is always hope for a better tomorrow. Stay positive, stay informed, and take care of yourself—both your hair and your spirit will thank you.