Hair Loss & Mental Health

People can experience hair loss for any number of reasons, but severe hair loss often affects the individual both physically and mentally. Hair is very much a part of the individual appearance. We use hair to express ourselves, to blend in or to stand out. Hair can be tied to our style, can be representative of what we like, or can just be something we enjoy showing off.

Reasons for hair loss:

When hair loss occurs, whether due to aging or a side effect of a drug, it can be difficult to handle. It is important to understand the type of hair loss to better determine the next steps.

Telogen Effluvium occurs several months after a highly stressful experience such as an illness or childbirth. Rarely does it cause bald spots, but it can cause moderate to severe hair loss. People who experience hair loss months after contracting Covid-19 may experience Telogen Effluvium and experts are uncertain as to why, but for most individuals, the hair loss is short-lived.

Androgenic Alopecia is a common form of hair loss, commonly called balding and can affect both men and women. People who experience Androgenic Alopecia will not regain their hair again.

Alopecia Areata occurs in children and young adults, and while hair loss can occur over 90% of the body, it regrows within a few years.

Involutional Alopecia occurs as an individual gets older, as hair thins with age and hair follicles rest. It is less severe than Androgenic Alopecia.

Alopecia Universalis causes a universal loss of hair all over the body and is the most severe form of hair loss.

Scarring Alopecias is a permanent loss of hair triggered by inflammatory skin conditions or hair that is pulled too tightly. Unfortunately, this type of hair loss is permanent as the hair follicle is destroyed.

Drug Side Effects can cause hair loss. The most commonly associated drugs with hair loss are chemotherapy drugs, but even commonly prescribed drugs such as birth control or acne medicines can be responsible for hair loss. Most people who experience hair loss as a drug side effect will regain their hair once they stop taking the drugs responsible for the hair loss.

What is considered normal hair loss?

Most humans lose between 50 - 200 individual hairs a day. Hair shedding is normal, as hair is present on almost all of the human body. Hair can range from a fine hair called vellus hair to a thicker, darker hair called terminal hair which is the hair we see on our heads.

Hair loss is different than hair shedding. While everyone sheds hairs, hair loss occurs when something stops the hair from growing back. In the case of a patient undergoing chemotherapy, the drugs will stop hair from going but once the drugs have stopped, the individual’s hair will grow back.

A dermatologist can determine the difference between hair shedding and hair loss. Some individuals have both, and doctors can also assist them in treatment moving forward.

What are some myths about hair loss?

Because hair loss is so common, there are many myths that are often quoted relating to hair loss. These myths are simply that, just myths.

Nearly everyone has heard the myth, “If you pull out a gray hair, two more will grow in its place.” Most people turn more gray as they age, so it may seem true, but it’s really just hair turning color.

“Hair loss is related to blood flow, so if you stand on your head, your hair will grow back.” Unfortunately, hair growth isn’t quite this simple, and age and genetics play a prominent role in hair loss. You can stand on your head all you want, but it won’t improve your hair loss.

“Hair loss comes only from the mother’s side” is a common myth related to male pattern baldness. With over 200 genes relating to hair loss, not all of them come from the mother’s side, so this must be chalked up to another hair loss myth.

“Hats can cause baldness” is another myth that simply isn’t true. While tight hairstyles can unfortunately cause baldness, hats do not cause the wearer to lose their hair.

What Can You Do?

Perhaps you have a friend or family member who is dealing with hair loss. Perhaps you are struggling with hair loss and don’t know what to do.

If this sounds familiar, reach out to talk to someone. Whether it be a trusted friend or a therapist, speaking to someone about your hair loss can be very helpful.

If you want to do more, consider donating your long hair to be made into a wig for people undergoing chemotherapy. This can be a rewarding way to give to someone in need.

If a friend reaches out to you about hair loss, simply be a listening ear. Don’t offer advice or “quick fixes”. OTC shampoos or products cannot improve hair loss and may actually go against the advice of doctors. Instead, just be there and be supportive.

What about Hair Loss and Mental Health?

Hair loss is often tied to mental health. Whether the hair loss is from chemotherapy or a form of alopecia, the loss of one’s hair can be truly devastating.

Meredith Vender, LCSW in Los Angeles, CA noted that when hair loss is due to chemotherapy, it “can be particularly hard for cancer patients who have already endured so much upheaval in their lives following their diagnosis. Hair can be a huge part of our identity and is often a cultural indicator of beauty and vitality; that loss can serve as a tangible reminder for cancer patients of the changes happening in their body and may affect how others perceive and interact with them. They may feel that their unique personality and appearance has been diminished and they have been reduced to a ‘sick person’.”

Meredith Vender also noted that when you’re gaining back confidence after undergoing chemo, "If you have longer hair, it may help to have it professionally cut into a stylish bob or pixie before your treatment to ease the transition in your appearance (plus less cleanup in the shower!). If you're interested in a wig, many cancer centers can provide assistance with referrals including low cost or free wigs for cancer patients. Always be kind to yourself during this time- it's completely understandable to struggle with this change, and engaging in favorite activities and wearing favorite outfits can help boost your confidence.”

Whatever form of hair loss you’ve experienced in the past or are currently experiencing, it’s important that you have the right support behind you. The team at Zencare understands this and works all over the United States, offering top quality therapy care. Find your ideal therapist today!