There is no doubt about it: 2020 has been a stressful year for most people. Yet, stress is nothing new to us. In our busy, on-the-go, always-plugged-in culture, high-stress levels have become all too normal. While some people utilize stress to become more productive, no one is immune to the physiological side effects of stress. When stress levels are chronically elevated, it can lead to long-term health consequences, including cardiovascular disease, mental health issues, and diabetes. Even our hair growth cycle can be impacted, which can lead to hair loss. Let’s explore how stress causes hair loss in specific regions of the head, like your crown.
Emotional Stress and Hair Loss
There are different types of stress our body endures: physical, mental, and emotional. No matter what kind of stress we experience, our body generally responds the same way.
When we face a stressor, our adrenal glands release the stress hormone called cortisol. When this hormone is released into your bloodstream, it causes a cascade of events meant to protect the body. This cascade is a primitive response that hearkens back to our early human ancestors when we needed to outrun predators. Essentially, cortisol signals the release of other hormones (like epinephrine) to draw blood away from non-essential organs. Thus, when cortisol is present, it pulls blood away from organs like your skin, gut, and kidneys and directs it to your muscles.
Most of us are no longer outrunning predators regularly, but we still have that primal reflex that helps us in other stressful situations. Yet, chronically high-stress levels lead to decreased blood flow to specific tissues over time. When people are stressed, it is common to lose hair because it is not essential for our survival anymore.
The Relationship Between Stress and the Hair Growth Cycle
Telogen effluvium is a condition where people lose a significant amount of hair in response to a stressful event. People with this condition often lose their hair about 3 months, or 120 days, after something stressful happens, like loss of a loved one or surgery. The reason we lose hair at this point is because of how the hair growth cycle works.
There are three phases of the hair growth cycle: anagen, catagen, and telogen. Anagen is the phase where your hair is growing, and it lasts anywhere between 4-7 years, depending on your specific growth patterns. Catagen is a short transitional phase that lasts about 2 weeks. During this phase, your hair “transitions” to the resting phase. The final phase is telogen, which is where your hair does not grow anymore and begins to detach from your scalp. This phase lasts approximately 120 days, and then your hair sheds.
Hair shedding is normal when you lose between 50-100 hairs a day. It may seem like a lot, but there are approximately 100,000 hairs on an adult scalp (this may vary based on your hair qualities). In telogen effluvium, people can lose up to three times that amount, leading to significant thinning. While telogen effluvium is not ideal, it is temporary, and most people grow their hair back. However, hair regrowth depends on if you can decrease your stress levels. For example, while a rough day at work may not lead to hair loss, significant long-term emotional stress related to an abusive relationship, depression, or even COVID-19 could certainly make it more difficult for your hair to grow back.
Can Stress Cause Hair Loss in One Specific Area on Your Head?
Generally, stress-induced hair loss occurs all over your scalp. Most people will notice hair thinning all over their head instead of a specific area where hair loss is more concentrated. Thus, if you have thinning hair on your crown, but not anywhere else, it is more likely related to another cause as opposed to stress.
What Causes Thinning Hair on the Crown?
The crown of your head is on the top and towards the back of your head. This area is often affected by androgenic alopecia, a common hair loss condition. While both men and women can experience androgenic alopecia, men are more likely to encounter thinning hair on the crown of their heads. Unless you have another cause of thinning, such as a scalp infection, crown thinning is generally the result of your genetic makeup.
How Do I Know If I Have Crown Thinning?
The crown is a difficult area to assess for hair thinning because of its location. If you have a family history of hair loss, it is important to keep an eye on your crown and other susceptible areas like your hairline and vertex to assess changes in thickness.
To check your crown, take a hand mirror and use your bathroom mirror to get an idea of how the area looks. It is also helpful to take a photo (or have someone do it for you) once a month so you can monitor for any changes. If you have thinning, you will notice the hair becomes more fine and sparse. The area may also grow in size, so make sure you have a good idea of where the hair thinning starts and stops.
Can I Treat Thinning Hair on the Crown?
Thinning hair can be challenging to treat, especially if it is androgenic alopecia. However, there are proactive steps you can take to minimize your losses and even regain some of your hair. Here is a look at some measures you should consider if you wish to restore thickness to your crown.
- Decrease stress - We know that chronic stress and severe emotional stressor can cause hair thinning (and other hair problems, of course) over time. Try to find healthy coping mechanisms for managing your stress and search for areas in which you can decrease stress in your life.
- Get more shut-eye - Sleep is vital for our overall health and wellbeing. Regrettably, many of us compromise our sleep to pack more into each day. Yet, sleep and stress often work hand-in-hand, causing adverse effects like hair loss. Make sure to optimize your sleep and get the hours you need to support your health.
- Eat for (hair) growth - The Standard American Diet (S.A.D.) is deficient in the nutrients that are good for you and high in those that are not so good. To support your whole-body health (including your hair), make sure you are getting plenty of protein, vitamins, minerals, and essential fatty acids.
- Take a hair growth supplement - Not sure you are getting enough of your vital nutrients? Using a hair growth supplement not only supports your locks but can also have other health benefits.
- Reduce mechanical and chemical stressors on your crown - Certain habits and hairstyles can cause scalp inflammation. If you notice hair thinning, or have a family history, make sure to be extra careful with the products and treatments you use. Additionally, you may want to avoid sleeping on any spots prone to thinning (if possible), as it may lead to decreased blood flow.
- Use a hair regrowth system like the SPECTRAL line from D.S. Laboratories - Growing your hair is possible with products containing Nanoxidil 5%. With this formulation, you can reverse hair loss without the side effects of older hair regrowth products.