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Everything You Need to Know About COVID-19 and Hair Loss, According to Dr. Jessica Wu

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If there’s one thing that rings true about the coronavirus, it’s that it can wreak some serious havoc on your body. By now, you likely come across the laundry list of long-term side effects circulating the newsfeed: lasting breathing difficulties, brain fog, fatigue, and even heart damage.  But, what if we told you that there was one COVID-19-related symptom that absolutely no one saw coming? Two words: hair loss.

That’s right. An increasing number of COVID-19 survivors (often called “long-haulers”) have experienced hair loss and shedding as a lingering effect of the disease. Back in July, a recent survey conducted by Dr. Natalie Lambert from Indiana University’s School of Medicine found that out of a sample of about 1,500 “long-haulers”, over 400 of them had experienced hair loss.

As if that’s not enough, many people have come forward to share their own first-hand accounts of hair loss, including actress Alyssa Milano. In a video shared to Twitter, she opened up about her battle with COVID-19, sharing with viewers the alarming amount of hair that she lost after brushing through her locks with a detangler brush. Sadly, Milano’s story is just one of many: groups of “long-haulers” have come together on many platforms like Twitter and Facebook to discuss experiences with COVID-19-related hair loss.

While the Center for Disease Control and Prevention does not currently list hair loss as an official symptom of the novel coronavirus, we can’t ignore the likelihood that some sort of weird connection exists between the two.

We spoke to Los Angeles dermatologist and author of Feed Your Face, Jessica Wu M.D., about some common questions people may have pertaining to coronavirus-related hair loss.

Why Does COVID-19 Cause Hair Loss?

Despite there being an increasing number of reports over the last few months of patients with COVID-19 experiencing hair loss, research has yet to show a direct link between the novel coronavirus and hair loss.

 According to Dr. Wu, stress may actually be the root (no pun intended) of the hair loss problem.

“We know that severe physical stress (such as fever, weight loss, hospitalization) as well as emotional and psychological stress can lead to a condition called “telogen effluvium,” which causes hair to shed around three to four months after the stress,” she explains. “This causes overall hair thinning all over the scalp, and is likely the most common cause of hair thinning due to COVID-19.”

While we all shed hair – typically between 50-100 hair a day – for people suffering from telogen effluvium, this number could increase to be 3-5 times as much, according to Dr. Wu.

“Your hair grows in cycles. Normally, at any given time, about 90% of follicles are growing, and 10% of your follicles are ‘resting’ (telogen phase),” she said. “However, when your body undergoes a severe physical or emotional shock, about 30% of hair follicles are pushed into this resting/shedding phase.” 

This is why you see a dramatic increase in the amount of hair being shed.

Considering that it has been around three to four months since the peak of the pandemic, it makes perfect sense why we are now seeing so many reports of coronavirus-related hair loss surfacing online. As Dr. Wu previously mentioned, patients suffering from telogen effluvium only start to see their hair fall out a couple months after they get sick or experience a shock.

Still, one aspect of telogen effluvium that remains unclear is why some COVID-19 survivors experience hair shedding while others do not. Dr. Wu explains that a number of risk factors may be to blame.

“There may be a genetic predisposition to hair loss, or there may be underlying nutritional deficiencies, weaknesses in metabolism, or hormonal imbalances that could make one person’s hair follicles more susceptible to hair loss,” she said.

Is Hair Shed From Telogen Effluvium Permanently Gone?

Despite the fact that hair thinning could continue as long as your body remains stressed, patients will be happy to know that hairs shed due to telogen effluvium are not permanently gone.

“As I tell my patients, the good news is that your follicles are still living and functioning. They will wake up and start to produce hair again, typically four to six months after the stress subsides,” Dr. Wu said. “The new hairs are finer, so it may seem to take even longer before the hair fully recovers, but it usually does, once your body is healthy again. With COVID-19, this time frame varies.”

The bottom line: your hair will return in its own time so, there’s no need to panic.

What Should You Do If You Experience Hair Loss After Coronavirus?

Dr. Wu advises that if you are someone who is suffering from hair loss and suspect that it may be coronavirus-related, it is highly suggested that you pay a visit to your dermatologist.

“I recommend seeing a dermatologist who is experienced in treating hair loss to determine what the cause may be and to check if there are any underlying deficiencies or toxicities that may be contributing to the hair loss,” she explained. “We can do different tests to confirm if you have telogen effluvium, as well as blood tests to see if there is an underlying condition that is contributing to hair loss. Often, these conditions can be treated.”

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I have always considered myself a Doctor first and a Cosmetic Dermatologist second.  This conviction has never been so clear as in the past month, while we have been living under a “stay at home” order here in Los Angeles.  After the initial shock and disbelief, I have settled into a new routine of going into my office a few hours a day to Skype with patients, answer the phone, and provide essential medical care:  a man who had a hammer fall on his arm; a golf-ball sized infected cyst; scabies; shingles.  I am grateful for my loyal patients who continue to trust me for their medical care, while we have hit “pause” on cosmetic treatments.  And I am grateful that I can do my part to take the burden off of Urgent Care facilities and Emergency Rooms, which is where these patients might have otherwise gone. While I still have anxiety and sleepless nights over rent, payroll, and other bills that need to be paid, I keep reminding myself of something that my mentor once told me 20 years ago, when I was fretting about how to pay back my medical school loans. His advice: “Take GOOD care of your patients and the rest will come.” Whether it’s stitching up wounds now, or doing cosmetic injectables and lasers when lockdown is lifted, I will continue to follow his advice and do just that. Stay safe and healthy, everyone! #doctors #dermatology #skincare #covid19 #coronavirus

A post shared by Dr Jessica Wu (@drjessicawu) on

Dr. Wu says that she has treated multiple patients with hair loss, some who have suffered from COVID-19 as well as some patients who have not. Of the cases that she has seen, it has become apparent the role nutrition plays in the regrowth process.

“In general, the ones who have milder hair loss and regrow their hair more quickly are those with good nutrition to begin with,” she said. “So I counsel all my hair loss patients on how to eat to support healthy follicles: a well-rounded diet including plenty of protein, and specific recommendations depending on results of blood work to address any deficiencies or toxicities.”

At the time of publication, this information is accurate. It is important to note that the information we are receiving about COVID-19 is constantly changing, so the information and recommendations in this story may no longer be relevant after the initial publication. For the most up-to-date information and recommendations, be sure to regularly check resources such as the CDC or World Health Organization (WHO), as well as your local public health department.

For more information about Dr. Jessica Wu, please visit her website here

Camille Nzengung
Camille Nzengung
Camille Nzengung is a Features Editor, based in Georgia, covering all things hair at The Tease. You can find her writing about the best hair products, the coolest hair trends, and all the exciting new hair launches.