Skip to content

Stress and Hair: The Physiological & Emotional Connection continued...

When a woman decides to have a baby, if she is taking oral contraceptives, she'll stop taking them.  "Maybe you have a little bit of shedding related to that. And then you get pregnant." Pregnancy causes the body to keep the hair that normally would fall out as part of the regular hair cycle. So a woman may notice her hair feels extra thick and fuller during that time. After giving birth, all the hair that would have fallen out is shed three to six months later.

Also, many women try to lose weight after having a baby. "Someone in the family dies and, because you've heard that stress causes hair loss, you say, 'Oh my God, I'm losing my hair because someone died.' But that's not it," McMichael says. "You're losing hair because you lost 30 pounds."

Every person is different. "Not everyone gets these episodes of hair loss. Some women go on and off of contraceptives and never have shedding. Some have seven children and have no hair loss related to it." Once you have shed hair in response to a physiological stress, however, you are likely to do it again, McMichael says.

McMichael says that because people have repeated the myth of a direct connection between emotional stress and hair loss for so many years, many people now believe it. "There's no way to predict who's going to lose hair and who's not. If you're a shedder, you'll shed," Jacob says. She also says there's no scientific evidence that points to specific emotional stresses that might trigger the physical stress that can lead to hair loss.

Seeing a Doctor About Hair Loss

Unlike other types of hair loss that are more often permanent, hair loss during the normal hair growth cycle happens suddenly. It also doesn't normally cause bald spots or follow a pattern like genetic or autoimmune-related hair loss. Instead, it's diffuse and causes thinning of the hair across the scalp. That’s because each of the 120,000-150,000 hair follicles is independent of other hair follicles and is in its own cycle of growth. Some are growing while others fall out.

You may notice after washing your hair that handfuls of hair have fallen out. "But," says Mirmirani, "usually by the time someone notices the shedding, the hair is already growing back. Whatever caused it happened three months or more before. The new hair growing in is pushing the resting hair out."

It's true that hair loss can be an early sign of about 30 different diseases. But don't jump to conclusions -- you could be perfectly healthy and still have some hair loss.

 Talk to your doctor for his or her perspective and guidance. Jacob says that products on the market, such as over-the-counter minoxidil and various supplements that are sold for hair loss, can actually cause problems if they're not truly needed and not used properly. It's important, she says, to discuss the use with the doctor first.