Like many stressed-the-F-out WFH moms, showers are my salvation, the no-kid zone where I can chill and vibe out to Alina Baraz. The shower also became a reminder of the simmering stress I felt deep within during the pandemic’s height. Every time I’d wash my hair, I’d feel my brown curls tumbling down my back and into the drain. A look in the mirror confirmed my worst fears: my hair was thinning along the hairline.
It was June, and as the COVID death toll climbed, sitting in a dermatologist’s office to talk about how effed up my hair had become was the last thing on my mind. But I had to do something—losing my hair felt like losing my superwoman powers.
Ever the neo-hippie, I poked around online for holistic help to get my edges back in full effect. I was already doing the Medical Medium celery juice thing, so I went full-throttle with his hair advice. I started taking an Ashwagandha supplement daily, and I switched to an all-natural shampoo and conditioner called Dermachange. I began drinking a swampy green heavy-metal detox smoothie loaded with spirulina. I even shelled out $300 on a Berkey water filter.
Perhaps something’s working; I’m visibly less sparse. So much so that my family and friends have volunteered that they’ve noticed.
I’m not the only one who experienced hair loss as a result of the shenanigans 2020 threw my way. “Long hauler” COVID survivors have reported unusual hair loss, but even those who haven’t contracted the virus have also reported Cousin It-sized clumps falling out of their heads. So what gives? Whether physical illness and stress, mental stress, or all three, hair loss is an inescapable reality of the COVID era. Basically, it’s not just you: the last year may have literally made your hair fall out. Read on for an explanation of WTF is going on and what you can do about it.
The Science Behind The Shed
Normal hair shedding is characterized by 50 to 100 strands a day. When it becomes excessive, you’ll almost certainly know—thanks to clogged drains, packed hair brushes, and hair everywhere—as will your doc. “We are seeing more patients with hair loss. Before the pandemic, I would maybe five to eight patients a week. That number is now about 20 to 30 people a week we’re seeing,” says Cleveland Clinic dermatologist Shilpi Khetarpal.
Although thyroid issues or medication can cause hair loss, Khetarpal says these days the diagnosis is most commonly telogen effluvium or shock hair loss—the type of hair loss people experience after a stressful event.
Hair typically has a three-cycle lifespan. A healthy scalp will have up to 90 percent of follicles in anagen, or an active growing phase, while the remainder will be in telogen, or a resting phase, followed by a shedding phase. But with someone experiencing telogen effluvium, about 30 percent of hairs will stop growing and enter the resting phase before falling out.
It can start at the temples, as mine initially did, or it can be throughout the scalp. The process will happen about two to four months after a significant stressor like surgery, childbirth, fever, infection (i.e. COVID), or continually stressing about the world ending and humanity as we know it going extinct. Ordinarily, telogen effluvium self-resolves. When a stressor is removed, the hair comes back. “What we’re finding with this pandemic is that people’s hair loss is continuing because the stress is still there.”
The process can also be called chronic telogen effluvium. “So, these are people in which the shedding lasts much longer—they never sort of get into that recovery phase.” There is also a condition called alopecia areata, which can flare during stressful times, says Dr. Sejal Shah of Smarter Skin Dermatology in NYC. The condition is defined by “well-defined bald patches. So, unlike telogen effluvium, where it’s just like thinning all over the scalp, alopecia areata tends to be a little more well-defined, and it usually gets fully bald,” she says.
What You Can Do About It
You don’t have to go full-on hippie to see hair improvements. Sometimes a wait-and-see approach is best, says Dr. Shah. “If someone has acute telogen effluvium, it’s short term, and it’s been a couple of months, I’ll normally say, let’s just wait it out and see what happens and ensure that their nutritional status is good, that they’re not having any undue stress, or anything like that. If it’s longer than that typical acute phase, then we start to do some investigations. So, I’ll usually send them for blood work; we’ll do a little bit more extensive workup in terms of, could it be something internal that’s promoting this.”
There is no real treatment to remedy telogen effluvium, says Shah, but Minoxidil, otherwise known as Rogaine, prescribed for traction alopecia and other hair problems, could do the trick. “There are Viviscal and Nutrafol, so I do talk to patients about those two supplements.” There’s also the option of having components from your very own blood, or Platelet-rich plasma (PRP), injected into trouble areas. A good, well-rounded diet that includes iron, enough fat, fatty acids, and protein also helps, as well as chilling out with heat styling and coloring, which can compound a hair loss problem.
And Khetarpal adds that stressing over your hair loss will only create a vicious cycle. It’s way easier said than done, to be sure, but she says, “Don’t stress about the hair. With so many things going on, they’re fortunate that they’re otherwise doing fine. they’re not infected with COVID, know that it will pass.”
Images: Thought Catalog / Unsplash
I think I speak for most of us lucky betches who have hair when I say, hair is life. If I’m not having a good hair day (which happens to be every day I run into someone I don’t want to fucking see), I know it’s going to be a day from hell. However, I will say that I’m v lucky to even have hair to begin with, so that’s why I s
pend hundreds at a hair salon take very good care of it. Having a hair stylist fuck up a dye job is one thing. It sucks, but you can ultimately fix it. Trusting your roomie with no experience whatsoever to trim your hair is alarming if she screws up. Although on the good side, your hair grows back eventually. However, seeing your hair shed on the floor like an animal every single time you wash/brush/straighten it?!?! That’s a heart attack waiting to happen. Because losing your hair before turning 50 is terrifying, here’s what to get that’ll make you let out a huge sigh of relief and have your roommates stop yelling at you for clogging the drain.
1. Keranique Scalp Stimulating Shampoo Deep Hydration For Dry Hair
If your hair is either super thin or in the process of thinning, this strengthening shampoo is infused with keratin to protect your hair’s surface. It especially focuses on your scalp—which is good because like, that’s where this problem fucking stems from—to cleanse clogged pores and encourage healthy hair growth. Use this with its companion, Keranique Volumizing Keratin Conditioner Deep Hydration for Dry Hair, which essentially does the same shit, but better because it is conditioner and conditioner is God.
2. Lee Stafford Hair Lengthening Treatment
This treatment is perf for people who get really pissed off when their hair falls out because they’ve been waiting like, an eternity for their hair to grow even a fucking half of an inch to begin with (this is personal issues). This in-shower treatment really soothes your scalp for extra bouncy, voluminous hair that doesn’t leave clumps of your hair everywhere and actually gives it a chance to grow. Use in between the shampoo and conditioner for like, five minutes.
3. Aquis Lisse Luxe Hair Towel
So apparently towel-drying your hair like a psycho is really bad for your hair and is a huge indicator for why it sheds in the first place. Oops. Well, to cut your hair-drying time in half without pulling your fucking hair out, this towel is made from ~exclusive~ technology so that it locks in your hair’s keratin and quickly brings your hair to a semi-dry state without friction. Anddd, without friction, you have healthy defined hair that’s frizz-free and on your head, instead of the floor!!! BLESS.
4. Bumble And Bumble Hairdresser’s Invisible Oil Heat/Uv Protective Primer
Okay, this is the good stuff—the stuff that matters when you constantly fry the shit out of your hair and leave a shedding trail wherever you go. This is a multi-purpose mist that softens super fragile hair and protects it from every hair issue we all suffer from on a daily basis. It prevent hair breakage, as well as works as a heat protectant, de-frizzer, and moisturizer to keep your hair cooperative… for once. For first time users, use on damp hair for the first day of use and on the next, use on dry before styling as you wish.
5. Urban Outfitters Telephone Cord Hair Tie Set
YASSS betch, these are my fave. They replace that rude af hair tie you’re probs wearing on your wrist rn that rips out a fuck ton of your hair. These spiral plastic corded bands relieve the pressure, aka headache, from an up-do, keep your hairstyle stable and defined, and come off smoothly so you don’t literally yank your hair out. These come in fun colors, which also includes your everyday black. Just make sure you don’t let anyone borrow one because you sure as hell won’t get it back.