“I just wanted to show you the amount of hair that is coming out of my head as a result of COVID,” actress Alyssa Milano said before brushing through her just-washed hair with a detangling brush. What followed was a shock to all 2.6 million viewers who watched her video, which she posted to Twitter earlier this month: clumps of hair falling out with each run of the brush, resulting in a sizable pileup of fallen strands once she was done.

“One brushing,” she said, holding up the clump of lost strands to the camera. “This is my hair loss from COVID-19. Wear a damn mask!”

Milano is one of many survivors of COVID-19 that are experiencing long-term symptoms as a result of the virus, one of which is hair loss. A recent survey conducted through the Indiana University School of Medicine found that over 400 out of 1,500 survivors of the virus experienced hair loss.

But does COVID cause hair loss? Is it to blame?

With so little understood about COVID-19 in general, it’s hard to say whether or not it directly causes hair loss. But with dermatologists all over the country reporting higher rates of patient inquiries about hair loss in the midst of this global pandemic, we had to find out the truth. So we reached out to hair thinning specialist Dr. Michael Wolfeld, M.D., who said there might be a simpler explanation.

“What we’re probably seeing is not that Coronavirus directly causes hair loss, but that the illness is a stress on our body. And that can lead to telogen effluvium, a shedding of hair,” Dr. Wolfeld says. 

In a normal hair cycle, your hair goes through three phases: growth, rest, and shedding. Normally, about 5-10% of your hairs are in the shedding phase (that’s where the stat on losing an average of 80-100 hairs a day comes from). But when you experience extreme stress, that percentage of shedding hair can grow, which is a condition called telogen effluvium.

“What I see is the stressor on the body – whether emotional, psychological, from surgery – can trigger your hair to skip to the telogen phase, causing upwards of 50% of the hair to start shedding. Which looks like mounds of hair falling out,” Dr. Wolfeld says.

Unfortunately, COVID-19 has brought on a lot of stress, and not just in a physical, bodily sense. It’s also caused emotional and psychological stress as a result of job losses, financial strain, and parents juggling work and their kids at home. It’s also unknown if surviving the virus makes you immune or if you’re always susceptible, meaning you could undergo another round of bodily stress, triggering more hair loss. And there’s a known connection between stress and hair loss.

Dr. Wolfeld also suspects people can experience hair loss after COVID-19 even if they were unaware they had it. “Most people who had it in March/April didn’t even know they had it. I’ve probably seen patients where this is the result of it, but they’d never know because no one could get tested then,” he says. Milano is a perfect example of this. Despite having symptoms back in April, she tested negative for the virus several times. She only discovered she’d had it after testing positive for COVID-19 antibodies later on.

It’s not all bad news though! While hair loss due to stress happens, it is NOT permanent. Phewww, right? According to Dr. Wolfeld, people experiencing hair loss due to stress often experience the loss 3 to 4 months after the stressor is introduced into their life.

“There’s a shedding process that can last 6 months or so. That can be a lot of hair, but there’s actually more hair growing back than there is shedding. Most cases resolve on their own, but it can take 1 to 2 years for the hair to fully grow back in,” Dr. Wolfeld says.

So how do you ensure that your hair grows back in healthy and full? By doing the following:

• Most importantly, remove the stressor from your life. This is easier said than done sometimes, but if you’re constantly under stress, your hair cannot properly grow back.

• Eat a healthy, balanced diet, making sure to get enough protein. Too little protein can impact your body’s ability to grow hair.

• Avoid applying tension to your strands. This means, avoiding tight hairstyles like snatched ponytails and buns, and carefully brushing/combing to avoid pulling on your hairs.

• Take multivitamins and iron supplements so your strands are full of healthy nutrients that promote hair growth.

• See a dermatologist. If you’re worried at all about hair loss or thinning, make an appointment. Your doctor can help form a plan that works best for you.

• Use a gentle, residue-free shampoo. Dr. Wolfeld recommends Color Wow Color Security Shampoo. Why? Because most shampoos today contain ingredients that stay behind and stick to your scalp. Overtime these residues can build up on your scalp and cause inflammation, which can lead to hair loss. Our shampoo is free of these residues, leaving behind only clean, healthy hair and scalp.

For more information about hair loss in general, check out this blog.

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