Long-term effects of COVID-19 can lead to various symptoms, ranging from fatigue to loss of taste and smell. COVID hair loss is also a common symptom observed. While hair loss might be a concerning side effect, it can usually be reversed.
Various factors can cause hair loss and shedding. But can COVID actually trigger hair loss, and is concern warranted? Keep reading to learn more about COVID-19 hair loss and how you can help reverse its unwanted effects.
Is Hair Loss a Side Effect of COVID-19?
Fever is a typical COVID-19 symptom. High fevers can sometimes cause hair loss — or hair shedding, to be more accurate. Fever and other symptoms of illness or infection can affect your hair’s appearance.
This includes illnesses such as COVID-19, strep throat and the flu. This likely occurs because your body expends less energy on processes like growing hair when it’s focused on fighting off germs that can cause harm such as viruses.
Is My Hair Falling Out Due to Stress From COVID?
You may wonder, “Does COVID cause hair loss?” There’s currently no proof that COVID-19 or SARS-CoV-2 (the coronavirus that causes it) directly causes hair loss.
Instead, health experts think the physical and mental stress brought on by COVID-19 may contribute to telogen effluvium. This is the medical term for temporary hair loss tied to health issues that traumatize the body such as COVID.
Anagen and Telogen Hair Growth Cycle
If you’re generally healthy, around 85% of the hair on your head is in the active growth phase known as anagen. The remaining 15% is in an idle period known as telogen.
Your hair follicles grow anagen hairs for around 4 years, then they rest for about 1 to 6 months (with the average being 3 months). Hair growth ceases and sheds while in telogen.
Anagen eventually takes back control and your hair grows again. This cycle continues to repeat.
Telogen Effluvium and COVID-19 Hair Loss
You may shed around 100 hairs per day on average. But when you’re exposed to intense stress like COVID-19, your system might abruptly shift gears from anagen to telogen. As much as 50% of your hair may shed during such periods of stress.
Telogen effluvium occurs when undue stress jolts your hair roots into their resting state too early. An excess amount of hair may shed a few months after this shock to your body system. During this shedding phase, you may notice larger-than-normal clumps of hair falling out while you shower and brush your hair.
You may also lose hairs from other parts of your body but most of the shedding takes place on your scalp. Along with severe physical or mental stress, common causes include:
- Chemotherapy (chemo) drugs
- Crash diets
- High fevers
- Hormone changes (e.g., lower levels of the estrogen hormone) after giving birth
- Ingesting heavy metals
- Major surgery
- Not eating enough protein or iron
- Severe or chronic illness or infections such as HIV and tuberculosis
- Severe trauma
- Stopping medicines that help balance hormones (e.g., estrogen)
- Underactive or overactive thyroid
Along with chemo drugs, other medicines can also cause this type of hair loss. These include certain ones to prevent or treat:
- Blood clots
- Cancers such as breast cancer, cervical cancer, lung cancer, ovarian cancer, pancreatic cancer, skin cancer, stomach cancer, testicular cancer, uterine cancer and vaginal cancer
- High blood pressure
- Skin discoloration, fine lines and wrinkles
How Common Is COVID Hair Loss? How Long Does It Last?
A review of studies published in the Annals of Medicine and Surgery found that about 23% of people notice hair loss 2 weeks or more after they recover from COVID-19. Another study published in the Annals of Medicine notes that women are 5 times more likely to develop this issue.
Severe COVID-19 illness compounds this risk. In fact, a study published in the Lancet found that 22% of people hospitalized for this viral illness experience hair loss. This includes people who need mechanical ventilation to help them breathe due to severe COVID.
No matter the stressor, this [COVID-19 hair loss] too shall [likely] pass. Shedding may start as soon as 2 to 3 months after you get sick. This can keep going for 6 to 8 months before it slows down.
But your hair growth cycle will likely return to normal after your body fully recovers from the extra stress placed on it. Still, it may take time before you notice any regrowth.
In the case of COVID-19, the waiting period between hair shedding and regrowth might be prolonged. Research hasn’t determined the exact wait times, as what we know about the illness is still in flux.
How to Stop Hair Loss After COVID?
Your hair will likely grow back on its own without treatment. But the following may help support regrowth and bolster your immune system, helping you to heal from COVID and its aftereffects:
Practice Gentle Hair Care
Gentle combing and hair care practices can help reduce COVID hair loss and support hair growth. Until your condition improves, try to:
- Stay away from harsh chemical procedures like coloring or highlighting your hair
- Skip using tools that can damage your hair such as blow dryers and curling or flat irons
- Limit or avoid hairstyles that pull on your hair such as cornrows, dreadlocks, hair extensions or weaves, as well as tight braids, buns, ponytails and up-dos
Get Your Nutrients
Various nutrients help encourage hair growth and support your immune system. These include:
- Marine collagen types I and III
- Shark and mollusk powder
- Vitamins A, B complex (including biotin or B7), C, D and E
Healthful foods that contain these hair-loving nutrients include whole foods such as:
- Citrus fruits
- Veggies such as dark, leafy greens
- Whole grains such as brown rice and oats
- Fish and other seafood
- Lean meats and dairy products
- Healthy fats such as nuts, seeds and olive oil
Limit or avoid foods that increase inflammation within your body and lower your ability to fend off the effects of COVID-19 such as:
- Added sugars
- Refined carbohydrates such as white bread and pastries
- Saturated fats (fatty acids)
Apply a Topical Hair Solution
You can promote hair growth using a topical solution of [2% or 5%] minoxidil directly to your scalp once or twice a day. You may need to do this for at least 4 months to see results.
Applying rosemary oil can also stimulate hair growth. Research has shown that it can boost blood flow around your hair follicles just as well as 2% minoxidil.
What to Do If COVID Hair Loss Persists
Your doctor may recommend other complementary treatments for COVID hair loss such as:
This involves multiple injections of low-dose bioactive compounds into the dermal [or middle] layer of your skin. Mesotherapy directs more nutrients into hair follicles in this layer. This helps stimulate growth factors that support anagen hair growth.
These injections include a mixture of:
- Conventional medications
- Plant extracts
Platelet-Rich Plasma (PRP)
Blood platelets contain high concentrations of growth factors and other molecules that signal your hair to grow. PRP injections deliver large amounts of growth factors to:
- Activate hair-follicle stem cells
- Improve the function of your hair follicles
- Extend the anagen phase to promote hair regrowth
- “Characteristics of Hair Loss After COVID-19: A Systematic Scoping Review” via Journal of Cosmetic Dermatology
- “6-Month Consequences of COVID-19 in Patients Discharged From Hospital: A Cohort Study” via The Lancet
- “Can COVID-19 Cause Hair Loss?” via American Academy of Dermatology Association (AAD)
- “Hairstyles that Pull Can Lead to Hair loss” via AAD
- “Post-acute COVID-19 Syndrome and Its Prolonged Effects: An Updated Systematic Review” via Annals of Medicine and Surgery
- “Promote Hair Regrowth in Post-COVID-19 Telogen Effluvium” via Clinical, Cosmetic and Investigational Dermatology
- “Relationship Between Hair Shedding and Systemic Inflammation in COVID-19 Pneumonia” Annals of Medicine
- “Symptoms and Risk Factors for Long COVID in Non-hospitalized Adults” via Nature Medicine
- “Telogen Effluvium” via DermNet
- “Telogen Effluvium” via StatPearls [Internet]