Why COVID-19 causes hair loss — and how to cope
AYESHA RASCOE, HOST:
People with COVID-19 have suffered a number of symptoms, like fatigue and loss of smell. One alarming side effect is losing your hair. Studies show that up to 30% of those who had a severe case of COVID-19 experienced temporary hair loss. Some people have shared their experiences on social media.
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UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: One of the worst symptoms that I personally suffered from after COVID was the amount of hair that I lost.
UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: Am I the only one who has experienced major hair thinning around the hairline ever since I had COVID?
UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #3: So I had COVID for the first time ever six months ago. I noticed two months post-COVID, I started losing hair like crazy.
PARADI MIRMIRANI: In general, hair growth goes through a cycle.
RASCOE: That's Dr. Paradi Mirmirani. She's a dermatologist with Kaiser Permanente in Vallejo, Calif.
MIRMIRANI: It's in a growth phase for about 6 to 7 years, depending on how old you are. It changes over your life cycle, and then it goes into a resting phase for a few months, and then it restarts again. So on a regular basis, you can expect to have about 100 to 200 hairs a day that will shed. There may be ups and downs, seasonal variations, age-related variations.
RASCOE: She said COVID can mess with our hair cycles.
MIRMIRANI: It's kind of like a storm coming through, knocks off the blooms. And the hair cycle will be disrupted. And that is exactly what happens with COVID. The body is paying more attention to healing from the virus, and so the hair goes into a resting phase.
RASCOE: But she reminds us not to panic. Shedding is actually a sign that our hair is in recovery.
MIRMIRANI: What I do is I give them a mirror, and I hold a white card up to your dark hair so that you can see those hairs that are regrowing. And I tell them, don't pay attention to the hairs coming out. I want you to visualize it that the new hairs are pushing out those old hairs. So you've got new hairs coming in. Think of those new hairs. They are recovering.
RASCOE: There are some treatments for hair loss, but the first step Dr. Mirmirani recommends is to see a doctor.
MIRMIRANI: Look back in their medical history. Make sure there aren't any new medications that may potentially be contributing to increased hair loss. Make sure that their nutritional status is OK. They're eating a well-rounded, healthy diet. You may recommend taking a multivitamin daily. It may be appropriate to check some laboratory tests to make sure that their metabolism is OK, like the thyroid. If everything checks out OK, then the next step is to reassure the patient that, yes, your hair will regrow. You will recover. This is a temporary process.
RASCOE: Hairstylist Rebecca Haehnle echoes Dr. Mirmirani. She's the owner of Parlour Salon here in Washington, D.C. She's been helping clients with COVID-related hair loss find new ways to style their hair as it grows back. She says, embrace the change with a new haircut.
REBECCA HAEHNLE: Don't hold on to it. There are so many amazing shorter hairstyles that you can do that'll totally change the way you feel about the issue. And those who have saw a significant difference in how their hair grew from that point forward. I don't always suggest that maybe you go out and get a particular protective style. I really suggest that people not put too much stress on any hair follicles that are still nice and healthy and then start using products that are protein-based that help strengthen the hair and the hair follicle, products that are more bond-building, products that will ensure protein is getting to the hair and the hair follicle. I really do weekly treatments.
RASCOE: I mean, obviously, doing the big chop is, like, beyond emotional because people - you know, they associate beauty, their self, their identity, legacy is wrapped up in their hair. It's their crown. How do you talk them through that? Because they may be like, I don't want to cut my crown.
HAEHNLE: You know, when I sit down with clients, it's really to create a vision. What do you want? What do you want to see? And if you've been dealing with hair loss for the last few months, it is every day you look in the mirror, and it's depressing. It's sad. My job is to figure out how to help you. It's probably best that we just start fresh. And from there, you can move forward.
RASCOE: I mean, do you see any difference in, like, hair that's more tightly coiled, maybe like mine, or hair that's finer, like, as far as the hair loss or hair growth or the way - the approach that you have to take to the haircut? Do you see any difference there?
HAEHNLE: I don't really see much of a difference. I feel like I have some clients who've, you know, lost more hair around the hairline. So what we do is we try to design styles that help to conceal that a little bit. I don't always encourage people to go shorter. Maybe it's just changing the structure and the shape of the hairstyle. If I have somebody who's lost a significant amount, which I've definitely seen - and when I say that, I mean 50 to 70% - I really encourage them to go shorter because a lot of times, we can find an amazing shape for the hair and for you. So no matter if the look is touching the shoulders or it's above the ear, you want a cut that speaks to you.
RASCOE: That was Rebecca Haehnle, a hairstylist and salon owner here in Washington, D.C. Thank you so much.
HAEHNLE: Thank you so much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.