Across the globe, reports have surfaced of COVID-related hair loss and shedding. While a survey from Indiana University School of Medicine has circulated in news feeds since publishing last month—showing 423 of 1,567-plus “long haulers” surveyed have noticed hair loss—field experts are reporting that even individuals who haven’t tested positive for the virus are experiencing similar effects.
“Although there is no doubt the symptom of hair loss occurred in many of those surveyed, this type of study does not provide enough data to directly associate hair loss specifically to COVID infection,” says board-certified dermatologist Annie Chiu, founder of the Derm Institute in Los Angeles and associate faculty member of dermatology at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center. Hair loss and alopecia are among the most common conditions that she treats at her practice. “Severe sudden stress can lead to hair loss,” Chiu says of the condition known as telogen effluvium in the medical world. “Normally, about 85% of hair is in an active growth phase called anagen, with 15% of hairs in the resting telogen phase, where it can be shed. Physiological or major psychological stressors on the body can essentially shock up to 70% of growing hairs into the telogen phase, where more hairs are shed in a short period of time. This type of hair loss is typically diffuse, not patchy, and patients will notice handfuls of hairs coming out with showering, brushing, or even on their pillowcases.” She points out that half of the hair or more can be shed with telogen effluvium, and patients typically see a dramatic increase in shedding around two or three months after an acute event or illness.