Research finds that COVID-19 pressure has led to a surge in hair loss in ethnically diverse communities

Key points

  • According to a new study, two underrepresented communities in New York City experienced a 400% increase in hair loss during the pandemic.
  • Physical and emotional stress can trigger a disease called telogen alopecia, leading to temporary hair loss.
  • Finding ways to manage stress may help prevent physical symptoms and improve your health.

The COVID-19 pandemic is a difficult time for almost everyone. However, the situation in ethnically diverse communities is worse than in other communities. Not only do the pre-existing differences make people of color a higher risk of getting sick and dying from the disease itself, The economic impact of the pandemic has also brought them a huge burden of unemployment and wage cuts.

The extreme stress of the past 9 months (and increasing) has led to a significant increase in the rate of hair loss in different ethnic communities Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology show. A study of two hospitals in low-income, diverse communities with a high COVID-19 mortality rate in New York City found that hair loss disorders for certain people of color increased by 400%.

Epidemic hair loss in different communities

In a study released by the agency Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology On December 10, five doctors checked the rate of telogen hair loss at the dermatology department of Manhattan Metropolitan Hospital and Brooklyn Coney Island Hospital, which is a reversible disease that can cause hair loss after experiencing stress. Two “safety net” hospitals provide services to ethnically diverse communities that have suffered some of the highest COVID-19 mortality rates in New York City.

Researchers found that compared with pre-pandemic cases between September 1, 2019 and February 29, 2020, the number of cases of telogen between March 1 and August 31 increased by more than 400%. Studies have shown that cases of telogen alopecia have increased by more than 400% during July and August-about three to four months after New York City experienced the first large-scale surge of COVID-19 and the lockdown was implemented.

“Hair loss during resting period does not usually occur at the beginning of the stressor. Three to four months after stress is a typical manifestation of hair loss during resting period,” said a board-certified dermatologist specializing in medical and aesthetic dermatology at the Advanced Dermatology Department of Chadsford, Pennsylvania. Alison Britt Kimmings explained, MD, Master of Public Health.

The increase in telogen hair loss is most prevalent in Hispanics and Latinos. Compared with whites, their hospitalization rate due to COVID-19 is more than four times that of whites.

Researchers also found 5 cases of this condition in men during the pandemic. In the previous year, they did not count the cases of male telogen alopecia.

Limitations of hair loss research

Although early research has provided important insights in public health emergencies, this research has some limitations. Its sample size is relatively small, with a total of approximately 3,000 patients, of which 50 experienced telogen alopecia during the pandemic. It also only focuses on two hospitals in New York City, so the results may not be generalized to the general population.

Interestingly, the researchers noticed that although blacks suffered a disproportionate number of cases, hospitalizations, deaths, and other stressors during the pandemic, their telogen hair loss hardly increased.

“This finding does not make sense to me. African Americans have indeed experienced telogen alopecia, so the results of the study may be due to the limitations of the study population,” said Dr. Britt Kimmings, who has been in the past few months I have seen African American patients with this disease in her office.

Dr. Britt Kimmins also pointed out that hairstyles that are popular among blacks and African Americans, such as braids or braids, may make it difficult to notice hair loss.

“Access to health care may be another issue,” she added. “Sometimes when African-Americans show up in the clinic, hair loss may not be as important to them as high blood pressure or uncontrolled blood sugar.”

More importantly, due to supply shortages, the vast majority of participants in this study have not been tested for COVID-19.It makes it impossible to determine whether the disease itself causes telogen hair loss.

Alison Britt Kimmings, MD, miles per hour

As you can learn from this study, telogen alopecia is real and it is on the rise due to COVID-19.

—Alison Britt Kimmings, MD, miles per hour

Despite its limitations, the study helps quantify anecdotal reports by dermatologists who have seen an increase in telogen rate during the pandemic. It also added in-depth knowledge of the results of an informal survey of more than 1,500 COVID-19 long-distance transport personnel, which uncovered more than 400 reports of hair loss.

“You can learn from this study that telogen alopecia is real and is on the rise due to COVID-19,” said Dr. Britt Kimmings.

Understanding telogen hair loss

At any given time, as many as 90% of a person’s hair is usually in the growth phase, while the rest are in the resting phase (or resting phase). Hair that is in the resting phase will fall off after a few months, which explains the hair we usually find in brushes and bathtub drains.

Stressful events, such as severe illness, childbirth, or emotional trauma, can impact the system. This can cause telogen hair loss, and about 30% of hair enters the telogen phase and falls out after a few months.

Scott Paviol, MD, a board-certified dermatologist at Paviol Dermatology in Charlotte, North Carolina, said there are still many unknowns about the specific causes of telogen hair loss during the pandemic.

“Does the new coronavirus really cause hair loss, or is it another source of life stress that leads to hair loss in the strict sense of what we have seen? This may take time to figure out,” said Dr. Paviol.

Doctors say that seeing excess hair fall day after day can be a frustrating experience and may eventually exacerbate the condition.

Scott Paviol, MD

Note that thinning hair is a very devastating experience for men and women of every race. It becomes a daily and hourly struggle.

— Scott Paviol, MD

“Notice that thinning hair is a very devastating experience for men and women of every race. It becomes a daily and hourly struggle,” Dr. Paviol explained. “When it is stress-related hair loss, it becomes stressful.”

On the bright side, telogen alopecia is a temporary condition that usually lasts about six months. Although there is no cure for telogen hair loss, it is unlikely that this condition will make you bald and your hair will eventually grow back on its own.

If you notice hair loss, please make an appointment with your primary care doctor or dermatologist to investigate the cause. They will usually ask you about any major life events that have occurred in the past few months, such as stressors or illnesses. They may also perform blood tests to eliminate other potential causes of hair loss, such as thyroid problems.

Doctors recommend avoiding excessive brushing, combing, shampooing and other activities that may cause unnecessary hair loss during telogen hair loss. They also encourage patients to find ways to cope with emotional stress to improve their overall well-being.

“I remind patients with telogen hair loss that any sustained mental stress can be harmful to the body. Once you change your response to stress, you will find that the hair on the pillow becomes less,” said Dr. Britt Kingmins. “This is promising because once you know what you have, you can change things and try to fix it.”

What this means to you

Facts have proved that this pandemic is a stressful situation, especially for people of color who are disproportionately affected by COVID-19. Although we do not yet understand the long-term effects of this pressure, studies have shown that hair loss in different communities in the hardest hit areas of New York City has increased significantly, known as telogen alopecia.

The good news is that this disease is temporary and the hair will grow back. Finding ways to deal with stress in a healthy way can help prevent physical symptoms such as hair loss and improve your overall health.

The information in this article is current as of the date listed, which means that you may receive updated information while reading this article. For the latest updates on COVID-19, please visit our Coronavirus News page.