COVID hair loss is a real thing, and scientific studies are beginning to confirm what hairstylists have been seeing for months. Read on to learn all you need to know about COVID-19-related hair loss and how to manage it.
Disclaimer: Studies will continue to roll out over the coming months as we learn more about COVID’s effects on the body. Keep an eye on your health, and remember that no article, study, or guide is a substitute for personalized medical advice. Make sure to discuss any concerns you have about COVID, hair loss, or other related symptoms with your doctor or healthcare provider.
- Hair loss in COVID patients usually occurs 3-6 months after the illness
- Up to 33% of COVID patients experience hair loss after the infection
- Patients report losing “handfuls” and “clumps” of hair at a time with post-COVID hair loss
- Doctors believe this type of hair loss is caused by telogen effluvium, one of the body’s stress responses that occurs after severe illness or intense periods of stress
- Post-COVID hair loss usually gets better on its own within 6-12 months
Hair loss is an increasingly reported symptom associated with COVID-19. As scientists and doctors study the link between COVID and hair loss, the findings create a clearer picture of why COVID hair loss happens, who’s most at risk, and how long the condition lasts.
COVID Hair Loss Is Real
Throughout the course of navigating the current global pandemic, we’ve all come to know the “classic” COVID symptoms: fever, cough, shortness of breath, headache, and loss of taste or smell.
But there’s another symptom that isn’t talked about as much – possibly because it doesn’t become apparent until months after the illness. It’s post-COVID hair loss, and it’s a lot more common than any of us realized at first.
COVID hair loss has been a hot topic of discussion among friends, family, and coworkers since mid-2020. Until now, there wasn’t much research or data on the topic to prove a relationship between the virus and increased shedding.
Now that more individuals have been infected with COVID-19 at some point or another from early 2020 to now, scientists have been able to conduct more robust studies on Covid-related hair loss. And they’re consistently finding a link, or correlation, between COVID-19 infection and a noticeable increase in hair loss.
These scientific links only confirm what individuals, dermatologists, doctors, and even hairstylists have seen for months: people are losing scary amounts of hair after being infected with COVID-19.
We’ve analyzed the existing research and data to compile the most important findings about COVID hair loss. Learn what the data says about this post-COVID condition, who’s most at risk, how long you can expect the hair loss to last, and how doctors are successfully treating it.
The Link Between COVID-19 and Hair Loss
- An estimated 22%-33% of COVID patients experience hair loss
- COVID-related hair loss occurs 2-6 months after the infection
- COVID-related hair loss is not correlated with COVID illness severity
As the COVID-19 pandemic wears on across the globe, we’re beginning to see a clearer picture of the many symptoms and conditions that come along with it. There’s now a definite link between hair loss and COVID-19 exposure and infection.
Over the past year or so, there’s been a lot of information for scientists and clinicians to wade through in an attempt to better understand what kind of virus we’re dealing with.
And as these professionals study and analyze the effects of this virus on the people it infects, hair loss is coming up as one of the most common COVID sequelae, or conditions that occur after a previous illness or injury.
The studies we analyzed in this article found that the people experiencing hair loss after a COVID-19 infection noticed increased hair fall anywhere from 2-6 months after COVID illness. And people of different ethnicities, nationalities, genders, and health status experienced post-Covid hair loss in these studies.
People who ranged from asymptomatic to those hospitalized with severe COVID-19 experienced hair loss after the infection; this condition was not linked to either mild or severe COVID-19 illness.
We know that the link between COVID and hair loss is there, not just due to scientific studies, but also personal experiences.
As more people contracted COVID-19 and began suddenly finding fistfuls of hair coming out in the shower or discovering alarmingly large tufts of hair left behind in their brushes, real-world examples were enough to “prove” to many that COVID-related hair loss was a real thing.
But while personal experiences are compelling, they don’t always indicate a clear causal link. Only scientific data can do that, so that’s what we’ve focused on in this analysis.
When Does COVID Hair Loss Happen?
- Data indicates COVID-related hair loss starts anywhere from 2-6 months after the initial infection
- The average person develops COVID hair loss symptoms around 4 months post-COVID
In one clinical study, scientists found that women started seeking treatment or care for excessive hair loss an average of 4.25 months after contracting COVID-19.
Another study by the Indiana University School of Medicine and Survivor Corps tracked 5,875 COVID patients. This study found that the average onset for hair loss associated with Covid infection was around 55 days after the initial infection.
Meta-analyses and cohort studies have found that the range for the development of hair loss symptoms was anywhere from 3-6 months after the initial infection.
With all these ranges and averages in mind, we can see the picture coming into focus. Most people notice increased and abnormal hair loss beginning anywhere from 2 months to 6 months after they had COVID-19.
Since this data is still new and being tracked, it’s definitely possible to experience COVID-related hair loss before the 2-month mark or after the 6-month mark. These are just the conclusions scientists have been able to reach so far.
Does COVID Hair Loss Happen to Everyone?
COVID-related hair loss does not happen to everyone. Up to 33% of people who get infected with COVID will go on to experience hair loss. That means the majority, or about 67%, of people infected with COVID will likely not experience hair loss.
Of course, this percentage could easily change with time as we collect more data and more people (unfortunately) become infected.
We also don’t know how COVID-19 vaccination affects delayed, secondary symptoms like hair loss. So as more people get vaccinated, the number of people who experience hair loss after COVID could decrease, increase, or stay the same. We just don’t know yet.
So, why does hair loss after COVID affect some people but not others? We do know that high levels of stress increase cortisol (stress hormone) levels, which are linked to hair loss. Looking back at 2020 and the majority of 2021, sources of stress are plentiful:
- Personal illness
- Illness or death of loved ones
- Job loss
- Remote school and work
- Employee and product shortages
- Lockdowns and isolation
- Panic, fear, and anxiety related to the pandemic
Did you, or are you experiencing any of these stressors in the wake of COVID? It makes sense that increased stress levels for the average person would lead to higher cortisol levels, and therefore, increased instances of hair loss.
What Is COVID Hair Loss Like?
In the growing number of studies looking at how hair loss affects recovering COVID patients, we’re seeing similarities in the study participants’ reports of what COVID-related hair loss is like. How much hair usually falls out? Is it noticeable right away? Does the hair seem to thin or fall out in sections, or all over?
One study looked at the conditions COVID survivors develop after battling the virus. The participants in the study specifically commented on their experiences with post-COVID hair loss. Their hair loss descriptions were as follows:
- “…clumps and fistfuls of hair coming out when washing.”
- “…hair is falling out a lot more.”
- “…increased shedding for 1.5 months.”
- “…hair falling out in massive clumps and thinning along hairline.”
- “…significant shedding and thinning of hair.”
- “…hair comes out in clumps when combing it.”
- “…hair falling out in chunks.”
- “…15 hairs come out when brushing hand through hair.”
The Clinical Director at a laser hair and scalp treatment clinic, John Satino, says the increased hair loss his clients are experiencing in the wake of COVID infection is “tremendous.”
Some of his patients come in for a consultation because their hair is suddenly falling out by the handful post-COVID. Other post-COVID hair loss patients go through slow but consistent thinning and shedding that just doesn’t seem normal for their medical history.
When John Satino examined the scalps of patients with post-COVID hair shedding and loss, he found something significant. About 40 of these patients had scalp or follicle inflammation that he linked directly to the shedding and hair loss.
This observation, along with those made in other studies and patient examinations, leads experts to believe the reason recovered COVID patients lose hair is due to telogen effluvium.
COVID-19 and Telogen Effluvium Hair Loss
A growing number of doctors and scientists are referring to the hair loss that occurs in post-COVID patients as “telogen effluvium” cases.
Two New York hospitals that found themselves at the center of the U.S.’s early battles with COVID-19, Coney Island Medical Center and Metropolitan Medical Center, said telogen effluvium (TE) cases jumped by more than 400% from July 2020 to August 2020 alone. Since then, TE cases have stabilized a bit, but are still well above “normal.”
Telogen effluvium is a condition where the body’s hair growth cycle is temporarily interrupted due to a major illness, injury, surgery, or traumatic or stressful event. COVID-19 infection, along with the stress of navigating all the changes during the pandemic, are potential causes of TE.
And here’s the kicker: TE doesn’t become noticeable until about 3-5 months after the triggering event. This would explain why most people report hair fall and increased shedding months after they had COVID, not during their infection.
Telogen effluvium causes up to 50% of the person’s hair to suddenly enter the resting phase of the hair growth cycle. Usually, about 5% of the hairs on your head are in the resting phase at any given time.
As the spokesperson for the Infectious Diseases Society of America, Dr. Gregory Poland, put it, “This type of hair loss happens when people are immensely stressed.”
Fortunately, there are two pieces of good news about the link between post-COVID hair loss and telogen effluvium. First, if TE is the root cause of COVID-related shedding and hair loss, it indicates that the hair loss is not a direct result of the virus attacking the scalp or hair follicles.
Instead, hair loss results from a temporary condition and one of the body’s natural responses to injury, illness, or severe stress. Second, TE following COVID infection isn’t a permanent condition (from what we’ve seen so far).
It’s a temporary condition, and patients usually regrow the hair lost within 6-12 months of the onset or start of shedding. Six months can seem like a long time when you’re losing handfuls of hair daily, but it’s reassuring for many that post-COVID shedding isn’t actually permanent hair loss.
Dealing With COVID Hair Loss
Managing sudden hair loss after COVID-19 can be stressful in itself – potentially leading to a dangerous cycle of chronic telogen effluvium and continued hair loss. Experts recommend reducing your stress levels as much as possible to help shorten the duration of the condition.
If you’ve been losing hair post-COVID, keep your stress levels low by engaging in calming activities, enlisting the help of others, and keeping yourself healthy.
If the loss of hair makes you stress about your appearance, you can always use thickening sprays, powders, and shampoos to temporarily boost the appearance of your hair’s volume and thickness.
- Try yoga, mindful meditation, or a calming hobby like painting to reduce stress levels
- Delegate tasks on your to-do list to friends and family to reduce your mental load
- Visit your doctor or healthcare provider to determine if your hair loss is due to post-COVID TE
- Ask your doctor about prescription medications that can treat TE by putting your body back into the growth phase of the hair growth cycle – minoxidil and finasteride are options
- Consider taking an all-natural supplement containing biotin for hair growth in the meantime
If you or someone you know is dealing with post-COVID hair shedding or loss, you’re well aware of how frustrating this condition can be. The good news is that you’re not alone. Up to 33% of post-COVID patients experience hair loss a few months after the infection.
It’s also fortunate that the TE condition that causes hair loss is temporary. Once your body is no longer fighting the virus, your hair growth should return to normal within 6-12 months.
As long as you prioritize your health and immune system, keep your stress levels low, and avoid getting reinfected, your hair shedding and loss should reduce dramatically (by up to 45%) within the next several months.