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Signs stress is damaging your hair, from a beauty expert

As you spend lots of your time brushing out any unwanted frizz and trying to neaten your unruly hair, you might enviously wonder what other people are using to keep their hair looking so healthy and perfect.

But having healthy looking hair doesn’t have to be the result of numerous expensive products and monotonous wash day routines. In fact, healthy hair can simply be a result of overall wellbeing and lifestyle.

Master stylist and beauty expert, Dawna Jarvis told Newsweek that a person’s hair offers a “window to their overall health and wellbeing.” She said that if someone notices that their hair has become dry and unmanageable, it may be a sign of too much stress.

Jarvis, from California, said: “Just like skin, the state of your hair reflects the body’s internal condition. Nutrient deficiencies, hormonal imbalances, and stress levels can all manifest in the form of issues like hair thinning, excessive hair loss, dryness, and lack of luster.”

One difficult day isn’t going to have any disastrous effects on your hair, but the National Institute of Health (NIH) suggests that long-term stress does increase the risk of hair loss and going gray.

The NIH refers to a 2021 study in which scientists looked at the effect of stress hormones on mice. The results showed that when the mice were subjected to stress over multiple weeks, the increased hormones led to a noticeable decrease in hair growth and a prolonged period of hair loss.

Why Do Stress Levels Impact Hair Growth?

Stress can have many effects on the body, as the American Psychological Association says it can lead to headaches, migraines, breathing problems, nausea, and bloating. But it can also lead to an increase in cortisol production to cope with the higher energy levels required.

“Under significant stress, the body’s cortisol levels spike, which can impact the hair growth cycle, potentially leading to hair shedding, thinning, or alopecia conditions,” Jarvis explained.

“Individuals might notice increased hair loss, a lack of shine, and a change in texture. Their hair may feel more brittle, and they might experience a dry, itchy scalp or dandruff. Stress can also exacerbate existing scalp conditions, leading to increased dandruff or itchiness,” Jarvis said.

Cortisol is considered the body’s main stress hormone, as WebMD explains that it links with the brain to control mood, motivation and fear. While it can be fundamental for regulating blood pressure, controlling the body’s sleep cycle, and keeping inflammation down, it is also the body’s response to intense pressure.

High levels of cortisol for a sustained period of time can lead to further health complications, including anxiety, headaches, bloating, digestive trouble and weight gain, according to WebMD.

So, during times of stress and poor health, hair can become thinner as a result of increased hair loss, it may seem dry, and possibly even flaky on the scalp. Upon noticing those changes, no amount of leave-in conditioner is going to fix the damage caused by stress.

Hair grows across three stages—as the NIH explains, it begins with growth, then degeneration, and finally a rest phase. The cycle begins with hair strands pushing through the surface of the skin before it ceases to grow in the second phase. The final stage is when hair falls out and the process starts again, as hair changes in a cyclical manner.

As a result of these cycles, stress won’t usually have an instant impact on the hair, but will occur over a matter of weeks if it is sustained.

“Generally, hair reflects changes over time. The hair growth cycle involves different phases, and stress or health issues can prolong the shedding or resting phases, leading to noticeable hair problems after weeks or months,” said Jarvis.

Why Is Nutrition So Important?

It is often tempting to try out the latest serums and hair masks, which promise to nourish even the driest of hair, but the best way of improving your hair’s condition is by maintaining a healthy lifestyle.

Jarvis insists that the best course of action is to level down the stress and fuel the body with more of the nutrients it needs.

There is a valuable link between nutrition and hair growth, as highlighted by a 2019 review which was published by the National Library of Medicine. The review highlighted that micronutrients had an important role in hair follicle development, and immune cell function. It also showed that vitamin deficiencies can increase the risk of developing conditions such as alopecia, which is extensive hair loss.

“These symptoms are signs that the hair is not receiving enough nutrients and may be in a resting or shedding phase as a response to internal imbalances or stress,” Jarvis said.

“A balanced diet rich in proteins, vitamins, and minerals, especially biotin, vitamin E, and iron, can help improve hair health. Regular scalp massages, minimizing heat styling, and using gentle, sulfate-free hair care products can also make a significant difference. For persistent issues, I advise my clients to see a dermatologist.”

Is there a health issue that’s worrying you? Let us know via health@newsweek.com. We can ask experts for advice, and your story could be featured on Newsweek.

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