"My patients have come in with bags full of hair  — enough hair to make a wig — in the most severe hair loss I have ever seen from a viral illness."

By Kylie Gilbert
Aug 03, 2020 @ 11:04 am
Credit: Miljko/Getty Images

Coronavirus is an invisible threat marked largely by respiratory symptoms, but months into the pandemic, experts have discovered that it can bring on certain physical changes, too. Along with rashes doctors have found that some patients are dealing with extreme hair loss.  For example, cosmetic dermatologist Michele Green, M.D., tells Instyle that she's seen "a huge increase in hair loss from COVID-19" in her practice.

Unlike male or female pattern hair loss, which is typically a gradual thinning that occurs due to genetics, the form of hair loss COVID survivors are experiencing is known as telogen effluvium (TE), a more diffuse pattern of hair loss which suddenly and dramatically occurs after an injury, surgery, or illness.

"Most patients have lost over 50% of their hair density and they are experiencing shedding all over the scalp with a widening of their part line," explains New York City-based dermatologist Dendy Engelman, M.D.

Both derms agree that the high fevers and intense physical symptoms associated with an illness like COVID-19 would be a perfect storm for TE to occur.

Dr. Green adds that the recent COVID-related cases are the most dramatic examples of TE she's treated in her career. "I have never seen this amount of hair loss occur so rapidly and to this extent before in 25 years," she says. "My patients have come in with bags full of hair  — enough hair to make a wig — in the most severe hair loss I have ever seen from a viral illness."

If this sudden and dramatic hair loss sounds familiar, but you haven't been sick with COVID, it could be due to psychological stressors. "Any acutely stressful event (physical or emotional) can cause hair to cycle from the growing (anagen phase) or resting phase (Cartagena phase) into the falling out phase (telogen phase)," explains Dr. Engelman.

It makes sense we're hearing about hair loss now, nearly five months into the pandemic: Typically, stress or illness-related hair loss occurs anywhere from three to six months after the triggering event, Dr. Engelman adds. (A poll in the COVID Facebook group, Survivor Corps, confirms that hair loss is indeed a common problem for those who recovered from their illness months ago).

"I have seen people recently with this sudden type of hair loss who also have not been diagnosed with COVID," confirms dermatologist Daniel Belkin, M.D., of the Laser & Skin Surgery Center of New York. "I chalk it up to the early quarantine psychological stress of March. Stressors like prolonged fear, death of a family member, or loss of a job, are all factors that can contribute to hair loss."

The good news is that, while TE can become chronic rare instances, most cases resolve on their own in time. "It can take four to six months to cycle back to the normal growth phase," Dr. Engelman says.

If you are experiencing hair loss due to a COVID-19 illness or stress-related issues there are a few things you can do. All derms interviewed recommend the in-office procedure platelet-rich plasma (PRP). "PRP therapy uses injections of a concentration of a patient's own blood platelets to restore and accelerate hair growth," explains dermatologist Sapna Palep, M.D., founder of Spring Street Dermatology in New York City.

"Treatments are done once a month for three months and every six months thereafter for maintenance. It’s highly effective — I’ve undergone PRP Therapy myself for my hair loss."

For the needle-averse, Dr. Engelman and Dr. Green also suggest collagen-infused Nutrafol supplements to help stop shedding and start the regrowth process.