We know that the pandemic is having a disproportionate effect on ethnic minorities.
It is now well-recorded that mortality rates and poverty associated with the pandemic have hit Black, Asian and minority communities harder. But an unexpected side-effect that is also having a disproportionate impact is hair loss.
According to new research by the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology, there has been a substantial increase of telogen effluvium (hair shedding), with doctors noticing a 400% increase among women of color.
These extreme levels of hair shedding were recorded in low-income, racially diverse neighborhoods in New York City that experienced some of the highest Covid-19 death rates.
‘It is unclear if the increase in cases of [hair loss] is more closely related to the physiological toll of infection or extreme emotional stress,’ said coauthor Dr Shoshana Marmon of Coney Island Hospital.
Put simply, scientists aren’t sure whether it is the illness causing women of colour to lose their hair, or if the disproportionate stress associated with living through a pandemic as an ethnic minority, that is triggering it.
Does Covid-19 cause hair loss for women of colour?
Covid appears to cause a plethora of symptoms that vary from person to person. The well-recorded symptoms are fever and cough, fatigue, loss of taste and smell – but there has been evidence to suggest that hair-loss could be a lingering after-effect in people who have recovered from the virus.
Actor Alyssa Milano was candid about her experience of Covid and hair loss, in a viral video she showed her hair falling out as she brushed it.
And there are threads on social media and Reddit with plenty of people discussing hair-loss as a possible side-effect of the virus.
In May last year, a Spanish journal published a link between androgenetic alopecia (male pattern baldness) in patients hospitalised with Covid. The study reviewed 41 men with pneumonia caused b Covid, and found that 71% developed hair loss that affected the top and front of the scalp.
Other dermatology experts have pointed to a link between fever and hair loss.
According to the American Academy of Dermatology Association, hair shedding happens when more hairs than normal enter the shedding (telogen) phase of the hair growth life-cycle at the same time. Apparently, a fever or illness can force more hairs into the shedding phase.
‘Most people see noticeable hair shedding two to three months after having a fever or illness,’ reads the website.
‘Handfuls of hair can come out when you shower or brush your hair. This hair shedding can last for six to nine months before it stops. Most people then see their hair start to look normal again and stop shedding.’
However, experts have also said that there is not enough evidence to suggest a definitive link between hair loss and Covid.
These theories also wouldn’t explain why women of colour are experiencing this symptom at a higher rate than other groups.
Is stress causing women of colour to lose their hair?
The American study that noticed a 400% increase in cases of hair shedding in people of color, found that the hair loss occurred approximately three to four months after the stay-at-home order in NYC.
The timing of the hair shedding matches with when dermatologists would expect it to happen following extreme physiological or emotional stress. Which suggests the cause could be psychological, rather than physical.
A stressful event, such as a severe illness, childbirth, or emotional trauma, can be a shock to the system. That can result in telogen effluvium, meaning 30% of your hair can fall out a few months after the stressor.
This would make sense – a pandemic is a significant life stressor. And for women of colour, being disproportionately impacted by the pandemic will only increase the stress levels.
There are also issues of styling, care and maintenance that could be contributing to increased hair loss in minority women.
‘A lot of minority women are experiencing hair loss during the pandemic due to external styling,’ says hair psychologist Abra McField, CEO and founder of Abra Kadabra Hair & Healing.
‘Specifically, Black women tend to fully trust the health and care of their hair in the hands of a professional because it is harder to mange and it takes so long to do.’
Abra says that not having access to professional hair care and products because of repeated lockdowns could also be causing Black women to lose hair, as it can become more dry, brittle and tangled without the correct care.
How to protect your hair during the pandemic
If you’re worried about hair loss, make sure you speak to your GP to rule out any underlying conditions that could be causing it, other than stress.
Otherwise, Abra says it’s important to stick to a routine that works for your hair – particularly if you are not used to caring for it without professional help.
‘You have to incorporate products and supplements in your lifestyle that provide full hair-growth support,’ says Abra. ‘And stay away from products with harsh chemicals that exacerbate the hair loss issue such as sulfates, deas and parabens.
‘If you are already sensitive to your own body’s production of testosterone, you can already have internal blockages preventing your hair from growing, causing it to shed which makes it look more thin and potentially cause balding.
‘Adding stress can exacerbate this issue and using the wrong products during a vulnerable time such as this, can cause more damage.’
Abra suggests taking the time to find out what your stress triggers are, and to do what you can to eliminate them as far as possible.
‘Engage in activities that bring peace and joy to your life,’ she says. ‘Be around people who bring the best out of you and support you in the best way.
‘Find time throughout the day to take some deep breaths and tune in to how you are feeling.
‘Lastly, find some books to read that target exactly what you are challenged with that is causing stress. It is always good to find the root of the issue.’
Abra says that the most important thing is to not ignore any sudden hair loss.
‘The longer you wait, the worse it gets and the longer it takes to be restored,’ she says. ‘You can start by getting some blood work done to check for any deficiencies or health issues.’
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