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Is your scalp stressed? Experts reveal the signs to look out for, from dandruff to obsessive picking

Scalp stress is real.

Life is never going to be stress-free (especially right now), but did you now that stress can also show on your scalp? While we recognise stress as a common cause behind sleepless nights and distressed skin, nearly two-thirds of us are unaware that stress can lead to scalp issues such as dandruff.

“Your scalp and hair are very much influenced by hormonal fluctuations – and stress can disrupt your hormone levels,” explains Anabel Kingsley, brand president and consultant trichologist at Philip Kingsley. “Specifically, stress spikes cortisol (aka stress hormone) levels, which in turn can increase sebum (oil) production on your scalp.”

Here, we take a look at some of the signs that your scalp may be suffering from stress…


According to the experts, stress hormones can take a toll on your immune system, which in turn, affects the natural defences on our skin, including our scalps. “Stress can weaken your body’s natural defences against naturally-existing microbes in the scalp which will lead to dryness and flakiness,” explains top trichologist Stephanie Sey.

Anabel agrees:"Stress hormones can also disrupt the skin’s barrier function, and trigger skin irritation and inflammation. This is why you may find that your scalp gets itchy, flaky and overly sensitive and greasy when you are going through a stressful period. People who suffer from scalp conditions, often find their condition is made worse by stress"

Hair Loss

“Stress can also cause telogen effluvium, which occurs when the anagen (growth) phase of the hair growth cycle is cut short by an internal disturbance in the body" explains Anabel. “This causes many more hairs than usual to move from their anagen phase into their telogen (shedding) phase, resulting in excessive daily hair fall.” This shedding can be either acute (short-term) or chronic (recurring or continuous) depending on the cause and the severity of the disturbance to the body.

“Due to the hair growth cycle, Telogen Effluvium is often expected six to 12 weeks or so after the period of illness, medication or stress that triggered it. Although it can be extremely distressing, rest assured the hair will almost certainly grow back once the underlying issue has been resolved," she adds.

If you notice excessive hair shedding, Anabel recommends looking back two or three months for possible causes. “It's also important to continue to shampoo, condition and style your hair as normal as these things will not cause or worsen shedding and will ensure the scalp remains as healthy as possible to help encourage hair growth.”

Pulling and Picking

Stressful periods can trigger unhealthy habits, such as excoriation disorder (obsessive picking) or hair-pulling disorder (Trichotillomania). “Stress can often trigger excessive tugging of hair when styling or habitual scalp scratching," Stephanie adds. "These habits will damage your scalp and affect the condition of your hair.”

Needless to say, stress management is very important for both the health of your hair and scalp, as well as for overall health and general wellness. “Many people find weekly sessions of yoga, pilates, mindfulness, swimming or meditation helpful – there is no ‘one-size-fits-all’, however, so do some investigative work to find out what is best for you,” recommends Anabel.

Written by Lottie Winter.

This article originally appeared on Glamour UK.

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