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Cortisol and hair loss

Cortisol has the potential to cause 3 distinct patterns of hair loss depending on which aspect of hair growth is affected. Read more...

 

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What is cortisol?



Cortisol is a steroid hormone that can be released at higher levels when the body is experiencing stress. It is produced by the adrenal glands. It can impact hair growth both directly and indirectly.



What is the connection between cortisol and hair loss?



There are studies that have demonstrated that increased cortisol levels can cause a reduction in the production of some key modulators of the hair cycle. Elevated cortisol levels can also accelerate the breakdown of these modulators known as hyaluronans and proteoglycans.


Indirectly, increased production of cortisol by the adrenal glands can impair the production of other hormones that are needed for the hair cycle and hair growth.



 


 

What kind of hair loss does cortisol cause?


Cortisol has the potential to cause 3 distinct patterns of hair loss depending on which aspect of hair growth is affected.

  • If elevated cortisol levels impair the production of sex hormones by the adrenal glands, the result can be androgenetic alopecia.

  • If elevated cortisol levels disrupt the hair cycle and accelerate the resting phase, telogen effluvium can occur.

  • And, lastly, with cortisol’s effect on the immune system, the potential for alopecia areata is also possible which can be discerned by the pattern of hair loss.



How is it best to deal with cortisol-induced hair loss?



Understanding the role of stress on cortisol levels is important for patients to recognize. After all, I routinely counsel patients and the stress of hair loss leads to more hair loss. Using topical minoxidil can be effective to prolong the growth phase of the hair to minimize the effect of telogen effluvium. An evaluation and diagnosis by your dermatologist of the pattern and type of hair loss are important to direct therapy more effectively.




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