Today we’re going to discuss another symptom of Covid long haulers that wasn’t discussed much in the media until recently – hair loss.
Yes, hair loss. The first time I heard about Covid-related hair loss was when actress Alyssa Milano went public with her Covid-related hair loss in August 2020. She bravely posted a video where she’s combing her wet hair and displaying the clumps of hair that came out. You can also see in the video her hairline has receded.
Unfortunately, that did not suit the media tone at the time. Covid was all just a myth, something made up by the Left, it was no worse than the common cold. OR – Covid was an almost certain death sentence; everyone who had it wound up hospitalized and on ventilitors.
Which completely ignored the very large group in the middle – those of us who caught Covid and were extremely ill, but not ill enough to be hospitalized. We’re the group most likely to be long haulers. But there was little room for this long hauler narrative. Alyssa was widely ridiculed.
But then … the rest of us started losing our hair, too.
I was lucky. I had overall thinning. And lately I’ve noticed some weird little two inch tufties around my face, which would fit the timeline for regrowth. I hadn’t noticed losing hair around my hairline, but then again I’ve been working from home and relatively solitary. I don’t spend much time gazing into a mirror.
But many women (and men) have had substantial thinning and even bald spots.
Covid hair loss is real. It’s a thing.
And this thing is called Telogen Effluvium, or TE. It is caused by any kind of intense physical or emotional stress. It can push as much as 70 percent of your hair into the telogen, or resting, phase of the growth cycle. This conserves resources for more essential bodily processes.
Covid hit us with a one-two punch. Not only did our bodies undergo physical stress from the illness and high fevers, we also experienced emotional stress from the lockdowns, worry about family and friends, not being able to work, not being able to find toilet paper … A perfect setup for an “outbreak” of TE.
So what can you do about it?
Find A Community/Support Group
First thing, I would join a Facebook group such as First Covid, Now Hair Loss. You will learn you’re not crazy and it’s not just you. And that it’s not selfish or vain to be concerned about your hair. There’s currently 8.2K members! And that’s just ONE of many groups devoted to this topic!
Get A Physical
If you haven’t had a recent physical, get one. There are a few medical conditions that can cause hair loss, including anemia and thyroid problems. (Likely your hair loss is Covid-related, but best to rule out other possibilities.) Also, treating any underlying medical condition you may have, even if it isn’t hair loss related, will make you healthier, stronger, and better able to fight long hauler effects.
See A Dermatologist
Dermatologists don’t just deal with skin, they also deal with hair. Some dermatologists even specialize in hair loss. A dermatologist may ease your mind that you have telogen effluvium and your hair WILL grow back eventually. OR you may have another type of hair loss which would require a different treatment. I would definitely consider seeing a dermatologist if your hair loss is severe.
Check For Vitamin Deficiencies
We mostly hear about Biotin and other B vitamins contributing to healthy hair. While I don’t think it is harmful to take a Vitamin B supplement, likely you should avoid megadoses. Also, if you take Biotin, be sure to tell your doctor as it can throw off the results of thyroid tests.
The B vitamin you should be looking at, instead of Biotin, is B12. A surprising number of people, both vegan and non-vegan, are deficient. Deficiencies are linked to hair loss. You can easily have your B12 levels checked with a simple blood test (and I recommend all vegans do). Note that treating a deficiency will aid hair growth, but if you are not deficient, taking additional B12 will not help.
There are several other vitamins/minerals related to hair loss that you should consider.
Iron: Iron deficiency anemia can cause hair thinning and loss. It’s most common in menstruating women, especially those with very heavy periods. Anemia could also be caused by blood loss from ulcers or colon cancer. Since it’s very rare for a Western diet (even a Western vegan diet) to be low in iron, you should never take additional iron supplements unless you have been diagnosed with anemia and directed to do so by your doctor. It can be toxic. Your iron levels can be tested at your yearly physical.
Good dietary sources of iron include beans, lentils, tofu, tempeh, dark leafy greens, and figs, dates, and raisins.
Zinc: My friend Jessica Barrett, Vegan RD, says that zinc would be one the first vitamins/minerals she would consider for hair loss. A deficiency causes hair loss and thinning similar to iron deficiency anemia. Zinc isn’t stored in the body, so it’s relatively safe to take – consult with your doctor or pharmacist first.
But also try to get your zinc through your daily diet. Good sources of zinc include whole grains, tofu, tempeh, legumes, nuts and seeds, and fortified breakfast cereals.
Vitamin D: This one is interesting, as so many people (both vegan and non-vegan) are deficient in Vitamin D! (See Vitamin D for You and Me!) Low levels can lead to hair loss. This is another test I recommend taking at your yearly physical.
Note: Once upon a time, D2 was the vegan form of Vitamin D and D3 came from animals. Now, D3 is also derived from lichen. To avoid confusion, I recommend getting Vitamin D that is clearly marked vegan. I like Garden of Life MyKind vitamins. I also like Deva, which is a more affordable option.
Avoid Spending Money On Expensive Shampoos and Conditioners
Hair grows from the root, not the ends. Of course, if you are losing hair, you want to use a gentle shampoo and conditioner to avoid any possible hair breakage. But shampoo and conditioner aren’t going to make your hair grow any longer, thicker, or faster. The only hair product proven to assist hair growth is minoxidil (Rogaine).
My Hair Tip: Curly girls like me never use a brush and usually don’t wash our hair every day. If your hair is shedding, the loose strands catch on your curls and create snarls. I applied conditioner BEFORE shampooing, and patiently worked the snarls out with a wide tooth comb.
Stay Away From Scams
Covid hair loss support groups will frequently alert you to scams. There are so many quack hair regrowth products, ranging from shampoos and conditioners to scalp masks and expensive vitamins. There are also “theories” that detoxing will help (and yes, these shady salespeople have activated charcoal, smoothies, or juices sell to aid in your detox).
Consider Creative Alternatives
I’m amazed at the creative solutions people have found, ranging from styling changes and styling products, to major trims (cutting off length reduces weight which makes hair look thicker), to pixie cuts, to hats, to extensions, to wigs (both natural looking and Katy Perry-esque candy colored ones). If you don’t want a full wig, there are “messy bun” ponytails and clip-in hair extensions. This is another reason I recommend a support group – you can see real life examples and solutions.
Be Patient – With Telogen Effluvium Your Hair WILL Grow Back!
You have to give it time and let it run its course. It usually takes about six months to see new regrowth, but some people have seen regrowth as early as three months. The earliest victims of TE are now seeing substantial regrowth, and their pictures on these support sites are very inspiring. If you were wondering, Ms. Milano’s hair did grow back, with the help of time and hair products containing minoxidil.
Remember – Better To Lose Your Hair, Than Lose Your Life!