AUSTIN, Texas – Dr. Jennifer Gordon is losing her hair.
“When you start to see that shedding and that fallout more than you usually see, it’s devastating in a way," she said.
Dr. Gordon said patients and her coworkers at Westlake Dermatology are experiencing the same thing.
“In a way, it helps me really feel how the patients are feeling as well and empathize with them because I’ve gone through it myself," she said.
The stress of the pandemic and lifestyle changes are probably the leading causes for hair loss right now, according to Dr. Gordon. Hair grows in three stages: anagen, catagen and telogen. About 85% of your hair is in the anagen (growing) phase. After years of being in the anagen phase, about 10% of your hair moves to the catagen (resting) phase. It stays there for a few months. Then, 5% of your hair moves to the telogen (fallout) phase, which typically lasts a couple weeks.
But, when your body undergoes stress, it might move hair from anagen to catagen. You won't notice this, since hair is simply "resting" in the catagen phase. However, a few months later, all that hair moves to the telogen phase. That means about 20% of your hair is falling out at one time, compared to the normal 5%.
"You're noticing all this extra hair fall out that you're not used to," she said.
Dr. Gordon refers to these stressful events that cause hair loss as "lightning strikes." Unfortunately, the pandemic has caused several and/or consistent "lightning strikes."
"We're having multiple events and this longterm stress, so you just keep getting these shifts," she said. "And so you get into this chronic telogen phase."
Dr. Gordon said women come to her in tears.
“They bring me their clumps of hair and say, ‘Look at this. This isn’t right. Help me. What can I do?’”
One medical assistant at Westlake Dermatology, Itzel Blumhagen, experienced this herself.
“My father was hospitalized, and so I could definitely tell the difference months later that I was losing bigger chunks of hair in the shower,” she said.
The women at Westlake Dermatology are lucky that they can talk to each other, since many of them are going through the same thing.
“We see multiple hair loss patients a day, and it’s nice to know that there are other people going through it," Dr. Gordon said. "There’s strength in numbers.”
Treating this type of hair loss is gradual, but Dr. Gordon has a few ways to speed up the process. She said applying Rogaine foam, taking multivitamins with fatty acids and trying a supplement called Nutrafol are all helpful.
“Nutrafol is great because it’s full of both hair probiotics, stress adaptogens and all the building blocks that hair needs,” Dr. Gordon said. “These can really kind of help stop that stress-related hair loss more quickly and get you back on track faster.”
Still, Dr. Gordon said the best medicine is finding a way to manage your stress.
“Try to really find a way to deal with the stress in your life and not stress out about your hair falling out," she said. “It’s this vicious cycle of hair falling out and stressing out about that and not being able to control the stress in your life.”
Dr. Gordon provided a message of hope for anyone losing their hair: “We’re going to get through this, and we’re going to get our hair back."