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Hair Loss From Stress: A Secret Side Effect of Your Twenties

Why you're losing your hair and what you can do about it.

November 15th, 2012

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female hair loss

Megan was just 23, only a year out of college, when she rose one morning to find her pillow covered in hair. The sight became a daily rude awakening. Handfuls would come out in the shower. She visited a series of doctors—one prescribed Rogaine!—until she finally accepted the simple truth that her hair was falling out from stress.

“It was towards the end of my first year teaching. I thought that I was overwhelmed but in no way stressed enough to lose my hair,” she says. “My full head of shiny, beautiful, wavy, brown hair was lackluster, brittle, dry and thin.”  

MORE: Hair Loss Linked to Marital Status

Although hair loss is typically thought of as a man’s problem, it’s actually just as common (if not more) in women—and many women start to notice changes in their 20s. “We associate hair loss or thinning with a loss of femininity, so it can be very traumatic,” says Mary Gail Mercurio, M.D., associate professor of dermatology and obstetrics & gynecology at the University of Rochester Medical Center. And younger women who notice a change may be particularly distressed. Fear not. A waning mane doesn’t mean you’ll look like Mrs. Clean by your 30th birthday. There are a number of causes and a range of solutions that can help.

First, define your symptoms: Is your hair shedding (more hair is falling out when you brush it or in the shower) or thinning (you notice more of your scalp showing)?

Some of the most common causes of shedding—technically called telogen effluvium—include a shock to your body (a serious illness, pregnancy or going on a crash diet), a stressful situation (you lost your job or experienced the death of a loved one), starting a new medication (anti-depressants and birth control can affect your hair) or a change in eating patterns (going vegetarian can result in not consuming enough protein).

Pressure, major life changes and poor eating are hallmarks of the college and post-college lifestyle, so it’s no wonder that 20-somethings are often afflicted with the (follicular) fallout.

[click through to the next page for solutions to your thinning issues!]

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