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Managing the Effect Stress Has on Skin

Posted: December 14, 2007

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Stressed-out hair
There are many reasons why men and women lose their hair, but Dr. Mayoral believes that stress may be the primary reason for unexplained hair loss. When someone is under stress, hair can go into the telogen (fall-out) phase. Telogen effluvium is a very common hair loss problem that can occur up to three months after a stressful event. After the initial hair loss, hair usually grows back in six to nine months.

Life-changing events such as childbirth or surgery also can cause hair loss. Dr. Mayoral explained that during these times, the body takes a “time-out” from growing hair to concentrate on recovery and healing. As such, hair does not grow as much and some could shed and not grow back right away.

“Stress affects people differently—some may develop an ulcer, or have a heart attack, or lose their hair,” said Dr. Mayoral. “Hair loss is a normal response to stress, but patients should see a dermatologist for a proper evaluation to rule out other medical causes. I also advise patients to avoid any strange diets where only one or two foods are allowed, as improper nutrition and extreme or rapid weight loss can result in hair loss.”

Effects of stress on nails
Nails are not immune to showing outward signs of stress, and some people develop the nervous habit of biting their nails or picking at them when they feel stressed. Another stress-related nail habit that Dr. Mayoral discussed is people who rub their fingers over their thumb nail, which can create a ridge across the nail. This rubbing causes a distortion of the nail plate, and when the nail grows, a raised ridge forms in the middle of the nail.

In addition, physical or emotional stress, certain diseases, and chemotherapy can cause white horizontal lines to appear across the nails. Brittle, peeling nails also are a common side effect of stress.

“Sometimes patients with nail problems are not aware that their habits or tics from being stressed out or nervous are at the root of their problem,” said Dr. Mayoral. “There are instances where patients self-inflict skin, hair or nail problems that go beyond what we normally expect from stress, and these patients often need psychological help to modify their behavior.”