Hair loss after an illness is quite common, but few people talk about it. Anna, 28, explains how she noticed losing her hair after having COVID-19, and reveals the self-care tips that helped give her hair a new lease of life.
‘So much hair was coming out when I washed it’
I got COVID-19 during the first lockdown, back in March 2020.
During the first week, I felt fine, although I did lose all sense of taste and smell. The next week I had a really bad cough, muscle aches, headaches and I got very dizzy. I also found it hard to breathe – walking from one side of the room to the other left me feeling exhausted.
It was only in June 2020 that I first noticed my hair changing. It had always been quite thin, long and curly. But now there was so much more hair coming out when I washed and brushed it. I was shocked when I first noticed that it was thinning in the mirror, but I didn’t think it was bad enough for others to pick up on.
‘My hair just looked awful’
I remember going out for dinner when restrictions eased and later seeing a picture of me from that evening. It was then that I realised how noticeable the thinning patches on my head had become, and that I had one balding area in particular – it was close to my side parting and towards my forehead, so it was very obvious.
For most of that year we were in lockdown and I wasn’t able to go out and do things – no one was. So, it was only my flatmate and my boyfriend that could see my hair in person.
But working from home was a different story. I really struggled with what my hair looked like on video calls. You can really notice people's flaws through the screen, and I felt like my hair just looked awful, especially when it hadn’t been washed the same day. I couldn’t fluff it up because it was so flat and some areas looked thinner, which made me feel really self conscious.
I decided to find out more about what was going on. I went to see my doctor and I mentioned I was losing hair. I’d had a blood test prior to catching COVID-19, and all my results had come back normal, so my doctor said they couldn’t do another blood test at that time. Understanding that they probably had more important things to deal with, I decided to search for a trichologist on Google. At my first consultation I was recommended to use a shampoo for fine and thinning hair, which I bought, but I could smell how strong it was when I opened the bottle. It stank, and you had to leave it on your hair for 2 hours. It made me feel like I was ingesting a load of harsh chemicals, which just didn’t feel right.
The next trichologist I visited used treatments made from plant-based ingredients instead, which I liked better. She wasn’t shocked about my story of hair loss after COVID-19. In fact, she said she’d seen many patients before who’d been ill with a virus and lost a lot of their hair.
She took 1 of my hairs and did a scan of it, which showed the density, thickness and health of my hair from the root to the tip. From this I was given an ointment, which I was told to rub into my scalp once a week when it was wet, and a hair mask to use weekly. Both had been mixed specifically for my hair type and it was quite expensive, but they’ve lasted me a long time.
I was also told to follow a healthy, balanced diet – which included eating lots of omega-3, taking magnesium and spirulina supplements – and she asked me if I was on any medication, because that can cause hair loss too.
My hair is much fuller and healthier than it was, and the one balding spot I had is also less noticeable. But after having COVID-19, my hair is definitely thinner overall.
Every now and then my scalp feels a bit itchy, especially when the weather is colder and drier. When this happens, I use the specialist shampoo for 1 or 2 washes per week, which always helps, and I still use the plant-based hair mask and the ointment every week.
‘My top tips for women with hair loss’
If going to see a hair specialist isn’t an option for you, try to look after your hair at home as best you can…
- avoid high buns or tight ponytails – I stopped wearing my hair up as much because I thought pulling it would damage it more, and the thinner areas on my head were more visible this way. When I do tie my hair up now, I use clips instead of hair bands, and keep it as loose as possible
- try a hat or a headband – I often wore hats because the balding was so obvious that I preferred to cover it up completely
- cut your hair cut more often – During lockdown, salons were closed, so my boyfriend would often cut my hair to about shoulder length. I found the longer and heavier my hair was, the more it would fall out or shed
- get a new hair dryer – I wanted to protect my hair as much as possible and I’d heard that newer hair dryers can be kinder to hair in the way they distribute heat. I definitely noticed my hair looked a bit fuller and healthier after this
- wash your hair more often – Most people tell you to avoid washing your hair too much, but I wash mine more frequently now than I did before. I find it makes the thinned areas look fuller and less noticeable
- experiment with different hairstyles – Some hairstyles are kinder to your hair and may work better for you, like a low bun, instead of pulling all of your hair on top of your head in a high bun or ponytail
Healthily doctors say…
‘This experience of hair loss after COVID-19 is something we’re hearing about and research has shown that COVID-19 is a cause of a type of hair loss called telogen effluvium – although we can’t comment on individual cases. Telogen effluvium is hair loss that commonly happens a few months after an illness or fever. This does usually grow back by itself within a few months – with no treatment or other hair products needed – but in the meantime you may choose to use nutritional support and hair care that can help your hair look its best. We would always advise that if you have concerns, see a doctor to rule out other causes of hair loss. Using the Healthily Symptom Checker can be a handy way to get a personalised report that you can take to have a discussion with your GP.'