Trinny Woodall was distressed. The stylist and founder of beauty brand Trinny London started her Instagram Live session in April by showing the clumps of hair she was losing, collected in a clear container.
“There will probably be more hair in this than there is on my head soon,” she said. “I’m being sarcastic because I don’t want to get stressed by it, but I do want to have an action plan and I want to chat to you about it.”
Woodall said she had seen her GP and that the loss was connected to contracting Covid-19 three months prior. She amassed an army of experts to guide her through the situation, as she emphasised she also eats a nutritious diet and takes supplements. Among the treatments she explored were Biotin injections, microneedling and red light therapy.
Woodall’s followers responded with their own stories and lightbulb moments, with the overarching theme being that many simply did not realise that contracting the virus in the past could lead to hair loss weeks or even months later.
'Five boxes full of hair'
Across the world, reports are emerging that many patients have faced major hair loss after recovering from Covid-19. Although this is thought to be temporary, the extent of it can still be shocking, says trichologist Mike Ryan.
“I met a lady with five boxes full of hair, and seeing that even frightens me,” says Ryan, who works out of Bloom Aesthetic & Laser Clinic in Dubai.
While most evidence of Covid-related hair loss is still in the form of anecdotal reports, a small study published in November 2020, conducted at Tokyo’s National Centre for Global Health and Medicine, found that 24.1 per cent of its sample group of former Covid-19 patients experienced hair loss.
The average time it takes for hair to start falling is 58 days, according to the study.
Ryan reports similar experiences among clients he has seen in the UAE. “I am seeing 20 per cent to 25 per cent of patients who have had Covid-19 between 10 and 14 weeks ago now experiencing a massive amount of uncontrollable hair fall. It’s just coming out in handfuls and it's very scary for some of them.”
Hair fall directly linked to trauma
Ryan also notes he’s seeing more people with hair loss in general owing to the overall cascade of stress that the pandemic has induced, including job loss, restrictions and isolation.
People often lose hair after a traumatic event. This can include everything from a virus and temperature fluctuation to tooth pain and food poisoning; even slamming a finger in a drawer is enough to have the necessary impact.
“We generally see some kind of hair shedding 10 to 12 weeks after the event,” says Ryan. “So people have usually forgotten that they had an infection or a wisdom tooth out or something, and they don't connect the two and become frightened. We knew that. What we didn't know is the extent to which this is dragging on and the amount of hair loss experienced.”
Long Covid sufferers face uphill battle
The situation is worse for those suffering from long Covid. “They're still feeling tiredness, lethargy, joint pain, some minor breathing problems,” says Ryan. “Even though the virus itself is gone, the body is still in a state of trauma and repairing itself.”
Essentially, hair is non-essential to life and it takes an “incredible” amount of energy to produce the 0.3 millimetres that grow each day. “When the body is attacked by a virus or bacterial infection or trauma, the first thing to go is the non-essential part, ie, the hair,” says Ryan.
When the body naturally diverts energy to where it’s most needed, hair growth goes into a holding pattern.
“The hair switches off gears as the blood supply and all the hormones and nutrients withdraw from the follicle,” says Ryan. “That happens naturally in the hair cycle, but when we get this insult to the body, this virus, the hair goes into a mass slowdown and sheds after.”
Stock up on vitamins
Ryan says an important part of his work is reassuring those suffering from Covid-related hair loss that they are not going bald.
“That's the big one, really. Reassurance, counselling and explaining why it has happened, the mechanics of it.”
After that, he ensures their nutrition and immune systems are “fully loaded”.
“We have to make sure the [vitamin] D is OK, and the C, B12 and zinc are high. Generally, the hair will recover anyway, but a little bit of top-up is needed in the system.”