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What is COVID hair loss? Here's how to spot it and treat it, according to experts

Updated
What is COVID hair loss? Here's how to spot it and treat it, according to experts

Just when you thought the list of COVID-19 symptoms couldn't get any longer, studies show hair loss and thinning hair should be added to the ever-growing list. One study followed 806 participants and found that 52.7% experienced hair loss after a COVID-19 infection. The study also found a few commonalities among those who experienced hair loss: age, gender, high temperature during infection and the presence of hair loss prior to infection. Dr. Amy Taub, a board-certified dermatologist, tells us, "In one recent study on COVID side effects, the vast majority of these cases were due to Telogen Effluvium (TE), a condition where severe stress (an infection, fever, hospitalization) can lead to rapid hair loss diffusely on the scalp, but some worsening of genetic hair loss also occurred." TE is a type of temporary hair loss, often caused by a shock to the system, that prematurely pushes hair follicles into a resting state.

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Yes, hair thinning and loss related to COVID-19 can occur in both men and women. However, studies are finding that women have a slightly higher likelihood of experiencing COVID-induced hair loss. But all hope is not lost — hair loss isn’t an inevitable result of the virus, and many people recover from COVID without any signs of hair loss.

The best way to treat COVID-induced hair loss is very much the same way you treat any changes in hair growth:

  • Avoid harsh products and heat: Blowdryers, straighteners, curling irons, and styling wands that could further damage the hair and scalp.

  • Manage stress: Stress interferes with cortisol levels, which can trigger hair loss. It could be an excellent time to take up yoga, meditation or deep breathing exercises to help manage stress and improve scalp health (and other health issues stress can cause).

  • Consult a physician: Hair loss and thinning are caused by a plethora of culprits, such as illness, stress, poor diet, genetics and medication. If you are losing hair at an alarming rate, it's best to consult your doctor or a dermatologist to narrow down the reason behind the loss and the best solution for you.

  • Topical and oral hair regrowth products: Treatments like topical steroids, minoxidil, supplements, serums, oils and light therapy also help speed up regrowth by creating an ideal scalp and follicle environment for hair growth.

There is no shortage of OTC hair loss remedies, so we asked our research team to dive deep to find the top products with key ingredients for thinning and shedding hair. Here are a few proven products we found for COVID-induced hair loss.

Key ingredient: 2% minoxidil, biotin

Why We Love It

If you want to take an aggressive approach to hair regrowth, Hers Complete Hair Kit is easily one of the most convenient options for post-COVID hair loss in women. It contains a combination of science-backed ingredients, including minoxidil — FDA-approved and renowned for stimulating hair follicles and promoting growth. This potent formula reverses thinning and encourages natural (and healthy) regrowth.

The four-part system includes a shampoo, conditioner, serum and daily gummies. Each product is designed to nourish and repair hair and stimulate growth. To save a little money, you can opt into the subscription program, which ships the kit every one, three, or six months to keep your hair looking and feeling its best.

$56 at Amazon
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$40 at Target

Key ingredients: 1 mg finasteride, 5% minoxidil

Why We Love It

This powerhouse quartet by BosleyRX is perfect for men suffering from hair loss, as it contains four products targeting different areas of the scalp and hair follicles. The bundle includes reviving shampoo, follicle energizer, FDA-approved prescription finasteride and a topical minoxidil treatment.

The shampoo and follicle energizer work together to control oil, balance your hair's PH level and facilitate circulation. Finasteride, a prescription-only medication, is the only FDA-approved oral hair growth product specifically developed to treat male pattern baldness. Finally, minoxidil helps stimulate hair regrowth to make your thinning hair look and feel fuller. Managing your prescriptions and ordering refills is simple with the BosleyRx online platform. The platform also offers personalized advice from certified experts, who may recommend additional treatments or products for the best results.

There's also a non-prescription hair growth kit from BosleyRx if you would like to try a gentler formulation first.

$55 at BosleyRx

Key ingredients: Vegan protein, prebiotics

Why We Love It

Nutrafol addresses one of the major root causes (pun intended!) of hair loss: your scalp's health. An unhealthy scalp cannot support healthy hair growth and is often an underlying cause of damaged, thinning hair. This shampoo nourishes your scalp with essential nutrients and boasts natural ingredients (like vegan protein and prebiotics) to balance bacteria levels for a healthier microbiome.

We also love that Nutrafol's shampoo is free of toxins, parabens, sulfates, and fragrances — none of which you want in your hair care routine. It’s gentle enough for your daily routine to promote healthy hair growth and recovery from post-viral hair loss. 

If this shampoo doesn't fit the bill, we reviewed 43 hair-thinning shampoos and compiled a list of the best shampoos for thinning hair.

$44 at Amazon
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$44 at Neutrafol

Key ingredient: Biotin

Why We Love It

This vegan-friendly hair regrowth oil contains a biotin-rich blend of plant extracts that are scientifically proven to promote hair growth. It also features a caffeine complex to stimulate dormant follicles and reduce breakage. Using the leave-in serum is just about as simple as it gets — apply the dropper directly to your towel-dried scalp before styling. 

Equal parts nourishing and hydrating, Vegamour's Gro Hair Serum works in just 90 days, based on clinical studies. This hair regrowth oil is not only a cult favorite on every retailer website it's sold on, but it has also topped every list for best hair regrowth oils for multiple years now. It is really THAT GOOD. (It better be with that price point!)

$45 at Amazon
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$64 at Sephora

Key ingredients: Biotin, zinc, collagen complex

Why We Love It

Viviscal's unique collagen complex supplement promotes new and existing hair growth while nourishing from the inside out. Biotin, a hair-health superstar, helps the body convert nutrients into energy and plays a vital role in the health of your hair, skin and nails. Pairing biotin with zinc, an essential mineral that repairs hair tissue and ensures the follicle's oil glands work properly, these supplements give life back to your fine tresses. In fact, a three-month clinical trial found that Viviscal Hair Growth Supplements increase the number of hair strands and reduce shedding when taken twice daily. 

$34 at Amazon
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$34 at Target

Key ingredients: Biotin, riboflavin, zinc

Why We Love It

Another biotin-and-zinc duo leading the hair growth charge, Hair Hero from Essential Elements, is an easy-to-swallow capsule with a comprehensive list of vitamins and minerals. It's designed to make your hair grow faster, thicker and healthier. The formula contains other vital ingredients like riboflavin, which helps the body metabolize proteins and carbohydrates for energy. It's also gluten-free, non-GMO, and free of added soy, peanuts and shellfish products. With regular use over several months, you can expect fuller locks that are stronger and more resilient.

$34 at Amazon
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$35 at Walmart

The following are some of the most important factors to consider when selecting the best hair growth products for your needs:

  • Ingredients: Certain ingredients, such as essential oils like rosemary, biotin, saw palmetto, peptides, zinc and vitamin B3 can help promote hair regrowth. Minoxidil, an over-the-counter hair loss treatment, is also often recommended for regrowth. Finasteride is also available via a prescription from your provider.

  • Budget: Since it usually takes between two and six months to notice results, make sure you find a hair regrowth product that fits your long-term budget. Consider the price against how long you expect to need to use the product for the best results.

  • Genetic formulations: Some products are specifically designed for men or women based on the science of genetics. These formulations may target different areas of the scalp and hair follicles, so they may work better for a specific gender.

  • Scalp type: Products with different levels of antioxidants, moisturizers or other ingredients can relieve more sensitive scalps. Always test a product on a small skin patch to ensure it won't irritate you.

Our team researched over 60 hair regrowth products and treatments, including shampoos and conditioners, vitamins, supplements, and topical serums and oils, to identify the best of the best. We considered various factors when evaluating each product, such as ingredients, effectiveness, user reviews, cost, brand reputation, etc. After narrowing down our list of contenders, we selected our favorites based on expert guidance.

For products whose effectiveness was backed by clinical trials, we considered the results of those studies when making our final decisions. We also looked for products free of parabens, sulfates, and other toxic ingredients that can cause scalp irritation. Ultimately, we chose products that are the most effective, affordable and safe to use.

Covid hair loss presents differently from person to person, but the most common symptom is thinning hair or bald patches in areas of the scalp that usually have more dense growth. Your hair may come out in small amounts while shampooing, blow drying, or brushing. You may also notice increased shedding while styling or removing tight hair ties.

The amount of time it takes to reverse Covid hair loss depends on your genetics, current health and the severity of your hair loss. However, with a consistent routine, including good nutrition, regular washing and conditioning and application of specialized products for damaged hair, such as treatments like scalp massages and oil applications, you should start seeing initial signs of improvement in as little as three months.

Most over-the-counter hair regrowth products are safe for use by most, though those with sensitive skin should review the product's ingredients for known irritants. That said, some formulations are gender-specific, and it's incredibly important to follow the recommended use and dosage for topical products containing minoxidil and finasteride. If you are concerned, it may be best to start with a gentle shampoo for thinning hair, and as always, speak to your healthcare provider.

It could take a year or more to see the full benefits, though some results could be visible as early as 90 days. Your best bet is to tailor your hair care routine to your hair type and avoid using harmful products. Heat can also damage your hair, so limit the number of styling tools you use and opt for more natural styles instead.

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