Can stress make your hair go grey?

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Our surgeon Asim Shahmalak at Crown Clinic is often asked questions about hair.

One of the most common is: does stress make your hair go grey?

The simple answer to this is: yes.

You only have to look at the experience of some of the most powerful men in the world to see how this is true.

Check out the link below to see how being President of the United States has aged Barack Obama:–past-presidents-suffered-fate.html

Look at pictures of  Obama  – they show a man a world away from the fresh-faced young victor six years ago.

Obama’s hair shows the unrelenting pressure heaped upon the man known as ‘Leader of the Free World’. 

The President’s once dark and closely cropped locks are now streaked with grey and palpably thinning on the crown and around his temples.

Obama, whose youthful bearing and demeanour was a big part of his original sell to voters, admitted recently: ‘I’m full of grey hair, but I’m not weary.’

While his crow’s feet and greying hair are only the most visible signs of the pressure of his job, it would be a mistake to underestimate their import.

These very visible physical manifestations of stress are not simply a gift to the world’s picture editors, and hair transplant surgeons like our own Dr Shahmalak. They are an outward indicator of the internal difficulties of leadership in the modern world.

Obama is not the first powerful man – and it is mainly men affected in this way – whose hair has suffered and signalled the strains of his job.

Tony Blair went into office as Prime Minister with lush brown hair and a sense of tennis-playing energy. Like Obama, his relative youthfulness was part of his sell to British electors who were tired of the grey men of the Conservative party.

After a decade in power, Mr Blair’s hair had receded dramatically around the temples and on the crown, and was visibly thinning and streaked with grey.

He looked exhausted.

It was the same story for his successor, Gordon Brown.

Despite being nicknamed the ‘Iron Chancellor’, he became PM in 2007 with just a few steely streaks in his otherwise raven-dark hair.

By the time he left Downing Street, having gone toe-to-toe with global economic meltdown and a bitter and ultimately fruitless election battle, his hair was streaked in battleship grey. 

David Cameron, who was only 43 when he became PM, was showing greying hairs within a few months.

Dr Shahmalak explained this ageing process.

He said: “Human hair becomes grey – then progressively whiter – because ageing naturally lowers the amount of pigmentation in follicles.

“This pigmentation, known as melanin, ceases to be produced by the body in sufficient amounts as we grow older. As this happens, new hairs appear grey, then white.

“But it’s not just our age that affects hair colour.

“Family genes and stress – divorce, unemployment, a high-pressure job – can all play a role.

President Obama’s job and age – 53 – make him high risk for greying and male pattern baldness. The latter is the main cause of hair loss, affecting an estimated quarter of men by the age of 30 and two thirds by the age of 60.

The bad news for Obama is that when he does retire in another two years – presumably to something less stressful – his hair won’t return to its original colour.

Sadly, it’s very common for those in high-powered jobs to suffer premature greying.

Stress, and changes in levels of the male hormone testosterone that a high-pressure job with long hours, high anxiety and lack of sleep can engender, play havoc with hair colour and density. In the very worst cases, they can trigger total hair loss, alopecia.

Dr Shahmalak added: “I’m not suggesting the 44th President of the United States needs a hair transplant. His hair loss is mild, but he should look after it. I’d recommend using the drug Propecia to help prevent any further loss of density and a special shampoo to nourish his roots.”

In today’s society image is vitally important. The fact Obama himself mentioned his greying hair tells us that much.

For the President to project America as ready for the next challenge, with a new sense of energy and urgency, as he has done, it couldn’t hurt for him to look and sound a bit more like the youthful Senator from Illinois of six years ago.

Our Surgeon

Dr. Asim Shahmalak

Dr Asim Shahmalak is a world-renowned hair transplant surgeon who performed the UK’s first eyelash transplant in 2009. He runs Crown Clinic – one of Britain’s most successful and best known hair transplant clinics. He has treated a number of high-profile industry leaders and celebrities including the medical broadcaster Dr Christian Jessen, best known for Channel 4’s Embarrassing Bodies.

Expert hair transplant surgery by Dr Shahmalak

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When the sun comes out, we know that we need to apply sunscreen to protect our skin, but many people forget to pay the same care to protecting their hair. Between the sun, sea and swimming pools, many of our favourite summer activities can significantly damage our hair – so the next time you go out to enjoy the sunshine, find out what you can do to protect it.


Why does sun damage the hair?


Sun damage to the hair is caused by the harmful UVA and UVB rays, which damage the outermost layer of the layer – the cuticle – and weaken the protein structure of the hair, making it dry, brittle and more prone to breaking. Some people find that their hair lightens in the sun, as the rays act in a similar fashion to bleach, stripping the melanin from the hair.


Protecting your hair from the sun


Wearing a hat is an easy way to protect your hair and scalp from the sun, especially if you’re outside when the sun is at its strongest. Hair SPF is also an option, which can usually be bought as a spray to be misted over the hair. Pay extra attention to the scalp – many people forget that the scalp can burn just as easily as the rest of the skin, ending up with an itchy, flaky, burnt scalp. If you do burn your scalp, rinse your hair in cool water and apply aloe vera to the affected areas, and make sure to keep your head covered when going outdoors.

If your hair is looking dry, try a deep conditioning treatment to restore some of the lost moisture to the hair, and avoid wearing your hair in any tight styles that may pull on the scalp. Summer is also a good time to temporarily stop using hairdryers, straighteners and any other hot tools to avoid adding to the sun damage.


Protecting your hair from the sea


Salt water is notorious for drying out the hair. It leaches moisture out of it, making it incredibly brittle and tangled, which can cause significant breakage. Before you go swimming, saturate your hair with clean water to prevent it from absorbing as much salt water, and don’t let it sit in your hair – rinse it thoroughly as soon as you get out of the sea. Deep conditioners and hair masks will also help replenish the moisture.


Protecting your hair in a swimming pool


Just like salt water, chlorinated water is very harsh and drying on the hair, so you can take similar precautions to swim in the sea. You could also try a swimming cap, as this not only prevents the chlorine from damaging your hair, but it will also protect your scalp from sunburn. If you have highlighted or blonde hair, be especially careful when in a swimming pool, as the copper and chlorine in the water have been known to form a film that sticks to the proteins in hair, turning it a green shade. Thankfully, this isn’t permanent, but make sure to enter the pool with wet hair and rinse it as soon as you get out.

However you are spending your summer, if you have any questions or queries about your hair, take a look at our hair advice or give our team a call.

Over the past few months, there have been a significant number of reports in the news of people experiencing hair loss after being diagnosed with COVID-19. As a result, the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has listed hair loss as a possible long-term effect of the illness, along with symptoms such as fatigue, dizziness and joint pain. 

A study published by the medical journal The Lancet reported that 22% of the patients it had observed suffered from some degree of hair loss six months after falling ill, with women being more affected than men. 


Why does COVID-19 cause hair loss? 


Although there are several studies linking coronavirus and hair loss, many of the reports we hear about are anecdotal – at the moment, it’s too soon for scientists to officially establish a link between the two. 

However, the type of hair loss that COVID-19 sufferers are reporting seems to be consistent with telogen effluvium. Telogen effluvium occurs when more hairs than usual suddenly enter the shedding phase of the hair growth cycle at once, causing a more noticeable amount of hair to shed at once. It’s normal to lose up to 150 hairs per day, but if you spot that you’re losing much more than that – such as clumps coming out when you’re brushing or washing your hair – it could be telogen effluvium. 

Due to the length of the hair cycle, telogen effluvium typically occurs two or three months after a period of significant stress, which can include illnesses such as COVID-19. When undergoing stressful situations, the body puts all its resources into maintaining essential functions only – which, unsurprisingly, does not include hair growth. As a result, you end up with hair loss. 

However, several other conditions can cause hair loss – such as thyroid issues or nutritional deficiencies – so if you are concerned, visit your GP, who can rule out other underlying causes with a simple blood test. 


Will my hair grow back after having COVID? 


If the hair loss is the result of telogen effluvium, most people will find that the hair will eventually grow back without the need for treatment. Typically, once the trigger or stressor is removed, the hair will grow back on its own. 

If you notice that the hair loss is persisting, there are a number of medical, cosmetic and hair transplant treatments available to help – Crown Clinic offers a range of options to support those struggling with hair loss, so don’t hesitate to get in touch

When performed by a qualified, experienced hair transplant surgeon, hair transplants are a very safe procedure. Hair restoration is a minimally invasive treatment that allows patients to return home the same day, with the procedure only requiring local anaesthetic. 

However, if you undergo a hair transplant abroad – such as in Turkey – the risk attached is much higher. 


Risks of hair transplants in Turkey 


It’s no secret that undergoing hair transplant surgery in countries such as Turkey is a gamble. Every year, countless patients are reeled in by the low prices and package deals offered by overseas clinics. Many of the clinics boast ‘five-star’ ratings and an active social media presence, duping unsuspecting patients into thinking they are visiting a reputable clinic. Although, when you dig a little deeper, you may discover the reviews are faked and the ‘after’ pictures are heavily edited or taken from other clinics. 

Another trick that patients fall for is believing that a surgeon will be carrying out the procedure, as many of the clinics advertise that a surgeon leads them to convince patients that they are legitimate. Unfortunately, that doesn’t mean a surgeon will be carrying out the hair transplant itself. In fact, many clinics hire under-qualified technicians with little training to keep the costs down, only seeking the supervision of a surgeon if the procedure goes wrong. 

Over the years, Crown Clinic has fixed countless botched hair transplants, mainly from overseas clinics. The most common problems that we see are unnatural-looking hairlines and unsightly scarring as the result of the surgery being carried out by unlicensed practitioners. Other risks are infections, as sanitation is often extremely poor at the clinics and damage to the scalp due to the result of the incorrect tools being used to carry out the surgery. 


Are there any side effects to having a hair transplant? 


If you choose to have a hair transplant in the UK with a reputable surgeon, side effects will be minimal. The hygiene standards will be incredibly high, meaning the risk of infection is negligible, and you will be given clear instructions on how to take care of your scalp after the procedure. Crown Clinic has an excellent aftercare service, offering a day-by-day guide to ensure optimum healing and results.  

Unlike at overseas clinics, where it can be impossible to follow up after the procedure to discuss any concerns related to your hair transplant, Crown Clinic is more than happy to answer any questions you may have during this phase.