My hair stopped growing four years ago. And I can pinpoint the actual day it started happening (or not happening, as the case may be). It was March 4, 2007, the day my father died.
Up until that very sad day, I’d always had very curly brown-ish hair. Now, I’m sure it didn’t grow as fast as pin-straight hair, but I’d never had a problem growing it out, and for many years it was actually quite long.
But when my dad suddenly passed away, all major follicle growth pretty much ceased. Of course, I didn’t notice it at first. (Hair care wasn’t exactly my top priority during my time of mourning. Sue me.) And I suppose it did grow a tiny little bit, but the progress was barely noticeable. It wasn’t falling out; it was just hanging out.
Three months after the traumatic family event, I showed up at my hair stylist’s salon. She wanted to know who the hell I had let cut my hair during the past 12 weeks. I assured her that I hadn’t cheated on her with another stylist, and then told her what had recently happened. After her mild panic attack had subsided and she offered her condolences, my stylist agreed that my hair had hardly grown over those three months; true, there was some outward movement, because tiny bits of my normally covered-over grey hairs were starting to show through at the roots on the top of my head. But other than that, there was a serious work stoppage going on, and it was starting to freak me out. I wanted to cross the picket line and tell those lazy bastard follicles to get back to work.
Though not a doctor (which is what barbers used to be in the olden days), my stylist posited that the devastating emotional effects of losing my father could be the root of my sudden hair non-growth. Apparently, she’d seen it plenty of times before: Hair suddenly stops growing as the result of some kind of life stress. Then, without warning, hair suddenly starts growing again for no particular or apparent reason. Okay, bad news but then good news; I could deal with that scenario. But then my stylist said something else that scared the hell out of me: She’d seen clients whose hair had stopped growing permanently. For good. Forever. As in, “hope you really, really like your hairstyle, because you’re going to have it for a while.”
Now, I’d heard of people’s hair drastically changing color (usually to white) as the result of a major stress or trauma. (Have you ever seen the musical Sweeney Todd? Think Toby during the final scene in the bake house.) And we all use (or at least know) the cliche about someone or something having the power to turn our hair grey before its time. But I’d honestly never heard about the phenomenon of hair just refusing to keep growing, and I wasn’t in any mood to accept such a concept, either.
Since March 2007, I’ve gotten this all the time: Wow, your hair is SO short! and Did you just cut your hair? and I love your cute little bob! Yes, no, and thanks, I answer. But actually, I say, my hair has barely grown an inch in four years. Then they kind of don’t know what to say.
But it just didn’t make sense: My fingernails and toenails were growing just as rapidly and consistently as they had before my father’s death. I didn’t have any major health issues of which I was aware, and I’d been to my GP recently and had a full physical exam with all the requisite bloodword. Normal. Except that it wasn’t.
So I asked Dr. Dale Archer, who’s both an M.D. and a psychiatrist for his take on my situation. (Because, after all, it sure seems like this whole thing has been caused by a combination of medical and psychological issues.) Here’s what he had to say:
Stress-related hair loss, or telogen effluvium, is real and occurs when the hormones/chemicals released in stressful situations send all of the hair follicles into the resting phase at once. Your stylist is correct; it can start growing again at any time. The key is stress reduction. Most important is to look at the stress from losing your father, acknowledge that it’s real, and then take steps to address it. Writing in a journal about it can be helpful as are exercise, scalp massages, getting plenty of rest, and eating a healthy diet. As you recognize and deal with the event, in most cases the hair will start to grow again. And sometimes therapy can be helpful.
I also recommend a full physical exam with lab tests because medical issues including thyroid problems, vitamin deficiencies, and certain meds can cause the problem. It’s assumed to be stress-related because it happened after a major stress, but it’s always good to rule out any medical condition first.
Okay, exercise, healthy diet, plenty of rest, therapy, full physical exam: Check, check, check, check, check. (Of course, I realize that I can always exercise more, eat better, and get more sleep.) But as far as reducing stress goes, if anyone out there figures out how to do that successfully and consistently while still living in modern society, please shoot me an email. And have I gotten over my father’s death? Hell, no. I don’t believe anyone every really gets over the death of any loved one. All you can hope for on most days is that you can learn to live with it. Still, I think I have dealt with his passing as best I can over the past four years; I just continue to be baffled by why, after all this time, my hair still seems to think it needs to react to this traumatic loss by showing a complete absence of growth. Unfortunately, I have no choice but to wait for my hair until it catches up to me, which I can only hope will be sooner than later, because frankly, I’m not that crazy about my current hairstyle.
Has your hair ever suddenly stopped and started growing for any reason? We’d love to hear all about it in our comments section, below.
Dr. Dale Archer is a medical doctor, board-certified psychiatrist, and Distinguished Fellow of the American Psychiatric Association who has helped thousands of patients for more than two decades. His focus is to give good common sense psychological advice. Specialties include chemical imbalances of the brain, relationships, and personal responsibility.