It started innocently enough—a few long strands on the kitchen floor—but then quickly turned into what felt like a hair apocalypse. Hair all over the floor. Hair on the counters. Hair on the furniture. More hair than anyone would lose on a normal day. Now, after all of that hair loss, I’m pretty certain I know what is to blame: COVID-19.
First Came the COVID-19 Symptoms
My symptoms started in early March with a cough that I told myself was from allergies. Soon after that, I lost my sense of smell and taste. That was before anyone was talking about those symptoms, so I blamed a sinus infection. Then came the chills, extreme fatigue, and rapid heartbeat. The “sinus infection” didn’t go away, and my taste and smell didn’t come back for several weeks.
It was the early days of the COVID-19 coronavirus spread, and my town didn’t have tests available unless you were admitted to the hospital. And so I sat home for two months, taking cough medicine that didn’t help, waiting for my symptoms to subside. Finally in May, after some seriously scary chest pains, I was allowed a test and it was positive.
Then Came the COVID-19 Hair Loss
I am known as a “long-hauler,” which means I still have residual effects of COVID-19 even after a negative test. In June, when the hair loss began, I added it to the list of COVID-19 side effects—because what else could it be?
“The hair loss most people have noticed during the COVID-19 pandemic is a telogen effluvium,” explains Jennifer Chwalek, MD, Board-Certified Dermatologist at Union Square Laser Dermatology. “This is a type of temporary hair loss that results in increased shedding.” The shedding is from a specific event, such as illness, surgery, or extreme stress. According to Dr. Chwalek, this abruptly shifts a large portion of your growing hair into the resting stage, which then falls out.
And fall out, it did. I was vacuuming three times per day. When I washed my hair, I pulled out big handfuls, and when I combed it, it looked like I was removing hair extensions. I even joked that I could put a clip on the end and stick it back in. But I was a lucky one because my shedding stopped abruptly after one month. According to Dr. Chwalek, this type of hair loss could last up to six months for some people
What I’m Doing Now
My pre-COVID-19 hair was never thick; but it was healthy, very long, and full enough that a ponytail didn’t look sad and tiny. I was left with a very skinny ponytail and long, straggly strands around my face that made me feel like a troll from middle earth. My first stop was with my stylist, who cut baby layers along my hairline to get rid of those. Next, I took a long, hard look at my hair-care routine.
I’ve always taken my hair for granted, and generally, I just use whatever shampoo and products are lying around. Dr. Chwalek points out that it takes about six months for our baseline thickness to return; and since my hair is waist-length, it’s going to take years to get it all back the way it was before COVID-19 hair loss. This means I have to care for every precious strand and take a deliberate approach to care. Here’s my new hair loss treatment routine:
I want to give my hair the best possible environment in which to grow, and that starts at the scalp.
My hair is very fine and already lacked in the volume department, so losing a lot of it made my look fall flat. I love using a volumizing shampoo because it helps boost the structure of fine, limp hair. Now I like formulas without silicone, because I feel they don’t weigh my hair down. (Normally, I have no issues with silicone, but desperate times, amiright?)
After shampooing I make sure to hydrate my hair with a conditioner. Currently I’m using a lightweight formula that restores movement to flat, fine hair.
Leave-In Conditioner Treatment
To prevent breakage, I let my hair air dry, and I don’t use hot tools. Because my hair is very long, those strands need all the help they can get, which is why a leave-in strengthening treatment is key.
As noted by Dr. Chwalek, it could take years for my hair to return to its long, original state. In the meantime, however, what hair I have left feels softer and bouncier, so I’m happy. If you have hair loss from COVID-19 (or anything else), make an appointment with a trusted doctor or dermatologist.