Updated: Sep 29, 2020
We all know the good that washing our hands does. We knew the benefits before the global pandemic hit the UK, but COVID-19 has reiterated the need for using soap and hot water to kill the pathogens for our skin. However, the pathogen that is this deadly virus does not just live on our hands and fingers but also our scalp and hair. As well as transmitting the contagious disease from unwashed hair on your pillow at night, contracting the disease can affect the rate of hair growth and hair loss; with individuals developing the condition of Telogen Effluvium. More should be done to make everyone aware of the connection between testing COVID-19 positive, the detrimental effects it can have on hair loss and the treatment options available, as well as the ways in which individuals should be caring for their hair to avoid transmission of the pathogen.
The link between hair and COVID-19
The lack of washing of hair can lead to increased chances of transmitting COVID-19, as has already been found with the lack of washing of hands and skin. The pathogen linked to COVID-19 can live on the hair and scalp as well as the rest of the body. Unwashed hair can cause this pathogen to get smudged into the pillow as we sleep, increasing the risk of breathing in the pathogen that lingers on our pillow.
Individuals at higher risk of contracting COVID-19 via the explained method include those who wear headwear such as workers helmets or veils, and those with a beard because these harmful microorganisms are spread through contact with an infected person or surface touched by an infected person, or spread via airborne particles. Individuals of Afro-Caribbean or Asian ethnicities are also at higher risk of transmitting COVID-19 via their hair, due to a somewhat ingrained culture of washing their hair less frequently. Students and schoolchildren are also among the 'higher risk' groups due to more time spent socially with each other.
Furthermore, COVID-19 can cause the hair loss condition of Telogen Effluvium (TE). TE is a condition that results in the shedding of an individual’s hair, due to a disturbance in the hair growth cycle. A non-affected individual will see an average of 10% hair loss due to natural regrowth. TE can be characterised by hair loss of over 30% (Cobb, 2018). COVID-19 patients are likely to experience this condition because their body makes the hair follicles inactive in order to retain as much energy as it can to fight the disease, rather than maintain hair growth. The highest percentage of TE cases between 8 and 16 after individuals develop COVID-19 symptoms. Tina Periclis recorded a patient, cared for jointly by herself and Oxford Immunology, with 60% hair loss during lockdown – a figure higher than that recorded by the London Clinic. An anti-body test for COVID-19 was carried out and showed the patient to test positive. The London Clinic formally recorded findings over 6 weeks in June and July 2020. This shows an empirical link between COVID-19 and the condition of Telogen Effluvium.
The evidence above clearly suggests that there is a link between hair and COVID-19; firstly, in the way it can be transmitted through lack of washing, and secondly with Telogen Effluvium being a symptom and effect of contracting this disease.
Urgent actions that should be taken
The most important action that should be encouraged by Public Health England officials, doctors, GPs, and hairdressers, is the regular washing of hair. This is such a simple, easily achieved and cheap method of individual protection against COVID-19, that it should not be ignored. A shampoo, such as Wella Aqua shampoo that importantly contains sulfate and paraben, should be used regularly to remove any pathogens from the hair follicles and scalp. These substances make the shampoo more like a hand sanitiser. The shampoo should be put onto freshly brushed hair and applied to a dry scalp. The individual should then shower, shampooing the hair and scalp again, followed by conditioning the hair. Importantly the scalp should then be dried off with a warm dry towel. Natural oils such as Moroccan Oil or coconut oil should be applied before styling as usual. This important method of preventing the contraction of COVID-19, as well as transmitting the disease, should be encouraged just as much as the washing of hands by society.
People should be encouraged to boost their immune system to reduce the risk of transmitting COVID-19. One such supplement is Vitamin D, which helps maintain healthy bones as well as protecting the immune system against pathogens. While low levels of Vitamin D have been shown to be linked to major age-related health issues such as osteoporosis, cancer, type 2 diabetes and cognitive decline (Kumar Das, September 2020), there is reason to suggest that taking on more Vitamin D, especially in the winter months, can reduce your risk of transmitting the COVID-19 disease due to a stronger immune system. The Christos Hair group provide clinical IV Drips for Vitamin D and other vital vitamins such as B12 Biotin B Complex High Doses of C. These supplements can also be taken in tablet form for example as part of the Lamberts range.
If an individual suffers from TE several treatment methods can be used (Cobb, 2018). Blood tests should be performed to draw conclusions regarding COVID-19 antibodies. While COVID-19 may be the cause of hair loss, other stresses may also be impacting the condition. The individual should have a nutritional review to discuss any supplements (including Vitamin D) that can help boost the immune system. The Lamberts range comes highly recommended with many hair specialists, including folic acid, NAC (N-Acetyl Cysteine) and Vitamin B12. Minimising stress can also help treat TE. To reduce stress is to redivert the body’s energy from the stresses, back to hair regrowth and the immune system. Simple exercises of breathing techniques, visualisation, meditation and mindfulness can help reduce this stress.
Approaching the winter months, those in the categories more at risk (those that are students, care home members and those of Afro-Caribbean or Asian ethnicities or wearing beards or veils) should be made aware of the importance of washing their hair regularly. It is not a huge added expense for Public Health England, the UK government, hairdressers, the NHS and schools to promote this information for the good and health of society when already, so much is being spoken about washing your hands. For individuals, it is an easy and very affordable measure to take for their health and the health of others. Given the evidence explored, hair health can be achieved so easily if more were to be said about it.
Cobb (2018). Is telogen effluvium reversible? Medical News Today [online]; https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/321590. Accessed on: 14.09.20
Kumar Das (September 2020). Vitamin D levels may predict future health risks, death in older men. Medical News Today [online]; https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/vitamin-d-levels-may-predict-future-health-risks-death-in-older-men?utm_source=newsletter&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=MNT%20Daily%20News&utm_content=2020-09-14&utm_country=&utm_hcp=&apid=30132619&utm_term=New. Accessed on: 14.09.20
By Tina Periclis (Proprietor and Hair Specialist)
Written by Bronwyn Tagg (Freelance Writer)