Lifestyle

COVID hair loss is real — but these treatments can help

There’s a big fallout from the pandemic.

Hair loss brought on by the COVID-induced stress and anxiety of the past 18 months is plaguing women, but they’re finding help with a range of innovative — though often costly — treatments. 

“About 30 percent of my patients were e-mailing about hair loss,” said Michele Green, a dermatologist at Lenox Hill. “It was frightening. Some had sheets of hair falling out.”

Last spring, Erica Sperling, 37, noticed her curly locks thinning around the crown. She was working two jobs — in media and real estate — and tending to her toddler, after losing child care to coronavirus concerns.

“It was a really stressful time,” said the Westchester resident. 

She initially tried to conceal her thinning mane on Zoom calls with headbands and ponytails, but in October she sought medical help. She turned to Bruce Katz, a dermatologist at Juva Skin and Laser Center in Midtown East, who’s also seen an uptick in patients complaining about hair loss. He recommended Platelet-rich Plasma (PRP) treatments, which involve taking blood from the patient, spinning the blood, and then injecting it back into the scalp at a cost of $700 to $900 per session. After two or three monthly cycles, Katz said hair will grow back 25 or 30 percent faster than usual.

Before and after pandemic hair of Erica Sperling
Erica Sperling splurged on PRP scalp injections to help her hair grow.
Courtesy of Erica Sperling

It worked for Sperling, who noticed a thick improvement after four treatments. “I feel great. I saw results — the hair around my temples and forehead grew in,” she said. “It’s one less thing to worry about.”

For those who can’t spend a four-digit sum on their ponytail, Green at first recommends some relatively inexpensive remedies. Minoxidil, which is the main ingredient in Rogaine, can be purchased over the counter and applied topically, so long as you’re not pregnant or breastfeeding. The 5-percent, extra-strength formulations especially “can help a lot of patients grow their hair back,” she said. Oral supplements designed for hair growth, such as Nutrafol and Viviscal can also be helpful.

She also advises patients not to get their hair colored or wear it in braids — anything that adds stress to tresses. And, Green said, “I tell them not to get a haircut because it might feel like you have less hair.”

As for special shampoos and conditioners that claim to curb hair loss, Green said she’s skeptical.

“I’m not convinced a shampoo or conditioner can grow back hair. It’s not something you leave on your scalp long enough to make a difference,” said Green, adding that serums, including Pureauty biotin hair serum ($26.45) could be more effective because they’re designed to stay on longer.

When it comes to more stubborn cases, she might suggests investing in a scalp-stimulating LaserCap, which uses Food and Drug Administration-cleared Low-Level-Laser Therapy, starts at about $1,000, and can be ordered through a physician.

If none of these treatments do the trick, Green will call in blood work to rule out hormonal changes. She’ll also ask patients to collect strands of their hair over 24 hours, which she’ll send to a lab to test for autoimmune diseases, such as lupus.

Before and after hair of Aggie Agnieszka
Aggie Tomczyk got hair extensions to fill out her thinning hair.
Courtesy of Aggie Agnieszka; Tamara Beckwith

But, Green said, patients need to be patient. “It takes three months for a hair follicle to grow back, so you won’t notice a difference for four to five months.”

Some are looking beyond the dermatologist office for help. Sarah, a 38-year-old mother of two living in New York City, was losing her locks in large clumps. “My cleaning lady even commented on all the hair she found on the bathroom floor,” she recalled.

Last October, she turned to Harklinikken, a Scandinavian hair-health clinic with eight locations worldwide, including a flagship location in the Flatiron district, that evaluates candidates with a $49 virtual consultation or a $175 in-person initial consult. She then purchased an $88, one-month supply of a customized extract made with burdock root, marigold, apple, and cow’s milks and meant to activate formant follicles. She’s been applying it daily since October and is thrilled with the outcome. 

“The results are insane,” said Sarah, who didn’t give her last name for privacy reasons. “My hairline is much fuller and there’s hair where there wasn’t before. I couldn’t be happier — now I have the peace of mind that I’m not going to be bald at 50.” 

Tomczyk says hair extensions from stylist Marco Maranghello made her feel like Marilyn Monroe.
Tomczyk says hair extensions from stylist Marco Maranghello made her feel like Marilyn Monroe.
Photo by Tamara Beckwith; hair by Marco Maranghello; makeup by Oscar Caballero.

Harklinikken founder and head of research and development, Lars Skjoth, says the company grew by 25 percent in 2020, due, in part, to COVID-related issues.

“There’s been so much stress for so long,” he said. “I truly believe [it] has  been exacerbating the symptoms of prolonged excessive hair loss.”

Some women experiencing follicle failure are just heading to the salon. Aggie Tomczyk, 50, turned to Marco Maranghello, a renowned stylist who’s styled J.Lo’s tresses. He gave Tomczyk tape-in hair extensions, a process that took three hours and cost $1,500. Tomczyk, who lives on Roosevelt Island and lost her job in luxury retail during the pandemic, is “over the moon” with her new look. 

“The volume doubled — I now have a full head of hair, a thick ponytail and I don’t have to think about my scalp,” she said. “I feel like Marilyn Monroe.”