The COVID-19 vaccines can help keep you from getting the nasty virus, missing many days of work or school, and ending up in the hospital or the graveyard.
But can they keep you from going bald?
“Rona can lead to hair loss,” warns a social media ad from California’s Vaccinate All 58 campaign depicting a fellow with a pencil-thin mustache in a baby-blue suit straight out of the 1970s, whose hair is being snatched from his head by a cat paw labeled “rona” — slang for the coronavirus: “Protect your melon. Get vaxed.”
Count Stanford Medical School professor and COVID-19 lockdown critic Dr. Jay Bhattacharya among the skeptics.
“Umm … Seriously?” Bhattacharya tweeted Sept. 21 after he said his daughter received the ad in her Facebook feed.
The California Department of Public Health confirmed the piece was one of their “assets,” but did not respond to questions about the science behind it — or the super cheesy cartoon.
However, there have been a number of reports and studies recently linking the virus to hair loss.
“Months after recovering from COVID-19, many people find that their hair is falling out in large clumps,” reports the American Academy of Dermatology Association. “Fever is a common symptom of COVID-19. A few months after having a high fever or recovering from an illness, many people see noticeable hair loss.”
But the sudden hair loss experienced by COVID patients isn’t the same as the genetically linked gradual balding experienced by so many men — a condition that has made hair loss treatment a $3.4 billion industry in the U.S.
Instead, it is a sudden, stress-induced shedding, known medically as telogen effluvium, the American Academy of Dermatology says. It isn’t limited to men, and it isn’t only seen after a bout of COVID.
“It happens when more hairs than normal enter the shedding (telogen) phase of the hair growth life cycle at the same time,” the dermatology academy says. “A fever or illness can force more hairs into the shedding phase. Most people see noticeable hair shedding two to three months after having a fever or illness.”
Fortunately, the academy said, unlike male-pattern baldness, the condition is temporary.
“When the cause of your hair shedding is due to a fever, illness, or stress, hair tends to return to normal on its own, you just have to give it time,” the academy says. “Most people see their hair regain its normal fullness within six to nine months.”
A number of people who replied to Bhattacharya said they too had had some hair loss after being ill with the virus. The professor responded that alopecia, the broader family of hair loss conditions, “sometimes happens after COVID infection and even the vax.”
A 2021 study by the dermatology academy appeared to back that up. It noted that while recent reports had suggested that COVID-19 may trigger alopecia areata, an autoimmune condition that causes sudden hair loss, it also documented cases of the syndrome in people following vaccination against the virus.
“Hair loss following SARS-CoV-2 vaccination is an increasingly reported phenomenon in the United States and globally,” the study said.
It’s hard to say how common the hair loss phenomenon is, whether after infection or vaccination. After all, Gov. Gavin Newsom, who’s vaccinated, boosted and had COVID, still has his famous thick, slicked-back locks, and joked recently he’d be happy to bring his hair gel if his Republican counterpart in Florida will bring his hair spray to a debate.
But does the COVID-19 vaccine prevent hair loss? Bhattacharya, one of the California Department of Public Health’s harshest critics, asserted there’s “no good evidence for that.”
“It’s a strange way to convince people to take the vax,” he said.