Anesthesia and Hair Loss

Doctor, ready to perform anesthesia
Photo: Dreamstime
Q: Can anesthesia cause hair loss? If yes, why are anesthetics doing this to your hair?
A: Hair loss has been linked to many different causes over the decades, and some of these linkages are valid while others are not. In the case of anesthesia causing hair loss, apparently, the link is valid, although the extent to which anesthesia is solely or specifically to blame is in question.
Allow me to explain. If you ask any hairdresser about potential causes for your hair loss, he or she will probably ask if you’ve undergone any surgery. There has been anecdotal evidence linking anesthesia and hair loss, but there has been little information offered to explain the “why” or “how” anesthesia can do this. As a result, the causal relationship between anesthesia and hair loss has grown to include all forms of anesthesia which isn’t an accurate statement.
It is a known fact that stress can contribute to and can cause hair loss among predisposed individuals. It is also true that general anesthesia used during surgery can put the body into shock (causing stress) which becomes cumulative with the stress already resulting from anticipating and undergoing surgical procedures (both physical and emotional).
After considerable research, I did find some reputable, references on anesthesia and hair loss which had this to say on the subject:
“Systemic anesthesia has a profound effect on the body. As you would expect, it pushes the individual into a state of unconsciousness and relaxes muscles. Anesthesia also affects hair follicles. Hair follicles contain cells that are some of the fastest dividing and developing cells of the body. They have to divide fast to maintain the growth of hair fiber. Anesthesia blocks this rapid cell division. While the application of anesthesia to an individual may only be for a few hours, the hair follicles may be affected to such a degree that they shut down hair fiber production and enter a telogen resting state. A telogen effluvium type of hair loss is the result.” {Source: Desai SP, Roaf ER. Telogen effluvium after anesthesia and surgery. Anesth Analg. 1984 Jan;63(1):83-4.}
Of course, it also included information on the relationship between surgery and hair loss, explaining that “major surgery is an extreme physical shock to the body. Therefore, after surgery your body is struggling to repair itself. Most nutrients are diverted to repairing essential organs and reorganizing the structural integrity of the body. Hair follicles are not vitally important for survival, so they often lose out as nutrients are diverted elsewhere. Without a good supply of nutrients the hair follicles slow down or even stop activity completely. This may lead to a telogen effluvium type of progressive hair loss noticeable up to three months after the surgery has taken place.”
These are logical, learned explanations for the possible links between surgery and anesthesia and hair loss. But let’s remember that these explanations refer to specific types of anesthesia (general anesthesia) and surgery (major surgery). The common factor in these kinds of cases - and in other anesthesia and surgical cases (which are often very minor) to which hair loss is attributed - is STRESS.
See also:
Hair loss
Stress and hair loss
Can having anesthetic shortly before getting your hair colored make the color turn out orange?