Bariatric surgery is a term used to describe a group of weight loss operations. Some of the more common procedures include gastric bypass, gastric bands and gastric sleeves. Although bariatric surgery is considered successful—most patients lose around 50% of their excess weight—hair loss after the procedure is a common concern. In fact, about a third of bariatric surgery patients experience short-term hair loss a few months after the operation.
Telogen Effluvium and Bariatric Surgery
Bariatric surgery can trigger a type of acute, diffuse hair loss called telogen effluvium. This condition occurs when the scalp hairs switch prematurely from the growth to the resting phase of the hair growth cycle. Noticeable hair loss typically starts 2-3 months after surgery.
As part of the hair growth cycle, it’s normal to shed 50-100 hairs a day. But telogen effluvium can affect up to 70% of scalp hair at once, causing significant hair loss. The good news is, the condition doesn’t harm the follicles so they’re usually able to regrow hair. Telogen effluvium generally clears up 6-12 months after surgery. However, hair loss can still be a distressing part of the recovery process for bariatric surgery patients.
What Causes Hair Loss After Bariatric Surgery?
Although it’s not known exactly why bariatric surgery could potentially cause hair loss, experts believe that abrupt nutritional changes are partly to blame. Bariatric surgeries reduce the size of the stomach and limit the amount of food intake. Some procedures even reduce the number of nutrients that can be absorbed by the body. Therefore, if the body must choose between feeding nutritional stores to hair follicles or to vital organs such as the heart and brain to keep them functioning, the follicles will go without.
Common causes of telogen effluvium include, but aren't limited to:
- Major surgery
- Physical trauma
- Acute weight loss
- Crash dieting
- Severe, chronic illnesses
Bariatric surgery patients have at least two of these triggers, including major surgery and acute weight loss, which is why hair loss can be common after weight-loss operations.
What You Can Do About Hair Loss After Surgery
If you’ve experienced hair loss after bariatric surgery, there are steps you can take to help your hair get back to normal.
1. Ask Your Doctor Which Foods to Eat
Weight-loss surgery may reduce the intake or absorption of nutrients that support healthy hair growth, like iron, zinc, protein and fatty acids, to name a few. That’s why it’s a good idea to talk to your doctor about the dietary plan that’s best for you following your surgery.
2. Be Gentle with Your Hair
As your weight stabilizes and your hair begins to grow back, treat your strands gently.
- Brush your hair when it’s dry, as wet hair is more fragile and prone to breakage.
- Avoid brushing too hard. Doing so can damage your hair and even pull it out at the root.
- Don’t wear tight hair styles like ponytails, braids and buns for extended periods of time as they can pull on the hair around your hairline, causing a hair loss condition called traction alopecia.
- Don’t overuse or misuse hot styling tools such as blow dryers and flat irons. They can dry out your hair leaving it brittle and vulnerable to breakage.
- Use a heat protectant spray to help shield your strands from damaging effects, and hold blow dryers at least 4-5 inches away from your hair to minimize heat exposure.
3. Manage Your Stress
Psychological stress can result from the major lifestyle and body changes that occur after weight-loss surgery—including losing your hair. Try managing stress by listening to your favorite music, practicing deep breathing exercises or taking up a new hobby. Be patient and set realistic expectations for yourself as hair only grows ¼”-1/2” per month.
For informational purposes only. The information presented herein is general in nature and is not intended to substitute the advice of a physician or other health care professional. The exact cause of hair loss can only be determined by a medical professional.