Hair plays an important yet often overlooked role in our physical and mental well-being. In this post, we’ll explore the multifaceted relationship between hair and trauma from both biological and cultural perspectives. Table of Contents Hair and Physical Stress: The Biological Perspective Our hair can offer clues about what’s happening inside our bodies on a cellular level. Times of extreme physical stress, illness, or malnutrition may cause hair loss or changes in texture, thickness, and growth patterns. For example, periods of intense stress put our adrenal glands into overdrive, producing excess cortisol and other stress hormones. This excess hormone release can disrupt the normal hair growth cycle, leading to thinning hair. Certain medical conditions like hyperthyroidism or lupus may also impact hair through hormonal imbalances and inflammation. Malnutrition is another factor. Lack of important vitamins and minerals needed for healthy hair follicles like iron, protein, vitamins B, C, and D can result in dry, brittle hair that breaks easily. Severe calorie restriction may also induce shedding caused by the body’s conservation of resources. Overall, our hair serves as a biological marker reflecting the inner functioning and nutritional status of our entire system at both acute and ongoing levels of physical stress.

Hair and Emotional Trauma: A Cultural Interpretation In many ancient cultures and traditions, hair was viewed not just as a physical attribute but as inextricably linked to one’s spirit, energy, and emotional state. For example: – Native American tribes saw long, flowing hair as a sign of vitality, wisdom, and connection to nature. Cutting it off was seen as extremely traumatic. – In Egyptian mythology, Isis searched for strands of her husband Osiris’s hair after he was murdered, as his soul and power was believed connected to it. – Victorians commonly saved locks of a loved one’s hair after death as a memento mori, a reminder of life’s impermanence. This cultural lens explains why emotional upheavals like abuse, loss, or PTSD are still anecdotally tied to hair troubles in many communities today. From this viewpoint, traumatic events can disrupt one’s spiritual equilibrium and manifest physically in the hair. Psychological Aspects of Hair and Trauma Modern science offers explanations for these associations too. When threatened, our autonomic nervous system responds with the famous “fight or flight” activation of the sympathetic NS and suppression of the parasympathetic NS. This imparts a whole-body reaction and restructuring of energy allocation, including changes in appetite, digestion, heart rate, and hair growth. Moreover, psychological trauma impacts the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis that regulates our stress response and other body-mind functions. Dysregulation in this complex system has been linked to issues from hair loss to gastrointestinal issues to insomnia. We also know trauma impacts the limbic brain, disturbing memory formation and emotional regulation—both of which color our perceptions of ourselves. When these effects coincide with past cultural beliefs about hair and identity, it’s easy to see why hair troubles could arise or worsen after trauma. The relationship, while multidirectional, is very real.