A Guide to Hair Shedding after Bariatric Surgery

Article By: Rachel Ignomirello, MS, RDN, CSOWM, LDN

Rachel Ignomirello is a Bariatric Dietitian and Board-Certified Specialist in Obesity and Weight Management.

Embarking on a bariatric surgery journey often brings unexpected changes, and one such change that catches many by surprise is the change in hair. While experiencing hair shedding after surgery can be a source of concern, it's comforting to know that this is a common, usually temporary occurrence. This blog aims to provide insight and guidance on navigating through these hair changes.

1) How hair normally grows. Hair growth involves four key phases: anagen (growth phase), catagen (transition phase), telogen (resting phase), and exogen (shedding phase). During the anagen phase, hair actively grows. Catagen is a brief transitional stage, followed by telogen, where hair remains at rest. In the exogen phase, hair is released and sheds, completing the cycle. This entire cycle typically spans 3 months. Understanding these phases is key to recognizing changes in hair patterns, especially following events like bariatric surgery.

2) Hair changes post-surgery — what to expect. After bariatric surgery, many people experience a condition known as "telogen effluvium," a form of temporary hair shedding where a significant percentage of hair shifts into the telogen phase. Normally, only about 5-10% of a person's hair is in the telogen phase at any given time. However, in telogen effluvium, this percentage can significantly increase due to the stressors of surgery, hormonal changes, and rapid weight loss.

3) When do hair changes occur, and are they permanent? Typically, hair shedding starts around 3 months post-surgery, which is the length of the hair cycle. The good news is that this condition is temporary. Once your body adjusts and has strong nutrition, your hair growth cycle will return to normal within another 3-6 months. However, if hair loss continues beyond the first year, or if it's accompanied by symptoms like brittle nails or dry skin, it could indicate nutrient deficiencies. In these cases, consulting with your healthcare provider is important to address any underlying health issues.

4) Minimizing the risk of hair loss and the role of nutrition. To minimize hair loss and encourage regrowth after bariatric surgery, a strong focus on nutrition is essential. An adequate protein intake, typically between 60-80 grams per day, is necessary. While collagen is not a complete protein, it can be a beneficial supplement in a balanced diet to increase protein intake. Once ingested, collagen breaks down into amino acids. It's important to note that the body has its own priorities for these amino acids — they might be used for healing post-surgery or as a source of calories, rather than directly benefiting hair growth.

Taking bariatric vitamins is crucial for maintaining hair health after surgery. Essential nutrients such as iron and zinc are particularly important. Iron is key for red blood cell production, which in turn supports healthy hair growth, while zinc is crucial for hair tissue growth and repair. A standard bariatric multivitamin will provide enough of these vitamins and minerals.

5) Myths, facts, and creative solutions for hair changes. While there's a lot of misinformation about special shampoos and supplements for hair growth, it's important to note that most over-the-counter products have minimal impact on hair regrowth. Post-surgery hair shedding is more influenced by internal health rather than external hair treatments. Nonetheless, gentle hair care is recommended. For those looking to disguise hair thinning, options like different hairstyles, hats, hair fibers, root cover-up sprays, or volumizing products can be effective. Some patients opt for shorter haircuts to create the illusion of more volume, and some patients may try wigs or toppers. Additionally, managing emotional stress through relaxation techniques or support groups can be beneficial in mitigating hair shedding.

Remember, hair changes after bariatric surgery are generally a temporary condition. While people might notice your significant weight loss, hair shedding is usually less apparent. Importantly, your body is focused on critical functions like health and healing during this time — not hair. Managing these changes effectively involves understanding the condition, ensuring proper nutrition, and caring for your overall well-being. Over time and with appropriate care, your hair is likely to return to its normal growth pattern. If you have concerns about hair changes post-surgery, discussing them with your healthcare provider is always advisable.

BariMelts provides general recommendations, not to be construed as medical advice. Please consult your doctor.

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