Stress is one of the biggest triggers of hair loss in men and women.
In today’s ‘always on’ world being stressed out has almost become a badge of honour.
If you’re not stressed, you’re not working and hustling hard enough (they say) and you’re not busy enough.
Almost every day someone posts on our Facebook group about how stress is affecting their hair, and that creates a vicious cycle that’s hard to get out of.
There’s always one thing I recommend trying though.
It’s probably the best proven way to measurably reduce stress, alleviate anxiety and control the levels of cortisol (stress hormone) in your body.
That one thing, of course, is breathing.
In this article I’m going to go into the science of breathing and how and why I believe it is one of the best things you can add to your hair care regime.
Aside from the stress factor, there is one really interesting thing about deep breathing exercises that almost no one knows about…
…increasing blood oxygen levels can actually help convert testosterone into estradiol, rather than DHT. If you know anything about hereditary hair loss then you’ll probably have heard of DHT before and be aware of the role it plays in hair loss.
So, with that in mind let’s take a deeper dive into the benefits I’ve found from breathing when it comes to stopping hair loss.
How Can Deep Breathing Help with Hair Growth?
Before we begin, let’s have a quick discussion on hair loss and its causes.
The most common cause of hair loss is Androgenetic Alopecia (AGA) (1). It affects both men and women and the end result, if the condition is left untreated, is the same – baldness.
But what contributes to AGA and its progression?
There are many factors that play a role in pattern hair loss (1). These include genetics, lifestyle, diet, and environment. But even more specific factors include poor blood flow and lack of oxygen can contribute.
So, can deep breathing help?
Let’s take a look at some of the specific ways that deep breathing practices may contribute to reduced thinning and increased hair growth.
1: It Reduces Stress and Releases Tension
An often overlooked contributor to hair loss is stress. Whether mental or physical, stress can have a negative impact on your body. If left untreated, it can even lead to physical consequences (such as hair thinning).
So, how can deep breathing help?
Deep breathing exercises, and especially those that use the diaphragm, have been shown to reduce stress levels (2). In turn, this can reduce the negative effects that stress has on the immune system (3).
A 2017 study even showed the direct impact that stress has on hair loss and growth (4). The study followed two sets of female university students – those who were in the midst of their exam period, and those who were not.
The exam students experienced greater stress and, as shown, also experienced greater hair loss.
As shown above, the students who were undergoing exams (red) saw increases in cytokine levels when compared to their non-exam counterparts (blue). They also experienced higher levels of hair in telogen phase and lower levels of hair in anagen phase, which indicates increased shedding.
But what about tension?
Tension, also known as mechanical stress, is a physical response to stress. It can cause pain and discomfort when prolonged, and even longer-term effects include hair loss. How?
Researchers have found that areas of tension on the scalp correlate to male balding patterns (5). This may suggest that tension contributes to MPB and, therefore, external forces (such as tension) should be reduced to treat the problem.
By practicing deep breathing, you can reduce stress (mental) and tension (physical).
2: It Increases Oxygen Intake (and Delivery)
Perhaps one of the most obvious benefits of deep breathing practices is the increase in oxygen intake. But this also translates to increased delivery of oxygen to the follicles, which plays a larger role in hair growth than many people realize. Let me explain.
In men and women with Androgenetic Alopecia (AGA), the main trigger of hair loss is Dihydrotestosterone (DHT) (1). This is a by-product of the interaction between testosterone (the male sex hormone) and 5-alpha-reductase (5AR) (an enzyme). However, oxygen also plays a part in the conversion from testosterone and 5AR to DHT.
Interestingly, the conversion doesn’t require much oxygen. In fact, DHT is produced more extensively in low-oxygen environments. This is because another by-product of testosterone and 5AR – estradiol – requires higher levels of oxygen (6). With low oxygen levels, then, estradiol cannot be produced but DHT can.
By increasing oxygen levels in the follicles, you make it possible for estradiol to be produced. This will reduce the amount of DHT in the follicles. Even better, estradiol has actually been shown to induce hair growth (7).
As expected, deep breathing increases intake of oxygen which improves blood oxygenation (8). And with the increased blood flow triggered by deep breathing (more on that below), this also means that more oxygen will be delivered to the scalp and follicles.
3: It Promotes Increased Blood Flow
As mentioned previously, researchers have found a link between mechanical stress (tension) and male balding patterns. And while the exact reason for this correlation is unknown, one theory is that tension reduces blood flow to the affected areas.
Over time, the lack of blood flow will mean the follicles die.
The answer, then, seems obvious. To combat the negative effects of tension on the scalp, you should look to increase blood flow to the affected areas. How?
There are many techniques I recommend, including scalp massage and microneedling. But deep breathing can also contribute to improved circulation to the scalp and follicles. Here’s how.
Respiration, which is the just a fancy way of saying ‘the act of breathing’, is one factor that contributes significantly to the pumping of the heart and flow of blood through the circulatory system (9). Taking control over your breathing patterns and, more specifically, practicing slow, deep breaths, can contribute to increased blood circulation (10).
With more blood flowing to the follicles, they’ll then receive the oxygen and nutrients which are necessary for hair growth. This can revive the previously miniaturized follicles, and promote the production of healthy hair.
4: It Improves Posture (and Reduces Scalp Tension)
You may be noticing a pattern, and that’s that scalp tension plays a major role in hair loss. So, in what other way can deep breathing exercises help to reduce scalp tension? By improving your posture!
Posture actually has a direct effect on our physical health and, as such, poor posture can contribute to pain and discomfort (11). It can also reduce respiration rate, which can itself lead to many negative effects.
This is why a good posture – one which keeps your spine in alignment – is necessary for overall health and wellness. And as it relates to hair, it can even reduce scalp tension and improve blood flow to the area.
So, how does deep breathing play a role?
Deep breathing exercises require you to sit in a particular manner. Most commonly, they require a completely straight spine and a relaxed neck. This will both improve the flow of breath into your lungs and reduce tension in the upper back and neck.
And as mentioned above, the decrease in tension will also put less mechanical stress on the scalp. As shown by the chart below, mechanical stress correlates exactly to male hair loss patterns (5).
By reducing tension, then, you can increase blood flow to the affected areas. This may help to restore them to their previous glory, or at least slow down/stop the recession.
5: It Reduces Inflammatory Responses
There are many different conditions and factors that contribute to hair thinning and balding. One major factor is inflammation.
Inflammation is a natural response to illness, injury, or bodily invasion (such as with viruses or bacteria). However, inflammation that doesn’t resolve on its own is called chronic. If left untreated, it can negatively impact your health and trigger a number of processes.
One such process which is linked to inflammation and hair loss is follicle miniaturization. This occurs when the follicle is inflamed and the blood flow is slowly cut off. As the follicle becomes smaller and smaller, so too do the hairs being produced. This continues until, eventually, the follicle dies from complete lack of blood flow.
There are many ways to reduce inflammation, including with medications (such as NSAIDs) (12). However, an unexpected inflammation reducer is deep breathing.
Deep breathing exercises can help to activate the sympathetic nervous system (13). This will work in two ways to reduce inflammation.
First, the production of proinflammatory cytokines will be reduced. Second, the levels of epinephrine will be increased which has been shown to down-regulate the activities of pro-inflammatory neutrophils (14).
This means that practicing deep breathing techniques on a regular basis will help to mitigate both acute and chronic inflammation throughout the body.
The 3 Best Deep Breathing Techniques to Improve Hair Growth
There are a variety of deep breathing techniques you can incorporate into your busy daily schedule. However, the three listed below are great for beginners.
1. The 4-7-8 (or Calming Breath) Exercise
This technique is pretty straightforward, as the instructions are outlined exactly in the name. That is, your breaths will be split into three different counts (4 seconds, 7 seconds, and 8 seconds). Here’s how to do it.
Sitting comfortably on the floor with your legs crossed, lengthen your spine and relax your neck. Begin by exhaling through your mouth.
Inhale through your nose and, as you do so, count to four. Next, hold your breath for a total of seven seconds. Finally, exhale through your mouth to a count of eight.
This is one of the most calming breathing techniques, as it enables you to purposely slow down and focus only on your breaths. As you’re counting throughout the whole exercise, it will be difficult for your mind to wander.
It also helps you to learn breath control, as you’ll soon learn whether you’re taking in enough air on your inhales or you need to take in more.
You can repeat the exercise as many times as you’d like, though I recommend a minimum of 10 breaths following the above pattern.
2. The 4-4-4 (or Equal Breath) Exercise
Perhaps a bit more of a natural breathing pattern, the 4-4-4 technique is used to calm anxiety and reduce stress. In fact, it’s an exercise that’s even practiced by the Navy SEALs. Here’s how to do it.
Get into a comfortable position, whether sitting, standing, or laying down. Lengthen your spine and relax your neck, and be sure to keep this posture throughout the duration of the exercise.
Exhale through your mouth.
Now inhale through your nose and, as you do, count to four. Next hold your breath for four seconds. Finally, exhale through your mouth to a count of four.
You can also take this exercise a step further by waiting four seconds after your exhalation before you perform another inhalation.
3. The Alternate Nostril Exercise
The alternate nostril exercise is just as it sounds – a technique in which your nostrils will take turns inhaling/exhaling. It’s actually quite a common technique, used often in yoga and meditation to ease the mind prior to practice.
Begin by placing your index and middle fingers at the top of your nose, just between the eyebrows. Next, place your thumb on one nostril and your ring finger and pinky on the other.
With both nostrils open, take a deep breath through the nostrils and then exhale.
On your next breath, use your thumb to cover your right nostril and inhale through your left nostril. Then open your right nostril while simultaneously closing the left one. Exhale through the right nostril.
You’ll continue to alternate the nostrils which you inhale/exhale through.
You may notice at first that you struggle to take in enough air on each inhalation. As you continue, it will become easier for you to do so.
Precautions and General Warnings
Deep breathing exercises aren’t particularly strenuous but, depending on your overall health and wellness, they may be difficult in the beginning. This is why I recommend you start out slowly and listen to your body.
If at any point you begin to feel lightheaded or otherwise weak, stop the exercise and resume your normal breathing pattern.
If you have a medical condition which may make these exercises difficult, such as Asthma or Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD), you should consult with your physician before you start.
It’s important to understand that practicing deep breathing will not solve all of your hair issues. It’s very unlikely that your hair fall will stop completely and you’ll suddenly sprout a full head of hair. However, deep breathing can have numerous health benefits (some of which will contribute to a healthier scalp).
And if your hair loss is triggered by poor blood flow or lack of oxygen delivery, then deep breathing exercises may have a bigger impact than you think.
This is why I recommend that everyone give deep breathing a try.
In fact, you can even combine the practice with other similar ones – such as yoga and pilates – to increase the odds of results (or improve the results you do so). Not to mention, these practices too have their own health benefits.