The Grapevine

Can Working Long Hours Make You Bald?

We all know there's a heavy price to pay for fame and fortune. There's the frayed relationships, long work hours, unmitigated stress, sleepless nights, migraine headaches and depresssion. But going bald?

Scientists in South Korea have found the stress of working long hours might damage the hair follicles of men. As part of the first study of its kind, scientists from Sungkyunkwan University analyzed 13,391 employed men between 2013 and 2017. The participants were between 20 and 59 years old. Women were not included in the study.

Participants were divided into three groups: “normal” workers who were on the job for 40 hours a week, “long” workers who spent up to 52 hours in the office and “much longer” workers who toiled for over 52 hours across seven days.

Scientists found those in their 20s or 30s that worked at least 52 hours a week were twice as likely to develop alopecia than their less fanatical colleagues. Alopecia (the general term for hair loss) increased by almost 4 percent in the “much longer” group, compared to 3 percent in the “long” group, and 2 percent among the “normal” workers. Results remained true after scientists adjusted for income, smoking and marital status.

The study found that too much time in the office causes immense stress, which is thought to damage hair follicles. Stress might also push hair follicles into entering the “catagen” phase, or the transitional stage between when hair actively grows and when it “rests."

Another reason for the increased risk of hair loss is due to testosterone ( the primary male sex hormone) producing a byproduct called dihydrotestosterone that causes hair follicles to shrink.

“The results of this study demonstrate long working hours is significantly associated with the increased development of alopecia in male workers,” according to lead author Dr. Kyung-Hun Son.

"Furthermore, the strength of association increased linearly as work time got longer. Limitation of working hours in order to prevent alopecia development may be more necessary from younger workers, such as those in the twenties and thirties, at which hair loss symptoms start to appear.”

Male Pattern Baldness Balding men are at a higher risk for being diagnosed with prostate cancer. Photo courtesy of Shutterstock

Dr. Son said many previous studies have revealed the mechanism of alopecia development by stress. He said mice experiments have shown stress is significantly related to the inhibition of hair growth, activation of the catagen cycle and damage to hair follicles.

"We can cautiously assume the relationship between long working hours and the development of alopecia is likely to be mediated by job-related stress," said Dr. Son.

As a result of this study, the scientists are calling for stricter legislation around doing overtime.

“Preventive interventions to promote appropriate and reasonable working hours are required in our society,” noted Dr. Son.

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