Understanding the Link Between Mold Exposure and Hair Health: My Personal Experience

January 18, 2024

 by

Verna Meachum

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Last Updated on January 18, 2024 by Verna Meachum

Two years of living in a mold-infested apartment took a toll on both my daughter and me, manifesting in significant hair loss and overall deterioration in our hair health. At first, I was unaware, but I eventually came to understand the significant impact that mold was having on both my daughter’s health and our hair.

Seeking answers, I turned to a friend with a PhD in Chemistry and a deep knowledge of hair science. This article is a culmination of our findings on the impact of mold on hair health, offering insights and solutions.

Hair Health and Indoor Mold: Understanding the Connection

Indoor mold, a greenish-grey powdery substance often found in damp areas, is actually a colony of fungi spores. These spores thrive in moist conditions, such as those found in certain parts of a house, especially those made of cellulose-rich materials like wood. The proliferation of mold produces an unpleasant odor and degrades indoor air quality.

When we come into contact with mold spores, it can lead to various health issues, a situation that the World Health Organization has labeled “Sick Building Syndrome” (SBS). This term describes the array of health problems that can arise from spending time in buildings with poor air quality, often due to mold.

Numerous scientific studies have delved into the negative effects of indoor mold growth and the inhalation or exposure to these mold spores, highlighting the importance of maintaining healthy indoor environments.1

What Is Mold and Where Does It Thrive?

Mold consists of fungal microorganisms that form colonies. These mold spores are common in our environment and thrive in warm, moist conditions. When these conditions are met, they quickly grow and multiply into larger colonies.

Indoors, mold typically includes species such as Penicillium, Aspergillus, Stachybotrys, Chaetomium, and Alternaria. These species can often be spotted in damp areas of a building, like on walls, ceilings, and in basements. They are recognizable by their varied colors, ranging from shades of green to grey and even black, and can differ in density.2


The video below reveals the mold that was concealed behind our German shrunk. We had no idea it was there until we moved out. This discovery was just the tip of the iceberg, as we later found out that mold had infested every room in our apartment, with an even more significant presence in my daughter’s room.

Human Interaction with Mold: Risks and Reactions

While humans are constantly exposed to microorganisms like bacteria, viruses, and fungi, the immune system typically manages these encounters. However, prolonged exposure to mold spores can overwhelm this defense, leading to health issues.

Mycotoxins, toxic substances released by mold, are particularly harmful, causing respiratory and skin diseases. When inhaled or in contact with the skin, these spores can trigger a range of allergic reactions and respiratory problems (i.e. asthma, difficulty breathing, and coughing).

These mold spores can also adhere to the skin’s surface, especially in more exposed areas, such as the eyes, arms, scalp, and hair. Due to the release of these toxins, mold is often referred to as “toxic mold” or, more precisely, “toxigenic mold.”

The Health Hazards of Mold Exposure

This is a concise overview of the most common and observed negative effects of indoor mold exposure on human health: 1,2,3,4,5

  • Respiratory inflammation and symptoms like flu, cough, and sneezing
  • Asthma and wheezing
  • Allergic skin reactions, rashes, and itchiness
  • Skin and scalp sensitization
  • Eczema
  • Dry, itchy scalp
  • Dull, lifeless hair
  • Hair loss in extreme cases

Scientific research has identified a broad spectrum of health issues linked to mold, ranging from inflammatory diseases to cancer. A notable example is Aflatoxin, a type of mycotoxin produced by certain fungi, known for its cancer-causing properties. This indicates that mold exposure can lead to various health problems, including those affecting the scalp and skin, as well as serious conditions like asthma.

Mold Exposure and Its Effect on Scalp and Hair

Exposure to mold can lead to skin irritation, including itchiness, redness, and severe allergic reactions. These symptoms are particularly noticeable in young children and older adults, who may experience extreme dryness, scaling, and increased skin sensitivity. Similar effects can occur on the scalp, resulting in conditions like dryness and dandruff.

Continuous exposure to mold can disrupt the natural microbiological balance of the scalp, leading to an overproduction of sebum. This excess oiliness fosters further microbial growth, potentially causing conditions like dandruff and seborrheic dermatitis.

Additionally, the accumulation of dead skin cells on the scalp can impede normal hair follicle function, reducing hair density. Prolonged and repeated exposure to mold exacerbates these issues, eventually leading to hair loss.

Reversibility of Mold-Induced Hair Loss: Possibilities and Limits

Hair and scalp damage due to mold exposure can be reversible, but only if the hair follicles remain active. Without timely intervention, prolonged exposure may lead to irreversible damage. It is crucial for those affected to address mold issues promptly to minimize their impact on skin and scalp health.

Here are a few images showing the extent of hair loss I experienced every time I washed my hair twice a week.

Preventing Hair Loss from Mold Exposure: Practical Steps

To mitigate mold’s impact on hair health, two key strategies should be employed:

  1. Address Indoor Mold:
    • Clean and sanitize affected areas.
    • Ensure no water leakage and good ventilation.
    • Allow sunlight into damp areas.
    • Invest in a dehumidifier.
  2. Personal Hygiene and Care:
    • Maintain a clean and hygienic lifestyle.
    • Regularly apply a hydrating lotion to the skin and scalp surface.
    • Natural oils are excellent for enhancing scalp health and quality. Choose an oil that suits your preference and apply it regularly, massaging it thoroughly into the scalp for the best results.

My Concluding Thoughts

Dealing with our landlord to address our apartment’s humidity and mold issues was a lengthy and frustrating process. They were slow to respond, which only added to our stress. During this time, I couldn’t pinpoint the cause of my daughter’s worsening health; she experienced more severe reactions than I did, including breathing difficulties, eczema flare-ups, and frequent sneezing.

After consulting an allergist and undergoing tests, we discovered she was allergic to mold. Followers on my Instagram might recall that she was also diagnosed with subdermal conditions and suffered significant hair loss (read about how we regained her hair loss here), which I strongly suspect was linked to the mold.

As for my own hair loss, I believe it was due to a combination of factors. There was a poorly done bleach job where my colorist bleached my entire head, including roots and previously highlighted areas. Following this, within two months, I straightened my hair for a wedding and again a week later. All these factors, compounded with living in a mold-infested environment, contributed to my hair loss issues.

While this was a challenging chapter in my daughter’s and my life, it’s important to recognize that everyone’s experience with mold exposure can vary. Our journey through dealing with unresponsive landlords, identifying health issues, and facing hair loss due to mold and other factors highlights indoor mold’s complexities and often hidden dangers.

It serves as a reminder of the importance of being vigilant about our living environments and proactive about our health. Remember, while our story is unique, it underscores a common issue many may face silently. Sharing this experience, I hope to raise awareness and encourage others to seek help and solutions if they find themselves in similar situations.


References

  1. Straus, D. C., Consequences of mold exposure in buildings. Texas Journal of Rural Health 2001, 19 (1), 8-13. ↩︎
  2. Jacob, B.; Ritz, B.; Gehring, U.; Koch, A.; Bischof, W.; Wichmann, H.; Heinrich, J., Indoor exposure to molds and allergic sensitization. Environmental Health Perspectives 2002, 110 (7), 647-653. ↩︎
  3. Verhoeff, A. P.; Burge, H. A., Health risk assessment of fungi in home environments. Annals of allergy, asthma & immunology 1997, 78 (6), 544-556. ↩︎
  4. Bornehag, C.; Sundell, J.; Hagerhed-Engman, L.; Sigsggard, T.; Janson, S.; Aberg, N., Dampness at home and its association with airway, nose, and skin symptoms among 10,851 preschool children in Sweden: a cross-sectional study. Indoor air 2005, 15 (10), 48-55. ↩︎
  5. Bornehag, C.-G.; Blomquist, G.; Gyntelberg, F.; Järvholm, B.; Malmberg, P.; Nordvall, L.; Nielsen, A.; Pershagen, G.; Sundell, J., Dampness in buildings and health. Nordic interdisciplinary review of the scientific evidence on associations between exposure to” dampness” in buildings and health effects (NORDDAMP). Indoor air 2001, 11 (2), 72-86. ↩︎
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