Working long hours may 'double the risk of baldness'

upset middle aged man with alopecia looking at mirror, hair loss concept
Working more than 52 hours a week may double a man's risk of hair loss. [Photo: Getty]

From pressing deadlines to lofty ambitions of climbing the corporate ladder, many of us are guilty of working overtime.

While you may assume this only skews your work-life balance, research suggests spending too long in the office could double the risk of baldness.

Scientists from South Korea looked at more than 13,000 men aged between 20 and 59. They found those in their twenties or thirties who worked at least 52 hours a week were twice as likely to develop alopecia than their less dedicated colleagues.

Too much time in the office can cause stress, which is thought to damage hair follicles, the team said. Feeling frazzled could also make locks enter the “catagen” phase, the transitional stage between when hair actively grows and when it “rests”.

Depressed frustrated trader tired of overwork or stressed by bankruptcy, sad shocked investor desperate about financial crisis or money loss, upset businessman having headache massaging nose bridge
The stress of working long hours may damage hair follicles. [Photo: Getty]

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

"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.”

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Alopecia is the general term for hair loss, with some sufferers being left with patches, baldness, or no hair at all on their head or body.

The condition is brought about by inflammation, which may be the result of the body fighting other diseases or infections, according to the British Skin Foundation. The NHS also recognises stress as a cause of hair loss.

In the first study of its kind, scientists from Sungkyunkwan University analysed 13,391 employed men between 2013 and 2017.

It is unclear why women were not included in the study. Men are more at risk of hair loss in general due to testosterone making the byproduct dihydrotestosterone, which causes follicles to shrink, according to the Wimpole Clinic.

The participants were divided into three groups: “Normal” workers who grafted for 40 hours a week, “long” workers who spent up to 52 hours in the office and “much longer” workers who were at their desks for over 52 hours across seven days.

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Results, published in the journal Annals of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, revealed the men in their twenties and thirties who worked for at least 52 hours a week had higher rates of hair loss.

Alopecia increased by almost 4% in the “much longer” group, compared to 3% in the “long” group and 2% among the “normal” workers.

The results remained true after the scientists adjusted for income, smoking and martial status.

“A lot of studies have revealed the mechanism of alopecia development by stress,” Dr Son said.

“In mice experiments, stress was significantly related to the inhibition of hair growth, induction of catagen cycle, and damage of hair follicles.

"Other researches have also suggested stress can affect inflammation of hair follicles, cell death, and inhibit hair growth.

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

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Off the back of their 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,” Professor Son said.

UK law states workers should not put in more than 48 hours a week.

Britons are said to work longer than residents of any other EU country, according to the Trades Union Congress.

Full-time employees in Britain worked an average of 42 hours a week last year, nearly 120 minutes more than the EU average. This works out as an extra two-and-a-half weeks a year.

Employers do not have to pay workers for overtime in the UK, states.