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Learn more about the results we get at Within

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What causes lanugo hair in anorexia?

The disordered eating patterns involved with anorexia nervosa (AN) can impact nearly every function of the body, including the way hair is grown.

While many people who struggle with AN experience hair loss as part of the condition, others experience new or changed hair growth — specifically, the appearance of soft, fine hair all over the body and face.

Called lanugo, it's a common symptom of both anorexia nervosa and malnutrition, often appearing as body fat levels drop.1 But as AN is treated and healthy weight gain is sustained, the hairs often fall out on their own.

 minutes read
Last updated on 
August 18, 2023
August 18, 2023
In this article

What is lanugo?

Lanugo hair is fine, soft hair, sometimes referred to as downy hair or peach fuzz. It usually grows in utero, while a fetus is still developing.2

Most of the time, the hair will fall out before birth, but it's possible for a newborn baby to have lanugo, especially in the case of premature babies. In these cases, the hair stops growing and typically falls out on its own, after a couple of weeks.2

Lanugo can grow anywhere on the body, except those areas that don't have hair follicles, including the lips, nails, palms, and the soles of the feet.2 The purpose of this downy hair is to help keep a fetus warm, though lanugo hair sometimes appears on adults, including those with AN or severe malnutrition, and people who have certain cancers or tumors.2

What causes lanugo hair in anorexia?

Lanugo hair is one of the most common dermatological signs of anorexia nervosa.3 People struggling with the eating disorder generally experience this symptom when they lose significant weight, and with it, body fat.1

As body fat diminishes, there are less layers to help keep the internal organs warm. To make up for this loss, blood is often redirected away from the extremities and focused centrally. This can lead to other skin signs of AN, including dry or flaky skin and bluish lips, fingers, ears, and nose, as well as a sensitivity to cold.1

Lanugo hair often grows in response, as well, in an attempt to regulate body temperature.1 It can grow anywhere, but often appears along the spine, as facial hair or on the sides of the face, on the shoulders, or along the forearms.4

When does lanugo go away?

The good news about AN is that many symptoms are not permanent. As the condition is treated, and steps are taken to build a healthier diet and lifestyle, many symptoms will recede. The same is true with lanugo.

The feathery hair is not considered a medical complication, and therefore, there is no "treatment" specifically for the issue. Directly addressing anorexia nervosa—or the source of malnutrition—is the only way to get rid of lanugo.

Generally, once someone regains enough body fat, lanugo hair will fall out on its own.4 The process usually happens slowly, and people with anorexia nervosa may notice lanugo hair falling out as their recovery journey goes on.

Other ways anorexia impacts hair growth

The impact of malnutrition should not be understated. It can manifest throughout the body and have any number of physical effects. And when it comes to hair growth, the malnutrition developed through AN can just as easily lead to hair loss, or overly brittle and dry hair.3

In these cases, specific nutritional deficiencies brought on by the limited food intake involved with AN often drive the issue. Some vitamins and minerals most important for hair growth and hair health include:5

  • Iron
  • Zinc
  • Selenium
  • Niacin
  • Some polyunsaturated essential fatty acids

Maintaining healthy and sustained weight gain is a crucial aspect of reversing these effects on hair. But it's important that a diet include these essential nutrients to best promote healthy hair regrowth.

Finding help for anorexia nervosa

As an eating disorder, anorexia nervosa can cause a number of mental, physical, and emotional health concerns. And medical complications occurring with this illness won't go away on their own, and tend to only get worse with time. 

If you or a loved one fear weight gain, limit food intake, struggle with body image issues, or experience other symptoms of AN or other eating disorders, it's time to seek out help.

Your primary care physician, therapist, or another trusted medical professional can be a great place to start. These experts can help you receive an official diagnosis and may be able to recommend you to successful treatment programs.

Treatment can be done at home

At Within, our diverse team comes from multidisciplinary backgrounds, able to help address the mental, physical, and emotional needs of recovery. And our unique program allows you to access this personal support and complete your recovery program from the comfort of your own home.

Regardless of where you look for it, it's important to remember that help is always available, and it can help lead you to a healthier and happier future.

Get a free consultation

Disclaimer about "overeating": Within Health hesitatingly uses the word "overeating" because it is the term currently associated with this condition in society, however, we believe it inherently overlooks the various psychological aspects of this condition which are often interconnected with internalized diet culture, and a restrictive mindset about food. For the remainder of this piece, we will therefore be putting "overeating" in quotations to recognize that the diagnosis itself pathologizes behavior that is potentially hardwired and adaptive to a restrictive mindset.

Disclaimer about weight loss drugs: Within does not endorse the use of any weight loss drug or behavior and seeks to provide education on the insidious nature of diet culture. We understand the complex nature of disordered eating and eating disorders and strongly encourage anyone engaging in these behaviors to reach out for help as soon as possible. No statement should be taken as healthcare advice. All healthcare decisions should be made with your individual healthcare provider.


  1. Mehler, P. S., & Brown, C. (2015). Anorexia nervosa - medical complications. Journal of Eating Disorders, 3, 11.
  2. Lanugo. Cleveland Clinic. Accessed August 2023. 
  3. Strumia R. (2009). Skin signs in anorexia nervosa. Dermato-endocrinology, 1(5), 268–270.
  4. I am now in recovery for anorexia nervosa, but before that, I developed lanugo. Once I have recovered from anorexia, will the lanugo disappear? (2021, August 9). Center for Young Women’s Health. Accessed August 2023. 
  5. Guo, E. L., & Katta, R. (2017). Diet and hair loss: effects of nutrient deficiency and supplement use. Dermatology Practical & Conceptual, 7(1), 1–10.


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Further reading

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