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What Is Lanugo in Anorexia Nervosa?


If you’ve ever held a newborn baby, you may have noticed a layer of soft, thin hair all over their body. This hair, also called lanugo, usually goes away in newborns within a couple of weeks. Although patients with lanugo typically require an inpatient level of care, due to the severity of their disorder, Banyan Philadelphia Eating disorder treatment is ideal for those seeking Partial Hospitalization Programming (PHP) or Intensive Outpatient Programming (IOP), to aid in their recovery journey. However, lanugo also shows up in adults, particularly individuals with eating disorders. Our Philadelphia eating disorder clinic is sharing more information on lanugo in anorexia nervosa, its purpose, and when it goes away. 

Lanugo Definition  

Lanugo is a layer of soft, feathery hair that can grow all over the body, most often on the back and shoulders. Unborn babies grow a layer of lanugo between 16 to 20 weeks of pregnancy. This layer of hair covers their entire bodies except for the places on their bodies where there aren’t any hair follicles. Areas without hair follicles include the lips, palms, nails, genitals, and soles of the feet. 

Babies typically shed this hair before birth, but it’s not uncommon for babies to be born with it. Premature babies are more likely to be born with lanugo. Lanugo is, therefore, most common in newborn babies for a few weeks and otherwise doesn’t normally occur in older children or adults. However, several conditions could contribute to lanugo, which often grows as a response to a lack of insulation.  

Link Between Anorexia and Lanugo   

So, what is the purpose of lanugo in individuals with eating disorders? Why is lanugo common among people with anorexia nervosa?  

First thing first, let’s go over what anorexia nervosa is. This is an eating disorder characterized by abnormally low body weight, an intense fear of gaining weight, and a distorted perception of one’s weight and physical appearance. People with anorexia see their weight and shape as things they need to be in total control of, taking extreme measures to control their weight that significantly interfere with their lives.  

To prevent weight gain or lose weight, people with anorexia will turn to compensatory behaviors, such as severely restricting the amount of food they eat. Counting calories, vomiting after eating, or misusing laxatives, diet aids, diuretics, or enemas are also common warning signs of anorexia. Cutting out entire food groups, such as carbs and sugars, is another way that people with anorexia nervosa lose weight or prevent gaining weight.  

Excessive exercise is also a sign that someone may be struggling with an eating disorder. An individual with anorexia may exercise to the point where their body bruises or they can’t move the next day due to soreness. No matter how much weight is lost, however, the individual continues to fear weight gain.   

Lanugo is a common symptom of anorexia nervosa and grows on a person’s body in response to malnutrition. Individuals with anorexia usually experience malnutrition because they tend to not eat enough food to sustain a healthy body weight, and they usually avoid specific food groups. As a result, these individuals aren’t getting essential nutrients from the food needed to fuel their organs and certain bodily functions.   

What’s more, people with anorexia nervosa tend to have very low body fat levels, which can make them feel colder and sickly. In an attempt to maintain its temperature, a person with anorexia nervosa may grow lanugo because it’s their body’s way of keeping itself warm and insulated. Therefore, the purpose of lanugo in people with anorexia nervosa is to keep them warm.  

In adults, lanugo will appear anywhere on the body where there are hair follicles. Depending on the severity of the person’s condition, lanugo hair can look like a thin layer of fur. In people with anorexia, lanugo is most noticeable on their back, shoulders, and tailbone. The color of lanugo hair depends on the person’s genetics. For instance, lanugo may be more visible in individuals with darker skin complexions. 

When Does Lanugo Go Away? 

While lanugo goes away within the first two months of a baby’s life, it could last much longer in people with anorexia. Because lanugo in anorexia nervosa is another symptom of malnutrition and poor bodily function, its duration is dependent on the duration of the person’s condition. Lanugo would essentially go away in people with anorexia nervosa when they regain their health.  

This could mean reaching a healthy body weight for their height and age, as well as a healthy body fat count. Both recovery from anorexia nervosa and losing lanugo can take anywhere from several weeks to several years. If you notice lanugo on yourself or a loved one, visit a doctor right away, as it may not only indicate an eating disorder but possibly another condition.  

Help for Anorexia Nervosa  

Anorexia nervosa is a severe eating disorder that can completely change a person’s life. If you or someone you know is battling an eating disorder, don’t wait to get help. Recovery is possible with the right kind of care.  


Banyan Treatment Centers offers Philadelphia eating disorder treatment for disorders like anorexia, bulimia, and more. From nutritional counseling to holistic and spiritual therapy programs, our specialists utilize a variety of modalities to help clients recover.  


Call Banyan Treatment Centers Philadelphia today at 888-280-4763 to get started. 


Related Reading:  

Coping Mechanisms for Anorexia  

Common Misconceptions About Anorexia 

Alyssa, Director of Digital Marketing
Alyssa, Director of Digital Marketing
Alyssa is the National Director of Digital Marketing and is responsible for a multitude of integrated campaigns and events in the behavioral health and addictions field. All articles have been written by Alyssa and medically reviewed by our Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Darrin Mangiacarne.