At one point or another, you've probably noticed a few extra strands of hair slinking down the drain after a shower. But did you know that birth control pills can contribute to hair loss? Some people lose more hair while taking oral contraceptives, while others notice an uptick after coming off the pill. Here, we'll explain why this can happen and what to do about it.
The Link Between Birth Control and Hair Loss
Birth control pills can certainly cause a bit of extra hair loss, says Michele Green, M.D., a board-certified cosmetic dermatologist in New York City. Hair growth occurs in phases, as it goes from growth to rest to shedding. "The reason that hair can fall out as a result of taking birth control is that the hormonal oral contraceptive can encourage hair to remain in the telogen (or resting) phase for too long," Dr. Green says. "During the telogen phase, hair is shedding anywhere from 25 to 100 strands a day and is not actively growing, meaning that we're losing hair for an extended period of time. Sometimes, when women experience hair loss from birth control pills, the body just needs a chance to readjust hormones to regular levels."
Most of the time, birth control hair loss is both harmless and temporary, typically resolving on its own. In some cases though, especially if there's a family history of baldness, thinning hair can be concerning. In order to solve the problem, it's important to understand exactly what's going on.
RELATED: A Parent's Guide to Birth Control
Causes of Birth Control Hair Loss
The first thing your doctor may want to know if you're experiencing birth control hair loss: whether you're losing hair while taking the pill or after you've stopped it. That's because these events point to two different issues. We'll take a look at both in greater detail below.
Hair Loss While On Birth Control
Losing hair after starting birth control is less common than losing a few extra strands after coming off the pill. Nevertheless, when this happens, it's likely because your prescription contains a progestin that has androgens (male hormones), says Dr. Green. The increase in androgen receptors in these pills can contribute to hair loss.
But here's where things get confusing: Some birth control formulations can actually be helpful for hair loss. "The estrogen they contain can suppress the ovaries' production of androgens and increase a protein called sex-hormone binding globulin in the blood. This protein binds free testosterone in the bloodstream, so less testosterone is available to cause hair loss," says Hadley King, M.D., a board-certified dermatologist and Clinical Instructor of Dermatology at the Weill Medical College of Cornell University.
So if you've recently started taking oral contraceptives and you're losing more hair than normal, you may want to consider switching to a different type. "Drospirenone is a progestin that has particularly high anti-androgen activity, which is why oral contraceptive pills with this progestin, including Yasmin and Yaz, tend to be particularly helpful for decreasing hair loss," Dr. King says.
Adding to the argument, the American Hair Loss Association "recommends that all women interested in using oral contraceptives for the prevention of conception should only use low-androgen index birth control pills, and if there is a strong predisposition for genetic hair loss in your family we recommend the use of another non-hormonal form of birth control.
Hair Loss After Stopping Birth Control
The most common type of hair loss after birth control is called telogen effluvium. "This is a kind of hair loss that takes place after a person undergoes a stress to the body or mind, such as loss of a loved one, loss of a job, a high fever, a surgery, or an abrupt hormonal change—like after childbirth or stopping an oral contraceptive," says Dr. King. This causes hair to remain in the dormant phase longer than usual, which can lead to more hairs falling out at one time than normal.
For most people without other complicating factors like family history of baldness or weakened immune system, telogen effluvium isn't anything to be concerned about. Eventually, your hair will move out of this phase, and you'll start to notice a decrease in the amount of strands you're losing to the shower drain each morning.
How to Treat Hair Loss from Birth Control
Even though hair loss from birth control usually isn't concerning, it can be stressful to see all those hairs in your brush when you're getting ready. You're probably wondering how to treat it, or at the very least, how to prevent it.
The key is focusing on supportive care for your hair while it's stressed, says Dr. King, and that starts with paying attention to your body as a whole. Below, we've listed some hair-supporting actions you can take to ensure a quick return to a thick, full mane.
Take vitamins. Take a multivitamin to stave off possible vitamin or mineral deficiencies
Eat a healthy diet. Eat lots of fresh, whole food, like vegetables and fruits. "A well-rounded diet with sufficient protein, calories, vitamins and minerals, and no crash restrictive dieting is best for hair growth," says Dr. King.
Minimize stress. "Stress can trigger the end of anagen—or growth—phase," Dr. King reminds, "so developing stress management techniques can help stimulate hair growth."
Cut down on styling. Limit harsh heat, chemical styling, or other practices that can damage the hair.
Be gentle on your hair. "A hair care regimen that allows the protective layer, or cuticle, to remain intact for as long as possible will decrease breakage and drying out of the hair strands," says Dr. King. "So keep your hair moisturized with hair conditioners, creams, and oils that help to avoid dryness and therefore decrease the risk of damage and breakage."
Products and Procedures to Support Hair Growth
If you're dealing with hair loss from birth control that hasn't yet resolved on its own, there are a variety of things you can try that can help. Always consult a doctor before trying any of these treatment options.
"Ginseng root is an ingredient to look for in hair products," Dr. King says. "Ginseng stimulates scalp microcirculation and helps to inhibit the production of DHT, the main hormone responsible for androgenetic hair loss." She recommends trying a product called Activating Serum from Collective Laboratories.
Minoxidil is a topical hair treatment that can be used daily to help encourage hair follicles to enter the growing phase of the hair growth cycle. It's widely available in stores and online (look for Rogaine for Women) and can be applied as a foam. This treatment is simple and relatively inexpensive.
Dr. Green recommends this all-natural supplement to assist with hair regrowth. It comes in pill form, just like vitamins, and as an oil that can be applied to your scalp. Ingredients like ashwagandha, marine collagen, and curcumin stimulate hair growth and promote whole-body wellness.
This hair growth serum is specifically designed for women going through any type of hormonal hair loss, including from birth control. With biotin oil and Redensyl, daily use is said to produce results in as little as 60 days.
"Oral medications may be recommended depending on your medical history and the severity of your condition," says Dr. Green. Talk to your doctor to get their opinion on whether this could be a good option for you.
Platelet Rich Plasma
Dr. Green says platelet-rich plasma (PRP) therapy can replace severe hair loss. "This minimally invasive cosmetic procedure utilizes growth factors and is designed to stimulate new hair growth while strengthening existing strands," Dr. Green says. The procedure involves producing a highly concentrated plasma with a sample of the patient's blood, that is then injected directly into targeted areas of the scalp. The injected PRP stimulates hair follicles of the scalp to generate hair growth.