And for most women of reproductive age, the pill is a safe and convenient way to avoid becoming pregnant. However, as with all medications, the birth control pill can potentially cause side effects.
Although it’s uncommon, some women report experiencing hair loss while using forms of hormonal contraception. Read on to learn more about the link between birth control and hair loss, as well as steps you can take to prevent hair shedding while using the pill.
Birth control pills do several things to reduce your risk of becoming pregnant. First, they prevent your ovaries from releasing eggs during your menstrual cycle by increasing the levels of certain hormones in your body.
Second, birth control pills thicken the mucus that develops on your cervix, which stops sperm from entering into your uterus and coming into contact with an egg.
When used correctly, the pill is 99 percent effective at preventing pregnancy.
However, in “real life” conditions, such as with the occasional missed or late pill, this type of birth control becomes about 91 percent effective at preventing pregnancy.
As mentioned above, the birth control pill can cause side effects. Some of the most common include headaches, nausea, spotting (bleeding that occurs between periods), changes in your menstrual cycle and soreness that may affect your breasts.
The birth control pill can also cause a few less common side effects, such as changes in your sex drive or potentially serious issues such as blood clots.
These aren’t common, but are important to know about before using birth control. (Read more about these side effects along with information about how they can occur in this guide to the side effects of hormonal birth control.)
Hair loss isn’t a frequently reported issue related to the birth control pill. However, in some cases, the hormones in the birth control pill may affect your hair’s growth cycle and result in a form of temporary hair shedding called telogen effluvium.
Normally, your hair grows as part of a multi-phase cycle — and grows to its full length over the course of several years during the anagen phase (also known as the growth phase).
Next, it enters into the catagen stage — which is a transition from growth to rest.
Finally, hair enters a resting phase called telogen, during which it ceases to grow and is replaced by a new hair that grows from the same follicle.
If your body is sensitive to the hormones in the birth control pill, it may cause your hair to move into the telogen (resting) phase of its growth cycle prematurely.
And as these hairs re-enter the anagen phase, you may start to develop hair shedding as new hairs grow from the hair follicles, pushing the old ones out.
Hair loss from telogen effluvium usually starts a few months after the causative event, meaning you may not notice hair shedding until you’ve used the birth control pill for several months.
FPHL is similar to male pattern baldness — the common form of hair loss men experience.
And FPHL isn’t fun: It can result in permanent hair loss, usually in the form of thinning that affects your part line (where your hair naturally parts in two directions).
The good news is that female pattern hair loss isn’t a known side effect of most oral contraceptives or other forms of birth control that contain hormones.
Most hormonal contraceptives contain ethinyl estradiol (an artificial version of the sex hormone estrogen), typically with a progestin hormone.
Some birth control pills, which are referred to as progestin-only pills, only contain a progestin hormone.
These hormones usually reduce the activity of androgens in your body. However, some of the progestin hormones used in older birth control pills can bind to androgen receptors in your body and increase the concentration of hormones such as DHT.
Contraceptives that increase androgenetic activity are typically referred to as having a high androgen index.
In some cases, birth control pills and other hormonal contraceptives that have a high androgen index may cause or contribute to androgen-related hair loss in women.
The hormones levonorgestrel and norgestrel, both of which are also used in some birth control pills, are classified as medium index.
Low androgen index hormonal contraceptives include desogestrel (available as Marvelon® and under other brand names), norgestimate (in generic versions of Ortho Tri-Cyclen® or Previfem®) and norelgestromin (used in the Evra® and Ortho Evra® birth control patches).
If you’re concerned about female pattern hair loss, you may get the best results by choosing a form of hormonal birth control with a low androgen index.
The most effective way to avoid hair loss while using the birth control pill is to choose a pill with a low androgen index, then use it as prescribed by your healthcare provider.
You can purchase several types of birth control pills online, including low androgen index pills like those containing norgestimate or desogestrel and ethinyl estradiol.
If you’ve recently started to use the pill and have noticed your hair shedding or looking thinner than normal, it’s important to talk to your healthcare provider as soon as you can.
Your healthcare provider may check your hair for signs of telogen effluvium using a pull test or schedule a blood test to check your hormone levels.
Depending on the cause of your hair loss, you may need to make changes to the type of birth control pill you use, such as using a pill that has lower androgenic activity or switching from a progestin-only pill to a combination version that contains estrogen.
If you already have noticeable hair thinning, hair growth medications such as minoxidil may help speed the regrowth process and restore your hair.
Your healthcare provider may recommend using minoxidil, either on its own or with medications to control inflammation, if your hair loss doesn’t resolve in three to six months.
Hair loss isn’t a common side effect of the birth control pill. However, it may happen if you use a birth control pill with a high androgen index, or if you develop telogen effluvium due to changing levels of hormones.
If you do develop hair loss after starting the birth control pill, it’s important to talk to your healthcare provider.
Your hair loss may or may not be related to the pill — and a healthcare professional can help you determine what’s going on, as well as a potential hair loss treatment.
Most of the time, simple changes to the type of birth control you use can stop related hair loss, and allow you to use the pill without any long-term issues.