One side effect that you and your friends might whisper about: Does birth control cause hair loss? You thought you knew all the potential side effects that came with this medication, but maybe this one threw you for a loop.
Although uncommon, hair loss in women has been reported by some while using hormonal contraceptive pills.
Let’s talk about the relationship between birth control and hair loss — and how to stop hair loss from birth control if you’re one of the unlucky ones experiencing it.
We’ll cut straight to the chase: Can birth control cause hair loss? Yes, oral contraceptives can cause hair loss.
How does birth control cause hair loss? A couple of ways. We’ll get to this shortly, but first, here’s a brief explanation of how birth control works.
The Pill is one of the most common forms of birth control. Almost 14 percent of women between the ages of 15 and 44 used oral contraceptives between 2015 and 2017.
Birth control pills work in two main ways. 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 your uterus and coming into contact with an egg.
Although not a common side effect, birth control hair loss can happen in two ways: telogen effluvium and androgenetic alopecia.
In some cases, hormones in combination pills (birth control pills containing estrogen and progestin) may affect your hair’s growth cycle and result in a form of temporary hair shedding called telogen effluvium.
Telogen effluvium is a type of temporary hair loss that can result in stress hair loss. It also occurs due to illness, infection, sudden hormonal changes or medications that cause hair loss — with birth control pills fitting those last two causes.
Normally, your hair grows as part of a multi-phase cycle. It reaches its full length over the course of several years during the anagen phase (also known as the growth phase).
After the growing phase, hair follicles enter the catagen stage, meaning they transition from growth to rest.
Finally, hair enters a resting phase called the telogen phase. This is when it ceases to grow and is replaced by new hair that grows from the same follicle.
Hair loss is completely normal, and how much hair you lose in a day falls somewhere between 50 and 100 strands. But telogen effluvium will cause much greater hair loss.
If your body is sensitive to the hormones in combination pills, your hair may prematurely move into the telogen (resting) phase of its growth cycle.
But in a cruel twist of fate, hair loss after stopping birth control can also happen (it truly is unfair). Discontinuing medications that contain estrogen (like birth control pills) can cause telogen effluvium.
You may not notice birth control hair loss until a few months after you start or stop taking the Pill, as hair shedding from telogen effluvium usually starts several months after the causative event.
The other way hair loss after birth control happens is by triggering a condition known as androgenetic alopecia — aka female pattern baldness or female pattern hair loss.
Most hormonal contraceptives contain ethinyl estradiol (an artificial version of the sex hormone estrogen), typically with a progestin hormone.
Some oral contraceptive pills, which are referred to as progestin-only pills, only contain a progesterone 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 the body and increase the concentration of certain hormones like DHT.
Contraceptives that increase androgenic 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 hormonal contraceptive with the highest androgen index is norethindrone, which is sold as a progestin-only pill and in the combination birth control pill Estrostep®.
But before you Google, “birth control pills and hair loss is it permanent,” we should let you know that stopping birth control hair loss is possible.
Shedding hair while using oral contraceptives or experiencing hair loss after stopping birth control is a worrying sight. But there are ways to stop hair loss.
Read on for tips on how to stop hair loss from birth control.
Consider switching to a new birth control. How to treat hair loss from birth control may involve switching to a different birth control pill or a non-hormonal type of birth control, depending on your medical history and needs. Low-androgen index birth control pills, like desogestrel, norgestimate (in generic versions of Ortho Tri-Cyclen®) and norelgestromin, may be the best birth control for hair growth.
Contact your healthcare provider. If you’ve recently started using the Pill and have noticed your hair shedding or looking thinner than usual, talk to your healthcare provider as soon as you can. They may check your hair for signs of telogen effluvium using a pull test or schedule a blood test to check your hormone levels and rule out any other potential causes.
Consider hair growth treatment. 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 might recommend using minoxidil in the form of liquid minoxidil drops, minoxidil foam or oral minoxidil if your hair loss doesn’t resolve in three to six months.
Another hair loss medication, finasteride, has been proven to help stimulate hair regrowth. However, using products containing finasteride, such as this topical finasteride & minoxidil spray, is best for postmenopausal women.
Though modern medicine like birth control is an amazing innovation for women today, there are always cons to the pros. The biggest drawback of taking birth control pills? Side effects, including less common but very possible hair loss.
Can birth control cause hair loss? It’s not as common as other side effects, but yes, hormonal oral contraceptives can cause hair loss in some women in two ways.
One way birth control pills cause hair loss is through a temporary hair loss condition called telogen effluvium. It can be a result of stress, illness, medications or hormonal changes, among other factors.
The other type of hair loss caused by birth control pills is androgenetic alopecia, also called female pattern hair loss. This happens when the hormones in birth control pills increase the hormones that cause hair loss.
You can treat birth control hair loss by switching to a low-androgen index birth control pill or non-hormonal birth control. You can also treat hair loss using minoxidil, a proven hair regrowth treatment.
You can also connect with a licensed dermatologist or healthcare provider to discuss hair loss treatments.
Kate Hagerty is a board-certified Family Nurse Practitioner with over a decade of healthcare experience. She has worked in critical care, community health, and as a retail health provider.
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