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Medications That Cause Hair Loss in Females

Sara Harcharik Perkins, MD

Reviewed by Sara Harcharik Perkins, MD

Written by Sheryl George

Published 07/14/2021

Updated 12/21/2023

If you’ve ever seen a commercial for basically any medication, the laundry list of side effects is almost comical. But the truth is, medications are necessary for some serious conditions, in which case the side effects might be a worthwhile trade-off.

As far as medication side effects go, hair loss isn’t as bad as it could be (some medications literally cite death as a side effect). And thankfully, it’s not a common side effect of most medications.

Still, if you’re taking a medication that can cause hair loss, it can feel like a big problem for your scalp and confidence. The good news is that hair loss due to medication is almost always reversible with the right attention to the problem.

In this article, we’ll cover the different types of medications that can cause hair loss, along with treatments to promote new hair growth. If you want to learn more about hair loss in women, this guide is an excellent resource to dig into.

What Medications Cause Hair Loss for Women?

Why Some Medications Cause Hair Loss

Numerous drugs may interfere with the hair growth cycle and lead to hair loss. It’s important to speak with your healthcare provider if you notice any changes after starting a medication.

Depending on the medication, drugs can affect anagen follicles in two ways. One is anagen effluvium, which is when anagen hairs experience a toxic or inflammatory event, resulting in hair loss. This type of hair loss is often seen after inducing chemotherapy drugs, where clumps of hair fallout are common after treatment.

The second type of hair loss seen from medication interactions is telogen effluvium, a form of non-scarring alopecia. This happens when the hair follicles enter into premature rest triggered by stress, hormonal changes or — you guessed it — medications.

Telogen effluvium is usually a case of temporary hair loss, and once the medication is stopped, hair regrowth should resume.

In anagen effluvium, hair loss usually occurs quickly, within days to weeks of drug administration. In telogen effluvium, hair loss is a little slower and becomes evident two to four months after starting treatment.

In our guide to the causes of sudden hair loss, you can learn more about the various issues that lead to hair loss in women.

Medications That Cause Hair Loss in Females

Various medications can be a cause of hair loss in females, including:

  • Female hormone medications

  • Anticonvulsants (bipolar and antiepileptic/seizure medication)

  • Thyroid medications

  • Immunosuppressants

  • Anticoagulants

  • Oral retinoids (vitamin A)

  • Antidepressants and mood stabilizers

Read on to learn more.

Female Hormone Medications

When it comes to female hormone medications, oral contraceptives (OC) may be one of the most popular medications. Many women complain about their birth control pills causing side effects like hair loss, weight gain, and changes in mood. 

There are two types of hair loss that can occur with OC use. A diffuse effluvium can begin three to five months after starting an oral contraceptive, but it usually stops spontaneously after a few weeks. 

The second type is androgenetic alopecia (or female pattern hair loss), a more serious hair loss condition. It usually occurs after six months of OC use. This is less likely with oral contraceptive pills that contain very low levels of androgens. And some oral contraceptive pills contain drosperinone, an analog of spironolactone, which can be used to treat female pattern hair loss — although it is possible that the dose of drosperinone in certain oral contraceptive pills is not high enough to improve female pattern hair loss in everyone.

Anticoagulants

Anticoagulants may lead to hair thinning. After all, having proper blood flow is a vital element of healthy hair growth.

Traditional anticoagulants (including warfarin, heparins and coumarins) are thought to cause hair loss via telogen effluvium. For this reason, it may take some time to notice excess hair shedding.

It’s thought that age and gender don’t play a role in susceptibility to anticoagulant-induced telogen effluvium. There are more published incidents occurring in females, but this could be due to a couple of external factors.

Men could be attributing their loss to typical male pattern baldness rather than thinking it’s connected to a medication. Additionally, women may assume their telogen effluvium is caused by grooming habits like brushing and styling.

Funny enough, minoxidil (a common hair loss treatment) was first used to treat high blood pressure. Its hair growth effects were noticed by patients over time, leading it to become an uber-popular hair loss treatment.

Anticonvulsants (Bipolar and Antiepileptic/Seizure Medication)

If you’re taking antiepileptic drugs such as valproate, cosmetic side effects like weight gain and alopecia are common. Still, research shows this doesn’t happen to the majority of those who take it.

One study demonstrated side effects in 5.8 percent of patients. Weight gain was the most commonly reported cosmetic side effect (3.6 percent). Alopecia was the second most common patient-reported adverse effect at 1.9 percent.

Oral Retinoids (Vitamin A)

Most commonly used as a medication to treat acne, tretinoin (or isotretinoin) is a vitamin A derivative belonging to the class of retinoids.

Yes, we know— you’ve probably already heard of tretinoin on TikTok. This complexion superhero is used to treat blemishes, but it also works to improve signs of aging, like wrinkles and dark spots.

There’s limited scientific research directly linking topical tretinoin to the loss of hair as a common side effect. In one study from the Journal of Investigative Dermatology on the effects of oral Retin-A (brand-name tretinoin) on hair follicles, exposure to retinoic acid appeared to induce premature hair follicle regression.

Roughly 80 percent of the group treated with an oral retinoid had prematurely entered a catagen-like stage at day six, compared with only 30 percent of the control group.

But this is just one study, and — notably — it was done in vitro, so it does not itself show that topically applied retinoid actually causes these changes in humans. More research needs to be done to validate any links. So, in this case, the jury is still out on whether or not tretinoin is connected to hair loss.

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Antidepressants and Mood Stabilizers

If you’ve suffered from anxiety or depression, antidepressants (like Prozac®) can truly be a lifesaver. Some antidepressants and mood stabilizers may affect your hairline, though. 

In one retrospective study from 2006 to 2014, users of fluoxetine, fluvoxamine, sertraline, citalopram, escitalopram, paroxetine, duloxetine, venlafaxine, desvenlafaxine and bupropion were followed to their first diagnosis of alopecia. 

Compared with bupropion (also known as Wellbutrin), all other antidepressants carried lower risk of hair loss as a side effect, with paroxetine and fluoxetine having the lowest (and fluvoxamine having the highest).

If you’re on any of these mood stabilizers or antidepressants and are experiencing hair loss, seek medical advice from your healthcare provider before abruptly stopping. They’ll help you figure out a treatment plan so things feel good in your head (and on top of it too).

How to Regrow Hair Loss From Medication

Most cases of hair loss from medications can be reversible, so it’s usually not a case of permanent hair loss. Also, it’s crucial to speak with your healthcare provider to figure out a game plan, as we don’t recommend dropping any medication without checking in with a medical professional.

When it comes to thinning hair, minoxidil is one of the most common hair loss treatments. An over-the-counter medication, minoxidil is FDA-approved to treat female pattern hair loss.

It’s thought to stimulate hair growth by moving hairs into the anagen phase of the hair growth cycle so it can, well…grow. We don’t want those hairs chilling too long in the resting phase, after all. It also improves blood circulation in your scalp, which may promote more consistent hair growth.

Hers offers a few varieties, including:

  • Minoxidil drops. This is a 2% strength formulation with a dropper, allowing you to easily target spots of hair loss.

  • Minoxidil foam. This 5% strength foam can be easily worked through your hair if you have diffuse thinning.

  • Oral minoxidil. This is an option for those who don’t want a topical formulation. But check with your healthcare provider to make sure oral minoxidil doesn’t interfere with any other medications you’re taking.

Spironolactone is another treatment option for hair loss. An antiandrogen prescription medication, this once-daily pill helps target hormones that cause excess hair shedding. It can help decrease testosterone levels in the blood and lessens its effects in certain areas of the body.

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Medications That Cause Hair Loss: The Bottom Line

While side effects can happen, they’re usually not super common. And if you do find yourself experiencing hair loss, speak to your healthcare provider.

We know we covered a lot in this guide, but remember:

  • Various drugs may cause hair loss, including female hormone medications, bipolar and antiepileptic/seizure medications, thyroid medications, immunosuppressants, anticoagulants, oral retinoids, antidepressants and mood stabilizers.

  • Never quit any medication cold turkey. Always talk to your healthcare provider if you’re thinking about stopping your medication.

  • If you do experience hair loss as a side effect, hair loss treatments can help promote new hair growth, including options like minoxidil.

If you’re ready to take the next step toward a fuller head of hair, start your online hair consultation today.

10 Sources

Hims & Hers has strict sourcing guidelines to ensure our content is accurate and current. We rely on peer-reviewed studies, academic research institutions, and medical associations. We strive to use primary sources and refrain from using tertiary references.

  1. Bardazzi, F., Tosi, A., Misciali, C., Piraccini, B. M., Peluso, A. M., & Bardazzi, F. (1994, April). Drug-induced hair loss and hair growth. Incidence, management and avoidance. PubMed. Retrieved May 22, 2023, from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/8018303/
  2. Chen, B., Choi, H., Hirsch, L. J., Moeller, J., Javed, A., Kato, K., Legge, A., Buchsbaum, R., & Detyniecki, K. (2014, December 13). Cosmetic side effects of antiepileptic drugs in adults with epilepsy. PubMed. Retrieved May 22, 2023, from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/25513768/
  3. Etminan, M., Sodhi, M., Procshyn, R. M., Guo, M., & Carleton, B. C. (2018, January). Risk of hair loss with different antidepressants: a comparative retrospective cohort study. PubMed. Retrieved May 22, 2023, from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/28763345/
  4. Foitzik, K., Spexard, T., Nakamura, M., Halsner, U., & Paus, R. (2005, June). Towards Dissecting the Pathogenesis of Retinoid-Induced Hair Loss: All-Trans Retinoic Acid Induces Premature Hair Follicle Regression (Catagen) by Upregulation of Transforming Growth Factor-β2 in the Dermal Papilla. Journal of Investigative Dermatology.
  5. Hughes, E. C., & Saleh, D. (2022, June 26). Telogen Effluvium - StatPearls. NCBI. Retrieved May 22, 2023, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK430848/
  6. Kakunje, A., Prabhu, A., Sindhu Priya, E. S., Karkal, R., Kumar, P., Gupta, N., & Rahyanath, P. K. (2018, July). Valproate: It's Effects on Hair - PMC. NCBI. Retrieved May 22, 2023, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6192236/
  7. Kumas, K. J., Kumar, M. S., Kumar, T. S., & Chavan, A. (2015, December). Diffuse scalp hair loss due to levothyroxine overdose. NCBI. Retrieved May 22, 2023, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4738522/
  8. Saleh, D., A, N., & Cook, C. (2022, August 8). Anagen Effluvium - StatPearls. NCBI. Retrieved May 22, 2023, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK482293/
  9. Watras, M. W., Patel, J. P., & Arya, R. (2016, January 7). Traditional Anticoagulants and Hair Loss: A Role for Direct Oral Anticoagulants? A Review of the Literature. NCBI. Retrieved May 22, 2023, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4819463/
  10. Zaun, H. (1978). [Influence of contraceptive hormones on hair growth]. PubMed. Retrieved May 22, 2023, from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/627180/

This article is for informational purposes only and does not constitute medical advice. The information contained herein is not a substitute for and should never be relied upon for professional medical advice. Always talk to your doctor about the risks and benefits of any treatment. Learn more about our editorial standards here.

Sara Harcharik Perkins, MD

Sara Harcharik Perkins, MD, FAAD is a board-certified dermatologist and Assistant Professor in the Department of Dermatology at the Yale School of Medicine. She is the director of the Teledermatology Program, as well as the Associate Program Director of the Yale Dermatology Residency Training Program. Her research focuses on telemedicine and medical education. Her practice includes general medical dermatology, high-risk skin cancer, and procedural dermatology.

Dr. Perkins completed her undergraduate education at the University of Pennsylvania and obtained her medical degree at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai. She completed her medical internship at the Massachusetts General Hospital, followed by residency training in dermatology at Yale University, after which she joined the faculty.

Dr. Perkins has been a member of the Hims & Hers Medical Advisory Board since 2018. Her commentary has been featured in NBC News, Real Simple, The Cut, and Yahoo, among others.

Publications:

  • Ahmad, M., Christensen, S. R., & Perkins, S. H. (2023). The impact of COVID-19 on the dermatologic care of nonmelanoma skin cancers among solid organ transplant recipients. JAAD international, 13, 98–99. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC10518328/

  • Ahmad, M., & Perkins, S. H. (2023). Learning dermatology in medical school: analysis of dermatology topics tested in popular question banks. Clinical and experimental dermatology, 48(4), 361–363. https://academic.oup.com/ced/article-abstract/48/4/361/6869515?redirectedFrom=fulltext&login=false

  • Belzer, A., Leasure, A. C., Cohen, J. M., & Perkins, S. H. (2023). The association of cutaneous squamous cell carcinoma and basal cell carcinoma with solid organ transplantation: a cross-sectional study of the All Of Us Research Program. International journal of dermatology, 62(10), e564–e566. https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/ijd.16700

  • Ahmad, M., Marson, J. W., Litchman, G. H., Perkins, S. H., & Rigel, D. S. (2022). Usage and perceptions of teledermatology in 2021: a survey of dermatologists. International journal of dermatology, 61(7), e235–e237. https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/ijd.16209

  • Asabor, E. N., Bunick, C. G., Cohen, J. M., & Perkins, S. H. (2021). Patient and physician perspectives on teledermatology at an academic dermatology department amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology, 84(1), 158–161. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7491373/

  • Belzer, A., Olamiju, B., Antaya, R. J., Odell, I. D., Bia, M., Perkins, S. H., & Cohen, J. M. (2021). A novel medical student initiative to enhance provision of teledermatology in a resident continuity clinic during the COVID-19 pandemic: a pilot study. International journal of dermatology, 60(1), 128–129. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7753449/

  • Cohen, J. M., Bunick, C. G., & Perkins, S. H. (2020). The new normal: An approach to optimizing and combining in-person and telemedicine visits to maximize patient care. Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology, 83(5), e361–e362. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7316470/

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