Medically reviewed by Kristin Hall, FNP
Written by Our Editorial Team
Last updated 3/26/2021
Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), also referred to as polycystic ovarian syndrome, is a health issue that’s caused by a hormonal imbalance.
PCOS is common, affecting between five percent and 10 percent of women between the ages of 15 and forty-four. It can cause a variety of different symptoms, including noticeable hair loss and thinning that affects your scalp and hairline.
Below, we’ve explained what PCOS is in more detail, as well as the effects it may have on your hair. We’ve also provided more information about other symptoms you may experience if you’re one of the millions of women affected by polycystic ovary syndrome.
Finally, we’ve explained what you can do to treat and manage your PCOS symptoms, including options for treating hair loss and regrowing hair in affected areas of your scalp.
Polycystic ovary syndrome, or PCOS, is a common health problem that’s caused by a hormonal imbalance.
If you have PCOS, your ovaries may produce an abnormally high amount of male sex hormones called androgens. These hormones can affect your reproductive health and cause a wide range of different symptoms.
Likewise, PCOS is also correlated to higher levels of insulin, which also means that if type 2 diabetes runs in your family, you may be at an elevated risk of having PCOS.
A common symptom of polycystic ovary syndrome is missed or irregular periods. This can affect your fertility. In fact, some women with PCOS are unable to become pregnant due to the effects of this syndrome on their menstrual cycle.
PCOS can also cause other symptoms, ranging from acne to excess body hair, changes in body composition and several skin issues.
Currently, experts aren’t aware of precisely what causes polycystic ovary syndrome. Research suggests that it may be related to insulin resistance, obesity and genetic factors inherited from your parents or other family members.
Hair loss is a known symptom of polycystic ovary syndrome. If you have PCOS, you may notice the classic signs of pattern hair loss, such as noticeable hair thinning that develops near the line where you part your hair.
Similar to the pattern baldness that affects men, hair loss from polycystic ovary syndrome is the result of excessive levels of certain androgen hormones.
Androgens are sex hormones responsible for male traits. The principal androgen hormones are testosterone and androstenedione. Although they’re often referred to as male hormones, both men and women produce androgens, albeit in different quantities.
For men, a normal testosterone level is between 280 and 1,100 nanograms per deciliter (ng/dL) of blood. For women, the normal range is much lower at just 15 to 70 ng/dL.
If you have polycystic ovary syndrome, your testosterone levels may exceed the normal range for women.
Now, what does this have to do with hair loss? Androgens such as testosterone have numerous effects on your body, including the ability to cause something called virilization.
Virilization refers to the development of masculine characteristics, such as body hair or a deeper voice. One known sign of virilization is the development of pattern hair loss.
As we’ve covered in our guide to female hair loss, your body converts a small percentage of its testosterone into a more powerful androgen hormone called dihydrotestosterone, or DHT.
Over time, the DHT your body produces can bind to and miniaturize your hair follicles, stopping them from producing new hairs and leading to noticeable hair loss.
In women, this is referred to as female pattern hair loss. If you’re prone to this type of hair loss as a result of PCOS, you may notice the following symptoms:
Gradual loss of hair and visible thinning around your part line
Diffuse thinning of hair that spreads from the top of your scalp
Unlike with male pattern baldness, it’s uncommon for female pattern hair loss to cause complete baldness or a receding hairline.
Any hair that you lose as a result of polycystic ovary syndrome generally won’t grow back on its own, making it important to seek treatment if you notice this symptom developing.
Polycystic ovary syndrome can cause a large range of symptoms. In addition to hair loss, other common symptoms of PCOS include:
Excess body hair growth, usually in a male-like pattern (hirsutism)
Weight gain around your abdomen
Irregular, very light or missed periods
Oily skin and frequent acne breakouts
Difficulty becoming pregnant, or infertility
During pregnancy, a higher risk of miscarriage or complications
Large ovaries and the development of cysts on the ovaries
Darkening of your skin around your neck, groin and under your breasts
Skin tags that affect your neck and/or armpits
Polycystic ovary syndrome may also increase your risk of developing other health issues. If you have PCOS, you may be more at risk of developing high cholesterol, endometrial cancer, sleep apnea, hypertension (high blood pressure) and diabetes.
PCOS is also associated with several mental health disorders, including depression and anxiety disorders.
Although there’s no cure for polycystic ovary syndrome, several medications are available that can treat and manage PCOS symptoms, including hair loss.
If you’ve been diagnosed with PCOS, your healthcare provider may prescribe one or several of the following medications:
Hormonal birth control. Several hormonal forms of birth control are used to treat and manage PCOS symptoms, including the pill, patch, vaginal ring, injection and hormonal intrauterine device (IUD).
These may help to regulate your menstrual cycle, improve acne, reduce body hair and lower your risk of complications such as endometrial cancer.
Anti-androgen medications. Medications that lower your production of androgens or block their effects may help to treat and prevent hair loss, acne, facial/body hair growth and other PCOS symptoms.
Some of these medications, such as spironolactone, are typically used off-label for this purpose.
Diabetes medications. Some medications used to treat diabetes, such as metformin, may be used off-label to treat PCOS. These medications lower insulin resistance and can help with symptoms such as facial/body hair growth and irregular periods.
Medications that induce ovulation. If you have PCOS and want to become pregnant in the near future, your healthcare provider may prescribe medication to assist your ovaries in releasing eggs.
Changing certain aspects of your habits and lifestyle may help to make your PCOS symptoms less severe and bothersome. Your healthcare provider may recommend:
Managing your weight. If you’re overweight or obese, losing weight may help to make your symptoms less severe. Losing weight helps to lower your levels of androgens and insulin. It may also help to regulate your menstrual cycle and improve your fertility.
Maintaining a healthy diet. Your healthcare provider may recommend making certain changes to your diet, both to facilitate weight loss (if you’re overweight or obese) and to improve your general health.
Exercising on a regular basis. Regular, moderate-intensity exercise can improve your health and may reduce your risk of developing hypertension, high cholesterol and other health issues that are associated with polycystic ovary syndrome.
If you have noticeable hair loss from polycystic ovary syndrome, you may be able to treat it with medication.
Currently, the only medication that’s approved by the FDA for treating female pattern hair loss is minoxidil. A topical medication, it works by stimulating blood flow to your scalp and encouraging your hair follicles to enter into their anagen, or growth, phase.
We offer a specially formulated 2% minoxidil for women online that you can use to stimulate hair growth if you’ve lost hair due to PCOS.
Research suggests that finasteride, an FDA-approved medication for male pattern baldness, is effective at treating some aspects of PCOS. However, this medication has not been approved for use in women and isn’t typically used to treat PCOS-related hair loss.
Finally, if you have significant hair loss, options such as hair transplantation may help to restore your hair’s previous thickness, density and appearance.
A hair transplant is a surgical procedure that involves removing hairs from the back and sides of your scalp (areas unaffected by pattern hair loss) and transplanting them to the top of your scalp and other areas with noticeable thinning.
This type of procedure can cost thousands of dollars and is typically used to treat severe, easily noticeable hair loss.
While you’re treating your polycystic ovary syndrome, there are several techniques that you can use to improve your hair’s appearance and make any thinning less obvious:
Try parting your hair differently. If you have hair loss around your part line, try moving your parting to make it less visible. Middle parts, deep side parts and other styles can all make thinning hair much less obvious.
Use volumizing hair products. Volumizing shampoos, conditioners, mousses, sprays and other products can all create the appearance of thicker hair. Just make sure not to use any products with harmful ingredients that could irritate your scalp.
Apply a root concealer. Root concealers and touch-up kits aren’t just for covering up gray hair — they’re also useful for hiding thinning. Try applying these around your part line or hairline to create the appearance of thicker hair.
Choose a haircut that makes hair loss less visible. If you have hair loss around your hairline, try bangs to draw attention away from your forehead. Layered haircuts are also great for hiding thinning hair, receding hairlines and other forms of pattern hair loss.
Brush your hair over bald or thinning areas. Finally, if you have obvious bald spots or areas with significant thinning, try brushing your hair over them. You can also wear your hair in a top knot, loose braids or a ponytail to make thin areas less visible.
Polycystic ovary syndrome can cause a range of symptoms, including hair loss that may worsen over time.
If you’ve been diagnosed with polycystic ovary syndrome and have noticeable hair loss, it’s best to talk to your healthcare provider as soon as possible. Based on the severity of your symptoms, you may need to use medication or make certain changes to your lifestyle.
To speed up hair regrowth, you may want to consider using minoxidil. Applied daily, it can speed up regrowth, prevent further hair loss and help you to maintain your hair’s appearance while you focus on treating PCOS.
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