Medically reviewed by Katelyn Hagerty, FNP
Written by Our Editorial Team
Last updated 7/28/2022
Women have a lot to worry about. From the stresses of daily life to the ravages of time, women’s bodies and minds have a lot of aggressors to fight off to stay healthy and functional. But could one of the aggressors against our hair come from a surprising place? Could the breast hormone prolactin cause hair loss?
It’s a complicated question — prolactin has certainly been examined for its effects on hair growth and female pattern hair loss, but the information is far from clear.
To understand this complicated relationship, you’ll need a few basics — let’s start with how prolactin actually works.
Prolactin is a hormone responsible for breast development, lactation and other actions and processes in the human body.
Obviously, these two main functions would make prolactin an important hormone for the function of women’s bodies, but the 199 amino acids in prolactin do not simply create a milk-making polypeptide hormone — they create a hormone responsible for mammary gland function.
Pituitary gland function plays an essential role in the production of prolactin, and when normal levels of prolactin are off for women, a lot of things can go wrong. Women can suffer from hot flashes, irregular periods or absent periods and other interruptions to the menstrual cycle.
Heightened prolactin secretion can cause breast enlargement, boost breast milk production and cause vaginal dryness.
The truth is that the scientific community is far from defining a relationship between hair growth and prolactin.
Hair loss in women due to prolactin levels has been dismissed because there’s no evidence to support a direct relationship. But heightened prolactin levels or hyperprolactinemia in women was still noted as something to be monitored over time, if only for research purposes.
Research has theorized that prolactin might be a culprit in the larger problem of androgenetic alopecia and may have a potential mechanism for interrupting the hair growth cycle and forcing follicles into the catagen phase, which would suggest that prolactin could be a risk factor for telogen effluvium.
But this is speculation — we’re far from drawing that conclusion with anything more than a light pencil line.
Research has come at this question from a few directions, and some studies have also looked at the relationship between prolactin and hair loss through the lens of men’s hair.
Anecdotally, the data is comparably nonexistent for prolactin with regards to male pattern baldness. Relatively few studies have explored the relationship between male hair loss and prolactin, but the ones that have looked for a link haven’t found any clear answers.
A 2004 study looked at men with premature androgenic alopecia to see whether elevated levels of prolactin were present in 37 men, and in this relatively small sample size, they found a “borderline trend” of significance between those prolactin levels and premature hair loss.
The study didn’t draw any conclusions about a cause-effect relationship between prolactin and hair loss.
Hair loss due to prolactin might be caused by one of two types of hair loss: telogen effluvium or androgenic alopecia.
We mentioned above how these two types of hair loss may be caused by prolactin, and it’s important to understand the difference because they’re treated very differently.
Telogen effluvium is a sudden shedding of hair caused by trauma or stress from high fevers, illnesses or stress-related conditions like PTSD.
What’s significant — and good — about telogen effluvium is that it usually resolves itself over the span of a few months without treatment, once the traumatic event is over.
A good example of this is people who go through chemotherapy: they experience telogen effluvium during their treatments, but once the treatment is complete, their hair will typically grow back within a period of several months.
Telogen effluvium can also be experienced as a result of surgery, childbirth and other experiences that are generally considered stressful to the body.
Certain products can help speed up this regrowth process, but we’ll get to those in a moment.
The other type of hair loss — androgenetic alopecia or androgenic alopecia — is what we commonly known as female pattern hair loss. And, unfortunately, there is no “cure.”
The main symptom of patterned hair loss can be treated with certain products, and this is probably a good time to talk about holistic hair health.
Androgenetic hair loss and your hair growth cycle generally are important things to keep healthy, especially as you age.
Regardless of whether you’re seeing hair loss due to prolactin interrupting your hair cycle or something else doing it, there are treatments that studies have shown will give you the best chance of limiting further damage and maybe even reversing some of the loss.
This stuff is effective — a 48-week study showed many participants seeing as much as 18 percent increases in hair growth phase activity compared with placebo.
You also might want to ask your healthcare provider to screen for nutritional deficiencies, which can cause hair loss as well as a number of other medical problems. Your hair needs vitamins and minerals including biotin, vitamin A and vitamin D (and if you’re looking for a way to get those into your diet, consider hers’ Biotin Gummy Multivitamins).
There’s no way to tell whether your prolactin levels are elevated without visiting a healthcare professional, and so if you’re wondering if you might be experiencing heightened levels of prolactin, your next step should be speaking with a healthcare provider about your concerns.
If you’ve already been diagnosed with an elevated prolactin level and you’re concerned about protecting your hair, it might be time to talk to a healthcare professional for you, too.
While we can readily suggest the OTC products we mentioned above, the truth is, a healthcare professional can create a hair loss treatment plan for your own needs. That may mean different products based on your allergies, skin type, the health of your hair and other health conditions that might make one medication more or less safe for you to use.
We understand the desire to protect your hair at all costs, but doing so without considering the big picture of your health isn’t smart.
Be smart: talk to a healthcare provider about your concerns today, and get the right, safe, long-term treatment for you.