Can Taking Hormonal Birth Control Cause or Prevent Hair Loss?
Birth control pills are some of the most popular forms of contraceptives in the U.S. Women don’t just take birth control pills to prevent pregnancy, though. The birth control pill and other forms of hormonal contraceptives can also help women manage the symptoms of numerous health conditions, including PCOS, endometriosis, and even hair loss.
While most people may think that hair loss and baldness only affect men, women make up about 40% of all hair-loss treatment candidates. For most women, their hair is a huge source of their self-esteem and confidence. Experiencing hair loss as a woman can be incredibly distressing. About 15% of all hair restoration surgeries are performed on women. Fortunately, there are less invasive treatment options for female pattern baldness.
But what types of birth control can prevent hair loss, and can some birth control pills make the condition worse? The following article will explore the symptoms of female pattern baldness, and if birth control can help or hinder the condition.
What is hormonal hair loss, and what causes it?
Some women can develop an autoimmune condition called androgenetic alopecia, or female pattern baldness. In autoimmune system disorders, the body attacks its own cells and systems. In the case of alopecia, the body attacks hair follicles. Hair loss can happen on a person’s head or their body. With this disorder, hair falls out in clumps the size of a quarter or larger. Usually, the hair will eventually grow back. But having this happen can be incredibly distressing and scary. Fortunately, the pill can be prescribed for female pattern baldness.
How do hormones influence hair growth and loss?
Hormones affect almost every part of the body, not just the reproductive process. Hair growth, hair loss, and hair integrity are all influenced by hormones, too. Birth control pills and other hormonal birth control products contain a cocktail of different hormones – either estrogen and progestin, or progestin only. Although the express purpose of the pill is to prevent ovulation and thus, fertilization, the pill influences other physiological processes too.
While the female reproductive system is most heavily influenced by progesterone and estrogen, androgens also play a significant role. Androgens are male sex hormones, like testosterone, that are also present in the female reproductive system, although at minimal levels. Men also naturally produce estrogen, too, but it is in minuscule amounts. Androgens, however, significantly influence hair loss and growth. The presence of male sex hormones is one of the biggest reasons why men are prone to hair loss and baldness. While women only need to produce a tiny amount of androgens for reproductive health, higher levels of androgens can trigger alopecia in women. Women who experience hair loss tend to have thinning of all of their hair, where balding occurs around the entire head. For men, baldness tends to happen in specific areas of the head, such as the temples, the crown, or the back of the head.
Fortunately, birth control pills are a noninvasive and effective way to balance androgen levels in women who are sensitive to their presence. In most cases though, women suffering from alopecia will need to take birth control pills in addition to medications that reduce androgen production. The most popular of these is spironolactone, which is also used to treat high blood pressure.
Can the birth control pill cause hair loss?
In some cases, starting the birth control pill can trigger hair loss in women who are sensitive to hormonal fluctuations, especially fluctuations of androgens. Women who do not have any problems with alopecia or hair loss can experience some hair loss when first starting the pill, or if they are on the pill for a period and then stop taking the pill. Hair loss in these cases is typically not permanent. But, for women who are prone to hair loss stemming from hormonal issues, they need to be aware of the risk of hair loss when starting or stopping the pill.
Which birth control options are good or bad for hair loss?
While some birth control pills can be used to help treat female-pattern baldness, not all birth control pills are created equal in this regard. Again, some pills can trigger hair loss in women who are sensitive or predisposed to this issue. Birth control options that contain low levels of androgens and have a “low androgen index” are ideal for treating hair loss or preventing hair loss in women with certain risk factors. Birth control pills with a low androgen index include the following:
- Ortho Tri-Cyclen
Birth control pills that contain a high level of androgens and should be avoided for women with hair loss issues are:
Progestin implants, the birth control shot, the birth control patch, and the birth control ring should be avoided for women who are concerned about hair loss.
While it’s true that birth control pills are highly effective at preventing unwanted pregnancy and for treating other health issues, women with other risk factors should not take birth control pills for hair loss treatment. Birth control pills can increase the risk of a blood clot, heart attack, or stroke in women who are over 35, have a family or personal history of these issues, and women who smoke.
Women who have the above risk factors and are also concerned about preventing hair loss and an unintended pregnancy can benefit from non-hormonal birth control methods. Copper IUDs and also barrier methods can be effective for preventing pregnancy, and they will not increase the risk of blood clots or hair loss.
As always, it’s crucial that women do their research when considering a birth control method that is going to work for her needs and lifestyle. Talking to an experienced gynecologist about concerns regarding hair loss and birth control can also assuage any fears and reservations she may have. While birth control does come with some risks, birth control pills have numerous health benefits, and can even decrease the risk of developing certain cancers. Sign up with Pandia Health today to explore your options for hormonal birth control that align with your needs and lifestyle.