August is Hair Loss Awareness Month, and this is not an issue that affects men only. According to NYU Langone “more than 80 percent of men and nearly half of women experience significant hair loss during their lifetime.” In fact there is one possible cause of hair loss that is unique to women: birth control.
If you’re experiencing hair loss, whether it’s thinning or shedding, the culprit may be your birth control. But with so much information floating around, separating fact from fiction about this potentially devastating condition can be tricky.
Why does birth control contribute to hair loss?
According to Michelle Blaisure, a certified trichologist who is also a nutritional therapist, too-low progesterone, too much estrogen, or excess androgen can work concurrently or separately to contribute to hair loss in women.
The Phases of Hair Growth
Contrary to popular belief, every hair on your head isn’t growing at the same rate. At any given moment, about 90 percent of your follicles are in the anagen growth phase, meaning they are actively producing hair.
However, “the other five to 10 percent of hair follicles are in the catagen and telogen phases,” Blaisure says. “Your hair follicles go through individualized growth cycles at different times; otherwise your hair would fall out all at once.”
During the catagen phase — when the follicle renews itself — and the telogen phase — when the follicle rests — no hair growth takes place. A more-recently described phase — the exogen phase — is when hair sheds.
Although genetic predisposition and nutrition play a factor, your curls “grow around half an inch a month,” Blaisure says. However, because these three phases of hair growth are controlled by hormones, using hormone-containing birth control methods can interfere with the body’s normal hair growth cycles.
Photo by Eye for Ebony on Unsplash
Why women experience hair loss after stopping birth control
Various medications have varying levels of different hormones, and each can impact hair growth differently. In some women, some hormones in birth control — or the body’s response to the additional hormones — can cause the hair to move from the growing phase to the resting phase too soon, resulting in a form of hair loss is called “telogen effluvium.”
In other women, however, the hair loss comes after they stop using birth control pills. For these women, absorbing the additional hormones extends the anagen phase of the hair-growth cycle.
When the supplemental hormones are no longer interfering with the normal process, the hair follicles are able to go into their resting phase, and then their shedding phase.
This can lead to massive shedding of hair that had been held overlong in the anagen phase by the additional hormones.
Will the hair loss last forever?
The good news, according to Blaisure, is that our beautiful, brilliant bodies eventually get back on track. “Once you ditch your contraceptive, your hair loss will self-correct within three to four months,” she says.
What you need to know about estrogen
The AHLA agrees: “Hormonal contraceptives have a significant potential of causing or exacerbating hair loss. It is important to note that any medication or therapy that alters a woman’s hormones, including but not limited to, contraceptives, can trigger hair loss in anyone who takes them. If a woman has a strong predisposition for genetic hair loss in her family, we recommend the use of another non-hormonal form of birth control.”
Contraceptives create a negative feedback system within your body. A negative feedback stabilizes a process by reducing its rate when its effects are too much. This occurs because the endocrine glands are sensitive to both the amount of hormones they make, and the substance that activates them.
Thus, if you take a birth control that’s high in estrogen, your endocrine gland will stop making the hormone resulting in hair loss. Your body needs a balanced amount of estrogen so the hair growth cycle can function effectively.
Within the endocrine system, the endocrine glands which includes the pancreas, thyroid, pituitary, and adrenal glands, secrete hormones directly into your bloodstream to signal the hair growth cycle.
“Estrogen and testosterone are the two dominant hormones that influence hair growth,” Blaisure says. “Most birth control contains progestin, a synthetic form of progesterone, and estrogen.”
Testosterone is an androgen that’s present in both men and women. An excess of testosterone in men or women, will cause the enzyme, 5-alpha-reductase to convert it into DHT.
The American Hair Loss Association recommends that all women interested in using oral contraceptives for the prevention of conception should only use low-androgen birth control pills.
“When a woman’s body has an excess of dihydrotestosterone (DHT), it shrinks hair follicles, a process known as hair miniaturization,” Blaisure says. Because each follicle contains two to six strands of hair, she says miniaturization will result in less volume instead of bald spots.
The surge in estrogen and progestin changes your body’s hormone level, “keeping it the same all the time,” Blaisure explains, which is a hair growth no-no if you want Rapunzel-like length.
“It depends on the level of progesterone and/or estrogen in the contraceptive.”
When it comes to estrogen and hair growth, too much of it translates into hair loss.
“Low amounts of progesterone and too much estrogen triggers hair in the growing cycle to shed,” Blaisure says. Your hair follicles respond to the excess hormones by causing them to enter the telogen phase faster.
A 2012 study by Hui-min Hu, et. al., backed her statement, detailing that estrogen leads to reversible hair cycle retardation by signaling premature catagen and maintaining telogen.
For those struggling with hair loss at any time, Blaisure has handpicked four products that’ll help you grow your coils while maintaining your mane’s health.
- Bosley Rebalancing and Finishing Treatment: A blend of burdock root, marula, coconut, sunflower seed, rice, avocado, and argan oils that treats dry, itchy scalp, and/or dandruff.
- Bosley BosRevive Kit For Color-Treated Hair: Saw palmetto, which can prevent follicle shrinkage, is the active ingredient in this kit that includes shampoo, conditioner, and a leave-in treatment.
- Bosley Healthy Follicle Energizer: A rich serum made of anti-aging ingredients and DHT blockers to improve your strands.
- Bosley HairMax Laser Band: Use for two months, at least two to three times weekly, and you’ll notice new strands of hair courtesy of 82 red-light emitting lasers that stimulate your hair follicles.
Is my hair loss connected to my birth control?
If you’re losing your hair and want to know if it’s related to your birth control, Blaisure suggests seeking the counsel of a specialist such as a gynecologist to administer a hormone panel test, thyroid test, or a general blood test. She points out that results of your tests may indicate a need for further testing. Once you know your results, your doctor can discuss your options for a low-dose contraceptive.
Would you ditch your birth control to save your tresses? Why or why not?
Share with us in the comments section below. For more on how hormones affect hair loss, check here.
This article has been updated.