Around 26% of women who use birth control choose the pill as a safe and effective way to prevent unwanted pregnancy . Out of the many different forms of contraception such as birth control injections, implants, and contraceptive diaphragms, the birth control pill is one of the most popular options for many women. Birth control pills are available through several different oral contraceptives.
Like many medications that you take, there is a range of side effects that come with taking hormonal contraceptives such as the birth control pill. One side effect that many women become concerned about is the possibility of losing their hair while on birth control.
If you’re interested in what contributes to birth control hair loss and if you can stimulate hair growth whilst taking the pill, read our guide below to learn more.
- What types of birth control are there?
- How do birth control pills work?
- What are some side effects of the birth control pill?
- How do birth control pills cause hair loss?
- How does the contraceptive pill affect your hair’s volume?
- What are some risk factors for hair loss?
- Can you reduce the risk of experiencing hair loss on the pill?
- Why am I experiencing hair loss after stopping birth control?
- Can birth control pills help with hair growth & hair thinning?
- How to stop and treat hair loss from birth control
What types of birth control are there?
There are many forms of contraception available to anyone who would like to avoid pregnancy including both hormonal and non-hormonal forms of birth control.
Hormonal birth control may include the following:
- Skin patches
- Progestin shots
- Vaginal rings
- Birth control pills
Birth control pills come into 2 forms, combined and progestin-only. Combined pills, more commonly referred to as ‘the pill’ are a combination of progestin, a synthetic form of the hormone progesterone, and estrogen.
Minipills contain only progestin so they are a good contraceptive alternative for individuals who can not take estrogen due to health reasons.
Anyone who is interested in taking hormonal contraceptives such as the pill will first need to visit a doctor who can provide them with a prescription for the right birth control pill for their needs.
How do birth control pills work?
The main reason why many women of reproductive age choose to go on birth control is to minimise the chance of getting pregnant. In addition to reproductive control, many women also take birth control pills to help alleviate other medical problems such as the management of heavy or painful periods, or even to reduce acne.
Oral contraceptives such as the pill work by preventing the ovaries from releasing eggs during a menstrual cycle and thickening cervical mucus. Thought to be around 99% effective when used properly, the pill can be a useful medication to stop sperm from entering the cervix and coming into contact with eggs.
What are some side effects of the birth control pill?
Most hormonal contraceptives like the pill are considered safe to take. However, some women may experience the following side effects:
Soreness or tenderness in the breast
A decrease in libido
Changes in weight
Spotting in between periods
Slight hair loss
More serious side effects of taking the combined birth control pill include high blood pressure, deep vein thrombosis, heart attack, stroke, and an increased risk of a blood clot. Taking the pill may also increase the risk of breast, cervical, or liver cancer.
How do birth control pills cause hair loss?
Although hair loss isn’t a side effect that is commonly listed on birth control products, it’s possible that the pill could interfere with your hair’s natural hair growth cycle.
Because birth control can have an impact on your hormones, you may experience a temporary form of hair loss known as telogen effluvium.
What is telogen effluvium?
Telogen effluvium is a type of temporary hair loss caused by stress, shock, or trauma. It’s also thought to be the most common cause of diffuse non-scarring alopecia .
Typical symptoms of this condition include bald patches that don’t follow the typical patterns of androgenetic alopecia (also known as male or female pattern hair loss) which usually is shown as overall hair thinning in women. Individuals who are suffering from telogen effluvium will instead start shedding unusually large clumps of hair.
How does the contraceptive pill affect your hair’s volume?
If your body is particularly sensitive to changes brought on by birth control, you may find that your hair volume will decrease, especially if you have a family history of baldness.
Most hair grows in cycles and therefore enters into certain stages of activity. The first stage, anagen, lasts 2-7 years and is the active stage of the hair growth cycle. In this phase, hair starts to grow from the follicle.
When the anagen phase ends, hair follicles will then enter the catagen or transitional stage where it stops growing. This phase lasts 10-20 days. The last phase is the telogen or resting phase. In the telogen phase, the hair stops growing and starts shedding 25-100 hair follicles a day. Normally this stage can last for up to 100 days.
Individuals who take birth control pills may find that their hair growth cycle moves from the anagen (the growing phase) to the telogen (resting phase) quickly and for longer periods of time resulting in telogen effluvium, a form of hair loss.
Telogen effluvium normally only occurs after a few months. So if you do notice any hair loss, it’s likely to be a few weeks or months after you start taking the pill.
What are some risk factors for hair loss?
Generally, female pattern hair loss is not a common side effect of birth control. However, it can sometimes cause hair loss in women who are particularly sensitive to the hormones found in the medication.
Some contraceptives contain progestin hormones that bind to the androgen receptors in your body to increase androgenetic activity. These contraceptives are often referred to as having a high androgen index.
When contraceptives have a high androgen index, they are more likely to cause or contribute to hair loss in women . This may be why some people who take certain pills experience hair loss more frequently.
The contraceptive with the highest androgen index is norethindrone, whereas low androgen index contraceptives include desogestrel, norgestimate, and norelgestromin.
If female baldness runs in your family, you may find yourself at a slightly higher risk of balding while taking the pill. If you’re concerned, consider asking your GP about switching to a low androgen-index contraceptive.
Can you reduce the risk of experiencing hair loss on the pill?
If you are worried about losing your hair or have a family history of female pattern baldness, you may want to be careful about the type of birth control you use.
It’s normally better to use a pill with a low androgen index as these normally are less likely to contribute to androgen-related hair loss in women.
If you’ve started taking the pill and are noticing some hair shedding, particularly after two to three weeks of use, you should speak to your GP as soon as possible so they can check for the signs of telogen effluvium.
Depending on what your GP finds, you may have to either stop taking hormonal birth control or switch to a different type of birth control that won’t affect your hair as much.
Why am I experiencing hair loss after stopping birth control?
Some women also experience hair loss when they stop taking the pill. Some birth control pills contain an artificial version of the hormone oestrogen, which can make your hair thicker and fuller. Increased oestrogen levels are why your hair gets thicker during pregnancy.
When you stop taking the pill, your oestrogen levels will drop. This can cause your hair to shed. In most cases, your hair will regrow, or at the very least return to its pre-birth control state.
Can birth control pills help with hair growth & hair thinning?
Individuals who are sensitive to birth control pills with a high androgen index may wish to consider a hormonal contraceptive pill with a low androgen index. Low-androgen birth control pills contain more estrogen than progestin and as a result, can actually help to stimulate hair growth by keeping hair follicles in the anagen (the active stage) for longer periods of time.
Birth control pills with a low-androgen index may include the following:
- Ortho Tri-Cyclen
- Ortho Micronor
If you are interested in switching to a low-androgenetic birth control pill, speak with your doctor to find a birth control pill that is right for you.
How to stop and treat hair loss from birth control
Birth control-related hair loss is normally a temporary thing. If you stop taking birth control or take a different pill instead, you should notice that your hair growth goes back to normal. Be patient, as your hair growth may take up to six months to return to normal.
To speed up the hair growth process, there are other medications that you could use, like Minoxidil. Minoxidil is a topical solution you can apply to your scalp in areas you’re experiencing hair loss. Many studies have investigated the efficacy of Minoxidil and found that it’s a highly effective treatment for those who are experiencing hair loss and balding [4-5].
Ultimately, hair loss caused by birth control is usually temporary and only affects a small number of people. Because this side effect is so rare, it’s possible that your hair loss has another underlying cause. Explore the reasons why your hair is falling out.
References:  https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/nhsr/nhsr086.pdf
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