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Does smoking cause hair loss?
Dr Mir Malkani
Medically reviewed by
Dr Mir Malkani
Updated on June 17, 2024

Every year, around 78,000 people in the UK die from smoking [1]. Not only can smoking affect your health, but it can also affect your physical appearance and even contribute to hair loss.

Although researchers aren’t exactly sure of just how smoking can contribute to premature hair loss, it does seem to be one of the lesser-known side effects.

If you’ve been dealing with thinning hair or hair loss, it might be time to think about your lifestyle habits such as smoking. It could be one of the reasons for early hair loss.

Table of Contents
cigarette smoking

Can smoking trigger hair loss?

Simply put, yes, cigarette smoking can cause hair loss. This is mainly because tobacco and toxic chemicals found in cigarettes can damage your hair follicles and prevent healthy hair growth.

Smoking can damage your hair in a variety of ways [2]. Chemicals in cigarette smoke are transmitted to your hair follicles via the bloodstream, causing microinflammation and fibrosis, among other conditions that damage your follicles and inhibit hair growth.

Furthermore, smoking can cause DNA damage to hair follicles which can affect the hair growth cycle and reduce the circulation of blood around the body. Impaired blood flow can starve hair follicles of the oxygen and nutrients they need to grow strong and healthy.

Is smoking linked with male pattern baldness?

Yes — studies have found that androgenetic alopecia (male pattern baldness) is more prevalent among smokers than non-smokers [3]. Out of 500 male smokers aged 20-35, 425 had symptoms of male pattern baldness (85%), while 200/500 (40%) non-smokers in the same demographic had similar symptoms.

Researchers also noted that:

Even more concerningly, early onset androgenetic alopecia (female or male pattern baldness) is more likely to occur if you’re a smoker — meaning you’re more likely to see a receding hairline at 20 or other types of hair loss in your 20s if you’re a smoker.

Does smoking cause hair loss in women?

There haven’t been many studies into the effects of smoking on women’s hair loss. However, many of the mechanisms linking smoking with hair loss can affect women just as much as men. So it’s likely that smoking is linked with female hair loss, too.

Women’s hair loss is much harder to diagnose than men’s. So while smoking can contribute, it’s unlikely to be the only factor involved in your hair loss. That’s why it’s important to get a diagnosis and female hair loss treatment from a specialist hair loss clinic.

woman smoking a cigarette in the car

How does smoking cause hair loss?

There are several ways smoking could affect hair health. More research is needed to establish the exact mechanism that links smoking with hair loss, but the following factors are likely to play a part [4]:

  • Oxidative stress leading to free radical damage.
  • Smoking restricts blood flow.
  • Carcinogenic chemicals inhibit cell division and growth.
  • Increased androgen levels.
  • Smoking affects the immune system.
  • Nicotine stimulates the release of stress hormones.

Let’s explore each of these links between smoking and hair loss in turn.

1. Smoking causes oxidative stress

Oxidative stress happens when there are too many unstable molecules — also known as free radicals — in your body, and you don’t have enough antioxidants to neutralise them. 

Some studies have suggested a link between oxidative stress and hair loss [5-6]. Smoking causes oxidative stress by inducing an inflammatory response and releasing free radicals into the body.

2. Smoking restricts blood flow to the follicles

Hair follicles need a healthy supply of oxygen and nutrients from your blood to produce hair. But smoking can cause a build-up of plaque within your arteries [7]:

artery with plaque build up

As well as posing a risk to your cardiovascular health, this plaque reduces how much blood flows to your hair follicles, limiting the nutrients feeding your hair.

3. Smoking damages DNA and stops hair follicle cell growth

Smoking is known to increase the risk of developing cancer, but these cancer-causing chemicals can also bind to and damage your DNA [4]. Healthy DNA is essential for promoting hair follicle cell division and proliferation.

Smoking also leads to an imbalance in the protease and antiprotease systems in your body, which impacts the catagen phase of the hair growth cycle. During the catagen phase, hair follicles detach from the blood supply in preparation for shedding. Disrupting this pattern can impact normal hair growth.

4. Smoking increases DHT levels

Dihydrotestosterone (DHT) is a male sex hormone that’s known to contribute to male pattern baldness.

How DHT affects sensitive hair follicles

Smoking may lead to increased DHT levels, which could worsen symptoms of balding across the hairline and crown [8]. Studies have shown that smokers are more likely to develop male pattern baldness at an earlier age than non-smokers [3].

5. Smoking affects the immune system

Certain hair loss conditions, such as alopecia areata, are caused by an autoimmune response in your body. Smoking can have a detrimental impact on your immune system, which may contribute to the development of alopecia areata [9].

One study found that a ten-year history of cigarette smoking or smoking more than five cigarettes a day could increase the risk of alopecia areata [9].

6. Nicotine stimulates the release of stress hormones

Cigarettes contain nicotine, which has been shown to increase cortisol levels [10]. Cortisol is a stress hormone that’s been shown to disrupt the hair growth cycle, leading to a type of stress-related hair loss known as telogen effluvium [11].

Telogen effluvium is usually temporary, but sustained levels of cortisol and stress can lead to chronic hair loss.

How else can smoking cigarettes affect the health of your hair?

Not only can smoking cause hair thinning, but it can also significantly damage all aspects of your hair’s health.  Along with contributing to hair loss, smoking may negatively impact your hair health in a number of other ways.

It can cause your hair to turn grey quicker [12], make hair feel more brittle, and dry your hair out [13].

How to quit smoking

Whether you’ve been smoking for years or months, it’s a habit that’s hard to kick. But smoking is extremely damaging to your health, so even though quitting smoking may be difficult, it will be better for you in the long run.

If you’ve been thinking about quitting smoking, here are a few helpful tips to get you started:

  • Speak to your GP who may be able to help you with strategies to quit smoking.
  • Look into alternative therapies like medications, hypnosis, or nicotine replacement therapy.
  • Stay away from environments where other people will typically smoke, like outdoor restaurants and pub gardens.
  • Download an app that encourages you along your journey in quitting smoking, like the NHS Quit Smoking app.

Can you reverse hair loss caused by smoking?

Although you can undo some of the health impacts that are associated with smoking if you choose to give up smoking, it’s not always certain that you can get your hair to grow back.

In some cases, patients may notice hair regrowth, but this is often unlikely. 

If you find that, even after giving up smoking, your hair is still thinning and you’re experiencing balding, it may be time to look at some alternative treatments.

Hair transplants are one of the most popular treatments for pattern baldness. FUE (Follicular Unit Extraction) and FUT (Follicular Unit Transplantation) treatments both work by taking hair follicles from areas where hair is still growing and replanting them in areas where hair is thinning.

You may have to wait a few months to see results from your hair transplants, and you should consider the process of recovering from hair transplant surgery and any hair transplant side effects, but it’s one of the most effective ways to counteract hair loss.

Book a consultation

If you’re concerned about how much smoking has affected your hair health, there are plenty of ways that you can reverse the damage.

Hair transplantation is just one of your options but are the preferred route for many people suffering from hair loss. If you’d like to find out more about transplant options, or would just like some advice from an expert, get in touch with our team of specialists at Wimpole Clinic.

Our professionally-trained and experienced specialists are here to answer the questions you have and put you at ease if you’re getting ready for a hair transplant.

Book a free consultation with one of our hair loss specialists, and we’ll help you take the first step towards getting your full head of hair back again.

Does smoking cause hair loss?, Wimpole Clinic

Dr Mir Malkani
Medically reviewed by Dr Mir MalkaniUpdated on June 17, 2024
The Wimpole Clinic offers FUE Hair, Beard & Eyebrow Transplants & Trichology.
Talk to a specialist ☎ 020 7935 1861.

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