Hair loss can be an emotionally difficult symptom of polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) – and a hot topic on myPCOSteam. Up to 30 percent of women with PCOS experience significant hair loss and thinning, according to a 2017 study.
Watching “chunks of hair suddenly fall out” and seeing once-healthy manes go down the shower drain has been the most challenging symptom of PCOS for some members of myPCOSteam.
“Hair loss is an awful part of PCOS and has been one of the hardest symptoms for me to deal with emotionally,” explained one woman, echoing the comments of others. “I'm a wreck over it,” agreed another. “I cried almost daily seeing how much hair was coming out when I brushed or showered,” shared one member.
What Causes PCOS Hair Loss?
Women with PCOS have an elevated level of male hormones (androgens that include testosterone) in their bodies, which can promote masculine features such as excess facial and body hair (hirsutism) or hair loss and thinning on the head (female pattern hair loss).
Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, an autoimmune condition that’s three times more common in women with PCOS, is another possible cause of hair loss. Obesity, insulin-resistance, and type 2 diabetes, all of which are closely associated with PCOS, can also lead to hair loss.
Certain drugs, nutritional deficiencies, illnesses, infections – even stress – can trigger hair loss. One woman who had significant hair loss from stress said, “Paying attention to stress levels could be more important than taking any supplement.”
If you’re experiencing hair thinning or loss, your doctor may test your iron, vitamin D, and thyroid levels, to rule out or treat other conditions that might affect hair.
Treatments for PCOS Hair Loss
Finding an effective treatment for PCOS-related hair loss can be challenging.
“I've read conflicting things about whether PCOS-related hair loss is permanent or not. All my doctors think my hair will grow back, but I'm not sure because it keeps thinning,” lamented one member. “My doctor said medicine to control my hormones should help with my hair,” shared another. “After six months, my hair hasn’t grown back, but at least I’m not losing any more.”
Speak with your doctor about the treatment protocol that’s right for you. Some medications for hair loss can impact fertility or may not be safe to use when trying to conceive or during pregnancy. Medications frequently prescribed to myPCOSteam members for hair loss include:
Rogaine (Minoxidil). The only FDA-approved, over-the-counter topical drug for treating female pattern baldness, Rogaine is a first-line treatment for hair loss. But it doesn’t work for everyone. “I tried Rogaine and my hair loss was even worse. I gave it three months before stopping,” reported one myPCOSteam member.
Propecia (Finasteride). Approved to treat male pattern baldness, Propecia is sometimes prescribed off-label to treat alopecia and hirsutism in women with PCOS. “My dermatologist prescribed Finasteride along with Rogaine (at full men's strength, not the half-strength marketed to women). Apparently, it can take up to a year to take effect, but I'm not willing to wait,” said one member.
Birth control pills. Low-androgen oral contraceptives are often prescribed for PCOS alopecia. “The only thing that stops hair loss for me is the pill, but I can't take it now because I'm TTC [trying to conceive], so I have to live with hair loss for now.” High-androgen birth control pills should be avoided because they can promote hair loss.
Aldactone (Spironolactone). Approved for heart conditions, this drug is sometimes prescribed off-label to treat PCOS hair loss in women. Many members of myPCOSteam report taking the medication with good results. “I’ve noticed a substantial decrease in hair shedding,” reported one member.
Another myPCOSteam member taking Aldactone, birth control, and women's Rogaine, said, “My endocrinologist calls this ‘the triad’ for PCOS-related hair restoration, and seems to think my hair will grow back on this treatment plan over time. I'm not hopeful though, because my hair condition is getting worse.”
Alternative Remedies for PCOS Hair Loss
Zinc. Of the many vitamins and supplements marketed for hair growth, only zinc has been scientifically proven to help hair loss. One 2016 study found that the mineral can actually regrow hair in women with PCOS.
Biotin. A 2015 study of a marine protein supplement containing biotin found that it promoted a significant amount of hair growth in women with hair loss. Members of myPCOSteam, however, report mixed results with this B vitamin.
“I've had good results. It takes a couple of weeks to start working, or at least it did for me,” said one member. Another countered, “Skip it and save your money.” A recent literature review found that there was no good evidence supporting biotin’s help with hair loss.
Collagen. An amino-acid protein known to support hair, skin and nails, collagen is one member’s hope for restoring hair. “I mix two scoops of collagen peptides in my morning coffee every day. A friend of mine who struggles with thyroid-related hair thinning said it helped her,” she said.
Hair supplements. Members have had mixed results with over-the-counter supplements. One member who tried many brands, said the brand Hairfluence finally worked for her. After trying the Nutrafol brand for eight months, one member said, “I didn't feel like they were helping and they were expensive, so I stopped.”
Cosmetic Approaches to PCOS Hair Loss
Members of myPCOSteam also share the hair care products they use:
Hair-growth shampoos. Rogaine, Nioxin, and Monat are the products most frequently noted by members of myPCOSteam. “I recently started using Monat and have seen a huge difference in my hair - new growth and less dryness (which started with PCOS).”
Rosemary essential oil. Two studies show this essential oil to be as effective as Rogaine in treating hair loss. “It worked out really well for me. My bald spot isn't completely gone but it's now down to the size of a pearl or bead,” shared one woman.
Rice bran oil. One study found rice bran oil as effective as three percent Rogaine promoting new hair growth. “It has helped me and there is research that supports its effectiveness,” said one member.
Castor oil. Members of myPCOSteam say castor oil has helped them regrow hair. “I put a few drops on the thinning area every day and have been seeing thicker hair,” said one woman. “It has helped with new growth,” added another member.
Homemade hair treatments. One member applies egg whites to her hair under a plastic cap for an hour. “Protein in the eggs helps strengthen cuticles of my hair,” she said. Another adds coconut oil and “applies to my roots for 30 minutes.” Some members use an apple cider vinegar rinse on their hair. “My hair feels a lot better after showering,” one woman said.
Emotional Fallout from Hair Loss
Sudden hair loss can be traumatic for women with PCOS, especially teens.. “I started losing my hair at 14 years old and was diagnosed at 19. I now wear a hairpiece. A bit expensive but I [didn’t want to wear] a wig,” shared one myPCOSteam member.
Hair loss also affects members’ self-worth and relationships. “My hair is a lot thinner than it used to be and that really hurts my self-esteem,” said one member. Another lamented, “My family and friends have been great but don’t truly understand how hard this is for me.”
Lack of support from doctors exacerbates sadness among members. “I'm frustrated because doctors don't think hair issues are a cause for concern,” said one. “If I hear ‘just give it time’ from one more doctor, I may have a breakdown,” shared another.
Being part of a supportive community such as myPCOSteam is important when coping with hair loss. “Ladies, be proud of who you are,” suggested one member. “If friends walk away because they don’t understand, they were never good friends to begin with. I found some of my best friends through support groups.”
On myPCOSteam, the social network and online support group for those living with PCOS, members talk about a range of personal experiences including coping with hair loss.
Here are some Q&As related to hair loss:
Here are some conversations related to hair loss:
Have another topic you'd like to discuss or explore? Go to myPCOSteam today and start the conversation. You'll be surprised how many others share similar stories.