Birth control, which tricks your body into thinking you’re already pregnant to prevent pregnancy, affects just about everything – including your hair. To find out what you should be aware of when you’re on the pill, we checked in with two experts, Dr. Richard Firshein, Leading Expert in Integrative and Precision-Based Medicine and Founder of Firshein Center, and Anabel Kingsley, Trichologist at Philip Kingsley.
To understand how birth control affects hair growth, it’s important to understand the hair growth cycle. “The anagen phase or active phase, is when your hair grows,” explains Dr. Firshein. This period of growth usually lasts for 2 to 7 years or longer, followed by another transitional phase, which tends to lasts about 20 days, where the hair stops growing. There is also a time of normal hair loss known as the telogen phase where hair sheds up to 100 hairs a day. “Birth control can change the growing phase to a resting phase too soon and that can cause something called telogen effluvium,” says Dr. Firshein, who adds that, “large amounts of hair can fall out during this process.” Women with a family history of hair loss or those who are sensitive to the hormones in the pill may be particularly affected.
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The Link Between Hormones and Hair Growth
Basically, because birth control pills alter hormone levels—which have a huge impact on the hair growth cycle, they have the potential to affect the growth of your hair. Although the pill may not affect hair growth at all, if it does, the changes can be positive or negative. “How a BCP (birth control pill) will affect your scalp hair, if at all, depends on what synthetic hormones it contains and whether it is ‘oestrogenic’ or ‘androgenic’. Oestrogens (female hormones) can be considered ‘hair friendly’; they help to keep strands in their anagen (growth) phase for their maximum length of time. Androgens (male hormones) can have the opposite effect,” explains Anabel.
Again, whether or not the pill will effect you is dependent on your individual genetic makeup. “For instance, if you have a strong genetic predisposition that causes hair follicles on your scalp to be sensitive to normal levels of androgens (male hormones), androgenic BCPs have a high potential of having a negative impact on your hair growth. On the other hand, Oestrogenic BCPs can be helpful for those with follicle sensitivity. In fact, certain birth control pills, such as Yasmin and Dianette, are often prescribed to help with hair density changes,” adds Anabel.
That being said, starting, stopping or changing your pill may also result in a temporary increase in hair shedding. To further understand the relationship between birth control and hair growth, Dr. Firshein breaks down the hormones responsible for hair growth, which are way more complex than just estrogen or testosterone. “There are a number of hormones that can control hair growth and hair loss, in women in particular as estrogen levels fall particularly during menopause, the relative effect of testosterone increases. In men, we know that there’s a conversion of testosterone into a stronger hormone called Dihydrotestosterone or DHT. DHT inactivates hair follicles. So when there’s a normal ratio for women of estrogen to testosterone, that’s usually suppressed, but as the relative range of hormones changes, you can see a change in the amount of testosterone relative to estrogen that exists.” comments Dr. Firshein.
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Other Hair Loss Factors
Hair loss can come from a number of factors, stress being one of them, confirms Dr. Firshein. “This hormone actually constricts blood vessels and that can cause hair follicles to go into stress or shock because of those changes,” he says, adding that another example of a sudden change in hormones would be during pregnancy. “In this case, circulating levels of hormones that generally benefit hormones tend to relatively decline. That can be a problem after pregnancy or before.”
Other than gender hormones, the thyroid, which is important for metabolic function and for your hair follicles, may be to blame for hair thinning. “Hair without enough thyroid hormone can become dry, brittle and thinner. That can give you the appearance that you’re having significant hair loss when in fact it’s related to significant thinning and changes in the quality of the hair.” Lastly, another common reason for hair loss is polycystic ovaries, because there is more testosterone produced in this condition. “Again, the effect of testosterone and DHEA when they’re converted, are to make baldness more pronounced and more common,” he says.
Dr. Firshein notes that birth control can also increase the amount of estrogen in the body, as some women notice that it can make your hair even shinier and more abundant. “Relatively speaking however, women when they stop birth control pills may notice the exact opposite. There is a complicated relationship between birth control and generally how women’s hair grows because of the relative increase or decrease based on the amount of hormone that that person is receiving before and the relative lack of it when they stop.”
“Not everyone experiences excessive hair shedding (called telogen effluvium) after stopping a birth control pill,” adds Anabel. “However, if hair shedding does occur, it can last for up to 3 months.”
The Pill and Hair Texture
While birth control won’t generally alter hair texture, a very gradual thinning is possible, depending on your genes and the type of birth control you take. “If you have a genetic predisposition that causes hair follicles on your scalp to be sensitive normal levels of male hormones, certain birth control pills may cause a deterioration in the diameter of strands. However, this does not happen over-night; it is a slow process. Androgenic BCPs may also cause body and facial hair to become thicker and darker,” adds Anabel.
Androgenic BCPs can also increase the amount of sebum (oil) your scalp produces, which can cause your roots to become greasy faster. “Increased oil production may also make you more prone to getting pimples on your scalp, as well as your face. That said, if you suffer from a greasy scalp, as well as scalp and facial skin breakouts, oestrogenic BCPs may help as they often reduce oil production,” advises Anabel.
Shedding After Stopping Birth Control
If you experience shedding after stopping the birth control pill, this is because your body is mimicking the post-partum period after a woman has a child, during which there’s a tendency to shed for up to 1 to 6 months after. Although that averages out to about 3 months, “it can take as long as a month before hair growth is consistent and women notice that the loss of hair has ended,” says Dr. Firshein.
The upside of this is that this process is temporary and hair should grow back within that period of time. “Hair usually grows back consistently although slowly,” he adds. To make sure you don’t heighten the problem, take it easy on your mane. “I generally recommend that women stay away from using very fine combs, over combing, using hair rollers, putting stress on the hair because that’s going to exacerbate it and make it seem that the problem is worse than it is,” he advises.
If you’re concerned about your birth control or hair loss, make sure to consult a doctor!
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