Polycystic ovarian syndrome is one reason women might experience hair loss. PCOS a common condition that impacts normal hormone production in up to 15% of women. Women who have PCOS produce an excess of male sex hormones, which can affect their menstrual cycle, fertility, metabolism and more.
Doctors don’t know exactly what causes PCOS. In many patients, high levels of male hormones called androgens prevent the ovaries from functioning normally. Genes, insulin resistance and inflammation seem to play a role in excess androgen production for women with polycystic ovarian syndrome. PCOS also seems to affect women beyond their childbearing years and persists into menopause.
Read on to understand the why and how behind PCOS-related hair loss, plus info on the best products to encourage thicker, fuller hair.
Why Does PCOS Cause Hair Loss?
It’s normal for females (and males) to produce androgens, which are a group of hormones important for general health. However, women who have PCOS produce excess androgens and may experience more hair growth on their face and bodies. Excess androgen production might also cause hair thinning, especially at the front and sides of the head, but it doesn’t necessarily result in total baldness.
“Because there is excess androgen, this affects the scalp hair adversely by causing hair loss similar to what happens in men with thinning hair and balding," explained Dr. Kim Langdon, a board-certified obstetrician and gynecologist with Medzino. "The androgen receptors on the face of both men and women are triggered to grow hair while the opposite effect happens on the scalp.”
Androgenic effects on hair follicles can cause acne, excessive body hair growth (hirsutism), thinning hair and hair loss, depending on where the hair follicles are located.
Is PCOS Hair Loss The Same As Androgenetic Alopecia?
Alopecia is the scientific term for hair loss, and androgenetic alopecia is hair loss caused by excess levels of androgen. Polycystic ovarian syndrome is just one reason that a person might have elevated levels of androgen, meaning PCOS can cause androgenetic alopecia, but they are not one and the same.
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What Are The Symptoms of PCOS Hair Loss?
Hair loss caused by PCOS is typically seen as thinning on the top and sides of the head, a pattern that’s often referred to as female pattern hair loss or female pattern baldness. But hair loss can happen in other areas of the scalp, too.
“We also see two other patterns," said Dr. Jovana Lekovich, a board-certified obstetrician and gynecologist with RMA of New York. "The ‘Ludwig’s pattern’ is characterized by thinning of the crown region with the preservation of the frontal hairline. The ‘Christmas tree pattern’ represents a type of hair loss where the frontal hairline remains preserved, while the crown is thinning, starting at the parting of the hair and progressing.”
In other words, while PCOS-related hair loss might typically cause thinner hair at the front and sides of the scalp, you might experience thinning on the crown of your head or in a Christmas tree-like pattern that spreads outward from your part. You might also experience general thinning all over the scalp.
How Is PCOS Hair Loss Diagnosed?
If you haven’t yet been diagnosed with PCOS, a doctor will talk to you about other symptoms you might be experiencing. Hair loss on its own is rarely the only PCOS symptom. Women might also experience these common symptoms:
- Ovarian cysts
- High levels of male hormones
- Irregular or skipped periods
“PCOS is considered a set of symptoms, this is why it is referred to as a syndrome,” explained Dr. Erum Ilyas, board-certified dermatologist and founder of Amber Noon. PCOS can also be difficult to pinpoint based on symptoms, since a woman may visit a dermatologist for increased signs of acne, their primary doctor for weight gain or an OB/GYN for irregular periods—not realizing that any (or all!) of these symptoms are a part of PCOS. Some women have several clear symptoms, while others might only have one or two that might not point directly to PCOS.
“The two main criteria are irregular periods or problems with ovulation and high androgens. High androgens either present clinically (acne, hair growth on the face, hair loss on the head) or they will be high on the blood tests,” explained Dr. Tara Scott of Revitalize Medical Group.
Since it can be tricky to diagnose, doctors will likely use a variety of tools to diagnose PCOS. Aside from examining your scalp when experiencing hair loss, they will probably carry out a full physical examination along with blood tests and an ultrasound to see if there are any cysts on your ovaries.
If you’ve already been diagnosed with PCOS and are experiencing hair loss, be sure to see your doctor or an endocrinologist who can provide a medical diagnosis and rule out other causes of hair loss.
What’s The Treatment For PCOS Hair Loss?
Because one of the main complications associated with PCOS hair loss is a hormonal imbalance, it's important to treat it, according to Dr. Susan Bard, a medical doctor with Vive Dermatology in New York City. The hormonal imbalance associated with PCOS is connected to and impacted by several factors, so it might take a multipronged approach to treatment in order to manage the condition and any hair loss caused by it.
According to Dr. Ilyas, “the hair loss associated with PCOS is generally approached in a similar way to female patterned hair loss. The one caveat is that I generally add oral medications earlier than later for PCOS patients knowing that they are generally younger and can often benefit from early intervention.”
“Commonly used treatments include birth control pills and spironolactone, which is an oral medication with anti-androgenic activity,” advised Dr. Lekovich. Another commonly prescribed medication is cyproterone acetate, used to treat hirsutism and acne.
Find Out: Which Medications Can Cause Hair Loss?
Scalp platelet-rich plasma (PRP) is a process that collects plasma from your blood in order to inject it into the scalp to promote hair growth. It’s a relatively new procedure that has shown promise as a potential hair loss treatment. “PRP injections can be added to an existing therapeutic regimen as well,” added Dr. Ilyas. Treatments can cost around $500-$600 per session, according to Dr. Clara Yu.
“Eventually, hair transplant can also be an option for more severe cases that are resistant to other treatments,” said Dr. Lekovich. According to Healthline, hair transplants can cost up to $15,000 and aren't covered by insurance providers. Additionally, there's no guarantee that a hair transplant will be successful.
Tips For Thicker, Fuller Hair
As we’ve covered, PCOS can be a complex condition affecting a variety of bodily systems. Aside from medication, here are a few other ways you can manage PCOS while supporting healthy looking hair:
“Some data suggests that daily zinc use might improve hair loss as well as hirsutism in women with PCOS,” explained Dr. Lekovich. A 2015 study showed that taking zinc supplements daily for eight weeks helped women who were suffering with PCOS-related hair loss.
Losing weight can help you reduce the androgen levels in your body, and weight gain often comes along with PCOS: 80% of women who have the condition are either overweight or obese. Reducing androgen levels in the body will help with hair loss. “Even a 5-10% weight loss can lower androgen levels which in turn can improve PCOS symptoms, including hair loss,” explained Dr. Lekovich.
Diet and exercise are two tried-tested-and-true ways of losing weight. Research papers suggest that 30 minutes of exercise three times per week can help women with PCOS lose weight. And a diet that sources carbohydrates from fruits, vegetables and whole grains can help regulate menstrual cycles better than some other diets.
Biotin has been shown to help women with perceived hair issues. In one study, women took a biotin-rich Marine Protein Supplement for 90 and 180 days and reported increased hair growth. Your body needs biotin to metabolize carbohydrates, fats, and amino acids, which are the building blocks of protein. Since protein is important essential for hair and nail growth, biotin is often recommended as a supplement and it can be found in lots of wellness and beauty products.
VEGAMOUR offers two great biotin supplements (both in delicious gummy form):
Both contain the vitamins and minerals you need to support healthy hair such as zinc, folic acid, B-5, -6 and -12 — plus, of course, B-7, also known as biotin. For an added boost, GRO+ Advanced Gummies contain CBD.
Also: How Fast Does Hair Grow?
A Holistic Approach To Hair Health
Aside from these recommendations, here are some other suggestions that may benefit hair health:
- Eat a well-balanced diet with plenty of protein.
- Take a daily supplement containing vitamins B-7 (biotin) and B complex, zinc, iron and vitamins C, E and A.
- Massage your scalp to promote circulation every time you shampoo your hair.
- Avoid pulling, twisting or overbrushing your hair.
- Minimize heating styling, bleaching and chemical treatments.
- Manage and minimize stress.
- Use a hair serum to encourage thicker, fuller-looking hair.
Resources and Support for PCOS
Polycystic ovarian syndrome can be really challenging to deal with! It can impact many facets of our health and daily lives, taking a toll on emotional and mental wellness
In addition to consulting with your doctor, it can be helpful to connect with others who are experiencing PCOS-related hair loss. To help you get started, here are some suggestions:
- MyPCOSTeam is an online community of thousands of women with PCOS. The site also offers practical tips and resources for managing the condition
- PCOS Awareness Association offers a website that provides information about PCOS and links to other PCOS-related resources.
- The National Polycystic Ovary Syndrome Association has created a community of over 50,000 women and an online forum where members discuss a wide variety of issues and challenges in dealing with PCOS, along with education, tips and other resources
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