Birth control pills can cause hair loss due to their effect on hormones. A person can switch to a nonhormonal form of birth control, or use prescription and nonprescription treatments for hair loss.

Any hormonal form of birth control — including oral pills, skin patches, hormone injections, and implants — can potentially cause hair loss. The ingredient in these products that may cause hair loss is progestin.

Progestin is a hormone that has androgenic activity, which means that it acts similarly to male hormones.

This article discusses birth control pills, their side effects, and how they may cause hair loss. It also examines the risk factors and treatments for hair loss.

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Birth control pills reduce the likelihood of pregnancy in a couple of ways.

Firstly, they prevent the ovaries from releasing eggs. Secondly, they thicken cervical mucus, which helps keep sperm from reaching the egg.

Other forms of hormonal birth control, including skin patches, minipills, progestin shots, and vaginal rings, all work in the same way.

There are two types of birth control pills: combined and progestin-only. Doctors prescribe them, and a person takes one daily at the same time each day. Depending on the type of pill, some people might have a 7-day break from taking it each month.

Combined pill

A combined birth control pill, which some people simply call “the pill,” is a combination of progestin and estrogen.

Progestin is a synthetic form of progesterone, a hormone that the ovaries release naturally. The estrogen in the pills is also synthetic.

Due to the possible side effects, doctors may not prescribe these pills for:

  • people older than 35 years
  • those who smoke
  • individuals with a history of breast cancer or blood clots

Progestin-only pill

The progestin-only pill is sometimes called the minipill.

It contains only progestin and is an option for people who cannot take estrogen.

Both types of birth control pills can cause side effects, which can vary among individuals.

Combined pill

Side effects may include:

  • breast tenderness
  • nausea
  • headaches
  • breakthrough bleeding

The combined pill also carries some health risks, which include:

Progestin-only pill

Bleeding changes are the most common side effect of progestin-only pills.

The changes may be unpredictable and involve short cycles of spotting. Less often, people taking the progestin-only pill may experience heavy bleeding or no bleeding at all.

Other side effects may include:

  • breast tenderness
  • headaches
  • nausea

Progestin-only pills do not have the risks that are associated with combined pills.

Learn more about the side effects of birth control pills.

Progestin is the component of birth control pills that causes hair loss.

Unlike natural progesterone, this synthetic form of the hormone has androgenic activity, so it may produce effects similar to those of male hormones.

The androgenic activity of birth control pills may cause various negative effects, including hair loss. Some progestins have a greater androgenic effect than others.

Birth control pills are more likely to cause hair loss in females who are hypersensitive to hormonal changes or have a predisposition to hormonal-related hair loss.

Those with a family history of hair loss should also be aware of this possible side effect. Anyone with concerns about hair loss can speak with a doctor about taking a pill that has low androgenic activity. Alternatively, they can ask about nonhormonal forms of birth control.

Many other factors can cause or contribute to hair loss. The American Academy of Dermatology Association (AADA) lists the following risk factors:

  • Inheriting androgenic alopecia: This hormone-related hereditary condition causes hair follicles to shrink and stop growing.
  • Aging: With age, hair growth slows in most people. In some individuals, the hair follicles stop growing hair, which results in thinning hair.
  • Undergoing cancer treatment: Chemotherapy and radiation therapy can cause a person to lose most or all of their hair.
  • Giving birth, being ill, or experiencing a stressful event: Any type of stress may increase shedding. After the stressor ends, most people’s hair returns to its previous fullness within 6–9 months.
  • Using hair-damaging products: The use of products that perm, dye, or relax the hair can cause damage that may result in hair loss.
  • Pulling the hair back tightly: A hairstyle that leads to continuous pulling on the scalp can lead to permanent hair loss.
  • Contracting a scalp infection: A scalp infection that causes scales and inflammation can produce hair loss that may lead to a bald spot.
  • Having a hormonal imbalance: A condition called polycystic ovary syndrome or an excess of males hormones can cause hair thinning.
  • Developing thyroid disease: This medical condition can cause the hair to thin and fall out in clumps.
  • Having too little protein, iron, biotin, or zinc: Any of these nutritional deficiencies may result in hair loss.

Identifying the cause of hair loss is essential so that a person can get effective treatment. A person with this condition can benefit from seeing a board-certified dermatologist.

Hair loss from certain causes may resolve with time. If an individual’s hair care routine or hairstyle might be contributing to the condition, a doctor may recommend changes that will stop the damage.

When someone needs treatment, the AADA notes that a doctor may advise one of the following:

  • Minoxidil (Rogaine): Applying this over-the-counter medication to the scalp may stimulate hair growth.
  • Laser cap or comb: A few studies show that these devices, which deliver low level laser therapy, may help some people.
  • Microneedling: A microneedling device contains hundreds of tiny needles. Limited research suggests that it might stimulate hair growth.
  • Corticosteroid injections: A doctor injects this medication into areas of the scalp where the hair is thinning.
  • Hair transplant: If a person’s hair loss is due to male or female pattern baldness, a transplant may be effective.
  • Platelet-rich plasma: This treatment involves putting a small amount of someone’s blood into a machine that separates it into parts. Afterward, the treatment team injects plasma into the affected area of the scalp.
  • Vitamin and mineral supplements: If a blood test reveals a deficiency, a doctor may recommend taking a supplement. However, as excessive amounts of certain vitamins or minerals can be harmful, a person should not take a supplement unless tests reveal a deficiency.

Other treatment options include prescription drugs. The FDA has approved finasteride (Propecia) to treat male pattern hair loss, and doctors may sometimes recommend the off-label use of spironolactone (Aldactone) to treat female pattern hair loss.

All medication can have side effects, and people should report any that they experience to their doctor.

Hormonal forms of birth control can cause hair loss in some people. The androgenic activity of the progestin component is responsible for this effect, with the level of activity varying among different progestins.

A person who is prone to hair loss may benefit from a pill that has lower androgenic activity. Another option is to switch to a nonhormonal type of birth control. A healthcare professional should be able to give a person advice on their birth control options.