It’s common knowledge that individuals undergoing chemotherapy treatment for cancer experience significant, if temporary, hair loss. Less known is how several other types of medications, administered for a variety of conditions and diseases, can cause hair loss as well.
Unlike chemo hair loss – which not only is temporary, but often regrown hair comes in with a thick wave, even with individuals who previously had straight hair – sometimes the loss from medications is long term. Doctors and pharmacists should discuss this with patients in advance. Seeking hair loss treatments after the fact can be tricky.
What kinds of medications can literally make your hair fall out?
According to dermatologists – the medical specialty that typically treats hair loss – various types of hair loss (thinning, shedding, complete fall-out) can be caused by a variety of medications:
IMPORTANT: Not all of these prescriptive drugs will cause hair loss in women and men. With some pharmaceuticals, hair loss is experienced by as few as 1% of patients taking it.
What determines if medication-induced hair loss is short-term or forever?
Physicians and medical societies always stress that with almost every medication, side effects as well as the efficacy of the medication will vary. Genetic medicine is changing that, although its primary applications at present are in identifying types of cancer treatments that work best for people with similar genetic makeups.
For birth control medication hair loss, for example, family histories of hair loss are considered a contributing factor. A mitigation strategy is to lean toward medications that contain more estrogen than progestin (which might also stimulate more hair growth).
In some instances, the hair loss is temporary even if the individual continues taking the medication.
It’s important to remember that nutrition plays a role in hair health, with or without medications. During times of illness the appetite can wane, leading to nutritional deficiencies. At least one study found that increasing intake of iron, biotin, and zinc might make up for a deficiency. That study, a randomized controlled trial published in the French journal J Cosmet Dermatol (Le Floc’h, Cheniti, et al., Laboratoires inneov, R&D, 2015), found that significant gains were experienced by women taking omega 3 and omega 6 supplements along with antioxidants.
The study subjects were healthy women, not taking any medications, so translating this to medication-induced hair loss is an imperfect comparison and therefore inconclusive. But it suggests nutrition can play a role in hair health. Consult with a doctor any time you plan to mix over-the-counter supplements with prescriptive medications.