Medications & Hair Loss

In addition to certain types of chemotherapy, many other medications can cause hair loss. In most cases, the hair loss is temporary, with hair growing back after the dosage is adjusted or when the person stops taking the medication. In some circumstances, medications can cause male or female pattern baldness and permanent hair loss. Moreover, some medications have been known to alter the texture and color of hair. Chemo drugs are designed to kill rapidly dividing cells, therefore the matrix cells responsible for hair growth take a hit. In a similar manner, certain medications are toxic to hair follicles, causing damage and disruption to the normal growth cycle. The primary difference is chemo induces what’s known as anagen effluvium hair loss and virtually all other medications cause telogen effluvium hair loss.

Anagen Effluvium Hair Loss:

Chemotherapy and radiotherapy can cause a diffuse, yet extensive type of hair loss called anagen effluvium. This type of hair shedding occurs during the anagen or growth stage of the hair cycle. Anagen hair has a pointed or tapered tip. Hair loss is abrupt and impacts nearly the entire scalp and often the eyebrows, eyelashes, and body. It can result in partial or complete baldness. This type of hair loss generally occurs a few days to a couple of weeks after starting treatment. The hair loss is reversible when therapy concludes, however, hair does not always return to its pre-treatment thickness.

Telogen Effluvium Hair Loss:

This temporary type of hair loss occurs during the telogen or resting hair stage after shock to the system caused by certain medications. Hair shifts into a resting stage and then sheds several months later. Telogen hair has a bulb or club-shaped tip. Unlike anagen effluvium hair loss, a person experiences new hair growth. One can experience hair shedding about 30% to 70% greater than the normal 100-150 hairs a day. This type of hair loss typically occurs 2-4 months after starting the medication. 

Some women experience hair loss after stopping birth control pills, in particular after using them for an extended period of time. This may be due to 'anti-androgens' found in some types of oral contraceptives. Anti-androgens lower the body's testosterone levels and after a person stops taking the contraceptive, the protection against testosterone is gone, which can result in hair loss.

Medications That Cause Hair Loss

Doctors don’t always discuss all the possible side effects of medications, so it’s important to do your own research or schedule a consultation with your local pharmacist. In some instances, an alternative medication may be available, however, since many hair-inducing drugs are maintenance medications or lifesaving, hair loss is something you might have to accept. The severity of drug-induced hair loss depends on the type of drug, dosage, and a person’s sensitivity and tolerance to the drug. While many medications are known to induce hair loss, determining the precise dosage that leads to this is not an exact science. Below are general classes of drugs associated with hair loss – click here for a complete list

  • Acne medications with vitamin A/retinoids

  • Antibiotics

  • Anti-coagulants/blood thinners (Warfarin)

  • Anticonvulsants

  • Antifungals

  • Anti-inflammatories (NSAIDS)

  • Antidepressants/mood stabilizers

  • Birth Control Pills

  • Chemotherapy drugs

  • Cholesterol drugs

  • Diet drugs

  • Glaucoma beta-blockers

  • Gout drugs

  • Heartburn medications

  • High blood pressure medications (beta-blockers, diuretics, ACE inhibitors)

  • Hormone-containing drugs

  • Immune system suppressants

  • Parkinson's disease medication

  • Thyroid replacement

Typically, the only treatment required for drug-induced hair loss is to stop taking the medication. Of course in the case of lifesaving drugs, this isn’t possible. After a medication is stopped, hair shedding diminishes, but this could take as long as 6 months. Evidence of hair regrowth is usually seen within 3-6 months, however, it may take 12-18 months to return to its previous cosmetic state.

Hair loss is often a traumatic and stressful experience, however there are positive steps one can take to combat this – from medical treatment to supports groups – to wearing beautiful head covers and wigs.


Additional Resources:

Why is My Hair Falling Out?

PCOS & Hair Loss

Age Related Hair Loss

Wig Buying Guide

Learn About Hair Toppers & Wiglets

How to Tie a Head Scarf


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Ambien and hair loss Review by Medications & Hair Loss
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I have stopped taking Ambien as of 3 weeks ago. I'm 61 years old & female will my hair return? (Posted on 08/05/2019)

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