Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) is a reproductive endocrine condition commonly found among women of childbearing age. This hormonal disorder enlarges the ovaries and causes small cysts to form. In addition to affecting fertility and causing extreme discomfort, PCOS can lead to hormone-related side effects including acne, hirsutism, irregular menstrual cycles, weight gain, and hair thinning.
How does polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) cause hair loss?
PCOS is thought to be caused by insulin resistance. Insulin is a hormone produced by the pancreas, vital in regulating blood sugar and ensuring that the body uses sugar as energy. Women with polycystic ovary syndrome usually have lower levels of progesterone and estrogen (female hormones) and excess male (androgen) sex hormones like testosterone.
These androgen hormones trigger puberty and stimulate excess hair growth in the armpit and pubic areas. Excess androgen production also results in virilization, which refers to the development of "masculine" features. Potential symptoms include excessive body and facial hair, deepening voice, small breasts, and irregular periods.
Excess androgens can also cause hair on the head to begin thinning, especially around the scalp's front. This is known as female pattern hair loss or androgenic alopecia. Hair may also become limp, dull, dry, and prone to damage.
What are the symptoms of PCOS-related hair loss?
PCOS hair loss can lead to excessive shedding daily. You may notice more hair strands than usual on your clothing or scattered on furniture, or you may find clumps of hair in your shower after shampooing.
Hair loss may come in the form of loss at the root (androgenic alopecia), where the entire strand, including the hair follicle, comes out, or it may come in the form of breakage since the hair is drier and more prone to damage. This means the scalp may be more visible, particularly at the hairline or crown of the head. There could also be more frizz and chunks of shorter hair throughout the head.
Those with PCOS may also find that their scalp is drier and often itchy, generally accompanied by buildup and dandruff.
What treatments are available for PCOS hair loss?
Any hair lost due to PCOS will not grow back on its own, but you can stimulate new hair growth with treatment. Since this type of hair loss is caused primarily by hormonal imbalances, hormone regulation is an essential part of treatment.
Oral contraceptive pills
Oral contraceptive pills, also known as birth control pills, can reduce excess androgen levels in the body and manage other symptoms like irregular menstrual cycles and acne. An anti-androgen drug is often prescribed with birth control for the most effective PCOS-related hair loss treatment.
This oral medication is a U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved diuretic used to treat fluid retention, but it's also effective in treating androgenetic alopecia. It helps block the effects of androgens on the hair and skin. A dermatologist may prescribe this medication as a way to combat PCOS and improve associated conditions.
Minoxidil is the only over-the-counter FDA-approved drug for treating male and female pattern baldness. It is a topical treatment that you apply daily to the scalp. It comes as a liquid or foam and is available in 2% and 5%. This product can promote new hair growth and give a thicker appearance, though it may take up to 2 months to see results.
How can I prevent PCOS-related hair loss?
It's known that PCOS and lifestyle intervention have a direct connection. Improving your well-being can lower male hormone levels within the body, thus reducing the effects of PCOS-related hair loss. You may also be able to make some other adjustments in your daily life that can decrease hair thinning and improve your hair's overall health.
Clean up your diet
Staying away from junk foods is a significant first step to minimizing PCOS symptoms and nourishing the hair. A sustainable diet filled with nutritious fruits, vegetables, lean proteins, and complex carbs will help keep your hormones in balance and keep your hair happy and healthy. Studies show that including a zinc and biotin supplement in your daily routine can also improve hair condition and control PCOS hair loss.
Get enough sleep
Two hormones (melatonin and serotonin) regulate the sleep cycle. Other hormones are also affected when their levels are distorted by lack of sleep, sending your PCOS into a tailspin. Another way to promote healthy hair while sleeping is to use a silk pillowcase or headscarf to reduce friction and ensure the hair is tied up loosely to avoid getting tangled or damaged.
Be gentle with your hair care
When brushing your hair, avoid using rough, synthetic bristles. Preferably, opt for natural bristle, soft brushes that will be gentler on your delicate strands. Whenever possible, avoid brushing your hair while it's wet; use a very wide-toothed comb to detangle instead. Too much tugging and pulling can cause the hair to break and fall out.
It's also a good idea to avoid taut hairstyles that put pressure on the scalp and hairline. Minimize coloring, bleaching, and heat styling tools that further damage and aggravate the scalp and hair.
Give yourself regular scalp massages
Studies show that regular scalp massages may improve signs of androgenic alopecia by improving blood flow to the area and stimulating hair growth. Next time you're in the shower, spend a few minutes massaging your shampoo or conditioner into your hair for 5 minutes. Apply gentle, yet firm pressure and work your way across the head using circular motions. For extra benefits, use essential oils during your massage.