A full head of hair is always in style—whether it’s cut in a pixie, pulled back in a ponytail, or tumbling over your shoulders. But hormone imbalances work against a healthy, thick mane and can cause a lot of heartache and hassle for your locks. If you feel like your strands are looking less shiny, dry, or not as full, your hair growth cycle may be getting interrupted, and your hormones might be to blame.
Hormone imbalances that interrupt the hair cycle and cause hair loss
The cells involved in hair growth are always in need of nourishment from oxygen and nutrients. Shifts in hormones can change the availability of nutrients and disrupt the hair’s natural cycle, causing breakage, slowed growth, and even loss. Here are the top imbalances behind excessive shedding and overall thinning (and what you can do for each).
Both an underactive and overactive thyroid can cause hair loss—and a lackluster appearance. Thinning from thyroid conditions is diffuse, which means strands are lost from across the scalp. (Not in patches.) However, thyroid conditions don’t just affect the hair on your head. When hypothyroidism is severe enough, it can even cause you to lose hair from your eyebrows and other places on your body.
What to do
Have your thyroid levels tested, and ask your doctor for a complete thyroid panel. (Don’t settle for only testing TSH.) Thyroid medication should help your hair regrow, but it might take a few months. If you’ve been on meds for a while but aren’t reaping the benefits, talk to your provider about whether or not you’re on the right dosage, if you should switch medications, and how to get more from your treatment. Also, make sure to optimize your diet for your thyroid, including proteins, healthy fats, and whole-food or whole-grain carbohydrates.
Some studies show reduced hair quality and breakage is one of the major reasons for thyroid hair being in need of rescue. Be sure to baby your hair by giving it days off from styling. Also, traditional hair ties put tension and stress on your strands and can even tear them off. Skip elastic rubberbands and opt for affordable no-breakage options, like GIMME Bands (Amazon) or invisibobble (Sephora).
What not to do
Be cautious with supplements designed for hair loss, and talk to your doctor before taking them. Here’s why: some hair-loss products contain iodine. Yes, iodine is good for your thyroid. If you have a true deficiency, taking it could help your thyroid and your hair. However, most of us already consume plenty of this mineral in our diet through dairy and grains (cereal and bread). Adding a supplement on top of that might give your body more than it needs. Too much iodine can actually harm your thyroid gland or interfere with the efficacy of your thyroid medications.
High testosterone from PCOS or menopause
In PCOS and menopause, high levels of androgens can cause changes in the hair growth cycle. Excess testosterone is expected with PCOS, but it can take women in menopause by surprise. With levels of estrogen and progesterone at an all-time low, it’s easy to assume all sex hormones have declined to the same degree. However, sometimes testosterone doesn’t decline as much as other sex hormones. Because there’s more testosterone in relation to estrogen and progesterone, it may have greater influence in the body than before.
The reason high testosterone leads to hair loss is because the body converts it into another hormone: dihydrotestosterone, or DHT. DHT makes hair follicles shrink, and it’s harder for nutrients to get through. As a result, strands stop growing and eventually fall out. Even though you’re not likely to go bald the same way men do, your locks could be noticeably thinner than you’re used to.
What to do
Treatments for PCOS and high testosterone can help with hair loss, but regrowth can be a challenge. Minoxidil, or Rogaine, is approved to help female-pattern hair loss. However, before treating the issue, your doctor will want to consider a number of factors, including your medical profile, history, and overall health priorities and goals.
When we’ve dealt with stressors for a long time—as many of us do—the body copes by increasing demand for cortisol. Cortisol tells the body to direct blood flow toward critical survival functions.
Diverted blood flow means our locks don’t get the nutrients and oxygen they need. As a result, the natural hair cycle is interrupted, and a type of hair loss called telogen effluvium occurs. A sign of telogen effluvium is running your fingers through your hair and coming away with a handful. You might also notice more strands stuck in your hair brush or falling to the bathroom floor.
What to do
Hair loss caused by stress should grow back on its own. But you’ll need to take steps to actively reduce and manage stress, whether it’s yoga, breath work, reading, exercising, or carving out time for self-care and relaxation.
It can also be helpful to reduce the amount of coffee you drink and eat small consistent meals throughout the day. Both caffeine and some forms of fasting can create a stress situation for the body and cause cortisol to rise.
Even though it’s normal, the hair loss that comes after childbirth can be unsettling. During pregnancy, growth factors and estrogen keep hair looking its best—growing fast and falling out less.
But, once your sweet baby is in your arms, hormones start to shift again. Hair that’s been kept in place by pregnancy hormones finally sheds. Because you’d gotten used to your amazing new hair during pregnancy, the contrast can seem stark and be upsetting.
What to do
After childbirth, you shouldn’t be losing huge chunks of hair or have balding patches. If you are, mention it to your provider.
Know postpartum hair changes usually peak within a couple of months before tapering down. Within six months to a year, your hair should be more predictable. A touch of good news? If pregnancy brought you random hairs where you didn’t want them, those should fall out too.
Other causes for hair loss
Hormones may be the most common cause of hair loss, but they aren’t the only reason. You may notice changes in your hair from autoimmune issues, dermatitis, and other conditions. If your hair loss seems excessive or continues to be a problem, make sure to speak to your provider. He or she can help you find the root cause of the issue.