When most people talk about hair loss, the conversation usually centers on alopecia areata, cancer, or male pattern baldness. However, women also struggle with thinning hair and hair loss. In fact, some estimate that over 50% of women will experience noticeable hair loss at some point in their lives.
For women, hair loss can be the result of postpartum, menopause, nutritional deficiencies, autoimmune disorders, and several other health conditions — one common condition is Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS).
PCOS is a hormonal disorder that generates numerous symptoms – including hair loss. It can cause hair to become thin, brittle, or even stop growing altogether. Thankfully, there are effective ways to manage PCOS, while also keeping your scalp and strands healthy and preventing thinning and hair loss.
What is Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS)?
PCOS affects nearly 1 in 10 women of child-bearing age. It is a hormonal disorder associated with ovarian cysts, irregular periods, and high levels of male hormones (androgen). It affects women during childbearing years and can interfere with normal bodily functions such as sleep and metabolism.
Doctors aren’t entirely sure of what causes PCOS, but there’s some evidence that suggests genetics may play a role.
In PCOS, many small, fluid-filled sacs, also called follicles, grow inside the ovaries. Inside each of these follicles is an immature egg, which fails to be released regularly. The result is irregular periods or no periods altogether.
The lack of ovulation also distorts the body’s hormonal production. Levels of estrogen, progesterone, FSH, and LH can become imbalanced while progesterone levels may be lower. On the other hand, there are higher androgen levels, or male hormones, such as testosterone.
Higher levels of male hormones can cause excess facial hair and body hair growth. Other symptoms of PCOS include acne, weight gain, headaches, irregular periods, infertility, dark skin patches, and hair loss. In some cases, PCOS may be associated with sleep apnea, endometrial cancer, and depression.
Doctors will typically diagnose PCOS through blood tests, a pelvic exam, an ultrasound, and ask questions about your symptoms.
PCOS vs. Ovarian Cysts
PCOS is oftentimes confused with ovarian cysts. Ovarian cysts may naturally occur during a woman’s menstrual cycle. They are typically harmless and oftentimes disappear on their own without affecting fertility levels.
Ovarian cysts can cause symptoms similar to PCOS – including disrupted periods, acne, and weight gain. As a result, some women with ovarian cysts may wrongly believe they have PCOS. However, very rarely do women with ovarian cysts suffer from hair loss.
It’s important to note that PCOS creates a hormonal imbalance that’s not typically associated with ovarian cysts. If you’re unsure whether you have PCOS or ovarian cysts, make sure to get in touch with your doctor or OB/GYN.
What to know if you have PCOS
Living with PCOS can feel both confusing and isolating at times. You may be anxious about your health and ability to get pregnant. Amid all the turmoil, it’s easy to forget that PCOS is actually a fairly common hormonal disorder.
There’s no one-size-fits-all when it comes to PCOS-related symptoms. Some women experience all or some symptoms outlined above — but one of the most common symptoms is hair loss.
How does PCOS cause hair loss?
Hair loss is a common symptom for women with PCOS. Some estimates suggest that between 40% – 70% of women living with PCOS experience hair loss.
PCOS-related hair loss is triggered by higher androgen levels, especially dihydrotestosterone (DHT), that interfere with the normal hair growth cycle and cause the hair on your scalp to thin or even fall out.
While PCOS can cause hair loss, it can also be exacerbated by other factors. Stress, an unhealthy diet, thyroid problems, over-styling hair, as well as hair products featuring harmful ingredients – like parabens, silicones, sodium lauryl sulfate, formaldehyde, and more – can do their fair share of damage on the scalp and strands.
Is PCOS hair loss reversible?
Yes! PCOS-related hair loss won’t reverse on its own, but as PCOS symptoms abate, hair growth typically improves as well. That’s why it’s incredibly important to get in touch with your doctor about developing a PCOS treatment plan customized for you.
In addition to treating your PCOS, there are strategies that can help you regain thickness and even encourage new growth.
It’s important to stop viewing hair loss as an isolated problem, but rather as interconnected with other bodily systems and your overall health.
If you’re suffering from another underlying medical condition besides PCOS, it may be exacerbating your hair loss. Certain medications such as antidepressants, antibiotics, and blood thinners may also interfere with hair growth. If this is the case, make sure to discuss solutions with your doctor.
The same goes for stress and sleep deprivation. This toxic combo can trigger a number of health complications, including hair loss. If possible, try to find holistic remedies that will also promote inner well-being.
Therapy, meditation, exercise, journaling, breathwork, yoga, nutritional supplements, acupuncture, as well as herbs like Valerian root and Ashwagandha can help promote relaxation and restful sleep.
Another major cause of hair loss is poor diet or being overweight (not all patients with PCOS are overweight). If your body isn’t getting enough nutrients it simply won’t be able to support healthy hair growth.
Doctor of Eastern Medicine, Cecilia The, O.M.D., has firsthand seen the powerful effects lifestyle changes have on patients struggling with PCOS and hair loss. “When weight finally starts moving in the right direction and in correlation to the effort put in, most patients begin noticing a significant decrease in hair loss and the first signs of thickening,” she explains.
What are PCOS hair loss treatments?
PCOS-related hair loss typically stems from hormonal imbalances, so it’s important treatment focuses on hormonal regulation. There are also holistic strategies that can help manage hair loss and encourage new growth.
There are a few FDA-approved oral medications that can combat PCOS-related hair loss. Birth control pills can lower androgen levels, which may help to reduce excess hair growth and slow down hair loss.
Spironolactone (Aldactone) is an oral medication that’s known to be effective for treating androgenetic alopecia — and is usually prescribed together with birth control pills.
Lastly, finasteride and dutasteride. Both medications are approved by the FDA for treating male pattern hair loss, but not for female pattern hair loss — yet some doctors still prescribe them to women with PCOS. While there’s some evidence that these drugs can help with female pattern hair loss, many experts don’t consider them a good option based on mixed results in other studies and known side effects in women
Hair transplants surgically remove hair follicles from one area and transplant them in another. This is a costly procedure with varying rates of success. It usually requires a few procedures.
Zinc has been linked to improving PCOS-related hair loss. Zinc plays an important role in hair tissue growth and repair. In addition, it helps to keep the oil glands around the follicles working properly.
Biotin is another supplement that’s been associated with hair growth. It is a water-soluble vitamin that’s a part of the vitamin B family. Biotin plays an important role in hair health. If you aren’t getting enough biotin, you may experience hair loss. However, a Biotin deficiency is rare. In most cases, the Biotin you get from your diet (e.g., egg yolks, nuts, soybeans and other legumes, whole grains, bananas, cauliflower, mushrooms) is enough for you to reap the health benefits it offers.
For many, vitamin supplements are the easiest way to ingest the right nutrients to support healthy hair growth. Collective Laboratories’ Revitalizing Supplement and Revitalizing + Supplement are full of the right natural nutrients to support healthy hair growth and overall cardiovascular wellness.
For Cecilia The, O.M.D., it’s helpful to understand PCOS as a metabolic problem, caused by circulating high insulin levels and the body’s resistance to insulin as a result. She maintains that when it comes to treating hair loss from PCOS, it’s impossible to underestimate the importance of diet.
She refers to Dr. Jason Fung and his book The Obesity Code to help readers understand the role of insulin and healthy eating. She also recommends Dr. Jason Fung’s latest book in collaboration with Nadia Brito Pateguana, titled The PCOS Plan: Prevent and Reverse Polycystic Ovary Syndrome Through Diet and Fasting.
“The PCOS Plan isn’t so much focused on hair loss as it is on other PCOS symptoms – such as weight and fertility. Nonetheless, treating the underlying symptoms of PCOS will inevitably improve hair growth,” Cecilia The, O.M.D., explains. She recommends this book for its practical strategies and detailed do’s and don’ts for reversing PCOS through diet.
Another wonderful adaptogen is Ashwagandha. It has powerful effects on reducing stress, promoting relaxation, boosting energy, and anti-inflammation properties. If you suffer from an itchy or oily scalp, Cecilia The, O.M.D., also suggests herbs like Black Cohosh, Eclipta, and Scutellaria.
Finally, make sure to clean up your hair care routine and only use products with safe, effective ingredients free from parabens, silicones, sulfates, and harsh chemicals. If you don’t know where to start, make sure to check out Collective Laboratories’ Regimen of Detoxifying Shampoo, Fortifying Conditioner, and Activating Serum.
What are the best topical products for PCOS hair loss?
The right shampoo, conditioner, and hair care products play a critical role in helping to reverse PCOS-related hair loss and encourage new growth.
Founded by experts who have had personal experience with hair loss, Collective Laboratories was born out of decades of researching the safest, most effective solutions that stimulate regrowth.
The Collective Laboratories Regimen contains ingredients drawn from nature and combined with science to generate real results on hair restoration. Botanicals like Lilac Stem cells repair strands and stimulate hair follicles.
Ginseng Root is another herbal remedy used that improves blood flow to the scalp and enhances circulation. HotFlux®, hyaluronic acid, and biotin also play an important role in strengthening strands and thickening hair.
But the most impactful way Collective Laboratories helps reverse PCOS-related hair loss is by containing DHT-blockers. Saw Palmetto and Ginseng Root are two herbal ingredients that naturally block and inhibit the creation of DHT – the primary hormone associated with hair loss.
DHT-blockers are an especially potent remedy for patients struggling with PCOS-related hair loss, as they directly aim to alleviate the hormonal imbalances contributing to hair thinning and loss in the first place.
Learn more about Collective Laboratories results here.
Treating PCOS-related hair loss ultimately comes down to mitigating the symptoms of PCOS in the first place. It’s about improving your overall health through diet, exercise, holistic remedies, and even medication – all the while maintaining a steady routine in these areas. You’ll also want to practice a routine when it comes to your hair care as well.
You’ll maximize the benefits of Collective Laboratories when you use the Detoxifying Shampoo, Fortifying Conditioner, and Activating Serum consistently. Results won’t come overnight, but over time, you might be surprised by your hair’s potential.