Oral Contraceptives as a Hair Loss Treatment

Men aren't the only ones who find more and more hair coming out on their comb or brush each day, or find thinning areas or bald patches on their scalps. Women can also experience hair loss, and struggle with finding an effective hair loss treatment to restore full, thick hair.

A condition called androgenetic alopecia is a common cause; you may also have heard it called female pattern baldness. Women have several choices for treatment, including minoxidil (Rogaine). But the most commonly prescribed hair loss treatment for androgenetic alopecia in women is actually oral contraceptives (in combination with another medication).

Hormone Replacement Therapy for Hair Loss

Hormones and Hair Loss

Hormones can affect nearly every process and part of the body — including your hair. Oral contraceptives, or birth control pills, contain hormones (either estrogen and progestin or just progestin). The pill prevents pregnancy by preventing ovulation, or the monthly release of an egg.

But birth control pills also reduce the level of androgens, the male hormones normally present in very small amounts in women — which are related to hair loss. Abnormally high levels of androgen hormones in the body can cause androgenetic alopecia.

Birth control pills are often used in conjunction with another medication, spironolactone (Aldactone). Spironolactone is usually used to treat high blood pressure, but it also reduces androgen production — and helps to control hair loss.

Pros and Cons of Birth Control Pills

Birth control pills can protect women from unwanted pregnancy, while preventing androgenetic hair loss. But there are some possible side effects that birth control pills may cause in some women, including:

  • Increased risk of blood clots, stroke, and heart attack
  • Small increase in risk of some cancers, including breast cancer
  • Nausea
  • Acne
  • Sore breasts

Birth control pills may not be safe for every woman. Women who are older than age 35 and who smoke are more likely to develop blood clots and the more serious side effects of birth control pills, so they may not be good candidates for this hair loss treatment.

Which Pills Are Effective?

Not all birth control pills can serve as hair loss treatment. In fact, some can worsen the problem and actually cause hair loss. Birth control pills with a low “androgen index” are the only ones that should be used as hair loss treatment; high-androgen-index birth control pills may contribute to hair loss.

Pills with a low androgen index include:

  • Desogen
  • Ortho-Cept
  • Ortho-Cyclen
  • Ortho Tri-Cyclen
  • Micronor

Pills with a high androgen index that may worsen hair loss and should be avoided include:

  • Loestrin
  • Ovral
  • Ovrette
  • Lo/Ovral
  • Nordette

All About Minoxidil for Women

Paying for Treatment

Many hair loss treatments are not covered by insurance, because they're considered cosmetic. But if you are also taking birth control pills as your method of contraception, some insurance plans may cover all or a portion of the cost. You should check with your insurer to find out if your particular plan covers birth control pills, and if the reason for taking them affects your coverage.

If you have to pay for your oral contraceptives out of pocket, the cost can vary widely across all brands and generics. If you're concerned about the cost of oral contraceptives to treat your hair loss, discuss the different types of birth control pills with your doctor to determine which one will be effective and won't drain your bank account.

The Latest in Hair Loss

7 Things Your Hair Says About Your Health

Your hair can let you and your doctor know whether you're stressed, have a nutritional deficiency, a thyroid problem, or other health issues. Here are...

What Is Platelet-Rich Plasma Therapy, and Can PRP Help Treat Hair Loss?

Initially used to heal joints, PRP has been gaining traction over the past few years as an innovative way to encourage hair growth. Here’s what you should...

When Hair Loss Is Not Genetic

For many people, genetics causes hair loss that occurs as you age. But other factors, including medication, stress, and hormonal fluctuations, can also...

How to Look Good Despite Hair Loss

Whether it's hair extensions or a cheap hairpiece, you can make your hair loss problem into a worse bad hair day. Learn common mistakes people make when...

Promote Hair Growth and Prevent Hair Loss

The best way to prevent hair loss is to do everything you can to maintain healthy hair and promote good hair growth. Learn about some of the things you...

Hair Loss Treatment: Tagamet

Tagamet is traditionally prescribed to ease heartburn pain and stomach ulcers — but it can also manage hair loss. How is it possible that heartburn...

Hair Replacement Surgery Options

Hair replacement surgery is not for everyone. Before you start meeting with hair replacement surgeons, find out more about surgery's role in hair loss...

Propecia as a Hair Loss Treatment

If you have signs of male pattern baldness, the drug finasteride (Propecia) may help. Propecia works by inhibiting the production of a hormone that leads...

Hair Loss Treatment: Nizoral

Ketoconazole (Nizoral) is a topical anti-fungal treatment that can also be used to treat different types of hair loss. Though you can get this hair loss...

Hormone Replacement Therapy as a Hair Loss Treatment

Menopausal women may have another treatment option for their hair loss: hormone replacement therapy. Although controversial, these hormones — available...

Read more on: hair