PCOS Hair Loss: Causes, Treatment Options & Supplements to Reverse it

Overview of PCOS and Hair Health

Hormone health impacts hair growth and overall hair health, although it’s not always the first thing that comes to mind when we think about hair problems. 


PCOS can significantly contribute to hair issues because of the overproduction of androgens or masculine hormones like testosterone that can affect the way hair grows.


PCOS-related hair loss is medically known as androgenic alopecia, and it often manifests as hair loss around the temples and front areas of the scalp. 


It’s slightly different than male-pattern baldness, which more commonly shows up as a receding hairline and thinning hair on the crown of the head.


The extra androgen production also triggers excess hair growth in areas where women typically don’t have much hair, like the face, chest, back, and torso. 


Dealing with hair-related issues alongside other PCOS symptoms can be distressing, especially for those who are new to their PCOS diagnosis. 


The good news, though, is that these symptoms are manageable.


In this guide, we’re taking an in-depth look at why hair loss can happen when you have PCOS and what you can do to take charge of your health and ease your symptoms.


 Let’s begin.

The Science Behind Hair Loss in PCOS

Research shows that hormones can affect hair growth. 

High levels of androgenic hormones, such as testosterone (T), dihydrotestosterone (DHT), androstenedione (A), and dehydroepiandrosterone sulfate (DHEAS)—can specifically impact how your hair grows.

These androgens act on areas of the body sensitive to hormones, like the head, face, chest, back, and groin. 

The hormones can either convert finer vellus hairs into coarser terminal hairs—or cause follicles to die and hair to fall out.

In some women, these fine, soft, vellus hairs on the chin, upper lip, breasts, inner thighs, lower back, and lower abdomen are hormone-sensitive and can turn into terminal hairs that grow much faster, requiring constant waxing or shaving.

Conversely, the hair follicles on the scalp are also hormone sensitive, but instead of becoming terminal hairs, DHT (a more potent androgen) causes these scalp hair follicles to die.

As a result, hair falls out and leads to thinning hair on the head.

For this reason, women with PCOS are more predisposed to female pattern hair loss.

As hair grows, it goes through several distinct stages.

The first one is anagen, during which hair grows actively longer.

This lasts anywhere between two to six years.

The next stage is a transitional phase called catagen that lasts around ten days and marks the end of active hair growth. 

 The rest phase, which lasts about three months, is called telogen. 

At the end of telogen, hair is shed during the last stage, called exogen.

Those with female pattern hair loss have a shorter hair growth phase, meaning that the hair spends less time in the earlier stages of hair growth and proceeds directly to the exogen stage. 

As a result, hair thinning occurs as more hairs are shed than those that are actively growing.

There are also other contributing factors to hair loss that are specific to PCOS, such as stress, high levels of insulin, inflammation, and hormonal imbalances. 

We’ll discuss these factors at length in the following sections.

Differentiating PCOS Hair Loss From Other Types of Hair Loss

Apart from PCOS hair loss, other conditions may also cause hair thinning.

It’s important to be able to differentiate between these types of hair loss and identify the actual cause of your hair loss.

Conditions such as traction alopecia, trichotillomania, and alopecia areata are just some of the other types of hair loss.

In alopecia areata, you’re dealing with an autoimmune condition wherein the immune system attacks healthy hair follicles, causing hair to fall out and preventing new hair growth. 

Scalp hair, as well as eyebrow and eyelash hair, typically falls out painlessly and without warning. 

Alopecia areata affects people of all ages and genders, and is primarily genetic, but may also be caused by other health conditions.

Traction alopecia, on the other hand, is caused by hair styling and other types of stress on the scalp. 

Very tight braids and ponytails or wearing wigs and extensions may cause stress on the scalp and cause hair loss.

Trichotillomania is another cause of hair loss; it’s a condition wherein a person pulls their hair on the head, eyebrows, eyelashes, or pubic area. 

It is often closely associated with mental health concerns and can be addressed with mental health support.

If you’re not sure what exactly is causing your hair loss, it may be beneficial to consult with a dermatologist who can help you identify the causes of your thinning hair, as well as prescribe treatments that can help reduce hair loss.

Causes of Hair Loss in Women with PCOS

Let’s take a look at the other causes of PCOS-related hair loss:

1. Hormonal Imbalances

Aside from androgens, other hormones may also affect hair growth. 


Estrogen, for example, is a hormone that increases the amount of time hair spends growing. Remember the stages of hair growth we discussed earlier? 


Low estrogen levels cause hair to lose its protective effects and may cause hair to shed quicker.


This is why many women experience a “hair glow up” during pregnancy, as it’s typically when the body has an enhanced supply of estradiol and progesterone, which increases the number of hair follicles in the anagen (growth) phase.


When you have PCOS, hyperandrogenism may cause you to lose scalp hair, plus low estrogen levels may shorten the time hair spends growing. 


The good news is that by managing your PCOS symptoms and androgen levels, it’s definitely possible to grow healthy hair back and make hair loss a thing of the past.

2. Insulin Resistance

Insulin resistance is the root cause of up to 80% of PCOS cases, and it isn’t good news for the hair either.


High blood sugar levels can indirectly but adversely impact the hair follicles on the scalp and cause hair thinning.


This is why a lot of people with diabetes also suffer from hair loss and slow hair growth.


Diabetes can create a hostile environment for the hair follicles on your scalp, eyelashes, and eyebrows due to poor blood flow. 


In some cases, it can also trigger Telogen Effluvium, a disease where sudden and unexplained hair loss or thinning occurs as a reaction to the body’s inability to produce insulin.


Insulin resistance can also exacerbate androgen secretion, further causing an imbalance in androgen and estrogen levels. 


It’s very important to learn how to combat insulin resistance when you have PCOS, as it is tied to a lot of the pesky symptoms that come with the syndrome.

3. Inflammation and Oxidative Stress

It’s not a myth that stress can make your hair fall out! In extreme cases, high levels of stress can really cause your hair to fall out.


This is because stress puts our body in survival mode, telling our systems to redirect precious resources away from digestion, growth, sleep, and blood flow for good skin—so that we can be prepared to respond to our stressors.


In short, stress puts our bodies in “fight or flight” mode.


This is because, back in caveman times, it was necessary to run away from predators.


However, in modern times, our stressors aren’t as tangible as a large bear in the woods that we must hide from.


The bad news is that our stress response hasn’t caught up to that yet, evolutionarily speaking, so when we experience extreme, prolonged stress, our bodies also work hard to protect us by redirecting resources to help us survive.


And guess what? 


Unfortunately, a good head of hair isn’t at the top of the list of “survival essentials” as far as the body is concerned.


Cortisol, the stress hormone, can damage the hair follicle and cause hair growth to slow down. 


Studies have shown that women in their 20s and 30s often experience stress-related hair loss at some point. 


This just highlights how imperative it is to keep your stress levels in check, especially when you have PCOS.

4. Nutritional Deficiencies

PCOS hair loss can also be caused by nutritional deficiencies, such as iron deficiency anemia, which causes hair loss in approximately 50% of individuals with low iron levels. 


This is because hair follicles hang on to ferritin, a blood protein that contains iron.


When iron levels in the blood are low, the body can pull ferritin from hair follicles and reassign them to more essential functions like red blood cell production.


Additionally, a Vitamin D deficiency can contribute to slow hair growth and hair loss.


Vitamin D plays an essential role in creating new hair follicles during the anagen phase, so hair thinning can occur when the body lacks Vitamin D.


Vitamin B12 is another essential vitamin that promotes healthy hair growth by helping the body produce red blood cells.


Healthy blood flow feeds the hair follicles, keeping them active.

Treatment Options to Reverse PCOS Hair Loss

If you’re dealing with PCOS hair loss, don’t let it stress you out.


There are several ways to support your hair health and reverse hair loss.


If you have PCOS, supporting your health and healing your root cause also helps you manage other PCOS symptoms, including hair thinning.

1. Prescriptions and Over-the-Counter Medications

Your doctor may prescribe any one of several prescription and over-the-counter medications to help you combat hair loss.

While you may want to go the natural route, it’s also beneficial to know what medications are most commonly prescribed for hair loss.

In most cases, PCOS symptoms are typically treated with oral contraceptives that contain synthetic hormones like estrogen and progesterone.

Contraceptives decrease androgen levels and may help women with PCOS deal with symptoms like hair loss and acne.

The problem with oral contraceptives, though, is that they don’t really “heal” your symptoms.

Instead, they’re more of a band-aid solution. 

The moment you stop taking the pill, you could experience a surge of androgens, with symptoms like acne and hair thinning coming back even worse.

Other medications include Spironolactone (Aldactone), an androgen receptor antagonist that also lowers androgens and helps to address hair loss in women with PCOS. 

Finasteride (Propecia) and Dutasteride (Avodart) work by preventing testosterone from being converted into dihydrotestosterone and is often used to treat androgenic alopecia directly caused by high DHT levels.

2. A Balanced Diet With Foods to Avoid

It might come as a surprise to you, but yes, certain foods are bad for your hair’s health. 

First, let’s take a look at some examples of what you should be eating to optimize hair health as part of a balanced diet:

  • Nuts, legumes, mushrooms, and eggs as they are high in magnesium, zinc, and iron

  • Carrots, rich in vitamin A

  • Seafood, bananas, cheese, and tomatoes, all rich in vitamin B

  • Oatmeal, which is high in vitamin E

  • Fatty fish, rich in Omega 3 and vitamin F

  • Peanuts and liver, which are rich in biotin

As for foods to avoid, scientific evidence shows that inflammatory foods may contribute to hair loss and should be kept to a minimum. 


These foods include simple carbohydrates like refined sugars and grains, which could lead to inflammation and worsen hair loss.


According to researchers, simple carbohydrates increase sebum production that can lead to inflammation and cause harm to hair follicles. 


Sugary foods can also increase insulin production, negatively affecting blood vessels in the scalp.


Among the high-inflammatory foods that should be kept to a minimum are:

  • Refined grains like white rice, bread, and pasta

  • Simple carbs with refined sugars, like candy, cookies, and cakes

  • Fish with high levels of mercury

  • Fried foods and red meat

3. Nutritional Supplements

Supplements are beneficial if you want to address the nutritional deficiencies that may be causing your hair loss, as well as heal the PCOS symptoms that you have.

Vitamins and minerals help support crucial bodily functions and can help reduce inflammation levels, improve insulin sensitivity, and restore hormone balance.

The Nourished Androgen Blocker Plus For PCOS is a best-seller vegan blend that supports healthy androgen levels to restore hormone balance, helping to combat symptoms like acne and hair loss.

Cycle Regulate + Ovulate: 40:1 Myo & D-Chiro Inositol is made of high-quality inositols in a 40:1 ratio, the ideal proportion for PCOS weight and insulin management.

Meanwhile, the Nourished Inner Beauty Collagen Peptides supplement supports healthy skin, hair, nails, and overall gut health. 

It’s taste-free and can be taken with smoothies, coffee, or water.

Made of high-quality marine and bovine collagen, this blend supports healthy hair growth, hair strength, and elasticity.

4. Regular Exercise

Regular, mindful movement is also crucial for PCOS management. 


While there is no one-size-fits-all formula, the “best” PCOS workout is arguably the one you can enjoy and stay consistent with. 


It helps to find out what your PCOS root cause is so you can factor it into your exercise plan so that you don’t under- or over-exercise.


Having the right exercise plan for your unique root cause can help lower stress hormones, improve your insulin resistance, and reduce inflammation levels. 


According to experts, the recommended activity level for PCOS weight management is at least 150 minutes of moderate or 75 minutes of intense exercise per week.

5. Stress Management

Learning how to cope with stress and improve your mental health is another crucial factor when trying to manage PCOS hair loss.


Being mindful of your stress levels and incorporating practices like journaling, meditation, deep breathing, gardening, and taking nature walks can do wonders for balancing your cortisol levels.


You can also engage in mindful movements, like yoga, pilates, or dance.


In a culture that prioritizes the “hustle,” it’s always essential to learn how to enjoy the little pauses and know when to rest.


Allowing yourself to relax and recharge can support your mental health by reducing stress, as well as improving your PCOS symptoms.


Lastly, if you find that you’re going through significant life changes or are having a difficult time coping, you may want to consider counseling or therapy to have added support as you navigate challenges.

6. Topical Treatments

Minoxidil (Rogaine) is the primary topical treatment used to help women with PCOS-related hair loss. 


Minoxidil helps encourage hair regrowth and is available as a foam or solution that can be applied directly to the scalp. 


It’s also available in tablet form, to be taken orally, but the topical route is more common. 


Minoxidil is effective but requires consistency and strict adherence to work.

Tailoring Treatment to PCOS Type

Let’s go through some tips on improving hair health and managing your symptoms depending on your PCOS type or root cause. 


If you have yet to find your PCOS type, take our free assessment here.

Insulin Resistant PCOS

If you have insulin-resistant PCOS, you’re going to want to focus on changing what and when you eat. 


Try quitting sugar for four weeks and supporting your energy levels with a PCOS Repair Breakfast (at least 30g of protein and non-starchy vegetables like kale or spinach). 


Do a gentle fast of 12 hours between dinner and breakfast to help improve insulin levels.


You might also find the PCOS Plate Method helpful: Filling your plate with ¼ protein, ¼ gentle starches like quinoa, sweet potatoes, or pumpkin, and ½ non-starchy vegetables. 


Lastly, use quality fats like coconut milk, olive oil, or avocado in your meal prep. 

Adrenal PCOS

If you have adrenal PCOS, your main priority should be balancing cortisol production, as stress will trigger your adrenal glands to release DHEA, a potent androgen. 


In adrenal PCOS, androgens like DHEA are the root cause of most symptoms, including hair loss.


Focus on improving your coping with stress by working on your sleep and incorporating a sustainable self-care routine into your regular schedule. 


The dietary changes are also beneficial, but your top concern will have to be reducing stress levels.

Inflammatory PCOS

The key to addressing inflammatory PCOS is first finding out where the excess inflammation originates. 


This could be due to poor gut health, thyroid imbalances, an overactive immune system, or underlying food sensitivities.


There’s no formula for inflammatory PCOS, as the treatment will really depend on what your inflammation is tied to and addressing that. 


However, steering clear of the inflammatory foods we discussed above and adding anti-inflammatory foods to your diet can help you combat inflammation and help support hair growth.

Post-Pill PCOS

If you’re planning on quitting the pill, make it your priority to lower androgens beforehand. 


Some women have found that removing trigger foods like cow’s dairy and refined sugar also helps in reducing symptoms and reducing inflammation. 


Lastly, since the pill depletes the body of nutrients like magnesium, zinc, selenium, and B vitamins, you’ll want to support your body with supplements or nutrient-rich foods. 


Doing these will help you restore hormone balance faster and regulate ovulation after quitting the pill.

Free 3 min Quiz 

PCOS? Which Type Do You Have?

Frequently Asked Questions

What is PCOS, and how does it relate to hair loss?

PCOS is a whole-body disorder that causes several symptoms to arise due to excess levels of androgens in the body. 


Androgens cause the hormone-sensitive follicles on the scalp to die, causing hair thinning and hair loss.

Is hair loss a common symptom of PCOS?

Yes, studies show that up to 30% of women with PCOS experience hair loss.

Are certain types of PCOS more likely to cause hair loss?

Adrenal PCOS is more likely to cause hair loss because potent androgens like DHEA come into play, and these can significantly affect hair follicles. 


Stress has also been shown to affect hair growth, and people with adrenal PCOS have concurrently high levels of cortisol in the blood.

How can I differentiate between hair shedding and hair thinning in PCOS?

Hair shedding is characterized by hair falling out in larger quantities (over 100 strands), while hair thinning is when hair falls out in fewer quantities over time.

Is hair loss due to PCOS reversible?

Yes, definitely. 


By identifying your root cause and addressing it, you can improve your PCOS symptoms, including hair loss.

What role do supplements play in managing PCOS-related hair loss?

Supplements can provide essential vitamins and minerals that may be deficient in someone with PCOS, such as iron or vitamin B. 


They also support other bodily functions that can indirectly impact hair health.

Are there specific supplements recommended for managing PCOS-related hair loss?

Yes! 


The Nourished Androgen Blocker, Cycle Regulate + Ovulate, and Inner Beauty Collagen Peptides supplements are all recommended to improve hair health and manage PCOS symptoms.

About The Author - Tamika Woods

Tamika Woods | PCOS Author | Nourished Natural Health
Tamika Woods, Clinical Nutritionist (B.HS; B.Ed), Bestselling Author

For a decade, Tamika battled chronic acne, irregular cycles, mood swings, hair loss, painful periods, severe digestive issues and Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS). You name it - she's been there!

Tam was finally able to clear her skin, regulate her cycle, be free of period pain and fall pregnant naturally with her daughter in 2020. It took Tam 10 years and tens of thousands of dollars in tertiary education to get the answers she needed to get better.

She didn’t want other women to suffer as long as she did which is why she has dedicated her life to helping women in the same position as she was.

Tam helps women interpret what their bodies are trying to communicate through frustrating symptoms, and then develop a step-by-step roadmap to find balance again. She's here to help you get on track!

Tamika Woods is the author of the Amazon best seller PCOS Repair Protocol. She holds a Bachelor of Health Science degree (Nutritional Medicine) as well as a Bachelor of Education, graduating with Honours in both.

She is a certified Fertility Awareness Method (FAM) Educator and a certified member of the Australian Natural Therapists Association (ANTA).

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Get evidence-based nutritionist & naturopath hormone support direct to your inbox. Get my 50+ page PCOS repair guide instantly. No spam, ever!

About The Author - Tamika Woods

Tamika Woods | PCOS Author | Nourished Natural Health
Tamika Woods, Clinical Nutritionist (B.HS; B.Ed), Bestselling Author

For a decade, Tamika battled chronic acne, irregular cycles, mood swings, hair loss, painful periods, severe digestive issues and Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS). You name it - she's been there!

Tam was finally able to clear her skin, regulate her cycle, be free of period pain and fall pregnant naturally with her daughter in 2020. It took Tam 10 years and tens of thousands of dollars in tertiary education to get the answers she needed to get better.

She didn’t want other women to suffer as long as she did which is why she has dedicated her life to helping women in the same position as she was.

Tam helps women interpret what their bodies are trying to communicate through frustrating symptoms, and then develop a step-by-step roadmap to find balance again. She's here to help you get on track!

Tamika Woods is the author of the Amazon best seller PCOS Repair Protocol. She holds a Bachelor of Health Science degree (Nutritional Medicine) as well as a Bachelor of Education, graduating with Honours in both.

She is a certified Fertility Awareness Method (FAM) Educator and a certified member of the Australian Natural Therapists Association (ANTA).

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Nourished Hormone Detox + Digestion - Nourished Natural Health
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