“I have to stop taking my birth control. I have to stop taking it, like, yesterday. I know it immediately and I hate that it’s true,” writes Molly Ozwaks for The Daily Beast. “I’ve been on Loestrin (and more recently, Watson’s generic Microgestin) since around the time I turned 21—over four years now. It’s the only birth-control pill I’ve ever taken and it’s never given me much trouble. In fact, I quite like it. My period is light and infrequent, no cramps, no weight gain, no pregnancy, no problem.”
Well, no problem, that is, except for the fact that at the age of 25, Ozwaks’ hair has begun to fall out – a situation she blames on the Loestrin.
“I have a family history of premature androgenetic alopecia, or diffuse hair loss, which means that I have a genetic propensity toward the same fate myself,” Ozwaks explains.
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“And what I’ve recently discovered is that, of the many birth-control pills on the market, my pill, Loestrin, is among the most androgenic available. Androgen, in its more potent form DHT (dihydrotestosterone), is the hormone responsible for the reductive thinning, or miniaturization, of scalp hair follicles. Pumping my bloodstream with a birth-control pill containing high levels of this hormone, then, would be very foolish to continue, considering my genetic predisposition.”
“[A]ll over the Internet, there are forums and message boards filled with sob stories from young women who’ve lost sometimes more than 50 percent of their hair after taking Loestrin in particular,” Ozwaks adds. “For women, whose hair, across all cultures, associated with sexuality and feminine beauty, a thinning scalp can be highly traumatic. Many describe feelings of low self-worth, shame, and depression. ‘[It] takes up about 98 percent of my thoughts every day! I am crazy self-conscious,’ writes a woman named Sarah at the website WomensHairLossProject.com.”
So what’s a woman to do if Loestrin makes her bald? Can’t she just switch to a different pill? Well yes, she can. But only if she’s willing to increase her risk of life-threatening blood clots and other complications.
“The [oral contraceptives] that are non-androgenic are the family that include Yaz and Yasmin—though there are safety issues with those in terms of blood clots,” Ozwaks writes. She goes on to name Desogen, Mircette, Apri, Ortho-Cyclen, Tri-Cyclen and Diane-35 as other contraceptive options, but notes that all of them increase the risk of fatal blood clots – especially Diane-35, which was recently banned in France after a startling number of young women died after taking the drug.
Ozwaks spoke to Dr. Geoffrey Redmond, an endocrinologist specializing in female hormone problems at the Hormone Center of New York. He said that in his experience, there’s definitely a link between certain contraceptives and premature hair loss in women. Dr. Redmond urged women to educate themselves about the safety risks and chemical composition of the various types of contraceptives, and realize that every body will react differently to each drug depending on certain genetic factors.
“People think, ‘Well, they all work the same for birth control, so what difference does it make?’ But it does make a difference,” Redmond said.
“There are so many birth-control pills available today, it’s easy to forget that the pill does much more than merely prevent unintended pregnancy,” Ozwaks writes.
So, now that she’s experienced some of the unexpected and undesirable consequences of oral contraceptives for herself, will Ozwaks be ditching the pill? Surprisingly, the answer is no. She’s opted to switch pills, going on Apri, which is considered “hair-friendly,” but carries an intimidating list of possible side effects including blood clots, tumors, liver damage, and heart attacks.
“I hope that switching from Microgestin to Apri abates any further excess shedding, and that my ‘genetic light switch’ hasn’t been turned on to advance the thinning process prematurely,” Ozwaks writes.
If not, she worries she’ll be forced to pay for a hair transplant – an elective procedure costing $20,000.