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Your Androgen Levels May Be Causing Hair Loss — Here Are the Easy Ways to Fix It

Plus, how it can show up in your skin and affect your health

There’s no doubt that “male” androgen hormones, such as testosterone, are critical to women’s health — testosterone boosts everything from libido to brain function. But due to mostly inherited factors, some women develop a heightened sensitivity to the hormone that manifests in hair and skin, says endocrinologist Geoffrey Redmond, MD, a women’s hair loss specialist and founder of the Hormone Center of New York.

How? Some of the body’s testosterone converts to a compound called dihydrotestosterone (DHT). When that circulates to the scalp in sensitive women, follicles literally clench up. Over a period of years, this causes individual scalp hairs to become thinner, gradually creating a sparse appearance. “This effect usually doesn’t become noticeable until women reach their late 20s or 30s,” says Dr. Redmond. Meanwhile, DHT docks on receptors in sebaceous glands too, cranking up oil output and triggering breakouts.

Women with androgen sensitivity often have testosterone levels within the normal range (generally defined as 15–70 ng/dL), but it’s still wise to get a blood test anyway, Dr. Redmond notes. “Marked elevations can point to a larger problem — such as polycystic ovary syndrome — that may require a ­specialized form of treatment.”

mature woman looking at thinning hair

You’re likely dealing with high androgen if you’re losing hair and you…

  • Are struggling with acne flare-ups
  • Have increased oil production in skin
  • Are experiencing hair growth on your chin or upper lip

These easy strategies can help with androgen sensitivity

Women suffering from hair loss (as well as skin symptoms) due to androgen sensitivity often benefit from an off-label prescription for oral ­spironolactone, which was originally developed as a diuretic. “We’ve learned that spironolactone is very helpful in blocking androgens,” says hair loss specialist Wilma Bergfeld, MD. “Was it designed for something else? Yes. Is it officially approved for women’s hair loss? No. But it’s effective and it has good safety parameters, so we can use it.” Indeed, a study in the British Journal of Dermatology found that spironolactone halted and/or partially reversed hair loss in 88% of women who were sensitive to androgens. The typical dose is 100 mg. to 200 mg. per day on an ongoing basis.

Alternatively, your doctor may determine you’re a good candidate for oral finasteride, a stronger androgen blocker that’s approved to treat hair loss in men. Because the drug, sold under the brand names Proscar and Propecia, can cause abnormalities in developing fetuses, though, women who are pregnant or planning to become pregnant cannot take it. To pinpoint the prescription medication that would suit you best, book a consult with a gyn-endocrinologist or a hormone-­savvy dermatologist.

Even more reasons to balance androgens

1. It can relieve dry eyes

Research shows that women over the age of 40 are almost twice as likely as men to suffer from dry eye. That’s because age-related hormonal fluctuations directly affect eye health, says Robert Latkany, MD, author of The Dry Eye Remedy. During menopause, androgen levels drop, reducing the amount of fluid the eyelids’ meibomian glands release to lubricate the eyes. Upping the body’s production of androgens and restoring hormonal balance helps keep eyes healthy and hydrated. This can be done by supplementing with 3,000 IU of vitamin D-3 daily, which is study-proven to increase testosterone levels by 25% within 12 months.

2. It can reverse polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS)

Since PCOS is an endocrine disorder characterized by an elevation of androgens, balancing levels of the hormones can alleviate the syndrome. In order to do so, doctors often prescribe metformin, as the drug slows the body’s production of androgens, but the medication can come with unwelcome side effects like nausea, bloating and an upset stomach. For those who can’t tolerate metformin, a natural alternative called N-acetyl-L-cysteine (NAC) is just as effective without any side effects. It’s advised to take 600 mg. of one such as Life Extension N-Acetyl-L-Cysteine three times a day.

3. It can nix unwanted facial hair

mature woman looking at skin in mirror

Androgens regulate how, where and what type of hairs grow around the body, so when there is an imbalance, rogue facial hairs can pop up in places like the chin and cheeks. Getting androgen levels back to normal can ensure those errant hairs disappear within three months.

4. It can clear up breakouts

An uptick in androgen levels increases oil gland activity, which clogs pores and leads to blemishes on the face and body. But getting androgen levels back on track will limit oil production quickly and easily, tamping down acne.

Bonus: Notice thinning down there?

You could be dealing with low testosterone output. As you entered menopause, you likely observed that not only did the hair on your head become more sparse but so did your pubic hair. “Rest assured that thinning hair all over the body is common; in fact, some 40% of postmenopausal women report a significant degree of hair loss,” says Laura Corio, MD, an ob-gyn in New York City and author of The Change Before The Change. Here’s why: Starting in perimenopause, the body begins producing less testosterone, the “male” hormone responsible for body hair growth, she explains. “By the time women reach menopause, testosterone production has slowed to about half its peak, causing hair on the head, as well as on the legs, arms, underarms and in the pubic area, to become thin and fragile.” While thinning pubic hair isn’t a cause for concern, there are a few strategies to try if you’re unhappy with the change:

1. Take this test

Ask your doctor to test your blood for a dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA) deficiency. This hormone helps regulate testosterone production, and if your levels are low, supplementing with DHEA can significantly thicken pubic hair, according to a study in The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism. Your doctor will help determine an appropriate dose.

2. Try this supplement

B vitamins are known to benefit hair growth so taking a B-complex vitamin supplement can help. One to try: Nature’s Way Vitamin B-100 Complex.

3. Increase zinc

Consider increasing your zinc intake. This mineral blocks the enzyme that converts testosterone into estrogen, preventing testosterone loss. Aim for 8 mg. of zinc a day — the amount found in 3 oz. of oysters or lean beef or two servings of fortified breakfast cereal. If you don’t see improvement, or if you notice redness or itching on the skin in your pubic area, you may actually be dealing with a fungal infection or a reaction to medication or stress. In that case, it’s recommended to see your doctor, who can help you determine the cause.

For more on hair loss, click through these stories:

Trichologist Reveals the Top Hair Myths and What to Do Instead for a Thick, Healthy Head of Hair

Low Vitamin D Is Linked to Hair Loss and Thinning — Here Easy Ways To Fix It

How Your Thyroid Can Impact Hair Loss, Plus 6 Easy Doctor-Backed Ways to Cure It

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