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Reviewed by Kristin Hall, FNP
Written by Our Editorial Team
Wondering if isotretinoin hair loss is a real thing? You’re not alone.
Picture this: You have terrible, severe acne that hurts and impacts your confidence. You try everything — topical creams, a healthy diet, you name it. Nothing works. Finally, you’re prescribed a medication called isotretinoin (formerly Accutane) that seems to control your sebum production and reduce your breakouts. Hallelujah!
But then you notice your hair thinning, a lack of new hair growth or an increase in the frequency of hair loss. One problem solved, another just beginning — how frustrating.
Unfortunately, hair loss is a potential side effect of taking isotretinoin. But do you really have to choose between severe acne and hair fallout?
Thankfully, the answer’s no. There are treatment options for those dealing with isotretinoin-related hair loss.
Isotretinoin (often referred to as Accutane, which is now discontinued) is a prescription medication used to treat severe nodular acne. It comes in a capsule and is often taken twice a day.
Potential side effects of isotretinoin can be aggravating. They include:
Peeling skin on the hands
Cracked, sore lips
Dry skin near the eyes, mouth or nose
More severe side effects include blurred vision, dizziness, nausea and vomiting. If you experience any of these, contact a healthcare provider right away.
Isotretinoin cannot be taken by women who are pregnant or may become pregnant, as it can cause birth defects. As such, various forms of birth control may be prescribed during acne treatment.
It’s also suggested that men be careful when taking isotretinoin because it’s not known whether it can pass through semen.
Yup, there is such a thing as isotretinoin-induced hair loss (sometimes called Accutane-related hair loss). Unfortunately, it’s one of the potential adverse side effects.
A 2013 study found that hair loss caused by taking isotretinoin isn’t permanent. While it found the acne-fighting drug to be connected to temporary hair loss, researchers also concluded that hair thinning may continue after people stop taking the medication.
Another study from 2018 suggests that only people who take high amounts of isotretinoin notice an impact on their hair growth.
So, how common is hair loss from isotretinoin? The American Osteopathic College of Medicine estimates that about 10 percent of people who take this medication experience temporary hair thinning.
According to the above-mentioned studies, hair loss associated with taking isotretinoin is temporary. Further, there’s currently no research showing it may be permanent.
What could cause permanent hair loss are factors that damage the hair follicles, ultimately preventing strands from growing back. One common condition that leads to permanent hair loss is traction alopecia. This occurs when hair is continuously pulled on (like from too-tight hairstyles).
Scarring alopecia is another form of permanent hair loss. This is when scar tissue builds up and prevents new growth.
Thankfully, taking isotretinoin does not cause these conditions.
The temporary hair loss associated with taking this medication is thought to be connected to telogen effluvium. With telogen effluvium, you’ll likely notice hair loss all over rather than concentrated in one area of your scalp.
New growth can stop for up to six months. Then when hair reenters the growth phase, the hairs that were in the resting phase are pushed from the hair follicles, and hair shedding occurs.
Again, this type of hair loss is usually not permanent. If you experience shedding while taking isotretinoin, it’s best to talk to a healthcare professional about what you can do to stop it. They may suggest lowering your dose of isotretinoin.
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Experiencing temporary hair loss while taking isotretinoin is undoubtedly frustrating, but you have options. The reversibility of hair loss from this medication is totally possible, and there are things you can do to lower hair loss frequency.
Here are some potential remedies for temporary hair loss.
Biotin has a reputation for supporting healthy hair and growth. But does it deserve this reputation? Actually, it does.
A study found that taking biotin produces quicker hair growth in those with thinning hair. But we should note the study used a marine protein that contains biotin, along with other vitamins and minerals.
Biotin is found naturally in certain foods (like eggs, milk and bananas). If you don’t have a vitamin B deficiency, you don’t need a supplement. But if you don’t eat a diet rich in biotin, vitamin B supplements could help.
Another popular supplement thought to help with hair health is collagen, which can be found in the form of gummies, capsules and powders. However, research is limited when it comes to the connection between collagen and hair health.
Proline contributes to collagen. Because of this, it’s thought that consuming collagen could help boost the keratin in your hair, making it stronger and healthier.
The spray sends a signal to your blood vessels to open. This allows more nutrients and oxygen to reach the hair, which makes it healthier and stronger.
This topical medication also prolongs the growth period, allowing more follicles to be created to replace hair that’s fallen out.
There are also some lifestyle habits you can change or incorporate to help with thinning hair caused by taking isotretinoin.
How healthy is your diet? That’s one thing you can change. Studies show that having a deficiency in iron and zinc could negatively impact hair health. When people increased their intake of these minerals, they saw an improvement in hair growth.
Crab, cashews and oatmeal are all solid sources of zinc. Leafy greens, meat and seafood can help boost your iron levels.
Not only is the actual smoke a pollutant that damages hair, but cigarettes can also wreak havoc on the DNA of your hair follicles. These things can increase the frequency of hair loss — something you definitely don’t want if you’re already shedding from taking isotretinoin.
One of the common side effects of taking isotretinoin is dryness all over — even in the hair on your head.
Dry, brittle strands are more likely to break. When your hair breaks, it looks thinner. See where we’re going here?
You can add moisture back to your hair by using hair products packed with hydration. Hims offers a thickening shampoo that promotes both growth and moisture.
Generic for Rogaine®, this FDA-approved over-the-counter version of topical minoxidil is used for regrowth on the crown of the head.
This is the FDA-approved dynamic duo. When used together, men saw better results in clinical trials compared to using either alone.
If you’re looking for something effective but don’t want too many steps in your routine, this once-a-day pill could be right for you.
Clinically proven to regrow hair in 3-6 months, no pills required.
Isotretinoin is used as a treatment for acne. While it can be a miracle drug for cystic acne and other types of severe acne, one of the undesirable side effects is hair loss.
Though not all patients with acne treated with isotretinoin will notice hair thinning or loss, some will.
If it happens to you, the good news is this side effect doesn't tend to be permanent. And your healthcare provider may be able to adjust your dosage of isotretinoin to prevent more hair loss.
Treatments for this type of hair loss include supplements, lifestyle tweaks and prescription medication, like topical minoxidil.
If you notice abnormal shedding, hair loss or thinning, it’s best to speak with a healthcare professional. They’ll be able to assess what is going on and provide treatment options.
Connect with a provider at Hims today.