Dealing with hair loss or thinning?

Chat with our Care Team

Start now

8 Autoimmune Diseases That Cause Hair Loss

Knox Beasley, MD

Reviewed by Knox Beasley, MD

Written by Sian Ferguson

Published 04/06/2021

Updated 06/06/2024

You might associate autoimmune conditions with symptoms like skin disease, chronic pain, and fatigue. A less-discussed symptom of autoimmune diseases? Hair loss.  

Your immune system is meant to keep you healthy by attacking foreign bodies that can cause illness and infection. 

Sometimes, though, your immune cells might mistake your own body tissues for foreign bodies. Your immune system might then start to attack your own cells. When this happens, it’s called an autoimmune disease.

Every autoimmune disorder comes with its own range of symptoms. Certain conditions can affect your scalp and hair health, leading to hair shedding.

In this article, we’ll cover which autoimmune diseases cause hair loss. We’ll also look at your treatment options.

Several autoimmune diseases are associated with hair loss. Let’s look at some of the most common ones.

Alopecia Areata

Alopecia areata is an autoimmune condition that affects about 2 percent of the population. It occurs when your immune system attacks your hair follicles. This can damage your follicles permanently, eventually leading to permanent bald spots.

This condition usually causes ring-shaped patches of hair loss on the scalp. It can also lead to hair loss on other parts of the body. For example, your beard or legs might develop patchy bald spots.

Beyond patchy hair loss, other types of alopecia areata include alopecia totalis (total loss of scalp hair) and alopecia universalis (total loss of all scalp and body hair).

Hair loss aside, other symptoms of alopecia areata include:

  • Nail pitting

  • Itching or tenderness on the scalp

  • Gray or white hairs in the affected area

According to the American Academy of Dermatology, you’re at a higher risk for developing alopecia areata if you have:

  • Asthma

  • Hay fever

  • Eczema (atopic dermatitis)

  • Other autoimmune disorders, namely psoriasis, thyroid disease, or vitiligo 

You’re also more likely to develop alopecia areata if you have a family history of autoimmune conditions. 

Lupus

According to the Lupus Foundation of America, hair loss and hair thinning are common among people with lupus.

Depending on the type of lupus you have, it might affect just your skin or your entire body. Cutaneous lupus mostly affects the skin, while systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) can affect multiple aspects of your body. 

The most well-known type of cutaneous lupus is discoid lupus erythematosus (DLE). It causes round skin lesions which can be more prone to skin cancer. These lesions can affect the scalp as well as the rest of the body.

Lupus-related hair loss can be caused by:

  • Certain lupus treatments, which may have hair loss as a side effect

  • Rashes or sores on the scalp, which can be a symptom of lupus

Discoid lupus erythematosus (DLE) is a type of cutaneous lupus that leads to round skin lesions. These lesions can be more prone to skin cancer. DLE can also cause issues like irregular skin pigmentation, scaly papules, and plaques on the scalp. 

Buy finasteride

more hair... there's a pill for that

Hashimoto’s Disease

Thyroid disorders are associated with hair loss. This makes sense, as thyroid hormones are essential for hair follicles to grow and maintain strands of hair. 

Thyroid disease is also linked to alopecia areata hair loss. Roughly 9 percent of alopecia areata patients have some form of thyroid dysfunction.

Hashimoto’s disease, also known as Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, is a condition where your immune system attacks your thyroid gland. This leads to hypothyroidism (an underactive thyroid). In fact, Hashimoto’s is the most common form of hypothyroidism.  

Hair loss from Hashimoto’s disease can look like:

  • Thinning hair

  • Slow hair growth

  • Dry, brittle hair

  • Increased hair breakage

Other symptoms of Hashimoto’s disease include:

  • Fatigue

  • Weight gain

  • Constant coldness

  • Depression

  • Dry skin

  • Myxedema (an edema-like skin condition)

If this is something you’re dealing with, learn more in our guide to thyroid hair loss.

Graves Disease

Another thyroid disorder, Graves disease is also associated with hair loss. 

It’s sort of the inverse of Hashimoto’s thyroiditis: While Hashimoto’s disease involves the autoimmune system attacking the thyroid and causing hypothyroidism (an underactive thyroid), Graves disease involves the autoimmune system attacking the thyroid and causing hyperthyroidism (an overactive thyroid).

And just like hypothyroidism, the condition is linked to hair loss. Major abnormalities in thyroid serum levels seem to influence hair growth (or a lack thereof). 

Other symptoms of Graves disease include: 

  • Warm and moist skin

  • Hand tremors

  • Mental health conditions (including anxiety and depressive disorders)

  • Tachycardia (a heart rate over 100 beats per minute)

  • Palmar erythema (red palms)

  • Weight loss

  • Goiter (swollen thyroid gland)

  • Difficulty sleeping

If you think you may have Graves disease, it’s important to make an appointment with a healthcare professional as soon as you can. 

Rheumatoid Arthritis 

Hair loss from rheumatoid arthritis is uncommon, but it can happen. The autoimmune disease itself doesn’t cause hair loss, but the medications used to treat rheumatoid arthritis can.

For example, rheumatoid arthritis is often treated with methotrexate and leflunomide, both of which suppresses chronic inflammation. 

According to the Arthritis Foundation, about 1 to 3 percent of people who take methotrexate and 10 percent of people who take leflunomide experience hair loss.   

Fortunately, as with most drug-related hair loss, this can be temporary and your hair may grow back. 

If you’ve noticed significant hair loss and suspect it might be related to your medication, speak with your healthcare provider. They might adjust your medication if necessary.

Psoriasis

Psoriasis is a chronic inflammatory skin disease. It causes skin cells to grow rapidly and build up on the skin, causing itchy, scaly patches of thick, red skin.

These psoriasis patches can occur everywhere — including the scalp. 

As you can imagine, scalp psoriasis can affect your ability to grow healthy hair, especially if you scratch your head and pull at your flakes a great deal. For this reason, there’s a link between psoriasis and hair loss.

Good news, though: Psoriasis hair loss can be reversible. If you treat your psoriasis and the flare-up calms down, hair regrowth is possible.   

Crohn’s Disease and Inflammatory Bowel Disease

Crohn’s disease and inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) are gut disorders. But they affect more than just your stomach and bowel movements. 

Both conditions are linked to hair loss. According to a 2015 study that looked at over 150 IBD patients, about one-third reported hair loss.

It’s not entirely clear why IBD and Crohn’s can lead to hair loss. The medication used to treat these conditions might cause hair loss as a side effect. It could also be that IBD sometimes leads to nutritional deficiencies, which can cause hair loss.  

So, if you feel like your hair has been thinning while dealing with a gut disorder, that just might be the case. 

Lichen Planopilaris

Lichen planus is an inflammatory skin disease. When it affects the scalp, it’s called lichen planopilaris.

There’s a lot we don’t know about lichen planus and lichen planopilaris, but they’re thought to be autoimmune diseases. 

The symptoms of lichen planopilaris include:

  • Patchy hair loss 

  • Tender, painful scalp

  • Itchiness of the scalp

Although you might lose hair in random patches along the scalp, you might also develop frontal fibrosing alopecia. This is a type of lichen planopilaris that mostly affects the front of your scalp, which may look a bit like a receding hairline.

Lichen planopilaris causes hair loss — permanent hair loss, at that. So it’s important that you get it treated as quickly as possible. 

Will you join thousands of happy customers?

4.5 average rating

Before/after images shared by customers who have purchased varying products, including prescription based products. Prescription products require an online consultation with a healthcare provider who will determine if a prescription is appropriate. These customers’ results have not been independently verified. Individual results will vary. Customers were given free product.

Autoimmune disease hair loss can be treated in some cases. It depends on the exact type of hair loss you have. 

There aren’t any FDA-approved treatments for hair loss caused by autoimmune diseases. The best course of action is to work with your healthcare provider to manage the symptoms of your autoimmune condition by addressing the root cause.

For example, your healthcare team or dermatologist might recommend:

  • Immunosuppressants. For example, alopecia areata can be treated with corticosteroid creams and injections, which may help promote hair regrowth in the affected areas.

  • Avoiding triggers. Certain foods, climates, and environmental pollutants might cause your autoimmune disease to “flare up.” Avoiding these triggers can help you avoid flare ups, which can affect your scalp. 

  • Eating a healthy, balanced diet. Eating a variety of nutritious foods can help you avoid nutritional deficiencies, which may contribute to hair loss. A hair growth supplement like biotin gummies might help.

  • Minoxidil (Rogaine®). This over-the-counter topical medication can boost hair growth. The available research shows that it can promote hair regrowth in people with alopecia areata. We offer minoxidil foam and minoxidil solution.

  • Gentle hair styling techniques. Harsh chemicals and rough styling techniques can cause hair breakage and irritate an inflamed scalp. Extreme rough styling and tight hairstyles can also cause a form of alopecia called traction alopecia

Word to the wise: not all of these treatments are appropriate for all autoimmune conditions. For example, minoxidil might irritate a sensitive scalp, and certain supplements might not mix well with your current treatment plan. 

Our suggestion? It’s essential to speak with a healthcare professional before trying any hair loss treatment — even if they can be bought over the counter.  

Hair loss treatments, delivered

Managing an autoimmune disease can be a handful. Dealing with hair loss on top of it can have you, well, tearing out your hair. 

It’s important to know that you’re not alone, and you’re probably not imagining your thinning hair. 

  • Autoimmune disease hair loss is a real thing. Many autoimmune diseases can cause hair loss, including alopecia areata, lupus, thyroid diseases, and even psoriasis. 

  • Each disease affects your hair differently. Sometimes, your hair loss might occur because your immune system is attacking your hair follicles or affecting your scalp. Sometimes, hair loss is a side effect of your medication. 

  • Seeking medical help is your first port-of-call. Autoimmune hair loss can often be treated, depending on the cause. But time is of the essence here: the sooner you’re treated, the better. 

One thing’s for sure: Hair loss can be a sign of a bigger problem. If you’ve noticed signs of hair shedding, don’t ignore that red flag. Make an appointment with a healthcare professional and get some personalized medical advice ASAP. 

Skip the waiting rooms by booking a consultation through our online platform. We’ll help you connect with a licensed healthcare provider who can shed some light on your hair loss.

16 Sources

  1. Almeida MC, et al. (2013). Psoriatic scarring alopecia. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3875997/
  2. Alsantali A. (2011). Alopecia areata: a new treatment plan. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3149478/
  3. American Academy of Dermatology Association. (2023). Hair loss types: Alopecia areata causes. https://www.aad.org/public/diseases/hair-loss/types/alopecia/causes
  4. The Arthritis Foundation. (n.d.). Arthritis Medications and Hair Loss. https://www.arthritis.org/health-wellness/treatment/treatment-plan/disease-management/arthritis-medication-hair-loss
  5. Desai K, et al. (2021). Recent Insight on the Management of Lupus. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8020452/
  6. Forouzan P, et al. (2020). Systemic Lupus Erythematosus Presenting as Alopecia Areata.
  7. Justiz Vaillant AA, et al. (2023). Systemic Lupus Erythematosus. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7372242/
  8. Lepe K, et al. (2024). Lichen Planopilaris. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK470325/
  9. Lupus Foundation of America. (n.d.). Lupus and hair loss. https://www.lupus.org/resources/hair-loss-and-lupus
  10. Mincer DL, et al. (2023). Hashimoto Thyroiditis. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK459262/
  11. Pokhrel B, et al. (2023). Graves Disease. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK448195/
  12. Popa A, et al. (2023). Study of the Thyroid Profile of Patients with Alopecia. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC9918246/
  13. Pratt CH, et al. (2017). Alopecia areata - PMC. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5573125/
  14. Suchonwanit P, et al. (2021). Alopecia Areata: An Autoimmune Disease of Multiple Players. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8328385/
  15. Thomas EA, et al. (2008). ALOPECIA AREATA AND AUTOIMMUNITY: A CLINICAL STUDY. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2763714/
  16. Shah R, et al. (2015). Frequency and associated factors of hair loss among patients with inflammatory bowel disease.
Editorial Standards

Hims & Hers has strict sourcing guidelines to ensure our content is accurate and current. We rely on peer-reviewed studies, academic research institutions, and medical associations. We strive to use primary sources and refrain from using tertiary references. See a mistake? Let us know at [email protected]!

This article is for informational purposes only and does not constitute medical advice. The information contained herein is not a substitute for and should never be relied upon for professional medical advice. Always talk to your doctor about the risks and benefits of any treatment. Learn more about our editorial standards here.

Knox Beasley, MD

Dr. Knox Beasley is a board certified dermatologist specializing in hair loss. He completed his undergraduate studies at the United States Military Academy at West Point, NY, and subsequently attended medical school at Tulane University School of Medicine in New Orleans, LA. 

Dr. Beasley first began doing telemedicine during his dermatology residency in 2013 with the military, helping to diagnose dermatologic conditions in soldiers all over the world. 

Dr. Beasley is board certified by the American Board of Dermatology, and is a Fellow of the American Academy of Dermatology.

Originally from Nashville, TN, Dr. Beasley currently lives in North Carolina and enjoys spending time outdoors (with sunscreen of course) with his wife and two children in his spare time. 

Education

Training

Certifications

Publications

Read more