Reviewed by Kristin Hall, FNP
Written by Our Editorial Team
When most people think of potential health problems associated with wearing headphones, they probably think of the potential hearing loss that can be caused by loud noise. And those concerns are valid. But what about hair loss? Do headphones cause hair loss?
Obviously, this may seem silly if you’ve already made the switch to earbuds, but let’s think about it. We worry about the effects wearing a hat every day can have on our scalp health, so why not those big over ear headphones that rest on our heads for an extended period of time, day in and day out — at the office, in the gym, on the train, etc.
Do the discerning audiophiles among us have more to worry about than just headphone hair?
First thing’s first: there’s no study that says that over ear headphones definitely cause hair loss in women or men. In fact, it’s very unlikely that your headphones will lead to hair loss.
Though there are no studies on headphones and hair loss, there has been research around wearing hats and hair loss.
A study compared 92 sets of identical twins and looked at their hair loss. They found that certain factors (like smoking and dandruff) were connected to hair loss. However, other things (like wearing a hat) were not found to be connected.
Though this study wasn’t done on headphones specifically, it does show that wearing something on your head may not be directly linked to hair loss.
Good news, right? Well, don’t pop the champagne yet.
Another type of hair loss — traction alopecia — is hair loss that comes as the result of damaged hair cells and follicles. When you consistently put tension on your hair — tightly pulled back hairstyles, hair pieces, use certain chemicals, etc. — you can damage the hair cells and follicles to the point of shedding.
Hats don’t usually cause traction alopecia, but it’s not unheard of on people who wear hats that are tight, constrictive and put consistent strain and pressure on your hair follicles.
The same, then, can be said about your headphones.
So, will your headphones inherently increase your chances of hair loss? No. But, if you’re wearing them too tightly to the follicles to the point of creating stress or strain, you may.
Aside from the possibility of experiencing traction alopecia, there’s another popular type of hair loss that has nothing to do with your headphones, but may develop in patterns around the scalp and crown that might make you believe those Boses® are to blame: male pattern baldness (or androgenetic alopecia).
This condition is estimated to impact 50 million men in the United States and occurs due to a combination of genetic and hormonal factors.
The hormone involved is called dihydrotestosterone (DHT). Males who are genetically predisposed to baldness find that DHT attaches to receptors in the scalp and causes the hair follicles to tighten. This means new hair has a tough time growing and that’s when hair thinning or baldness occurs.
This kind of baldness has nothing to do with wearing headphones. But, as we mentioned above, because pattern baldness appears on the scalp, temples and crown of the head — where your headphones rest — it may appear like your headphones are to blame.
Here’s another reason it's possible that people may think headphones can cause hair loss: When you wear headphones, the band can mess up your hair. And, if you’re experiencing any unrelated hair loss (like male pattern baldness), your messed up hair could make that more obvious.
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Though there’s no proof that headphones cause traction alopecia, it doesn’t hurt to know how to avoid the possibility of it happening.
Essentially, your goal should be to avoid anything that pulls on your hair — and that includes your headphones. If you wear the type of headphones that have a band, make sure that band is loose and rests gently on your head.
Another option would be to switch to in-ear buds or the kind that hook over your ears. Neither of those come in contact with your scalp, so you wouldn’t have to worry about the possibility of traction alopecia.
Regardless of headphone use, you can also avoid this type of hair loss by making sure you stay away from tight hairstyles — like braids, tight ponytails or *gulp* a manbun.
If traction alopecia occurs — caused by your headphones or otherwise — you should schedule an appointment with a healthcare professional to discuss treatment options.
If there is inflammation or irritation caused by the hair tugging, you may be prescribed topical or injectable corticosteroids, antibiotics or antifungal shampoo.
If the hair loss is bad, your healthcare provider will likely suggest FDA-approved hair loss treatments like minoxidil. This topical medication is believed to increase blood flow to your scalp, encouraging hair follicles to move into their active growth stage.
If you notice traction alopecia happening, the key is to catch it early. It can lead to permanent hair loss, which cannot be addressed with medication. This is because the constant tugging can cause scar tissue to build up, making it impossible for new hair to grow.
If you have permanent hair loss from traction alopecia, medications like minoxidil aren’t likely to be effective. This is because long-term traction alopecia damages the hair follicles so badly that they’re largely replaced by a form of scar tissue. When this permanent damage occurs, the only way to replace your hair is through a hair transplant surgery.
Of course, if your hair loss is unrelated to your headphones, you may be experiencing male pattern hair loss. In which case, your healthcare provider will probably suggest minoxidil and another FDA-approved medication designed to put a damper on DHT production called finasteride.
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The most common health issue associated with over-the-ear headphones is noise-induced hearing loss over time from all the loud noise. However, some believe that headphones can also cause hair loss.
The truth is, there is no evidence of this — seriously, like zilch. That said, some people think that if the adjustable band on headphones is worn too tight, too frequently, it can cause traction alopecia. This is a form of hair loss caused by constant tugging at the scalp.
It’s always a good idea to make sure that the adjustable band is worn loosely — or you can switch to headphones that fit in your ear and don’t have a band.
It’s also possible that a headphone band can mess up your hair, exposing hair loss from male pattern baldness.
If you are noticing that your hair is thinning or falling out, your best bet is to contact a healthcare professional. They will be able to assess what is going on and come up with a treatment plan for you.
Kristin Hall is a board-certified Family Nurse Practitioner with decades of experience in clinical practice and leadership.
She has an extensive background in Family Medicine as both a front-line healthcare provider and clinical leader through her work as a primary care provider, retail health clinician and as Principal Investigator with the NIH.
Certified through the American Nurses Credentialing Center, she brings her expertise in Family Medicine into your home by helping people improve their health and actively participate in their own healthcare.
Kristin is a St. Louis native and earned her master’s degree in Nursing from St. Louis University, and is also a member of the American Academy of Nurse Practitioners. You can find Kristin on LinkedIn for more information.