Does Iron Deficiency Cause Hair Loss?

Knox Beasley, MD

Reviewed by Knox Beasley, MD

Written by Sian Ferguson

Published 02/19/2021

Updated 04/04/2024

Are you shedding more hair than usual? Your iron levels may be to blame. If you have low iron levels, you’re likely familiar with the many unpleasant symptoms of iron deficiency, like fatigue, dizziness and heart palpitations. What you might not know is that iron deficiency can also cause hair loss. 

Fortunately, this type of hair loss is usually temporary. With the proper treatment, iron deficiency hair loss regrowth is possible. 

But how does low iron affect your hair, and what are the treatment options? Let’s look at the science behind iron deficiency and hair loss.

Your body needs iron to perform all its functions, including growing new hair. Without enough iron, you may experience slow hair growth and excessive hair shedding. 

But why exactly does this happen? Let’s start with a quick biology refresher.

Iron plays a vital role in the production of hemoglobin in your red blood cells. These cells carry oxygen to all different parts of your body, including your hair follicles — the thin, tunnel-like structures inside your scalp from which your hair grows.

Low iron levels lead to low hemoglobin levels, making it much harder for your red blood cells to distribute enough oxygen throughout your body. This affects your energy levels, muscle function and, yes — even your hair.   

Hair cells, like other human cells, need oxygen to function. Your body needs iron to produce ribonucleotide reductase, an enzyme that helps your cells grow — including hair cells. Iron might also regulate certain hair cells. 

Low levels of iron mean that your body can’t produce hair cells at an optimal pace. As a result, you might notice thinning hair, patchy baldness or significant hair shedding when you brush or wash your hair.

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How do you know whether your iron levels are to blame for your hair loss or whether another cause is at play?

The pattern of your hair loss might give you a clue.

Let’s back up for a second. Low levels of iron can cause a type of hair loss called telogen effluvium. Telogen effluvium can also be caused by severe stress, trauma or illness, as well as nutrient deficiencies. 

Telogen effluvium can push your hair follicles into the telogen phase (resting phase) of the hair growth cycle. This means that your hair growth pauses for a period of time — your hair falls out but doesn’t grow back in.  

Other than hair shedding, the symptoms of telogen effluvium include:

The main difference between telogen effluvium and other forms of hair loss — like, say, androgenetic alopecia, AKA male pattern baldness — is that telogen effluvium leads to diffuse hair loss. You’ll shed hair from all over your head in no specific pattern. 

If you’re mostly experiencing a receding hairline or thinning on the crown of your head, you may be experiencing male pattern baldness and not iron deficiency hair loss. 

The good news about hair loss related to iron deficiency is that telogen effluvium tends to be temporary. If you address the root cause of your hair loss — in this case, low iron levels — your hair might start growing back.

A healthcare professional, such as a primary care physician or dermatologist, can determine the type of hair loss you’re experiencing. 

They can also identify whether iron deficiency is to blame for your telogen effluvium by ordering blood tests to confirm your iron levels. They might test for other nutrient deficiencies at the same time.

Other Symptoms of Iron Deficiency

If you have low iron stores, you may experience a few other symptoms of iron deficiency. These symptoms include:

  • Tiredness and fatigue

  • Physical weakness, particularly while exercising

  • Difficulty focusing, thinking or remembering information

  • Feelings of dizziness and loss of balance

  • Shortness of breath

  • Heart palpitations

If left untreated, iron deficiency can become iron deficiency anemia, a more severe condition. Over time, you might develop one or more of the following symptoms: 

  • Pale skin tone

  • Weak, brittle nails

  • Ulcers in your mouth

  • Increased hair shedding

  • Soreness or inflammation in your mouth

  • Blue coloration in the white areas of your eyes

  • Feelings of lightheadedness when standing

  • A desire to eat ice or other non-nutritious, non-food items

  • Uncontrolled limb movements

If you notice any of these symptoms and suspect you may have iron deficiency, it’s important to make an appointment with a healthcare professional. 

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A fair amount of research has found that iron deficiency causes hair loss.

One 2022 study looked at nutrient deficiencies in women with female pattern hair loss. It concluded that low vitamin D and ferritin levels (a protein that stores iron) could contribute to diffuse hair loss. 

A 2019 review also noted that people affected by hair loss tend to have low serum ferritin levels. 

Here’s the thing, though: not everyone with an iron deficiency will experience hair loss. And vice versa — not every hair loss condition is related to iron deficiency.  

For example, iron deficiency doesn’t seem to cause common types of permanent hair loss, such asmale pattern baldness. Instead, this type of hair loss is caused by a combination of genetic factors and the effects of a hormone called dihydrotestosterone (DHT).

Similarly, low iron levels don’t seem to be related to alopecia areata, an autoimmune condition where your immune system attacks your hair follicle cells and makes it harder for hair to grow.     

So, your iron levels aren’t always related to hair loss. There are many potential causes of hair loss in men, from thyroid issues and stress to genetic factors and more.  

As we mentioned, the good news is that iron deficiency hair loss is usually temporary. Addressing the underlying cause — in this case, a nutrient deficiency — typically improves hair growth.

Your first course of action should be to meet with a healthcare provider for a proper diagnosis. If they confirm that you have an iron deficiency, the next step is to discuss your treatment options.  

Iron deficiency can be treated by:

  • Taking an iron supplement. Your healthcare provider might suggest an iron supplement to boost your iron intake. But be warned that while most people can take iron supplements without issues, others develop side effects such as nausea, constipation and vomiting.

  • Receiving iron injections. If you can’t consume iron supplements orally, you may need iron injections. These are delivered into a muscle or a vein, rapidly increasing your iron levels.

  • Eating a balanced diet. Try to eat a decent amount of iron-rich foods like fish, red meat, poultry, lentils, whole-grain bread, certain cereals, leafy green vegetables and dried fruits like prunes, raisins and apricots.

  • Consuming more vitamins. Certain vitamins help your body to absorb iron from dietary sources. For example, eating more foods that contain vitamin C, such as fresh fruits and vegetables, may improve your body’s iron absorption. 

A quick word of caution: Iron supplements may be available over the counter, but you still shouldn’t take them randomly. If your iron levels are normal, taking iron supplements can actually cause iron poisoning. That’s why it’s important to seek medical advice before taking any supplements.

While you work on building up your body’s iron stores, you can also use some of the following hair loss treatments:

You can also try some natural tips to support hair health and grow hair faster, like getting regular scalp massages and avoiding harsh chemicals. 

If you’ve read about hair loss treatments before, you might notice finasteride is missing from this list. While finasteride is effective at treating male pattern baldness, there’s no proof that it reduces iron-related hair loss.

If it does turn out that you have male pattern baldness, you could try finasteride pills or a topical finasteride & minoxidil spray

Because iron deficiency-related hair loss is usually temporary, you probably won’t need a hair transplant or another high-cost treatment either. But no matter the cause, it’s best to treat hair loss early. 

Hair loss treatments, delivered

Iron plays an important role in several processes within your body, including creating healthy hair cells. Here’s what that means.

  • Iron deficiency causes hair loss. Research shows a link between low levels of iron and hair loss, so you might experience more hair shedding than usual when you don't get enough iron.

  • But it can be treated. The good news is that this type of hair loss is usually temporary. Iron supplements, coupled with a balanced diet, can improve your iron levels. Eventually, your hair should regrow.

  • Not all hair loss is caused by low iron levels, though. Shock, stress, genetics and medical conditions can cause hair loss. If you’re losing hair but you don’t have an iron deficiency, iron supplements won’t necessarily make a difference.

If you think low iron levels are causing you to lose hair, your first step is to seek medical advice. We can help you connect with a professional for an online hair loss consultation. They can screen you for iron deficiency and, if necessary, prescribe a supplement to help restore your iron levels to normal. 

14 Sources

  1. Iron. (2022, April 5). Retrieved from https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/Iron-Consumer/
  2. Miller, J.L. (2013, July). Iron Deficiency Anemia: A Common and Curable Disease. Cold Spring Harbor Perspectives in Medicine. 3 (7), a011866. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3685880/
  3. Cherayil, B.J. (2010). Iron and immunity: immunological consequences of iron deficiency and overload. Archivum Immunologiae et Therapiae Experimentalis. 58 (6), 407-415. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3173740/
  4. Iron deficiency anemia. (2022, January 25). Retrieved from https://medlineplus.gov/ency/article/000584.htm
  5. Iron. (2022, April 5). Retrieved from https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/Iron-HealthProfessional/
  6. Guo, E.L. & Katta, R. (2017, January). Diet and hair loss: effects of nutrient deficiency and supplement use. Dermatology Practical & Conceptual. 7 (1), 1-10. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5315033/
  7. Wright, J.A., Richards, T. & Srai, S.K. (2014). The role of iron in the skin and cutaneous wound healing. Frontiers in Pharmacology. 5, 156. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4091310/
  8. Almohanna, H.M., Ahmed, A.A., Tsatalis, J.P. & Tosti, A. (2019). The Role of Vitamins and Minerals in Hair Loss: A Review. Dermatology and Therapy. 9 (1), 51-70. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6380979/
  9. Park, S.Y., et al. (2013, June). Iron Plays a Certain Role in Patterned Hair Loss. Journal of Korean Medical Science. 28 (6), 934-938. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3678013/
  10. Moschonis, G., et al. (2013). Association of Iron Depletion with Menstruation and Dietary Intake Indices in Pubertal Girls: The Healthy Growth Study. BioMed Research International. 423263. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3885188/
  11. Obaidat, N.A., et al. (2005, June). A Potential Relation Between Telogen Effluvium and Iron Deficiency in Adult Females. Journal of Research in Medical Sciences. 12 (1), 62-66. Retrieved from https://www.researchgate.net/publication/228646788_A_potential_relation_between_telogen_effluvium_and_iron_deficiency_in_adult_females
  12. Esfandiarpour, I., Farajzadeh, S. & Abbaszadeh, M. (2008, March). Evaluation of serum iron and ferritin levels in alopecia areata. Dermatology Online Journal. 14 (3), 21. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/18627722/
  13. Dastgheib, L., et al. (2014). Comparison of Zn, Cu, and Fe Content in Hair and Serum in Alopecia Areata Patients with Normal Group. Dermatology Research and Practice. 2014, 784863. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4160619/
  14. Badri, T., Nessel, T.A. & Kumar, D.D. (2021, December 19). Minoxidil. StatPearls. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK482378/
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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. 

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