Reviewed by Katelyn Hagerty, FNP
Written by Our Editorial Team
Is your buddy going bald, or are they experiencing syphilis hair loss?
While sexual jokes are all fun and games, untreated syphilis is definitely neither. And for an endless multitude of reasons, the second you have or suspect you have syphilis, you should be aggressively seeking treatment for it.
Syphilis is curable, and it’s been curable for so long that your grandparents may very well have had it, gotten treatment and moved on with their lives.
If you have syphilis and haven’t yet sought treatment, you’re running with a ticking clock of the worst kind. Syphilis can cause death, cause serious illness or flu-like symptoms. And there’s even some evidence that it may cause hair loss.
Oh, now you’re worried? Now syphilis is scary because it may cause you to lose your hair? Whatever gets you to seek treatment, man.
In all seriousness, though, you should seek treatment early for syphilis because the longer it’s around, the worse your chances of serious infection-related issues.
Syphilis is a bacterial infection, and the disease it represents has been around for a long time. Part of the reason syphilis has such infamy is that its symptoms can make it look like a number of other diseases and disorders in the infected person. This talent has earned it a nickname in the medical community: the great mimicker.
Yes, syphilis can cause hair loss. However, hair loss symptoms don’t really start until the next stage of syphilis — and most people are treated before the bacterial infection gets to that point.
A 2022 review of literature on so-called syphilitic alopecia described it as an uncommon side effect. This characterization begins to complicate things when you understand how syphilis affects your hair.
Unfortunately, syphilitic hair loss is very difficult to diagnose. One of the main reasons for this is that, frankly, syphilis is really good at making scalp hair loss look like other forms of hair loss.
That 2022 review was quick to point out that syphilitic alopecia is hard to differentiate from other forms of hair loss, even with a microscopic view of the skin and hair follicles through a trichoscopy.
The review explained that syphilitic alopecia had the ability to mimic so-called “moth-eaten” alopecia types — hair loss patterns that look spotted — including alopecia areata, trichotillomania (you can navigate the pronunciation of that one on your own) and tinea capitis.
This does make for a distinctive pattern, but it also means identifying this kind of hair loss from others can be difficult — especially when it’s not all that common in the first place.
So how much hair will you lose with syphilis? That depends on a number of factors, and the answers can be wildly different.
For instance, it’s not at all common to lose hair with primary syphilis, but as you go up the chain of syphilis types, your hair begins to become vulnerable.
There are several stages of progression for the syphilis infection. The stages of syphilis are commonly referred to as primary syphilis, secondary syphilis, latent syphilis and tertiary syphilis.
Primary syphilis often manifests as a sore or lesion at the infection site, typically around the mouth, genitals or anus (because it’s a sexually transmitted bacteria).
Secondary syphilis occurs when untreated primary syphilis progresses and begins affecting the rest of the body, where it can cause rash, sores, fever, swollen lymph nodes, muscle stiffness and headaches.
That’s because syphilis has a few “phases” of development as a disease, and it’s typically in later stages (or latent stages) that hair loss becomes a problem.
For conditions like secondary syphilis, hair loss and specifically, patchy, non-scarring alopecia (or patchy hair loss) can sometimes be one of the signs — if not the only sign — of symptoms of the disease.
Truth be told, hair loss is not a much-discussed syphilis side effect. Many NIH (National Institutes of Health) and National Library of Medicine resources don’t list hair loss in the symptoms at all.
The reliable resources that do mention it, like the American Academy of Dermatology Association, call it a common side effect but offer no information about the frequency of occurrence.
So it’s hard to say how common it is. All we can say is that it’s avoidable with the treatment of primary syphilis early on.
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Luckily, this is generally a form of temporary hair loss. For many people, research shows that hair loss due to syphilis mostly self-resolves after an effective treatment has been administered.
However, for men who also are at a higher risk of hair loss (or men who are impatient), there are some medications on the market that the FDA (Food and Drug Administration) approves for the general treatment of hair loss.
You should absolutely consult a healthcare professional before using any medication while dealing with a syphilis infection — if there’s one thing we can’t stress enough, it’s that.
That said, pattern hair loss, progressive hair loss and acute hair loss — and particularly, the types caused by the likes of androgenic alopecia — respond well to two medications that the FDA has approved for treatment: minoxidil and finasteride.
Topical minoxidil is the one most likely to offer benefits to someone dealing with hair loss due to syphilis. Minoxidil is effective in the enhancement of recovery from telogen effluvium after all — the hair loss condition caused by other medical conditions, infections and stressors on the body.
Minoxidil works by increasing blood flow to the hair follicles, which keeps them functioning and acts to shorten the telogen phase of hair growth.
With syphilis, that might mean faster regrowth in a shorter time; with androgenic alopecia (male pattern baldness), it could mean reviving some recently deceased follicles and bringing your winter scalp back into blooming season.
If you’re dealing with male pattern baldness, this might be a good time to remind you to consider finasteride too. The oral medication blocks the testosterone byproduct DHT (which is responsible for genetic hair loss) from being formed in the first place, cutting back on the cutbacks to your hair.
The first responsibility you have to yourself and your hair, however, is to get over syphilis. Make that the priority, even to the detriment of your hairline.
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.
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Syphilis is an incredibly dangerous infection — and an easily spreadable one if someone isn’t careful or proactive with their healthcare. In certain cases, untreated initial syphilis infections can lead to these serious symptoms, one of which can sometimes be hair loss.
By now, you probably know what we’re going to recommend: get treatment immediately.
Your hair is hardly as important as the potential neurological, cardiovascular and other risks associated with untreated syphilis.
And yet, here’s the thing: getting treatment is so easy. Syphilis can be treated, and as we’ve already explained, hair loss from syphilis will typically reverse over a period of weeks after the disease has been treated.
But all of this requires vigilance on your part — and support from a healthcare professional.
Got one? Great — get in touch.
But do us (and yourself) a favor first: get that syphilis problem handled now. You’re not an 18th-century layabout. Modern medicine is cool. Use it for syphilis and alopecia today, and leave both of those problems in the past where they belong.
Explore hair loss treatments from Hims today.