Today, I want to dive deeper into an unsettling issue that a lot of postpartum women face: hair loss. I didn’t experience the patches of thinning hair that some people experience, but I did see an overall thinning — the diameter of my ponytail got a lot smaller, which really startled me. My background as a beauty editor gave me a little insight into what was happening and what to expect, but no matter how prepared you might be, the process of seeing clumps of hair in the drain can leave you feeling terrified. That’s why I called up two experts to weigh in on what’s really happening — and to recommend the safest hair products and best shampoos for postpartum hair loss.
What causes postpartum hair loss?
We need to look at the hair’s growth cycle to really understand what’s going on with postpartum hair loss. The first phase of your hair’s life cycle is the anagen phase — the period in which your hair grows about a half of an inch every month. “Some peoples’ anagen phase is longer than others (it’s genetic) and determines how long you can grow your hair,” explains Helen Reavey, a New York City-based trichologist and hairstylist. (A trichologist is someone trained and licensed to treat diseases or problems of the scalp and hair.) “The second is the catagen phase, where the hair nears the end of its active growth stage and transitions into a resting phase (this stage is where your hair remains in during pregnancy); and the third is the telogen phase when the hair falls out and the follicle is non-active for three months, and then the cycle begins again.”
During pregnancy, because of the excess estrogen your body makes, hair stays in the prolonged catagen phase, Reavy explains. “Then, post-birth, those hormones start to normalize and your hair cycle goes back to its regular schedule — but instead of just shedding 100 hairs you normally lose in a day, the hair that your body has been holding onto in the catagen phase, that has built up over your entire pregnancy, starts to shed at the same time,” she says. “That’s why it can feel so shocking.” The loss can start right after giving birth and usually peaks around four months.
While the hair loss can feel sudden and dramatic, you can take some comfort in the fact that it really just means that your body is normalizing its hormones and that your hair is trying to get back to its usual cycle — and that you’re not alone.
“Fifty percent of women will experience some form of hair loss postpartum,” adds Dr. Daniel Yadegar, M.D., a triple board-certified doctor in internal medicine, cardiology, and integrative medicine and founder of the supplement brand Wellbel. “Hair loss and overall health are so connected, so we can’t talk about hair loss in a vacuum,” he says. In addition to your hair’s growth cycle hitting pause, there are a lot of changes happening in your hormones and stress levels. “When you give birth, all of those hormone levels drop. And the process of giving birth and becoming a new mother is also a stressful experience, and that stress in and of itself creates changes in your hormones that can also trigger hair loss.”
In the end, Yadegar say that it’s usually a combination of internal and external factors that can contribute to hair loss postpartum, from diet to vitamin levels and even the amount of sunshine and sleep you get.
The relationship between sleep & postpartum hair loss.
Speaking of sleep, Yadegar explained to me that sleep is actually one of the most crucial things we can do for ourselves postpartum — and it helps with hair growth. “Human growth hormone is the number one anti-aging hormone that your body makes — it comes from the pituitary gland — and you make the crux of it while you sleep,” he tells me. “It’s also important for hair production and the way your skin looks, so when they say ‘sleeping beauty,’ that’s why. Not to mention, all of the free radicals that your body is making are neutralized when you sleep — it’s your body’s time to reset and get rid of all of the garbage.”
That sounds nice in theory, but what can you actually do to help with the effects of hair loss if you aren’t sleeping?
“At this point — and do what you can to the best of your ability — I would recommend good nutrition and stress management, so exercise, meditation to decrease stress levels, even taking a walk,” he says. “I know it’s a big ask for new moms, especially if they’re getting up every three hours to breastfeed, but the more self-care you do, the better. Not just for your hair, but for your overall physiology.”
What is the best postpartum hair loss treatment?
First and foremost, Reavy recommends that you continue to take prenatal vitamins after the baby is born. “After birth, your body can really be depleted in minerals,” she says. “Prenatals contain a lot of folic acid, which can help with hair growth and keep hair from becoming super weak and brittle.”
In the product department, she notes that shampoos are a “wash on, wash off” kind of thing, so it’s hard for their ingredients to make a difference on hair growth. They’re in contact with your scalp for such a short period. “To really see benefits from a topical, you have to use a product that’s left on the scalp long enough to have a real impact,” she says. Reavy recommends her own brand Act + Acre’s Scalp Detox, which is meant to be applied and massaged into the scalp 20 minutes before showering and contains basil leaf extract, which is proven to help with the stimulation of blood flow to the hair follicle (poor circulation is a huge culprit of hair loss).
Should you take a supplement for postpartum hair loss?
Product-wise, Yadegar deems topical remedies “sort of a bandage.” He formulated a beauty supplement called Wellbel that’s rooted in his experience as a doctor. “My sister came to me with severe hair loss after having twins — she’s always had the most beautiful hair,” he says. “Since I’m board-certified in integrative medicine, I decided to put this supplement together for her — and she noticed such a difference in the volume and density.”
Yadegar studied scientific journals and looked at the safety and efficacy of certain vitamins and minerals that had been studied, and started formulating from there. He’s reluctant to name any single element as the star ingredient, but the formula contains vitamin B12, vitamin D, biotin, methylsulfonylmethane, and saw palmetto — all of which have been shown to promote hair growth in the right dosage.
He does add that, out of an abundance of caution, he wouldn’t recommend Wellbel while breastfeeding since when it comes to these ingredients, little is known about what gets transmitted to a developing baby. In other words: better safe than sorry.
The best shampoos for postpartum hair loss.
In terms of postpartum shampoos, Reavy suggests using formulas that are sulfate-free, so you don’t strip the scalp of its natural oils and to “help keep the microbiome balanced, so that the scalp under the hair has the best opportunity for hair growth.” You can also look for shampoos with stimulating ingredients, like rosemary oil (which has been shown to help with hair growth), lavender (also known to aid in triggering hair growth), follicle-strengthening ginseng, and peppermint oil and basil leaf extract, which studies have shown to help with the stimulation of blood flow to the hair follicle. Reavy’s recommendation: Start your shower by shampooing your hair so that the formula has a chance to sit on your scalp and do its job while you wash the rest of your body.
Dermarolling For Postpartum Hair Loss
Reavy says that it’s also a good idea to only use conditioner from the midshaft down to the ends. “When you experience hair loss, you just want to do everything you can to promote the healthiest and most open environment for your hair follicles, so your scalp can breathe,” she adds.
Reavy also recommends derma-rolling the areas where you’re seeing hair loss to stimulate bloodflow. Here’s how: After cleansing your scalp and hair, take a 0.25 needle length dermaroller (she likes this one from Environ) and create a double pass in an “X” formation on your scalp. “Apply the dermaroller forward and back, forward and back, and then crisscross and repeat two passes in the other direction,” she explains. “This jumpstarts your body to produce more stem cells and more growth hormones, and can thus contribute to hair growth. I’ve even seen it revive dormant follicles in some of my patients!”
After dermarolling, you can apply a leave-in product that has good-for-your-scalp-skin ingredients, like Act + Acre’s Apple Stem Cell Serum, which helps revive the hair follicle, or Augustinus Bader The Scalp Treatment.
Postpartum hair loss can be a nervewracking experience, but remember that you’re not alone. Tryyour best not to stress about it, since that can only make things work, and always run any new supplement you’re taking past your primary care physician. If you’re unsure if your supplement is safe to take while breastfeeding, you can show your OB-GYN the ingredients list for peace of mind.
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