Today, I’m writing something very different than what I normally do. This post may come as a surprise since it’s so far from my usual topics, but it’s about an issue I’ve been wanting to talk about publicly for years. I used to be on the birth control, Ortho Tri-Cyclen Lo, for four years before I realized that it caused horrible side effects. The worst of them was the hair thinning known as Androgenic Alopecia, which is hormonal hair loss that mimics Male Pattern Baldness. When I went through this, I remember it felt like the worst thing that had ever happened to me. As a young woman, you feel so much pressure to look beautiful and desirable, and then to realize that you’re balding and have no idea what to do about it… that’s the biggest hit to confidence and self-esteem that I’ve ever experienced. Luckily, through digging online, I found hundreds of women who have shared the stories of their horrible hair loss from Ortho Tri-Cyclen Lo. Hearing their experiences and how they were able to grow their hair back was so incredibly helpful. So I finally wanted to open up about my experience on Ortho Tri-Cyclen Lo, and how I was able to put a stop to my hair loss in hopes that it will help someone else who is going through this.
When I was a teenager I remember having horrible cramps and period symptoms that were so bad I was constantly missing school. I couldn’t stand up from the pain, I couldn’t focus in class, and I bled like crazy. So I did what my doctor and all of the girls I knew told me to do, which was going on the pill. I wasn’t informed about birth control or what it did to your body. All I knew is that everyone in my high school raved about it like it was a miracle pill. I was told that it made cramps go away, made your period less heavy, stopped symptoms like breast pain and bloating, cleared up acne, made you lose weight, made your hair grow faster, made your boobs bigger, etc. It was everything you could want and more. So without hesitation, I decided to go on the pill. It took all of 30 seconds for my doctor to put me on birth control, and I was happily on my way.
I had first gotten on the pill when I was around 15 or 16 and I stayed on it in college. I didn’t think much of it after I started taking it, but I noticed that my period cramps did, in fact, go away! Along with the aches, breast pain, and all that other fun stuff. However, I noticed that weird things were happening with my body. I was very tired, had extremely dry skin, and became severely lactose intolerant. Just one small sip of milk would have created that most terrible stomach issues for 24 hours straight. I also started to experience depression. Unfortunately, I remember thinking, “Oh well, I’m a Cancer. We cry all the time, it’s normal.” But it wasn’t normal, I would sob every day. Whenever I was alone, I would cry uncontrollably, for no reason at all. I also noticed that I would get a cold every year that would then turn into a sinus infection and last for months. No medicine, or antibiotic, or natural supplement could help me. Last, but not least, was the problems that I started to encounter with my hair.
Over those few years, my hair had completely changed. My hair that used to be shiny, bouncy, soft, and long was now extremely dry and brittle. It actually felt like horse hair. I could put a hair mask on top of my head for an hour a day, but when I washed and dried it, it still rough and dry. I also remember that the ground in my dorm room was covered in hair all the time. It would stick to my rug and everyone would see it when they came in. Friends would comment on how gross it was to see hair all over. Still, I thought nothing of it. All of the changes happened so slowly over the course of several years that I never could figure out why these things were happening. So I just continued on vacuuming my room and conditioning my hair all the time. Until one day I was washing my hands in front of the mirror in my dorm bathroom and the fluorescent lights shined down on my head. My hair was pulled back in a braid and I realized at that moment just how thin my hair was. I could see my scalp perfectly and for the first time I realized that I didn’t just have “thin” hair, but I was actually blading. I took my braid out of my hair and ran my hand through it. Every time I did that several strands came out. I did it again and again, the hair wouldn’t stop coming off of my head.
I was completely shocked and had no idea what to do. Since I was a kid, I was so overly obsessed with skincare and hair care that I couldn’t believe this had happened to me. I used to spend every single free moment on my computer researching shampoos, hair masks, beauty supplements, etc. I was more knowledgeable about hair care at 15 than most hairdressers. It was a full-blown obsession of mine. But that day, it dawned on me that maybe I should stop spending hours a day researching shampoos, supplements, and hair products, but I should actually research hair loss.
Ortho Tri-Cyclen Lo
Within the first few minutes of scrolling on my computer, I saw an article that said something along the lines of “my birth control caused hair loss.” At that moment it was like I heard glass shattering or a light bulb turning on over my head. I realized that every problem that I was having with my hair was all internal and hormonal.
Next, I came across a discussion page where hundreds of women that had all taken Ortho Tri-Cyclen Lo for years and had major side effects, particularly hair loss. They all wrote about how they had drastic hair loss and hair texture changes. Every single one of them was currently balding from Ortho Tri-Cyclen Lo, was now off of it and trying to regrow their hair, or had been off of it for a few years and was offering advice to the rest of us. Seeing that hundreds of other women were experiencing this made me feel so relieved that I wasn’t alone.
To my surprise, they also reported a bunch of other issues they were having from it such as becoming lactose intolerant or having mood swings. I was so happy when I realized that I wasn’t crazy and that these were all real side effects from Ortho Tri-Cyclen Lo. It wasn’t something I had imagined. The discussion page also gave me hope since many of them said that after stopping the pill, their hair grew back and their texture became more normal. However, they all said that it never completely went back to normal. Their hair was always less thick than before they started the pill, and their hair texture was different than what they had been born with. For example, many women said that their hair lost its curls. Now that I’m writing this post four years later, I can’t seem to find that same discussion page. It must be Lost Online (lol) among billions of other discussion pages out there. But if I do happen to find it, I’ll update this post with the link!
When I realized what was going on, I had no idea what to do for hair loss, so I immediately went to see my doctor and my dermatologist. To my surprise, they didn’t believe me and tried to make me stay on the birth control pill! The told me that I wasn’t balding, that it was all in my head, I just had extremely thin hair, and nothing was wrong. Even when I told them about the hundreds of women that are reporting this online, they still didn’t take me seriously. Finally, I was sick of arguing and demanded that they check my vitamin levels and hormones.
After the results came back, the doctors finally saw that I wasn’t crazy! No sh*t. They saw that my hormones were completely out of whack. I had extremely high levels of testosterone. According to my doctors, the high levels of testosterone were creating high levels of DHT or Dihydrotestosterone, which is what attaches to hair follicles and causes the hair follicles to shrink and the hair to fall out. In turn, your body stops supplying nutrients to the follicle and the hair doesn’t grow back. This creates what we know as Male Pattern Baldness. Once the doctors saw this, they admitted to me that I was, in fact, experiencing hormonal hair loss known as “Androgenic Alopecia” a.k.a Male Pattern Baldness. They assured me that my hair would grow back after a few months as long as I took care of it and listened to their advice.
Below, are all of the steps that I took to treat my Androgenic Alopecia and includes a mixture of the advice of my doctors and advice from my own online research. Keep in mind that I am not a doctor, this is just what worked for me and what I recommend! If this is happening to you, make sure you go to your doctor and get your hormones and vitamins checked as well!
1. Minoxidil 2% for Women
The first thing that my doctor and all of the online articles about hair loss told me, was to use Minoxidil 2% for women. If you don’t know what this is, it’s basically Rogaine. However, you can buy Minoxidil cheaper without paying for the high price of Rogaine. Minoxidil works by blocking the DHT to prevent more hair from falling out and stimulating the hair follicle so it can receive nutrients and begin re-growing hair. It can also extend the growth phase. I applied this topically once or twice a day for several months. I didn’t experiment with different brands of Minoxidil, but I did have a side effect which was painful acne on my scalp from the product being extremely oily. However, I dealt with it since I was desperate for new hair growth and scared my hair may still fall out.
My doctor also instructed me to take Biotin every day morning and night. I told him that I’d been taking it for years, but it never made a difference in my hair. He explained to me that I wasn’t taking the right dosage of Biotin. Most of the supplements contain 5,000 mcg of Biotin, which is not enough to see a change in your hair. In order to see a difference, I was told to take 10,000 mcg morning and night for many months. Only then would it be enough to see a real change. I started doing this and to this day taking 10,000 mcg of Biotin morning and night is my biggest beauty secret. It’s the one thing that I know works for certain.
I also used to have extremely thin, bendy nails that I could never grow out. If there was just a tiny bit of white at the end of my nail, my fingers literally hurt. I was never able to grow them out even slightly. They would have to be completely cut down for me to be conformable and not have any nail bending. Taking this amount of Biotin was a miracle worker. It made my nails grow back so much stronger and now I haven’t had any nail problems in the last four years. I highly recommend it.
When you’re buying Biotin make sure to buy a real Biotin supplement, not one of those “Hair, Skin, and Nail” vitamins. If you look at any of the “beauty supplements” or “hair supplements” out there, they all do a wonderful job at their packaging, marketing, and getting us to believe that it works. However, if you look at the ingredients there will not be enough Biotin to see a difference in your hair. Many of them only contain about 3,000 mcg. And if you look at the ingredients, you’re actually getting fewer vitamins for your money. You’d be better off taking a daily multivitamin which contains so much more.
When I got tested at the doctor, one of the things he told me was that I needed a lot more Iron. I had an Iron deficiency which contributed to hair loss, dry hair, pale skin, and weak nails. I believe that Ortho Tri-Cyclen Lo caused this too. For the few years I was on Ortho Tri-Cyclen Lo, I craved hamburgers and steak all the time, even after I ate those foods. I would want a hamburger every day and I was always going out for meat. With the amount of red meat I ate during those few years, it doesn’t make sense that I wasn’t consuming enough Iron, but I believe that Ortho Tri-Cyclen Lo effected my absorption of it. Once I stopped Ortho Tri-Cyclen Lo and took Iron supplements for a few months I completely stopped craving meat.
My doctor put me on a prescription Iron supplement with an extremely high dosage of Iron you can’t buy at the store. I was told that I should be taking it every day along with my Biotin. Iron helps with overall hair growth by carrying oxygen and nutrients to the scalp and hair follicles. Make sure to consult your own doctor before you try this method since I’ve found many articles that warn against taking too much Iron. By taking too much you can actually make hair fall worse. So it’s important to talk to a doctor and have them check your Iron levels!
4. Vitamin D
Another important vitamin that I was lacking was Vitamin D, which makes sense because I lived in Wisconsin where I could go a week without ever being able to go outside in the sun. The sun came up late, went down at 4 pm during the winters, and it would be too cold to go outside. So it’s no surprise that I was lacking Vitamin D. My doctor told me that I should be taking a Vitamin D supplement morning and night that I could pick up at a drugstore. I took 5,000 IU of Vitamin D in the morning and night along with my Biotin and Iron supplements.
If you live in an area where you may experience this too, it’s important to make sure you’re getting enough of the vitamin either through your diet, a supplement, the sun, or light therapy. Lack of Vitamin D can also contribute to hair loss. The vitamin stimulates hair growth and regulates the growth cycle. There are also Vitamin D receptors in the hair follicle that have to be fed while your hair is growing. Which means that if you’re not getting enough Vitamin D, your hair can’t grow optimally.
5. My Miracle Hair Mask
If you’re trying to prevent hair loss, regrow hair, or make your hair healthier it’s important to do a regular hair mask. Through my research online I found two ingredients that are real miracle workers for hair growth and used them to create the perfect hot oil hair mask that I used on my hair once a week for months. I still do it sometimes, and it’s one of the beauty secrets that I absolutely swear by.
Here’s how to make it:
Once a week (I did it every Friday), put about a 1/4 cup of Olive Oil in a small bowl and warm it up in the microwave for around 30 seconds. Once it’s warmed up put three to four drops of Dottera Rosemary essential oil in the Olive Oil and mix it together. Make sure it’s not too hot! Rub a small amount on your palms and fingertips and slowly massage it onto your scalp until the whole scalp is covered. With any remaining oil, I like to put it along the hairline near the forehead and temples where hair loss is the most visible. Next, gently run that extra oil through the ends of your hair to act as a leave-in conditioner. Lastly, put your hair in a bun and cover it with a shower cap. Leave the mixture in your hair for an hour and then hop in the shower to wash it out with shampoo.
Why It Works:
Olive Oil – Using Olive Oil helps stop the production of DHT and prevents it from attaching to your hair follicle. Thus it will prevent further hair loss. It’s also a source of antioxidants with promotes scalp and hair health, so it can help your hair even if you don’t experience hair loss. Olive Oil is also a very common household ingredient so it’s always an easy hair mask to make.
Rosemary – Rosemary has been a beauty secret for years and has tons of different beauty benefits, but it’s most known for its ability to grow and thicken hair. In fact, in several studies, Rosemary has been proven to regrow hair as well as Minoxidil, which is why many hair loss products use it as an ingredient. So if you don’t want to spend a ton of money on that product, try putting Rosemary essential oil in a cup of water and then slowly pouring it on your scalp and letting it air dry. This way you’ll receive the natural benefits of Rosemary all day without spending a ton of money on products.
Using Rosemary essential oil also stimulates blood circulation to the scalp so more nutrients and oxygen gets to the follicle the hair can grow faster. Rosemary unclogs hair follicles and removes any product build-up that can be affecting healthy hair growth. It’s also high in nutritional value, antioxidants and is a natural anti-inflammatory which all promote healthy hair. Lastly, it’s known to and add shine for those of us who experience dull, lifeless hair.
Side note: I would not recommend picking the first Rosemary Oil you find off of Amazon or the drugstore shelves. Those products are diluted with water and don’t have the concentration that you need to receive benefits from the oil. I recommend using a trusted brand like Dottera or Young Living where you’ll get the real thing! Don’t cheap out on Rosemary, or you’ll never see how helpful this natural remedy can be.
Massage – The reason the massage is so important is that it will evenly distribute the oil through the hair and to each hair follicle so you receive maximum hair growth. Another benefit is that a scalp massage will strengthen the root of the hair to support the existing hair. Head massages will also stimulate the follicles and causes more blood flow to the scalp. I know I’ve mentioned this a few times, but if you have any hair loss issues, it’s super important to wake up those follicles to get the hair growth started. Otherwise, the hair follicle will continue to remain dormant.
Hot Oil – I have tried dozens of hair masks over the years in order to condition my hair and help it grow back, but nothing works as well as a hot oil treatment with Olive Oil. Hot oil treatments help the oil to penetrate the hair instead of just sitting on top of it like other products and conditioners, which means that it’s able to moisturize the driest and most brittle hair better than something you could buy at the drugstore. Hot oil massages will also strengthen any existing hair, prevent split ends and breakage, and add a beautiful shine. From my own experience with this treatment, I also know that by doing a hot oil treatment it enhances hair color and shine tremendously. I remember that every time I would do a hot oil treatment with Olive Oil, friends and family would ask me if I went to the salon or colored my hair! Keep in mind that in order to receive the full benefits of a treatment and notice a difference in growth specifically, you have to leave it on for the full amount of time.
Side note: If the oil is too hot it can damage the hair, just like anything else! So you have to be careful.
6. Switch Shampoos
If you’re loosing hair or very concerned about hair care, chances are that you’ve tried tons of different shampoos and have already done some research. However, if you’re losing hair, just using “natural” shampoo or “growth” products is not enough. There are actually DHT blocking shampoos on the market to prevent further hair loss. I switched to a DHT blocking shampoo and used it until my Androgenic Alopecia was cured. Make sure that whatever you’re using is meant for hormonal hair loss specifically.
7. Don’t Shampoo Everyday
Many people have heard this advice before and have already made up their opinions about it. Let me tell you, I have very thin, very oily hair, and I now live in a hot and humid environment. You don’t have to tell me about hair being “too oily” and how you must wash it every day. Trust me, I understand the greasy hair life. Unfortunately, it doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter how gross it may look if you wait 2 days, 3 days, 4 days. The longer you can go without washing your hair, the better. Leaving the natural oils on your hair will help the health of your existing hair and support hair growth. If you can only wait two days before shampooing that’s fine. Whatever your normal shampooing routine is now, extend it. Eventually, your hair will adapt and it won’t be as oily. Most people just haven’t waited long enough to actually notice the change.
8. Out of Sight, Out of Mind
When you’re having a hair loss issue as a woman, the best thing that you can do is to put it back. Once I noticed that I was actually balding, I put my hair up in a ponytail every day and wore a baseball cap. A lot of articles I found have urged people to not to put their hair in a hat or a ponytail, because it could cause more hair loss and breakage. But I noticed the opposite. While my hair was down, I would constantly be looking at it in the mirror, playing with it, moving it around, and always thinking about it. It was always on my mind which made the hair loss that much more stressful, and by messing with it I was causing more damage. Putting it up with a hat on meant that I also didn’t have to witness the hair loss if it was happening. I wouldn’t see strands of hair on my clothes throughout the day and begin to panic again. Plus, the Minoxidil I used was extremely greasy, so I didn’t want to look rough all the time.
9. Avoid the Salons
Many people recommend that when you’re going through hair loss, it’s best to go to the salon and have it chopped off. I would recommend avoiding the salons all together. Don’t try to have it cut or colored. The hair is already extremely delicate, and if you’ve ever gotten a haircut, you know there’s nothing delicate about what the stylists do. There’s so much combing, tousling, blowdrying, applying products, and shampooing that it’s not a good idea until the hair loss has stopped. I stayed away from the salons for at least six months until I was sure that a trip to my stylist wouldn’t set me back 500 strands of hair! Plus, most hairdressers are very knowledgeable about hair care, cutting, and styling but not about hormonal hair loss. In my experience, the stylists I knew personally did not understand the severity of the problem or how to help me through the transition.
10. Nighttime Hair Care
When experiencing hair loss, simply going to sleep at night could cause more damage and loss of hair if you’re not careful. The best way to prevent further damage, hair loss, and help your hair grow in is by keeping your hair back at night in a loose braid. Every night before I went to bed, I put a small amount of coconut oil on my hands and would gently run the oil through the ends of my hair. Then I gently braid if back in a French Braid before going to bed. This conditions the hair overnight and prevents the hair from getting tangled or pulled out if your tossing and turning in your sleep.
11. No Styling or Heat
This is pretty obvious but very important. If your experiencing hair problems, you may try to cover it up by styling it regularly in hopes that people don’t notice. However, it will only make the problem worse. Heat and styling will cause more breakage, loss, and dryness. The best thing to do your hair health is to leave it alone and allow it to grow.
12. Use a Wide Tooth Comb
Another thing that you’ll want to do to help the hair grow is to not brush it! A big mistake that a lot of people make it brushing their hair too frequently, and brushing it when it’s wet. This will cause more hair loss and stretch and break the hair that you want to protect. You’ll want to only comb it once a day and use a wide tooth comb. It’s the most gentle way to get rid of tangles and knots in the hair.
If you’re like me when I was going through this issue, you’ll be dying to know how long it took for the hair to grow back and if it regained its fullness. The most important thing to know is that I was determined to grow my hair back, and I did all of these treatments and supplements religiously for at least six months! New hair growth does not happen right away and it needs a lot of help after you’ve had a major stressor or hormonal changes. You’ll have to stick to this advice for a long time until you notice it coming back.
It wasn’t until many months later when I found out that I was moving to Florida that I wanted my hair to look decent for when I moved to my new city. I rewarded myself for going through all of the emotional stress of balding as a teenager by booking an appointment for a cut and color at my favorite salon in Madison.
This was probably a year after I realized I was balding from Ortho Tri-Cyclen Lo and went off the pill. Towards the end of my appointment when my hairdresser had cut, colored, washed, and blow dried my hair, I looked in the mirror and could see through the salons’ fluorescent lights that I had tons of new hair growth. It actually looked like a halo or a crown over my head with all of the new hairs peaking up. It was about two to three inches long and because of the blow drying and fluorescent lights, I was finally able to visibly see the hair growth that had come in. My hairdresser also checked and made sure that it wasn’t breakage, but actually little baby hairs that were growing in. I will never forget how relieved I was in that moment to finally know that I wasn’t loosing hair anymore and it was actually coming back! So there is a light at the end of the tunnel. You can grow your hair back, but it will take time and dedication to proper hair care.
Four years later…
As for all the other symptoms, I’m still lactose intolerant ever since being on the pill. But the depression I experienced from Ortho Tri-Cyclen Lo did completely go away about six months to a year of stopping the pill. It did take some time for my hormones to adjust, so I got a little bit worse after I went off of it, and then I slowly got better. Ever since my body adapted, I’ve actually felt normal. I don’t sob uncontrollably and feel like I’m losing control of myself like I did when I was on it. It blows me away what I went through on this pill and how I didn’t feel normal for four whole years while I was on it. To this day, I’m so thankful that I’ll never have to feel that way again.
When I look at my hair today, I’m not sure if my hair ever regained its complete fullness. It’s hard to tell because I’ve always had very thin hair. I was not born with a beautiful head of hair like many people I know. I was always self-conscious of my hair even as a child. Experiencing women’s hair loss definitely made that much worse. However, my hair is much healthier now and I don’t have any sort of hair growth or hair loss problems anymore. My hair also went back to feeling soft again, it no longer feels like rough horse hair like it used to. So if anyone is going through this, know that there is hope! I understand the emotional stress and loss of confidence and self-esteem that comes when you’re a young woman going through this, but it will get better. Get off that disgusting pill that wreaks havoc on your body, do the steps listed above, and trust that it will grow back.