Diabetes can affect all parts of your body. Learn how the condition can lead to hair loss, and get tips on how to manage the hair loss.
If you have diabetes, your body doesn’t produce insulin, doesn’t use it effectively, or both. The hormone insulin moves the sugar from the foods you eat from your bloodstream into your cells, where it can be stored or used as energy.
When you don’t have insulin or it’s not used effectively, sugar can build up in your blood.
That excess sugar can damage organs throughout your body, including your eyes and kidneys. It can also damage your nerves and blood vessels.
Your blood vessels carry oxygen around your body to nourish your organs and tissues. Damaged blood vessels may not be able to deliver enough oxygen to nourish your hair follicles. This lack of oxygen can affect your normal hair growth cycle.
Hair usually goes through four phases.
The active growing phase lasts for 2 years or more. During it, hairs grow 1 centimeter (cm) each month. After a transition period, hair then goes into a resting phase. This lasts for up to 4 months. After this phase, some resting hair falls out.
Diabetes can interrupt this process, slowing down hair growth. Having diabetes can also cause you to lose more hair than usual.
That hair loss doesn’t only affect your head. You can lose hairs on your arms, legs, and other body parts, too. When the hair regrows, it does so at a slower than usual rate.
People with type 1 diabetes are more likely to have a condition called alopecia areata. With alopecia areata, the immune system attacks the hair follicles, leading to the loss of patches of hair on the head and other parts of the body.
Other possible causes of hair loss include:
- the stress of living with a chronic condition like diabetes
- thyroid disease, which affects some people with diabetes and can contribute to hair loss
- side effects of your diabetes medications
Talk with your doctor if you’re having any bothersome diabetes symptoms, including hair loss. Hair loss from your arms and legs is especially important to report because it could be a symptom of poor blood flow.
If the hair loss is related to diabetes management, you may need to adjust your medications, diet, or lifestyle.
Once blood sugar management is improved, you should notice a reduction in hair loss. You’ll lose fewer hairs and regrow more of the ones you’ve lost.
Here are a few other ways to compensate for diabetes-related hair loss:
If alopecia is causing your hair loss, your doctor may prescribe steroid medications to reduce inflammation.
A dermatologist, or skin care specialist, may recommend a topical drug such as minoxidil (Rogaine). You rub it onto your scalp and other areas where there’s hair loss.
People assigned male at birth can also take a pill called finasteride (Propecia) to regrow their hair. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) hasn’t approved finasteride for people assigned female at birth to use.
People with diabetes may have lower than recommended levels of biotin.
Biotin, also known as vitamin B7 or vitamin H, is naturally found in foods such as:
There’s some evidence that biotin supplementation may slow hair loss in people with biotin deficiencies.
Talk with your doctor before trying biotin supplements, though.
The recommended adequate intake for adults is
Wigs and hairpieces
If the hair loss covers a large area of your scalp, you may want to temporarily cover it with a wig or hairpiece. You can remove the accessory when you no longer want or need it.
Daily exercise can help manage blood sugar. It’s a great way to bring down your blood sugar and encourage oxygen delivery to your body’s extremities, including your scalp.
Great exercises to try include:
It’s important to check your blood sugar before and after exercise to ensure it doesn’t get too high or too low. Avoiding dehydration is also crucial.
Talk with your doctor or a personal trainer before starting a new fitness routine. They can give you tips on how to exercise safely when you have diabetes.
Losing your hair can be difficult for some people, but you have options.
Speak with your doctor to learn more about what you can do to manage your hair loss. They may recommend adjusting your diabetes care plan, taking hair loss medications or supplements, or managing any related conditions, like thyroid disease and stress.