Hair Loss after Bariatric Surgery

By David B. Thomas, M.D.
April 15, 2019

So, you’ve taken the gigantic first step to a healthier life, and had weight loss surgery. Things are going well, and you’re healing quickly from surgery. Several weeks later, you begin to notice more hair that usual in the shower drain, and wonder what’s going on…you’re probably experiencing one of the ‘not so fun’ effects of surgery. But, don’t lose hope. The good news is that it’s only a short term effect and won’t last forever.

woman holding hair blower

On a person’s head, there is an average of 100,000 hair follicles. Those follicles are not all in the same phases of growth, and some are actively growing (anogen) while some are in rest (telogen).  Prior to weight loss surgery, most follicles are growing, while about 10% are resting. When you shift your body’s metabolism to a starving state with surgery, your body’s natural response is to shift vital nutrients away from non-vital functions such as hair growth. This shifts more follicles into telogen, which in turn causes hair to fall out.

Conditions that can lead to hair loss:

  • Severe infection
  • Acute physical trauma
  • Chronic debilitating illness (such as cancer or end-stage liver disease)
  • Hormonal disruption (such as pregnancy, childbirth or discontinuation of estrogen therapy)
  • Acute weight-loss
  • Low protein intake
  • Iron or zinc deficiency
  • Heavy metal toxicity
  • Some medications (such as beta-blockers, anticoagulants, retinoids and immunizations)

So, there are a few things you can do to minimize hair loss. First, don’t panic. Hair loss typically lasts less than 6 months. Second, maintain protein intake during phases of rapid weight loss. Protein intake contributes to adequate hair growth, and if your intake is less than recommended, increasing it can help. Last, make sure and take a multivitamin with iron. Key nutrient deficiencies such as iron, zinc, vitamin A and B can cause hair loss.

One final thought…biotin supplements and hair care products are very popular, but not proven to have any benefit. It won’t cause any harm, but it’s not likely to help either.  

Don’t be discouraged. On the path to a healthy body, there can be bumps along the way. Hair loss is temporary and worth the goal of a new you!