How to Recover From Accutane Hair Loss: Rogaine and Peppermint Oil
I Recovered From Severe Accutane Hair Loss
Accutane works very well for those with persistent, problematic acne, but noticeable hair loss is possible with this medication. Dermatologists currently class isotretinoin-induced hair loss as telogen effluvium (TE), a condition ephemeral by nature that should resolve over time as the body's energy requirements rebalance themselves, but many Accutane users are left with this problem long after stopping the medication. This brings us to question the underlying cause of the TE shedding, which is most likely an inflammation-based autoimmune cascade initially started by Accutane.
In this article, I will give you a regimen to follow including products and lifestyle changes that will reduce your systemic inflammatory load (the level of inflammatory mediators in your body) and thus put an end to your chronic hair loss and scalp pain.
Why do I want to reach out to you, when I've recovered? The answer is simple - I know the pain you are experiencing and want to bring you a real solution. I suffered from severe hair loss when I stopped taking Accutane, and lost about 70% of my previously thick, luscious hair. As a young woman, this left me devastated and made me feel like I would never be the same person again.
I have now been off Accutane for over 3 years, and am delighted to say that I have mainly regained my original hair density. I would say that my hair is around 80% as thick as it was before the hair loss started. I owe this recovery to 5% topical foam minoxidil (rogaine/regaine), peppermint oil applied before washing my hair, an extremely healthy, anti-inflammatory vegan diet and a few other crucial lifestyle choices.
Accutane Hair Loss: Is It Chronic Telogen Effluvium?
Dermatologists label severe Accutane-induced hair loss as telogen effluvium (TE), a condition that is triggered by a shock to the body. This shock can be anything from illness, to extreme weight loss, to a harsh medication such as Accutane. One thing these triggers all have in common is that they alter the body's energy expenditure, resulting in a period of acute hair loss. See, in the grand scheme of things, hair is a relatively unimportant mass of keratin. If the body is under intense systemic stress (calorie restriction, the postnatal period, Accutane etc.), the endocrine system releases hormones shift the body towards prioritising necessary bodily features, while shutting the rest down.
This results in heavy hair loss that should be temporary and resolve in a matter of months after the trigger has ended. However, many Accutane hair loss sufferers find that their hair loss doesn't seem to stop, even when they have long stopped taking the medication. They may experience some regrowth but lose all new hairs within a few weeks, seeming to be stuck in perpetual growth-shed cycles. A dermatologist may issue them a new diagnosis of chronic telogen effluvium and send them on their travels.
It is important to remember, that many medical diagnoses are descriptive terms rather than anything definitive or conclusive. They describe what health care professionals see, rather than explaining exact bodily mechanisms. In other words, telogen effluvium simply describes an increased daily amount of hair shedding. If you have been off Accutane for years, have lost a lot of your hair and are continually shedding too much hair with a sore scalp, your dermatologist should not be telling you that you have "chronic telogen effluvium" and sending you away.
Why? She/he is either lazy or lacking in the ability to be biologically critical. This diagnosis doesn't provide any basis for possible treatment nor does it offer any consolation; if your dermatologist is intent on this term, it may be that they don't know enough about hair loss to inform you on some actual possible processes that are occurring and stopping your hair from recovering. I will delve into these further on in this article, particularly focusing on autoimmune hair loss and long-term follicular sensitization to stress, both of which are very much implicated in this so-called "chronic telogen effluvium" that Accutane seems to cause.
Accutane-Induced Hair Loss: My Story
I was on Accutane (called Roaccutane here in the UK) for a total of 8 months. Initially, I was put on 20mg. My dose was eventually raised to 40mg and then 60mg; my hormonal acne cleared up extremely well and I was amazed to see my skin amazingly smooth and oil-free, for the first time since before puberty. I experienced the typical side effects (fatigue, intense dry skin and lips, and headaches), but was more than willing to persevere through those to clear my acne.
Then, I experienced what I like to refer to as the "yin and yang" of pharmaceutical drugs - it is impossible to put the body through immense stress to obtain an outcome like synthetically, miraculously clear skin without serious possible side effects. There is a painful duality to everything in pharmacology.
I started losing a horrendous amount of hair 5 months into my Accutane course. I would shampoo my hair, rinse it, and pull out handfuls of loose hair. It just accelerated from there. Anytime I touched my hair or manipulated it in any way (e.g. I would wrap my hands around my ponytail), I would grab onto huge clumps of hair. I was losing around 700 hairs a day at this point and it absolutely broke my heart to see it thinning. My hair was my whole identity and was the one feature that I identified with completely.
The shedding eventually slowed a little and became intermittent. After being off Accutane for about 14 months, I noticed that I seemed to have the odd 2-week-long break from such heavy hair loss. During those times, I would pray that this was it, and that it wouldn't come back this time, but it always did. Sure enough, my scalp would start burning and the shedding would be reappear just as bad as before.
How Did I Stop Shedding From Accutane and Regrow the Hair I Lost?
I know this is what you're here for. You want relief from the misery of showering and pulling out handfuls of your own hair, and the obsession with checking your thinning hair in the mirror. You want to feel youthful, beautiful and normal once again, which you will do if you commit to following the treatment plan I am going to present you with for at least a year.
This time 1.5 years ago, I sincerely believed that I would never have hair I was happy with again. Now, I have a full head of long, thick, shiny hair and want to share my hair growth regimen with you.
1. Start Using Topical Minoxidil (5% Strength)
Topical minoxidil (Rogaine in the USA and Regaine in the UK) is a growth stimulant, designed to strengthen and maintain hair in cases of progressive genetic balding. It works by causing vasodilation of the capillaries that supply your blood follicles, providing them with a steady flow of nutrients and minerals. It is also believed that it decreases scalp inflammation by decreasing the concentration of pro-inflammatory cytokines around the hair follicle.
I decided to try minoxidil, but suffered from immediately-accelerated shedding; my hair was everywhere. Devastated, I thought "why is the universe testing me like this", but stuck with it and hoped it was the initial, short shedding phase that everyone speaks about on the internet. It is well-known that minoxidil can induce a rapid telogen phase, meaning that some growing hairs are prematurely shed; this only lasts for 2-3 months, and the hair recovers fully.
Sure enough, the above turned out to be true, and the excess shedding stopped after 2-3 months of using Rogaine 5% foam. I plan on using it for 2-3 more years and then stopping, just to ensure I've given my body enough time to completely recover from the inflammation caused by Accutane.
Rogaine 5% foam for women is extremely easy to apply, as it doesn't leave your hair greasy at all like the liquid form of minoxidil does. I actually find it improves the appearance of my hair, as its mousse-like texture is conducive to some added hair volume/bounce... it also doesn't contain alcohol (only difference between the men's version and the women's), so doesn't irritate the scalp at all. I am in no way affiliated with the company, but have been using it for 1.5 years with great success and desperately want to help all of you who are currently struggling.
2. Use Topical Peppermint Essential Oil!
You need to buy yourself an affordable but top-quality bottle of essential peppermint oil (I have linked the one that I use just below this box of text) and apply it to your scalp regularly. I am normally very sceptical about holistic claims, since a lot of natural substances are relatively ineffective. This is not the case with peppermint oil, though, and a scientific study has shown it to be more effective in rapidly regrowing hair than minoxidil when applied to C57BL/6 mice, compared to a control and jojoba oil. It appears that peppermint oil acts as a powerful growth-stimulant and an anti-inflammatory due to the effects of L-menthol (a monoterpene) and other beneficial plant compounds.
While these results may not fully apply to humans or be conclusive, they undeniably serve as evidence that peppermint has the potential to act as a non-toxic growth stimulant and improve Accutane-induced hair loss.
I decided to act as a guinea pig for the rest of us, and consistently use peppermint oil every single time I washed my hair. I add 5 drops of it to a hand-sized squirt of shampoo, and apply this mixture to my dry scalp (it should feel delightfully cooling and pleasant, not burning). I leave it soaking in for 30mins-1hour and then wash it out.
Has it worked? You can look at my pictures throughout this article and come to your own conclusion. All I know is that 1.5 years ago, I had been off Accutane for nearly 2 years yet was still suffering with heavy shedding and steadily-worsening, thin hair. Now, I have a clean, irritation-free scalp and thick hair once again.
This product is the one that I have religiously used for over a year and will continue using for the rest of my life. Essential oils are real medications that shouldn't be messed with, which also means it's important to purchase top quality ones. I experience zero irritation from this one, whereas other brands left my scalp red and broken-out in acne.
3. Go Vegan, But Eat Lots of Healthy Fats!
I don't want to make this article about the detrimental effects that animal products have on the body, as you can do your own research. All I will say is that whatever your stance on veganism may be, animal products (particularly dairy and meat) are extremely inflammatory. They start chain reactions in the body that lead to high concentrations of circulating inflammatory molecules, and this can directly worsen follicular inflammation and hair loss.
Of course, not everyone who eats some yoghurt and the odd burger will lose their hair or develop a disease like Crohn's. However, diet is of the utmost importance when you're recovering from a shock to the immune system, especially one as large, long-lasting and damaging as Accutane. You simply do not have any leeway to eat badly if you are suffering from Accutane-induced bodily damage, and need to cut out everything that adds to your body's inflammatory burden (or reduce your consumption drastically).
A vegan, plant-based diet offers every single nutrient and mineral that you could ever need if you do your research and supplement B12 (you can truly get everything else from eating a wide range of nuts, seeds and fruit/vegetables). Eating this way is pro-healing, helping your body re-align with its pre-inflamed state, and will also improve your skin and general health as an added bonus. My acne started to come back 1 year after Accutane, but since cutting out dairy and going full vegan, I have had absolutely flawless skin to this day.
The one caveat here is that many uninformed people follow a high-carb and low-fat vegan diet, which is not healthy or sustainable. We need healthy fats for literally every cognitive and bodily process, including hormone regulation and hair growth, so eat walnuts, cashews, pecans, avocados, pumpkin seeds and chia seeds in abundance.
I always advise people to start their day with a bowl of chia seeds, cashews and fruit - this will not only provide you with a good dose of omega-3s but will also ensure that you are getting in a wide array of your necessary hair-healthy minerals before lunch.
If you decide to reconnect with your body's needs and go vegan, it is a good idea to initially use Cronometer (search for it) to get a rough idea of what meal components help you hit your vitamin/nutrient requirements. At this stage, I'm so aware of what I need that I can simply eyeball my food and know what nutrients it contains!
4. Don't Exercise Too Much or Starve Yourself
Regular exercise offers a plethora of benefits to your body and your mental state. However, please avoid dieting to lose weight rapidly and routinely pushing yourself too hard in the gym (i.e. don't run 10 miles a day and be eating at a calorific deficit).
Remember, Accutane caused your body to enter a state of extreme shock and distress. You want to avoid everything that might cause your body to enter a further degree of survival mode, as your ability to withstand bodily stress and cortisol spikes has decreased. What a normal athlete may be able to cope with might force YOUR body to shut down "unnecessary processes" (including hair growth), exacerbating your delicate condition.
Not to mention that if you are female, doing too much cardio exercise can cause less estrogen to be produced which can result in amenorrhea. This temporary disbalance in hormones is enough to initiate an additional period of hair loss, which you definitely do not need.
What About Vitamins/Minerals? Are Any Worth Taking for Accutane Hair Loss?
Do not let insecurity and fear convince you to buy into the supplement game, as many companies sell ineffective hair vitamins and take advantage of people who are emotionally vulnerable and willing to dish out money. Having said that, here are some vitamins and minerals that are often scarce in vegan and non-vegan diets and actively help you regrow healthy, nourished hair.
- Biotin (essential, Accutane depletes biotin): Take about 500mcg, with a meal and lots of water. It DOES make your hair grow noticeably faster. I know that it is working because it makes my nails grow like weeds and darkens my eyelashes. Do not take a super-high dose like 10,000mcg, as this is likely to make your skin oily and make you develop cystic acne!
- B complex: As long as you are eating healthily and getting in lots of fruits and vegetables, it's unlikely you need to worry about the rest of the B vitamins. However, if you regularly feel fatigued, consider taking one as it will do no harm.
- Bamboo silica: This is a great source of silica, which aids the keratin formation in hair strands. Silica is hard to get in any diet!
- Selenium is often under-eaten by vegans. If you eat one brazil nut a day, you will get enough selenium.
- Zinc: If you are vegan, please eat nuts and seeds and you won't need to worry about zinc.
- Iron: Many women experience heavy periods and need to supplement iron, albeit eating well. If your iron ferritin count is less than 60, you need to supplement because you need it to be at around 75-90 for optimal hair growth. Take it away from tea and coffee (they inhibit absorption) and with vitamin C, preferably an effervescent form of vitamin C that dissolves in water.
- Vitamin D3: The vitamin D council recommends that we all take 5000IU a day, in soft-gel form, with a meal that includes fat.
- Flaxseeds and chia seeds: These powerfully-nutritious seeds are considered vegan alternatives to cod liver oil, providing fatty acids that are extremely beneficial to skin and hair health, as well as an unbelievably diverse array of minerals including calcium, copper, selenium, manganese and zinc. It is important to avoid cod liver oil because it is high in retinol, the animal form of vitamin A. Anyone suffering from Accutane hair loss should avoid taking vitamin A supplements as a precaution. Carrots and sweet potatoes, however, are healthy and safe to eat in abundance... they contain a safe precursor to vitamin A and don't cause hair loss, unlike Accutane and animal liver.
Have you suffered from Accutane-induced hair loss?
If you have lost significant amounts of hair on Accutane, what is your biological gender?
If you have lost hair on Accutane, are you:
If you have lost hair *heavily* from Accutane, were/are you low in iron (low ferritin count)?
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This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and does not substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed health professional. Drugs, supplements, and natural remedies may have dangerous side effects. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.
© 2017 Lucy