Skip to Content

Library | Hair Loss Conditions

LibraryHair Loss ConditionsDoes working out cause hair loss?
Last updated    | 5 minute read
Young, athletic man with bent knees preparing to lift weights, photographed from below with the sky visible in the background.

Does working out cause hair loss?

Written by
XYON Medical Team
Clinically reviewed by
Dr. C. Han, MD, FRCPC

Regular exercise is essential to maintaining optimal health. But does working out also cause hair loss? Fortunately, current research suggests that in most cases, the answer is no. In this article, we cover what happens to the body during exercise, whether these changes have an effect on hair and what role pre and post-workout nutrition might play.

What happens to the body during exercise?

During exercise, the body produces more testosterone and the stress hormone cortisol. Reactive oxygen species (ROS), which are metabolic byproducts, also increase in concentration. Let’s look at why.

To meet the body’s increased energy demands during physical activity, the body produces more cortisol. Cortisol helps break down proteins, sugars and fats and also regulates metabolism. Similarly, more testosterone is secreted to help break down carbohydrates and build muscle (Sato et al., 2015). ROS are produced as these energy sources are used up.

Specifically, cortisol levels increase in proportion to the type and intensity of exercise (Corazza et al., 2013). There are factors like age that can affect what peak concentrations of these molecules are. However, the key thing to remember is that these quickly return to baseline (normal) levels after a workout.

Does exercise cause hair loss?

Yes and no. We have to look at the type of hair loss. Exercise-related changes in cortisol and ROS concentrations are typically short-lived and occur at levels that can be managed by the body. While it’s true that cortisol and ROS can have detrimental effects on hair quality, these effects are typically associated with long term, continuous exposure.

If you’ve suddenly increased your training and are noticing hair loss, this could be the body’s response to higher than normal levels of physical and biochemical stress. This stress-related shedding should not be confused with male pattern hair loss. Instead, you might be experiencing telogen effluvium.

Long-term elevations of cortisol and ROS can cause the breakdown of proteins and other building blocks of hair and skin (Thom, 2016 and Trüeb, 2015). They can also disrupt the hair growth cycle itself. Rapidly growing cells are especially sensitive to these kinds of chemical changes, which can result in brittle and weak hairs that fall out prematurely.

In the case of testosterone, hormone levels usually peak several minutes into exercise and return to normal within 1-2 hours. Clinically, this type of testosterone spike does not have a significant effect on the development of a progressive hair loss disorder such as male pattern hair loss.

Myth busted
It’s a myth that testosterone causes hair loss. The responsible hormone is actually dihydrotestosterone (DHT), which is formed from testosterone by the 5-alpha reductase enzyme. When DHT attaches to receptors on hair follicle cells, the hair follicles start to shrink via a process called follicular miniaturization.

How quickly and how much testosterone is converted into DHT is influenced by genetics (Ellis et al., 2005). This means that short-lived, post-workout increases in testosterone have very little impact on androgenetic hair loss.

Lastly, regular workouts should be paired with regular shampooing. Oil, sweat, bacteria and skin buildup on the scalp can cause it to become irritated and inflamed over time and potentially promote the development of skin conditions like dandruff. The effects are not immediate, but prolonged inflammation can also be detrimental to hair growth.

Can pre-workout cause hair loss?

Athletes turn to nutritional supplements to boost performance and recovery. But you may be wondering whether key ingredients in these supplements cause hair loss. The answer is probably not. Here’s why:

Pre-workout formulations can vary, but often contain a combination of these ingredients: caffeine, creatine, BCAAs (branched amino acids) and a nitric oxide precursor (Harty et al., 2018). They serve different purposes, from providing energy and increasing metabolism to building muscle and aiding blood flow.

One study has linked creatine use to elevated DHT levels (van der Merwe et al., 2009). But you should be aware that the findings did not directly link creatine and hair loss. Additionally, the study involved giving participants loading doses of the supplement, which exposed them to much higher concentrations of creatine than what is normally ingested.

Remember, that just because DHT levels increase, it does not mean that hair growth is affected. As discussed above, your genetics affect how the body responds to hormones and changes in hormone levels. Also, there is some evidence to suggest that common pre-workout ingredients like caffeine might actually be beneficial to hair growth (Völker et al., 2020).

If you’re following a balanced diet that meets the demands of your training and the recommended dosing of the supplement(s) of your choice, you probably don’t need to worry about any negative effects on hair. In some cases, dietary changes or nutritional deficiencies can trigger temporary shedding. If this is a concern for you, we recommend speaking to a healthcare professional.

The takeaway

You can continue to workout without worrying too much about how it might impact your hair. While physical activity can trigger an increase in testosterone, this is temporary and is unlikely to have a significant impact on male pattern hair loss.

That being said, there are other types of hair loss. If you do experience shedding associated with exercise, you could be experiencing telogen effluvium, or short-term hair loss triggered by stress. Examples include a sudden increase in training intensity and/or duration, or changes to diet or the presence of nutritional deficiencies. If this sounds like you, you may want to consult with a healthcare professional to ensure that any underlying health issues are ruled out.

References

Brown, T. M., & Krishnamurthy, K. (2021). Histology, hair and follicle. StatPearls - NCBI Bookshelf. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK532929/

Choi, J., Jun, M., Lee, S., Oh, S.-S., & Lee, W.-S. (2017). The association between exercise and androgenetic alopecia: a survey-based study. Annals of Dermatology, 29(4), 513–516. https://doi.org/10.5021/ad.2017.29.4.513

Cofre-Bolados, C., Reuquen-Lopez, P., Herrera-Valenzuela, T., Orihuela-Diaz, P., Garcia-Hermoso, A., & Hackney, A. C. (2019). Testosterone and cortisol responses to HIIT and continuous aerobic exercise in active young men. Education for Sustainability in Physical Education, 11(21). https://doi.org/10.3390/su11216069

Corazza, D., Sebastiao, E., Pedroso, R., Andreatto, C. A. A., de Melo Coelho, F. G., Gobbi, S., Teodorov, E., & Santos-Galduroz, R. F. (2014). Influence of chronic exercise on serum cortisol levels in older adults. European Review of Aging and Physical Activity, 11, 25–34. https://eurapa.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1007/s11556-013-0126-8

Cranwell, W., & Sinclair, R. (2016). Male androgenetic alopecia. Endotext - NCBI Bookshelf. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK278957/

Ellis, J. A., Panagiotopoulos, S., Akdeniz, A., Jerums, G., & Harrap, S. B. (2005). Androgenic correlates of genetic variation in the gene encoding 5α-reductase type 1. Journal of Human Genetics, 50(10), 534–537. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10038-005-0289-x

Hagenaars, S. P., Hill, W. D., Harris, S. E., Ritchie, S. J., Davies, G., Liewald, D. C., Gale, C. R., Porteous, D. J., Deary, I. J., & Marioni, R. E. (2017). Genetic prediction of male pattern baldness. PLOS Genetics, 13(2), e1006594. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pgen.1006594

Hayes, L. D., Herbert, P., Sculthorpe, N. F., & Grace, F. M. (2017). Exercise training improves free testosterone in lifelong sedentary aging men. Endocrine Connections, 6(5), 306–310. https://doi.org/10.1530/EC-17-0082

Hayes, L. D., Sculthorpe, N., Herbert, P., Baker, J. S., Hullin, D. A., Kilduff, L. P., & Grace, F. M. (2015). Resting steroid hormone concentrations in lifetime exercisers and lifetime sedentary males. The Aging Male, 18(1), 22–26. https://doi.org/10.3109/13685538.2014.977246

Ho, C. H., Sood, T., & Zito, P. M. (2021). Androgenetic alopecia. StatPearls - NCBI Bookshelf. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK430924/

Pizzino, G., Irrera, N., Cucinotta, M., Pallio, G., Mannino, F., Arcoraci, V., Squadrito, F., Altavilla, D., & Bitto, A. (2017). Oxidative stress: harms and benefits for human health. Oxidative Medicine and Cellular Longevity, 2017, 1–13. https://doi.org/10.1155/2017/8416763

Powers, S. K., Deminice, R., Ozdemir, M., Yoshihara, T., Bomkamp, M. P., & Hyatt, H. (2020). Exercise-induced oxidative stress: friend or foe? Journal of Sport and Health Science, 9(5), 415–425. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jshs.2020.04.001

Powers, S. K., & Jackson, M. J. (2008). Exercise-induced oxidative stress: cellular mechanisms and impact on muscle force production. Physiological Review, 88(4), 1243–1276. https://doi.org/10.1152/physrev.00031.2007

Riachy, R., McKinney, K., & Tuvdendorj, D. R. (2020). Various factors may modulate the effect of exercise on testosterone levels in men. Journal of Functional Morphology and Kinesiology, 5(4). https://doi.org/10.3390/jfmk5040081

Sato, K., Iemitsu, M., Katayama, K., Ishida, K., Kanao, Y., & Saito, M. (2016). Responses of sex steroid hormones to different intensities of exercise in endurance athletes. Experimental Physiology, 101(1), 168–175. https://doi.org/10.1113/EP085361

Smith, A. A., Toone, R., Peacock, O., Drawer, S., Stokes, K. A., & Cook, C. J. (2013). Dihydrotestosterone is elevated following sprint exercise in healthy young men. Journal of Applied Physiology, 114(10), 145–1440. https://doi.org/10.1152/japplphysiol.01419.2012

Thom, E. (2016). Stress and the hair growth cycle: cortisol-induced hair growth disruption. Journal of Drugs in Dermatology, 15(8), 1001–1004. https://jddonline.com/articles/dermatology/S1545961616P1001X

Trüeb, R. M. (2015). The impact of oxidative stress on hair. International Journal of Cosmetic Science, 37, 25–30. https://doi.org/10.1111/ics.12286

Urso, M. L., & Clarkson, P. M. (2003). Oxidative stress, exercise, and antioxidant supplementation. Toxicology, 189(1–2), 41–54. https://doi.org/10.1016/S0300-483X(03)00151-3

van der Merwe, J., Brooks, N. E., & Myburgh, K. H. (2009). Three weeks of creatine monohydrate supplementation affects dihydrotestosterone to testosterone ratio in college-aged rugby players. Clinical Journal of Sport Medicine, 19(5), 399–404. https://doi.org/10.1097/jsm.0b013e3181b8b52f

Völker, J. M., Koch, N., Becker, M., & Klenk, A. (2020). Caffeine and its pharmacological benefits in the management of Androgenetic Alopecia: A Review. Skin Pharmacology and Physiology, 33(3), 153–169. https://doi.org/10.1159/000508228

Yavari, A., Javadi, M., Mirmiran, P., & Bahadoran, Z. (n.d.). Exercise-induced oxidative stress and dietary antioxidants. Asian Journal of Sports Medicine, 6(1). https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4393546/

Legal Disclaimer

The content within this article and XYON’s Knowledge Library is intended to be used for educational purposes only. It is not a substitute for medical advice. You should always con­sult with a licensed healthcare provider for all mat­ters relat­ing to your health. XYON is not compensated for links to third-party sites that appear within this article. The opinions expressed on third-party sites do not reflect the views and opinions of XYON’s medical writers, physicians or the company.

The better hair loss treatment

Expertise at your fingertips

Start your free consultation
A man spreading XYON topical finasteride on his hand
LegitScript approved

© 2023 XYON Health Inc. All rights reserved.

This webpage is intended only for residents of the United States.