Does Working Out Cause Hair Loss? Biological Process Explained

Published By: Debbie Luna
Last Updated:
November 14, 2022

Characterized primarily by the loss of hair growth along the scalp portion of the skull, hair loss is a highly variable condition with a variety of causes, ranging from genetic factors to exposure to certain types of medical therapies that may induce such a side effect.

However, some confusion may be found in the role exercise or “working out” plays in the development of hair loss, whether in the form of male pattern baldness or even in the appearance of alopecia in women.

Fortunately, despite the complex biological phenomena that occur within the body during and after bouts of exercise, the question of whether working out can cause hair loss is relatively simple enough to understand, with a resounding no being the case in most instances.

What are the Underlying Reasons Behind Hair Loss?

The condition of baldness or hair loss is highly variable and may depend on not one but a multitude of factors all coming into play, such as in the case of rather unhealthy lifestyle choices or unfortunate genetic factors that cannot be accounted for.

Certain instances of hair loss may even occur due to a condition referred to as alopecia areata, otherwise known as an autoimmune disease that may affect individuals of any gender or age, with exercise playing absolutely no role in the disease’s development.

alopecia areata
Young girl with Alopecia Areata

In men experiencing some form of pattern baldness, a likely candidate is due to the presence of certain male fraternal hormone compounds of testosterone, though this response is often mediated by genetic factors as well as their physical age, wherein the presence of these androgenic compounds may have less or more of an effect on hair follicles atop the head and face.

As such, it may be difficult to pinpoint the exact reasoning behind an individual’s case of hair loss, though there can be no doubt that the presence of exercise is highly unlikely to be the primary reason behind such, except in a specific few cases that are found to be relatively uncommon.

How Can Working Out Cause Hair Loss?

In practically every ordinary situation and with every otherwise healthy individual, it is well established that exercise does not induce or progress hair loss in any conceivable way.

This is likely due to the fact that most intensities of exercise, whether cardio or resistance based, do not induce the sort of hormonal responses required to cause baldness in an individual. 

The only likely scenario wherein exercise may cause any sort of hair loss is if the individual places significant enough stress upon their body to affect the anagen growth phase of the hair follicles atop their head, likely in combination with a poor or lack of a diet, little rest, and the abuse of certain substances.

bald weightlifter

This is highly uncommon, however, and is most often preventable or curable in some measurable way, once these factors have been stopped and the individual allows their body to recover.

By extension – even in individuals that do not push their body to this point, a particular non-genetic susceptibility to the condition known as telogen effluvium may also experience a temporary case of hair loss.

This, however, is not entirely related to exercise, as any sort of physical trauma or emotional stress may trigger the condition, making exercise only one of a multitude of factors that must be examined during treatment of the disease.

What is the Clinical Definition of “Working Out”?

In a medically significant capacity, the term working out or otherwise known as exercise is defined as the induction of physical strain upon the body for the purposes of developing parts of said body or its various systemic processes, oftentimes taking the form of a planned and repeatedly performed routine.

Working out may vary in intensity and reiteration depending on the individual and their personal preferences or needs, with certain persons being capable of extreme athletic feats and others seeking less strenuous physical activity.

What are the Biochemical Factors Behind Hair Loss?

Despite the relatively lower volume of androgenic hormones present in women, they are no less susceptible to the baldness-inducing effects of dihydrotestosterone or DHT, a close cousin to testosterone of which was previously mentioned in this article.

Regardless of the individual’s gender, the biochemical production process for DHT requires the presence of its hormone analogue testosterone, of which is then processed by an enzyme dubbed 5-alpha-reductase, or it may also be processed from dehydroepiandrosterone, an adrenal hormone more common in women than men.

The biomechanics responsible for an individual’s response to DHT is in its ability to bind to cellular chemical receptors located along the scalp, inducing physical shrinkage and a reduced or entirely removed ability to further produce pilus. 

This is mediated by genetic factors, however, as it is entirely possible for certain individuals to have significant volumes of DHT or similar androgens without experiencing baldness of any sort.

What Should be Done with Hair After a Workout Session?

Though it is highly unlikely that exercise by itself will induce hair loss in an individual, it is possible for the quality of the exerciser’s hair to be affected by their work out, resulting in limp strands or split ends, either due to mechanical damage or other factors.

The most common cause of damage to hair in women and long-haired men is the use of elastics such as hair ties or similar implements that may tear at the strands or tug at the underlying hair follicles, becoming all the more disruptive to healthy hair when this is done with sweaty or otherwise wet hair.

As such, it is best to dry one’s hair after a workout or shower prior to tying it, preventing this sort of damage from occurring and damaging the quality of their hair.

The best way to maintain healthy hair after the completion of an exercise routine is to gently comb it and allow the natural oils effused by the exerciser’s sweat to act on the follicles and hair strands, best done by waiting several minutes before showering off after the workout.

It may also be of some benefit to the individual to instead utilize less hair-intensive products, such as harsh chemical treatments or extremely hot temperatures being directly applied to the hair and follicles, all of which will alter the rate of growth and quality of said hair and follicles. Hair care products, like those found on NHP are a better alternative.

Do Aerobic Exercises Cause Less Hair Loss than Anaerobic Exercises?

While there is little evidence that any form of exercise at all can cause or progress hair loss, aerobic exercises usually involve open kinetic chain movement that lends itself to a direct stressing of the cardiovascular system, improving systemic blood flow throughout the body.

This increase in blood flow extends all the way to the scalp, stimulating hair follicles and in fact decreasing the chance of ordinary pattern baldness, though this type of blood flow will have no effect on hair loss relating to other causes, such as fungal infections or autoimmune diseases.

That is not to say, however, that anaerobic exercises do not have the same marked increase in body wide systemic blood flow, with the majority of anaerobic exercise in fact serving to increase the circulatory systems function in a similar vein to aerobic exercise itself.

Do Resistance Exercises Cause More Hair Loss than Cardio?

Though both cardio and resistance exercises are considered excellent forms of exercise with somewhat differing goals, their exact effect on hair loss can be quite different, with the biochemical responses experienced by individuals varying between the specific type of exercise that is being performed.

Resistance exercises over extended periods of time and at high intensities are found to cause a noticeable uptick in cortisol – also known as the hormone responsible for stress, of which was previously mentioned to be a primary cause of hair loss in genetically susceptible individuals.

However, this uptick is somewhat minimal in comparison to other sources of stress, and it is often noted that only prolonged lengths of time under severe stress can induce or worsen hair loss, and the short period at which resistance exercise induces cortisol production in the body is unlikely to be a major contributing factor to hair loss.

Conversely, the increase in total body blood flow experienced during even moderate bouts of cardio exercise can in fact improve hair follicle function in the scalp, serving to possibly reduce the chance of developing baldness, depending on the exact reasoning behind said predisposition to baldness.

References

1. Choi J, Jun M, Lee S, Oh SS, Lee WS. The Association between Exercise and Androgenetic Alopecia: A Survey-Based Study. Ann Dermatol. 2017;29(4):513-516. doi:10.5021/ad.2017.29.4.513

2. Rajoo Y, Wong J, Raj IS, Kennedy GA. Perceived barriers and enablers to physical activity participation in people with Alopecia Areata: a constructivist grounded theory study. BMC Psychol. 2020;8(1):132. Published 2020 Dec 10. doi:10.1186/s40359-020-00502-5

3. Rencz F, Gulácsi L, Péntek M, Wikonkál N, Baji P, Brodszky V. Alopecia areata and health-related quality of life: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Br J Dermatol. 2016 Sep;175(3):561-71. doi: 10.1111/bjd.14497. Epub 2016 Jul 2. PMID: 26914830.

4. Martinez-Jacobo L, Villarreal-Villarreal CD, Ortiz-López R, Ocampo-Candiani J, Rojas-Martínez A. Genetic and molecular aspects of androgenetic alopecia. Indian J Dermatol Venereol Leprol. 2018 May-Jun;84(3):263-268. doi: 10.4103/ijdvl.IJDVL_262_17. PMID: 29595184.

Debbie (Deb) started powerlifting and Olympic lifting in High School as part of her track team's programming; She continues to train in order to remain athletic. Inspire US allows Deb to share information related to training, lifting, biomechanics, and more.
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