Updated: Feb 15
Does nicotine contribute to hair loss?
The short answer is yes, but not directly.
Although nicotine does not have a direct correlation with hair loss, it certainly has an indirect one. Nicotine, and smoking in general have a whole host of negative effects on the body. When your body is not healthy, your hair won’t be either. Here are some of the ways that nicotine indirectly contributes to hair loss:
Nicotine is a vasoconstrictor. This means that it causes the blood vessels to constrict and results in increased blood pressure. When the blood vessels are constricted, this means that less vital nutrients and oxygen are able to circulate around the body, and specifically to the hair. This is because hair follicles are considered “non-essential” and the body prioritizes blood flow to your vital organs.
Decreased blood flow to hair follicles can often result in hair follicles prematurely entering the resting or “telogen” phase. This is exactly what happens when DHT attacks hair follicles. If the growth phase is shorter and the resting phase is longer, when the hair grows back it will be shorter and weaker than the previous cycle and will eventually not grow back at all.
It is well documented that one very common contributing factor to hair loss is lack of blood flow to the scalp. If you are someone who is fighting hair loss and you consume nicotine you are not only likely increasing the rate at which your hair is falling out, you are also limiting your chances of successful hair regrowth in the future.
When you are losing your hair due to male pattern baldness, your hair is turning from healthy terminal hair into thin, weak, vellus hairs. If you look on your scalp and you see thin little blonde hairs that are there, but maybe don’t show up in pictures or in certain lighting, those are vellus hairs.
Vellus hairs are very weak and need to be nurtured like a baby. They need plenty of nutrients reaching them at all times. Therefore, many hair loss treatments/products including hair loss pills, rogaine, and several others are used as vasodilators, meaning they increase blood flow and nutrients reaching the scalp.
If you are able to protect your vellus hairs, you have a much greater chance of successfully re-growing your hair. The unfortunate reality is that once a hair follicle dies you cannot bring it back to life, it is gone forever, but vellus hairs are still alive. Think about that before you take another puff…
When nicotine is consumed it has extremely detrimental effects on vellus hair. Not only does it significantly inhibit the flow of oxygen and nutrients to them, but it can clog the follicles as well. Cigarettes and nicotine contain chemicals that the body cannot use. As a result the body will force those chemicals out any way it can, sometimes clogging hair follicles.
When hair follicles are clogged this again blocks the flow of nutrients and oxygen that reach the hair resulting in weaker brittle hair.
Decreasing Oxygen Levels
One of the chemicals that is inhaled when smoking cigarettes is carbon monoxide. Carbon monoxide has a direct effect on oxygen levels in the body, lowering them almost immediately.
This is a problem because of the dreaded horomone DHT. Most anyone suffering from hair loss has certainly heard of DHT and they also should know that it is likely the number one culprit if you are suffering from male pattern baldness.
When there is less oxygen in the body it is actually better conditions for DHT to be formed. This is due to the enzyme 5AR being more efficient at converting testosterone to DHT in lower oxygen environments. When there is more oxygen present, 5AR converts more testosterone into estradiol, which has no effects on the hair.
Tip: One common misconception is that quitting cigarettes and switching to and e-cig will have less side effects, although partially true it is still bad for your hair as e-cigs often contain nicotine
Time To Quit
If you are not losing your hair yet, it might be time to quit smoking now. Studies have shown that smoking is linked to premature aging. How does this affect hair? Well, if you are someone who is genetically predisposed to male pattern baldness, but have not started losing your hair yet, it can trigger it. This is the last thing you want, trust me.
Nicotine can stay in the body anywhere from 1-10 days. When you smoke, the damaging effects last throughout the duration of those days.
In conclusion, don’t smoke in general, but DEFINITELY don’t smoke if you are suffering from hair loss. It will only worsen things and make getting your hair back that…much…harder. You need to protect what hair you have at all costs because once it’s gone, it’s gone forever.