Medically reviewed by Kristin Hall, FNP
Written by Our Editorial Team
Last updated 7/30/2021
We typically think of steroids in their most negative capacity — that is, the illegal, performance-enhancing anabolic steroids you hear about in professional sports. But steroids have a much wider range of benefits and uses than performance enhancement.
They’re an important tool in the veritable utility belt of physicians and surgeons alike, to help patients feel and function better when they need help.
But sometimes those benefits come at a price, and that price can include damage to or loss of hair.
Hair loss from legitimate medical treatments is sometimes an unavoidable side effect, but the best tool in your toolbox for minimizing the damage is knowledge.
There are two kinds of steroids that are most commonly known to the medical profession: anabolic steroids and corticosteroids.
Corticosteroids have a litany of medical uses: they can be beneficial in treating issues of the skin, blood disorders, arthritic conditions and eye conditions, as well as certain allergies.
Anabolic steroids are primarily known to affect androgen levels. Androgens are the source of problems related to a condition called androgenic alopecia, which is commonly known as male pattern baldness.
The simple answer to this question is: it depends on the steroid.
Certain corticosteroids may contribute to hair loss. FDA listings for corticosteroids like prednisolone mention thinning of the scalp hair as a possible side effect. It’s not a common side effect of prednisolone, but it’s one that you should be aware of.
But the reverse may also be true in certain circumstances. The National Library of Medicine (NLM) suggests that some side effects (and off-label benefits) or prednisolone may include — you guessed it — increased hair growth.
The other side of this coin is anabolic steroids. Anabolic steroids are simply a synthetic version of testosterone, and they can have major effects on your hair.
Anabolic steroids are often prescribed to treat hormone imbalances and can help to treat diseases that cause muscle loss, but they’re often abused by athletes for performance advantages.
It’s a bad idea because these steroids can mess with tons of processes — everything from brain and sexual function to, yes, hair growth.
Anabolic steroids simultaneously cause hair loss in men and hair growth in women, and they have some nasty side effects for people who don’t need them for medical reasons.
You should take a moment to read about the many side effects according to the National Institutes for Health.
The information actually would point to a third option: that corticosteroids like prednisone may also be a treatment for hair loss in certain rare cases — specifically for alopecia areata — a type of hair loss caused by autoimmune disease.
It’s possible the effects may be from the way it’s administered.
FDA guidance discusses the medication being administered as an oral tablet, but prednisone can also be delivered as a pulse injection, too
Why would this treatment be good for hair loss? Well, because alopecia areata is really an autoimmune disease that damages hair.
It’s a rare form of patchy baldness occurring in about two percent of the general population, and it comes from the same sort of problem corticosteroids are designed to treat.
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As we mentioned, research has shown that some corticosteroids are actually an effective treatment for certain kinds of hair loss.
But if you’re experiencing hair loss and you believe it might be drug-induced hair loss, the first step you should take is to contact your healthcare provider.
They need to know about side effects you may be experiencing, so they can make further recommendations for whether or not to stop treatment, adjust dosages or change medications.
This extends immediately and entirely to anabolic steroids not prescribed by a healthcare professional. In addition to being illegal and dangerous, they’re also often unsafe when acquired through a third party.
A healthcare provider will tell you that, too.
If you’re experiencing hair loss for any reason, they’ll also suggest treatment options.
Minoxidil is a medication capable of stimulating hair growth, and it is an FDA-approved hair loss treatment.
As the active ingredient of Rogaine®, minoxidil is believed to increase blood flow to hair follicles, which can encourage them to return to the anagen phase (the active phase of the hair cycle).
Finasteride can reduce DHT levels for your follicles if taken daily as directed — in some cases it can reduce levels by up to 70 percent.
You should also pay close attention to key vitamins for hair health, including vitamin A, vitamin D and biotin (the stuff found in hims’ Biotin Gummy Multivitamins).
You might also benefit from using shampoos with ingredients shown to prevent hair loss.
It’s time for some tough love for those engaging in illicit steroid use.
No steroid should be taken without the guidance of a healthcare professional, and even if you’ve done that for some reason (stop), side effects should be reported immediately to a healthcare professional for your own safety.
Hair loss has a variety of causes, including lifestyle and other conditions, but using steroids without a prescription can be way more trouble than it’s worth.
Not everyone experiencing hair loss is doing something wrong, of course, and for anyone seeing side effects to necessary medication, there are resources available.
A healthcare professional will be able to help you find the right tailored response to any follicle loss you’re seeing.
If you’re seeing the effects of hair loss and you want to learn more about what’s going on and how to get your healthy hair back, check out our guide to hair growth for more resources.