Medically reviewed by Jill Johnson, DNP, APRN, FNP-BC
Written by Our Editorial Team
Last updated 8/27/2021
If you’re taking (or considering taking) sertraline or another antidepressant to treat depression, you may have gone down a rabbit hole reading about all the potential side effects.
One that may have caused you a little bit of concern? Risk of hair loss.
While taking antidepressant medications can be incredibly beneficial, we can all admit that hair loss isn’t exactly the most fun experience.
Truth is, hair loss is a sertraline side effect — but it’s very rare.
Keep reading to learn more about sertraline and other antidepressants, why they sometimes can lead to hair loss and how you can treat that hair loss if it does happen to you.
According to the US National Library of Medicine, sertraline is best known under the brand name Zoloft. It is part of the selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI) class of antidepressant medications.
In fact, sertraline is one of the most popular antidepressants on the market. Tens of millions of prescriptions are written for it every year in the United States.
As with other SSRIs, sertraline is used to treat depressive disorders, anxiety disorders, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) and panic disorder.
Sometimes it is also prescribed as a treatment for premature ejaculation according to the International Journal of Impotence Research.
Sertraline is considered to be a safe and effective prescription medication. However, just like with any antidepressant (or medication in general), there are some side effects of sertraline that could happen.
Common adverse effects include nausea, diarrhea, constipation, dry mouth and heartburn.
There are also some more serious, rare side effects that may accompany sertraline use — including seizures, hives, blood pressure issues, chest pain, muscle pain and difficulty breathing.
If you experience any of these side effects, you should seek medical attention as soon as possible.
Another side effect that some people report while taking a sertraline treatment is temporary hair loss — which may show up as bald patches or overall hair thinning.
Sertraline-related hair loss is not common, but it can happen. Some case studies have connected antidepressants (including sertraline) with hair loss in a small number of people.
The type of hair loss sertraline triggers is called telogen effluvium, which is defined by excessive, non-scarring shedding of hair, in this case due to medication use.
To better understand telogen effluvium, you have to know a bit about how your hair grows.
The hair goes through three growth phases according to Physiology, Hair. In the anagen phase, your hair grows.
Then there is the catagen stage, when your strands transition from the anagen phase and growth stops.
The final phase is called the telogen phase, which is the resting stage.
The risk of hair loss from antidepressant medication is not restricted to sertraline. In fact, there is quite a list of antidepressants that may cause diffuse hair loss, especially other SNRIs and SSRIs.
These include fluoxetine (Prozac), paroxetine (Paxil) and venlafaxine (Effexor XR), according to the Iranian Journal of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences. Citalopram (Celexa) may also cause hair loss, says The Primary Care Companion to The Journal of Clinical Psychology.
In addition, tricyclic antidepressants and mood stabilizers carry a minimal likelihood of medicine-induced alopecia, according to the Annals of Clinical Psychiatry.
However, patients taking the mood stabilizers lithium, valproate, and carbamazepine may notice an increased degree of hair loss, according to another Annals of Clinical Psychiatry report.
Before we dive into treatment options, a warning: It’s not a good idea to stop taking sertraline in hopes that it will make your hair grow back.
It’s important to seek medical attention before altering antidepressant dosage in any way. If you suddenly stop, you may experience withdrawal symptoms, like severe mood swings.
Plus, there’s no need for the discontinuation of sertraline just because of hair loss — since there are many other treatments you can try. Keep reading to learn more about them.
There are a few hair loss medications that may be able to help encourage hair regrowth. According to the U.S. National Library of Medicine, one popular option is finasteride, a prescription medication commonly used to treat male pattern baldness.
It works by preventing your body from converting testosterone into DHT, which is what causes you to lose hair.
The good news: It really works. In one study, it was found that 99.1 percent of men who took finasteride over a ten-year period stopped their hair loss from worsening.
Of those men, 91.5 percent of them noticed regrowth.
Finasteride is a tablet that must be taken on a daily basis. You can easily purchase finasteride online after obtaining a consultation with a healthcare professional. (Which you can also do online.)
Then there’s minoxidil, a topical treatment that comes in liquid and foam formulas. Many start with this because the FDA-approved medication doesn’t require a prescription.
While its exact mechanism of action is unknown, it’s believed to work by stimulating hair follicles to enter the anagen (growth) phase.
Minoxidil also increases blood flow to your scalp, which can stimulate hair growth. In fact, a 2019 review published in Drug Design, Development and Therapy of minoxidil found that it improved hair growth in those who suffer from pattern hair loss.
Finasteride and minoxidil work perfectly well on their own, but can be really effective when used together.
One study published by Dermatologic Therapy found that 94.1 percent of men dealing with hair loss showed an improvement in hair growth when taking both medications.
In the study, this was compared to 80.5 percent who saw an improvement using just finasteride and 50 percent who saw an improvement using only minoxidil.
The Hims Hair Power Pack offers you the chance to try both.
“I tried several different options before but Hims combined approach of all four methods by far created the best results.”
“Hims has been the greatest confidence boost, no more bald jokes! I look and feel so much younger!”
“When I show my barber my progress, he is always in disbelief. I have to recommend Hims to any guy who’s experiencing thinning.”
“Cost effective and affordable. My hair keeps growing thicker, fuller, and at a fast rate.”
“I noticed a huge change in the overall health and fullness of my hairline.”
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“I decided to jump right in and I'm so glad I did. I definitely feel ten years younger!”
“In just as little over two and half months, I can really see the difference in thickness and in color.”
“4-months strong and my confidence boosted back up to 100% using Hims, future me really does thank me.”
“I’m a 34-year-old father of two and have been using Hims for over a year now. My hair is back to what it was in my mid-twenties.”
Another option to treat cases of hair loss or promote regrowth is to use a shampoo specifically made to thicken hair and stimulate growth.
It’s possible to purchase hair thickening shampoo made with saw palmetto, which is a natural ingredient thought to reduce hair loss.
When an International Journal of Immunopathology and Pharmacology study compared finasteride and saw palmetto to see how they performed in encouraging hair regrowth, finasteride was found to be most effective, but saw palmetto also seemed to help.
According to the US National Library of Medicine, biotin — known as the healthy hair vitamin — is naturally found in foods like eggs, milk and bananas.
If you’re not getting enough naturally in your diet, a biotin supplement could help.
This Biotin gummy includes Vitamin D. According to the Journal of Oncology Practice, low levels of vitamin D have been found to contribute to hair shedding.
There are so many reasons to quit smoking: The habit wreaks havoc on your health and can lead to very serious (even fatal) health conditions.
On top of that, researchers from Dermatology have found a link between smoking and hair loss.
While smoke is a pollutant that can damage your hair, cigarettes have also been found to damage the DNA of your hair follicles.
Although rare, hair loss could be one of the most unwanted side effects of taking an antidepressant.
The type of hair loss sertraline and other antidepressants could trigger is called telogen effluvium — which is essentially excessive shedding.
Thankfully, there are treatments that can help reverse this type of temporary hair loss and encourage regrowth.
If you are experiencing hair loss of any type, it’s a good idea to speak with a healthcare professional to determine the best treatment options for you.