Medically reviewed by Kristin Hall, FNP
Written by Our Editorial Team
Last updated 4/15/2021
Suffering from depression is like living in a well — it’s dark and feels very, very alone.
Antidepressant medication can help, but may come with side effects and adverse reactions. Understanding these risks before you begin antidepressant drugs can help you prepare for those potential results.
If you’re experiencing hair loss at the same time you’re taking Wellbutrin for depression, you may feel stuck between a rock and a hard place — like you have to choose between your hair or your mental health.
This isn’t the case. You can have both.
Talking with a healthcare provider before you make any changes to your medication doses will help ensure you make choices that stand to have the best outcomes.
In other words, there’s no sense in giving up your antidepressant if it’s not causing your hair loss.
There may be a way to halt your thinning hair while preventing a depression relapse.
Wellbutrin is an antidepressant drug also sold under the generic name bupropion. Other forms of bupropion include Zyban®, Forfivo®, and Aplenzin®.
Unlike other popular antidepressants, often in the class of drugs known as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, or SSRIs, Wellbutrin actually works by inhibiting the update (or reabsorption) of noradrenaline and dopamine, leaving more of these chemicals to circulate in the body.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has approved Wellbutrin for the treatment of psychiatric disorders including depression, though Zyban, another form of bupropion, is approved for use in helping people quit smoking.
Wellbutrin has been available since the late 1990s, and in 2007, an extended formula became available.
As with any prescription drug, there are potential side effects when using Wellbutrin.
The most common side effects include agitation, headaches, dry mouth, insomnia, nausea and vomiting, tremors, and constipation.
During drug development, the adverse effects of the medication were troublesome enough to cause discontinuation in 10% of the 2,400 trial participants, meaning they opted to stop treatment.
The FDA’s information on this drug classifies effects as “frequent” if they occur in at least 1/100 patients, and “infrequent” if they occur in 1/100 to 1/1,000 patients.
“Rare” effects are seen in less than 1/1,000 patients.
There are a few potential dermatological effects, but only one that is cited as “frequent”: nonspecific skin rash.
Alopecia, or hair loss, is cited as an “infrequent” effect of Wellbutrin. This means that during clinical trials, hair loss was seen in somewhere between 1/100 to 1/1,000 participants.
That said, it’s difficult to find additional scientific literature or studies on the connection between Wellbutrin and hair loss.
But this information from the Food and Drug Administration does indicate Wellbutrin could cause hair loss, though it’s not a common side effect.
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If you’re experiencing hair loss while taking Wellbutrin, don’t rush to blame your medication.
There are many potential causes for hair loss, and stopping your medical treatment could cause your depression symptoms to resurface. And, if it turns out your hair loss is caused by something else, you won’t be any better for it.
Androgenetic alopecia is the most common form of hair loss, caused by genetics. Also known as male pattern hair loss, it’s characterized by thinning of the hair around the temples and the crown of the head.
Other types of hair loss may be caused by: fungal and bacterial infections, immune dysfunction, cancer treatment, stress or traumatic events, hair care products, hormonal imbalances, allergic reactions, inflammation, thyroid disease, nutritional deficiencies, and even sexually transmitted infections.
The first step in determining the best course of treatment for your hair thinning is determining the cause. And the best way to do this is to talk with a healthcare provider or dermatologist.
You may suspect Wellbutrin is the culprit, but do not stop taking an antidepressant without consulting with your healthcare provider.
The FDA warns that stopping Wellbutrin suddenly can cause you to develop other symptoms. Seek medical advice before making any changes to how you take your prescription antidepressant medications.
Obviously, if a medication is to blame for your hair loss, stopping that medication may end this side effect.
However, if it’s determined that your hair loss is genetic — as in androgenetic alopecia — or caused by some other factor, other treatments may be necessary.
For example, if it’s determined your hair loss is caused by an infection, treating that underlying infection could heal the hair loss.
In the case of male pattern baldness, a healthcare provider may prescribe oral finasteride or topical minoxidil, the two treatments approved by the FDA in the treatment of androgenic alopecia.
These two products require consistency, and time. If you stop taking them, the hair loss will once again resume and progress.
Wellbutrin may cause some hair loss in a small number of patients, but before you stop your treatment, talk about your concerns with a healthcare provider.
Other causes of hair loss may be to blame, and stopping your Wellbutrin could cause more problems than it solves.
To reiterate: discontinuation of treatment for depression can be risky without input from your healthcare provider.
They can help determine what’s causing you hair loss and identify the best route forward.