Medically reviewed by Vicky Davis, FNP
Written by Our Editorial Team
Last updated 3/15/2022
Chances are, if you’ve decided to have bariatric surgery, you’re doing it because you want to be healthier and feel better.
So, it can be really disappointing (not to mention confusing) when a few months after surgery you start to notice hair loss. What gives? Unfortunately, hair loss is a fairly common side effect of having weight loss surgery.
There’s good news, though: Hair loss after bariatric surgery is almost always reversible. You just have to take the right steps to reverse it.
To fully understand why hair loss may happen after obese patients have bariatric surgery and how to reverse it, keep reading.
Bariatric surgery is the general term used for a variety of weight loss surgeries. It’s also sometimes called metabolic surgery.
These surgeries are used as a treatment for obesity. Carrying a large amount of excess weight can also lead to conditions like high blood pressure, diabetes, sleep apnea and high cholesterol. Because bariatric surgery helps a patient lose weight, it may also help address these issues.
To be eligible for bariatric surgery you need to have a body mass index (BMI) of over 40 or between 35 and 40 if you have diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, fatty liver disease or sleep apnea. You may also be considered a candidate if you have a BMI that is over 30 and have uncontrolled diabetes.
Once it’s been confirmed you’d be a good candidate for bariatric surgery, a doctor will discuss what type of bariatric surgery is best suited for your specific needs.
The most common types of bariatric surgery are:
Gastric bypass surgery: This procedure shrinks your stomach by up to 95 percent, making it challenging to overeat. It also limits the number of calories and fat you’re able to absorb. During this surgery, your gastrointestinal tract is also rerouted. This can lead to hormonal changes which can improve diabetes.
Sleeve gastrectomy surgery: Unlike gastric bypass, only the stomach is involved in this procedure. Between 80 and 85 percent of the stomach is removed. This procedure has less risk than gastric bypass. The risk of complications is 3 percent, as opposed to 5 percent with gastric bypass.
Duodenal surgery: This is a blend of gastric bypass and a sleeve gastrectomy. Part of the stomach is removed, then a surgeon will also reroute the GI tract. Because surgeons are doing such an extensive procedure, there is a higher risk for complications. Only 1 to 2 percent of bariatric surgeries in the United States are this type.
Three to five months after surgery, some bariatric surgery patients experience hair loss. One systematic review of research found that about 57 percent of people experience some type of hair loss after bariatric surgery. The same review found that young women were most likely to lose hair, but anyone can experience this side effect.
This type of hair loss can be something called telogen effluvium. This condition occurs when stress causes the hair root to prematurely go into a resting state. Major surgery (such as bariatric surgery) is one of the known causes of telogen effluvium.
Hair loss after bariatric surgery can also sometimes be caused by nutritional deficiencies. Because you have to restrict your calorie intake after surgery, your protein intake may not be high enough. You may also not be getting enough of other vitamins.
For example, your levels of zinc, biotin, potassium, B6 and phosphorus might be too low.
Thankfully, hair loss induced by bariatric surgery tends not to be permanent. In some cases, you may need to just wait it out — especially if stress from surgery is what caused your hair loss. However, there are a number of things you can do to get your hair back in healthy shape.
Eating after bariatric surgery is complicated. You can’t eat a ton of food and there are certain things that may not agree with your new stomach. As we mentioned above, this can lead to nutritional deficiencies that cause hair loss.
If this is what’s happening, you can help reverse your hair loss by getting all the nutrients you need back into your diet.
Ideally, you want to consume between 60 and 80 grams of protein a day. This can be in liquid form (like a protein shake) or otherwise. You can also talk to your healthcare provider about vitamins or supplements filled with nutrients like potassium, zinc and iron to help with iron levels.
You should also try to fill your diet with as many nutrient-rich foods as possible.
Experts believe it works by stimulating hair follicles to enter the growth phase (also called the anagen phase). Minoxidil also boosts blood flow to your scalp, which can stimulate hair growth.
In a 2019 review of minoxidil, it was found that this topical improved hair growth in both men and women who suffer from pattern hair loss.
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Certain shampoos are specifically created with the intention to thicken hair and stimulate growth. Hims has a thickening shampoo that incorporates saw palmetto, a natural ingredient thought to reduce hair loss.
Speaking of vitamins, consider taking a biotin supplement. Biotin is in the B vitamin family and it can promote healthy hair growth.
A study found that taking biotin produces faster hair growth in people dealing with thinning hair.
Biotin can be found in foods like eggs, milk and bananas. But if you’re concerned about getting these things in with your dietary restrictions, a supplement may be a better choice.
Before adding any supplement to your routine, speak with a healthcare provider to ensure it won’t interfere with your bariatric surgery recovery.
Bariatric surgery is a general term used to cover many different types of weight loss surgeries. These surgeries are usually recommended to people who are dealing with morbid obesity and unable to lose weight on their own.
The two most common types of bariatric surgery are gastric bypass and sleeve gastrectomy surgery. Both involve removing part of the stomach, but gastric bypass also includes rerouting the gastrointestinal tract.
Bariatric surgery patients may experience rapid weight loss. This, along with the stress of surgery and the nutritional deficiencies many people face after weight loss surgery can make pronounced hair loss occur.
There are ways you can reverse bariatric surgery hair loss. Making sure your diet gets you the nutrients you need is the first step. Specifically, you’ll want to focus on your protein intake.
For some, lean protein may be the most digestible. From there, you can try other hair loss treatments like minoxidil and other hair loss products to encourage hair regrowth.
If you find you are living with excessive hair loss or hair thinning after surgery, it’s always a good idea to check in with a healthcare professional.