Medically reviewed by Katelyn Hagerty, FNP
Written by Our Editorial Team
Last updated 4/27/2023
Have you considered a vegan diet but avoided it so far because of health concerns? You’re not alone. It’s hard to seriously consider a vegan lifestyle when so many reports suggest that strictly vegan sources of nutrition may cause health issues like bone and muscle problems, iron deficiency and vegan hair loss.
Are any of these problems real, though? Many people become interested in the benefits of a vegan diet. But even today, with so many vegan-friendly products on the market, it can seem like a tricky lifestyle to maintain.
We can’t speak for how convenient a vegan diet will be for you — that’s determined by things like financial security, access to plant foods and exactly how important the switch would be for you. What we can talk about, however, is how healthy or unhealthy a vegan diet could be.
So can a vegan diet cause hair loss? It’s possible.
But to understand how likely this is, we need to look at the science behind healthy hair growth and diet.
Maybe it’s unfair, but vegans get mocked in popular culture for various reasons, and they never fight back. Why not? They never want beef.
But in all seriousness, there’s something to be said about clean, high-performing plant-based ingredients. In a world where most diets are high in fat, sugar and over-processed foods, a plant-based diet can afford nutritional and weight-loss benefits, as well as be a protective factor against certain diseases associated with a poor diet.
Weight loss goals and medical conditions like diabetes, hypertension and cardiovascular diseases can all benefit from a well-designed plant-based diet. It’s also a great way to get more fiber into your life — something a horrifying 95 percent of Americans are deficient in.
Of course, the key here is a “well-balanced diet.” Eating leafy greens and plant-based foods — and adopting a vegan meal plan without an eye to the full nutritional picture — isn’t really a solution to anything. And if you’re doing plant-based diets wrong, there could be serious health implications for your hair.
Vegans don’t lose hair because they’re vegan — they lose hair because their vegan diets aren’t properly balanced, resulting in nutritional deficiency and potentially a condition called telogen effluvium.
Let’s back up to the concept of a balanced diet.
People can struggle to find adequate sources of a number of essential vitamins and nutrients for hair health in vegan foods. One of the most common problems with plant-based sources of nutrition, as opposed to animal foods, is that they’re often part of a low-protein diet without specific modifications.
Protein, which contains essential amino acids, is easy to find in meat, but it can be difficult to find without it.
Soy is a good source, but not everyone wants to eat enough beans (one of many vegan sources of protein, if a smelly one) to meet their protein intake needs every day.
There are many ways an insubstantial diet can cause problems, according to research. Nutritional deficiencies can make your bones brittle or cause your skin to change colors. It can weaken your immune system or even make your hair fragile or stop it from growing.
One of the major causes of hair changes in vegans is a deficiency in fatty acids, which appear in fish and other sources of meat but are limited to flax seeds, walnuts and certain types of cooking oil.
Omega-3 fatty acids
When you have a severe deficiency, it can cause a condition called telogen effluvium. Essentially, your very stressed-out body may excessively shed hair, and that hair may not grow back until whatever caused the problem is dealt with.
People frequently experience telogen effluvium after major surgeries or serious injuries, but a severe illness, giving birth, major weight loss or serious stress can also trigger the condition. As it turns out, so can an extreme deficiency of particular essential nutrients.
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While we’re sure extreme examples can be readily found, we weren’t able to spot a single study of a large group of balding vegans anywhere.
There’s little material exploring the issue of vegan hair loss, and there are no examples — to our knowledge — of permanent baldness.
In fact, some studies have actually shown that vegans may receive some hair health benefits over traditional or paleo diet types. A 2019 survey looking at the effects of scalp massages on androgenic alopecia found that among those surveyed, there was a marginally higher satisfaction with self-perceived hair image among vegans.
Maybe it’s the “saving the earth” ego boost, but the surveyed vegans were generally happier with the appearance of their own hair.
Look, healthy plant-based diets have heart health benefits, better fiber, less hypertension and better management of diabetes and obesity. You just need to do it right.
Here’s the thing about excessive hair loss due to nutrient deficiencies and stress to the body: it tends to fix itself when you fix the central problem. Want to see your hair come back? Deal with the underlying health issue.
After that, conditions like telogen effluvium will begin to self-correct over a period of a few months. This may vary from person to person (and from issue to issue—telogen effluvium can be caused by everything from stress at the office to rapid weight loss, not to mention giving birth), so be patient with your hair.
Of course, even if your vegan hair loss reverses on its own, you may want to talk to a healthcare provider about speeding things up with topical minoxidil. This generic version of Rogaine is a vasodilator that increases your healthy hair count.
It can also potentially prevent some instances of hair thinning by bringing more blood and oxygen to your hair follicles, decreasing the telogen phase of many of them in the process. A decreased telogen phase means the hairs that were hibernating are back on duty, so many people actually see an increase in hair count as the medication begins to work over time.
On the other hand, if your hair loss is due to something like androgenic alopecia, there’s hope to be found in finasteride. Finasteride is an FDA-approved medication that treats male pattern hair loss at the source by blocking the formation of testosterone-derived DHT.
DHT kills healthy hair follicles. Finasteride reduces the amount of DHT your body makes. Problem, solution.
The hard truth of the matter is that, while a well-balanced vegan diet doesn’t put you at risk for any major health issues, a poorly planned vegan diet can increase your chances of various health issues, including severe hair loss.
That’s not to say it will happen, but if you’re reading this, we’re guessing it may already have started.
If you’re a vegan seeing increased hair loss, grilling up a bone-in ribeye is not the solution here. Rather than cooking up some medium-rare remedy on your own, you should skip the butcher and instead ask for some friendly help from a healthcare provider.
Big picture: a healthcare provider can help you understand how to fix hair loss when it’s a dietary issue. More importantly, they can determine what is or isn’t diet-related hair loss and help you get the treatment you need, should you be experiencing something like androgenic alopecia.
So skip the steak and eggs, and reach out to a healthcare professional for satisfying medical support, like topical hair loss medication or vitamins for hair growth.
Your hair follicles will thank you. And in our opinion, that’s the best vegan-friendly example of something truly “well done.”
Explore hair loss treatment options for men from Hims today.