Does Wellbutrin Cause Hair Loss?

Alopecia When Taking Bupropion

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The antidepressant Wellbutrin (bupropion) can cause hair loss, also called alopecia. This side effect can occur with other other antidepressants as well. If you are concerned about Wellbutrin hair loss, it's important to find out more about why this happens and what you can do about it.

What Is Wellbutrin?

Wellbutrin (bupropion) is a commonly prescribed medication. It is used for clinical depression, but also for smoking cessation (under the name Zyban). Wellbutrin has a lower risk of sexual side effects such as erectile dysfunction, lack of desire, or difficulty with arousal or orgasm than some other antidepressants.

The type of hair loss experienced by some people on Wellbutrin and other antidepressants is called telogen effluvium. It is characterized by widespread thinning of the hair. Often, more hair loss occurs near the front of the head, above the forehead.

Hair loss related to antidepressant medications commonly happens around two to four months after starting or changing a medication. With telogen effluvium, hair loss commonly begins three to four months after a trigger (such as stress, a medical condition, or a medication change).

The Hair Growth and Loss Cycle

To understand the type of hair loss related to Wellbutrin, it helps to talk about the phases of the hair cycle. Hair actually goes through four distinct phases between the "birth" of a hair and when it falls out: anagen, catagen, telogen, and exogen. The first phase, anagen, determines how long hair will become and lasts from two to six years. Nearly 90% of the hairs on your head are in the anagen phase.

Catagen is a shorter transition phase in which the hair follicle loses its blood supply and stops growing. It then enters the telogen phase, where it stays for three or four months. Exogen is the final phase, in which the hair is shed. Around 10% of your hair is normally in the telogen phase, but this can be much higher if your hair is prematurely shifted to the telogen phase by a physical or emotional stressor.

Telogen effluvium occurs when hair follicles go into their resting state of growth (telogen) too early and stay there. Since a larger than normal number of hair follicles are in the telogen phase, hair loss can occur diffusely, all over the scalp. Humans normally shed around 100 hairs daily, but this number can be greatly increased with telogen effluvium.

Causes of Telogen Effluvium

Telogen effluvium happens when the body is stressed (or shocked) in a number of ways. You may have heard people talk about hair loss occurring after childbirth or after a major surgery.

Other conditions which may result in this type of hair loss include an illness, poor nutrition, crash dieting, or starting a number of different medications. The mental stress of clinical depression, or whatever event precipitated depression in someone with situational depression, can also cause telogen effluvium.

There is another type of telogen effluvium in which the trigger (whatever caused the disrupted hair cycle) is ongoing. Some people with thyroid problems or nutritional deficiencies experience this type of telogen effluvium, which is more gradual than other types but lasts longer.

The good news is that hair loss on Wellbutrin is temporary and completely reversible. There are several distinct types of telogen effluvium. The one related to Wellbutrin is caused by a temporary disruption in the hair cycle.

Other Side Effects of Wellbutrin

In addition to the uncommon side effect of hair loss, there are some common side effects of Wellbutrin. Unlike most antidepressants, you are more likely to lose weight than gain while taking Wellbutrin.

Most antidepressants carry the risk of side effects, and you will need to work with your doctor to balance these side effects with the benefits you get from the medication.

Discontinuing Medication to Stop Hair Loss

You may need to stop taking your medication to stop your hair loss. If you do not wish to discontinue your medication, talk with your doctor about the possibility of taking a lower dose or changing to a different brand of bupropion. It could be that you are reacting to one of the inactive ingredients in the pill, rather than the bupropion itself.

An inactive ingredient is not a compound that has no actions; the term "inactive" simply means that the ingredient does not play a role in the purpose for which the medication is prescribed. These inactive ingredients have been known to cause side effects as well as allergic reactions at times. If this is the case, it could be that your hair loss is caused only by the generic version of the drug, or vice versa.

Keep in mind that another hair-loss trigger may have occurred at the same time (or close to the same time) at which you started the medication. Stress alone may sometimes cause telogen effluvium.

Telogen effluvium hair loss usually resolves around six months after the stressor which started the process is removed. For example, without any intervention, hair loss usually resolves around six months after delivery of a baby, after the resolution of an illness, or after a new medication is stopped.

Other Ways to Cope With Wellbutrin Hair Loss

Stopping Wellbutrin is the surest way of preventing future hair loss. Working to decrease stress in your life, however, may reduce one of the triggers for this kind of hair loss. Making time for meditation, exercise, and other forms of self-care may help you cope with day-to-day challenges.

Eating a nutritious diet—with plenty of protein, vegetables, fruits, healthful fats, and water—helps keep the hair you have in good condition.

Avoid overprocessing your hair with bleach, dye, and other chemical treatments; it can exacerbate hair loss from any cause. So can rough brushing and pulling your hair into too-tight updos and ponytails. Treating your hair gently won't make it grow back, but it can help you avoid making the problem worse.

Topical treatments such as Minoxidil have been shown to help reverse hair loss and promote regrowth.

A Word From Verywell

The bottom line on hair loss with Wellbutrin is that it may occur, but it is temporary. Other options are available for treating depression. There are also several options to help you cope with hair loss, ranging from different hairstyles to wearing a scarf or wig to topical medication.

8 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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By Nancy Schimelpfening
Nancy Schimelpfening, MS is the administrator for the non-profit depression support group Depression Sanctuary. Nancy has a lifetime of experience with depression, experiencing firsthand how devastating this illness can be.