Millions of people experience hair loss every year, which is probably why there are so many products on the market that claim to miraculously stop it. But how do these products actually work, and most importantly, are they effective?
According to hair experts, it depends on the type of hair loss involved. Hair loss can be caused by a number of factors, and not all products target every factor. Before you spend your hard-earned money, let’s explore what products are on the market and whether they might work for you.
Hair growth supplements
Hair growth supplements claim to promote hair growth through a special formula of vitamins, minerals and fatty acids. If your hair loss is caused by a nutrient deficiency, these supplements may be able to help, as they contain nutrients that are key for hair and nail health.
But it’s relatively rare to be deficient in those nutrients.
“Most people get all the vitamins they need to manage their hair growth just from their diet alone,” hair and scalp expert Dominic Burg of Evolis Professional told Cosmopolitan.
Usually, hair loss is caused by other factors, like age, genetics, hormonal changes, stress or certain medical conditions. According to Consumer Reports, there’s no evidence that hair growth supplements have any effect on these types of hair loss.
The only way to know for sure that you have a vitamin deficiency is to get a blood test at the doctor. If you do opt to take hair growth supplements, keep in mind that they’re not regulated by the FDA, so do your research and only shop from reputable, lab-tested brands.
Biotin is one of the most common vitamins in hair growth supplements, and it’s often sold as a stand-alone supplement.
Biotin deficiency can cause hair loss. Again, though, most people aren’t deficient in biotin. If they are, it’s usually a side effect of another medical condition or medication; for example, taking antibiotics long-term or using anti-seizure drugs. There’s not a reliable blood test for biotin deficiency, so if you suspect that you might need a supplement, then you can try one out for three months to see how it works, says Dr. Marvin M. Lipman, the chief medical advisor of Consumer Reports.
But if you’re not deficient in biotin, it’s best to avoid these products. More biotin doesn’t equal more hair growth, and it’s not necessarily healthy either. Excess biotin “can actually affect major medical tests, like an ECG—a test that looks at your heart,” Dr. Melissa Kanchanapoomi Levin, a dermatologist, told Cosmopolitan. Biotin supplements can also interfere with thyroid tests. (For these reasons, it’s important to inform your doctor if you take biotin.)
Hair growth serums and oils
Topical products, such as serums and oils, aim to promote hair growth by improving the health of your hair and scalp. Hair damage can definitely cause loss or thinning, especially if you use heat or dye regularly; and scalp infections can also be the culprit. If you’re experiencing any of these issues, there’s little reason not to give serums and oils a shot. Just make sure that your product of choice actually targets your specific problem
Hair-strengthening serums often contain ingredients like protein, collagen and vitamin B to rebuild and protect brittle or damaged hair. For scalp issues, anti-fungal and anti-microbial ingredients such as tea tree oil may be helpful. There are a couple of promising studies for lavender oil and peppermint oil as well.
Jamaican black castor oil (JBCO) is widely considered to be the holy grail of natural oils for hair growth. There isn’t any scientific evidence to back this usage of castor oil, but there is plenty of anecdotal evidence, and there’s no doubt that JBCO is good for your hair and scalp overall. It’s full of vitamin E, fatty acids, and minerals, and it has natural anti-microbial and anti-inflammatory properties.
Pharmaceutical hair growth products
Rogaine may not be trendy or organic, but it’s been the go-to treatment for hair loss for years. Its active ingredient is minoxidil, the only FDA-approved treatment for female or male pattern baldness, also known as androgenetic alopecia. Androgenetic alopecia can be caused by aging, genetics, or a change in hormone levels (it can sometimes happen after menopause).
Even Rogaine isn’t a cure-all, though — it’s specifically effective for hair loss caused by androgenetic alopecia. If your hair loss is caused by anything else, Rogaine won’t work.
Rogaine is also not the only option for androgenetic alopecia. Another common treatment is Finasteride, a prescription medication that reduces hair loss by reducing levels of a hormone called DHT. Other pharmaceutical hair growth products include antifungal medications, estrogen, and oral contraceptives. If you’re considering any of these options, your best bet is to chat with your doctor. They can help guide you in the right direction so you experience the best results with the fewest side effects.
Some over-the-counter hair growth supplements use herbal ingredients instead of vitamins and minerals.
One popular product is Nutrafol, one of the few natural supplements to be backed by a published study in the Journal of Drugs in Dermatology. It contains saw palmetto, a botanical ingredient that works similarly to Finasteride, along with other plant-based medicinal ingredients like ashwagandha, hydrolyzed marine collagen and biocurcumin. Rather than simply targeting nutrient deficiency, these herbal ingredients are able to address other factors that also contribute to hair loss, like DHT levels, hormonal changes and stress. Nutrafol can also combat hair loss caused by certain medical conditions, including androgenetic alopecia.
In short, never judge a hair growth product by its cover — or its cute packaging. Take a look at the ingredients and talk to your doctor about whether it will work for your unique hair and scalp.