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Hair Loss Supplements: What They Can and Can’t Do For You

Hair Loss Supplements: What They Can and Can’t Do For You

Hair loss supplements are, to put it mildly, a big business. A 2016 article in Medical Daily claims that the hair vitamin market is worth more than $176 million annually, with people willing to fork over serious amounts of cash to get thicker, healthier and better-looking hair.

The global hair care market is even bigger, with an approximate valuation of $85.5 billion, as of 2017.

But do hair loss supplements actually work? Well, yes and no. While some supplements have real, scientifically demonstrated effects on hair growth and thickness, others are rich on claims and much less heavy on results.

In this guide, we’ll look at some of the most common hair loss supplements and explain exactly what they can and can’t do for your hair. We’ll also bust some of the most common myths about hair loss supplements and explain how they can fit into an effective hair loss prevention routine.

Quick facts about the hair loss supplement industry

Before we get into specific supplements, it’s important to share a few facts about the hair loss supplement industry, and the supplement industry as a whole.

First, supplements aren’t regulated by the FDA in the same way that foods and drugs are. The FDA regulations for supplements are far less strict than those for drugs, meaning that many of the supplements you see on the market haven’t gone through the same level of testing.

For the FDA to approve a drug, it needs to be both safe and proven to be effective for a specific purpose. With supplements, the FDA takes a much looser approach to effectiveness and safety, meaning that many of the supplements on the market for hair loss haven’t been proven to be effective and are considered "safe enough" before being put on the market.

Second, many of the benefits of hair loss supplements aren’t completely proven. While drugs need to demonstrate safety and effectiveness in order to make claims, many supplements can be marketed using potential benefits that aren’t conclusively proven in studies.

Keep these two facts in mind when you shop for hair loss supplements. While they could help with hair loss or speed up hair growth, they don’t need to be proven to be effective in order to go on sale.

Biotin

Biotin is one of the most popular ingredients in hair loss supplements. A water soluble vitamin that’s linked to accelerated hair growth, biotin can be found in everything from shampoos and conditioners to oral supplements like tablets and capsules.

Like many other hair growth supplement ingredients, biotin can result in better hair growth in specific circumstances.

Scientific studies show that biotin supplements can improve hair growth in people that have a biotin deficiency. This is a rare condition that affects about one person in 137,400. It’s also an extremely common issue for pregnant women, who often have marginally low levels of biotin.

Biotin is proven to improve hair growth in women with self-perceived thinning hair. However, there’s currently very little on the effectiveness of biotin as a supplement for men, especially men dealing with DHT-induced male pattern baldness.

At the moment, most of the scientific data about biotin is focused on oral biotin (for example, capsules and tablets). However, there is some scientific data showing that biotin is absorbed through the skin, making biotin ointments a potential option for treating biotin deficiencies.

So, what can biotin do for you? If you have a biotin deficiency, it can potentially help you grow thicker, healthier hair. However, it isn’t proven to have any benefits for stopping the effects of DHT-induced hair loss.

Saw Palmetto

Saw palmetto is another common ingredient in hair loss supplements. Studies show that saw palmetto has a measurable effect on DHT levels in the prostate, suggesting that it could be an effective natural treatment for male pattern baldness.

In one study, supplementation with a saw palmetto herbal blend resulted in a 32% reduction in DHT levels in prostate tissue. While the effect of saw palmetto on DHT isn’t anywhere near as strong as finasteride, it does have some positive effect on reducing DHT levels in men.

This means that supplements containing saw palmetto could potentially slow down your rate of hair loss, albeit not to the same rate as finasteride.

Because saw palmetto and finasteride both lower DHT, it’s not recommended to use both DHT blocking substances at the same time. Instead, it’s safer to stick with one DHT blocker to keep your DHT levels under control and slow down androgen-induced hair loss.

So, what can saw palmetto do for you? At a normal dose, it can cause a slight reduction in DHT and potentially reduce your rate of hair loss. Just don’t expect results similar to a pharmaceutical DHT blocker like finasteride.

Pumpkin Seed Oil

Pumpkin seed oil is linked to a reduction in 5-alpha reductase -- the enzyme that’s responsible for converting testosterone into DHT -- in rats. It’s also linked to a mild increase in hair growth for humans, making it a popular natural treatment for male hair loss.

Study data shows that daily consumption of 400 mg of pumpkin seed oil for 24 weeks resulted in a 40% increase in hair count in adult men, compared to an increase of just 10% for men given a placebo. The pumpkin seed oil group has no noticeable side effects from the protocol.

The pumpkin seed oil group also reported a self-perceived increase in hair thickness, showing that regular use of pumpkin seed oil could be an effective treatment for male hair loss.

So, what can pumpkin oil do for you? While the current data is by no means conclusive, there’s some proof that pumpkin seed oil can help you increase your thickness and amount of hair over the long term at a moderate daily dose.

Rosemary Oil

Rosemary oil is another natural oil that’s linked to accelerated hair growth. In fact, one study on the effects of rosemary oil used topically for hair growth found it to be just as effective as minoxidil -- a widely used clinical hair loss treatment.

In the 2015 study, participants were assigned to rosemary oil and minoxidil groups. After a six month study period, researchers discovered that both minoxidil and rosemary oil had caused a significant increase in hair count.

Interestingly, there was no significant difference between the results of the two groups, showing that rosemary oil could potentially be equally as effective as over-the-counter treatments for hair loss.

So, what can rosemary oil do for you? While the amount of scientific data is limited right now, it could potentially be an effective treatment for increasing hair count and reducing the effects of male hair loss.

Vitamins

Several vitamins play a role in hair growth, ranging from vitamin A to B12, vitamin C, vitamin D and vitamin E. Most vitamins play an indirect role in hair growth due to effects on collagen and other proteins that are important for healthy hair, skin and nail development.

Our guide to the best vitamins for a healthy head of hair lists the vitamins you should include in your hair growth stack. Most are available in multivitamin supplements, although there are a few that you might want to supplement individually.

So, what can vitamins do for you? From strengthening your hair to preventing hair loss due to a vitamin deficiency, a good multivitamin supplement can play a major role in keeping your hair as thick, strong and healthy as possible.

Zinc

Zinc is linked to hair loss in some studies, with data showing that people with hair loss tend to have lower serum levels of zinc than their peers. However, like with other supplements, there isn’t much research indicating that zinc deficiency is a direct cause of hair loss.

Like many other single-ingredient supplements, zinc is very affordable, with several months of zinc tablets available for just a few dollars. This makes it a cheap addition to a hair loss stack, as well as a good supplement for general physical performance and health.

As with all supplements, you should always seek out advice from your doctor before taking zinc on a daily basis.

So, what can zinc do for you? As well as helping to boost your immune system, zinc could play a role in helping you prevent hair loss due to a deficiency. However, there is currently no study data showing that it has any effect on DHT-induced male pattern baldness.

This article was reviewed by Brendan Levy, MD.

Important Safety Information

IMPORTANT SAFETY INFORMATION

Finasteride is for use by MEN ONLY and should NOT be used by women or children.

Read this Patient Information before you start taking Finasteride and each time you get a refill. There may be new information. This information does not take the place of talking with your healthcare provider about your medical condition or treatment.

What is Finasteride?

Finasteride is a prescription medicine used for the treatment of male pattern hair loss (androgenetic alopecia).

It is not known if Finasteride works for a receding hairline on either side of and above your forehead (temporal area).

Finasteride is not for use by women and children.

Who should not take Finasteride?

Do not take Finasteride if you:

  • are pregnant or may become pregnant. Finasteride may harm your unborn baby.
    • Finasteride tablets are coated and will prevent contact with the medicine during handling, as long as the tablets are not broken or crushed. Females who are pregnant or who may become pregnant should not come in contact with broken or crushed Finasteride tablets.
    • If a pregnant woman comes in contact with crushed or broken Finasteride tablets, wash the contact area right away with soap and water. If a woman who is pregnant comes into contact with the active ingredient in Finasteride, a healthcare provider should be consulted. If a woman who is pregnant with a male baby swallows or comes in contact with the medicine in Finasteride, the male baby may be born with sex organs that are not normal.
  • are allergic to any of the ingredients in Finasteride. See the end of this leaflet for a complete list of ingredients in Finasteride.

    What should I tell my healthcare provider before taking Finasteride? Before taking Finasteride, tell your healthcare provider if you:

  • have any other medical conditions, including problems with your prostate or liver

    Tell your healthcare provider about all the medicines you take, including prescription and nonprescription medicines, vitamins, and herbal supplements.

    Know the medicines you take. Keep a list of them to show your healthcare provider and pharmacist when you get a new medicine.

    How should I take Finasteride?

  • Take Finasteride exactly as your healthcare provider tells you to take it.
  • You may take Finasteride with or without food.
  • If you forget to take Finasteride, do not take an extra tablet. Just take the next tablet as usual.

    Finasteride will not work faster or better if you take it more than once a day.

    What are the possible side effects of Finasteride?

  • decrease in your blood Prostate Specific Antigen (PSA) levels. Finasteride can affect a blood test called PSA (Prostate-Specific Antigen) for the screening of prostate cancer. If you have a PSA test done you should tell your healthcare provider that you are taking Finasteride because Finasteride decreases PSA levels. Changes in PSA levels will need to be evaluated by your healthcare provider. Any increase in follow-up PSA levels from their lowest point may signal the presence of prostate cancer and should be evaluated, even if the test results are still within the normal range for men not taking Finasteride. You should also tell your healthcare provider if you have not been taking Finasteride as prescribed because this may affect the PSA test results. For more information, talk to your healthcare provider.

  • There may be an increased risk of a more serious form of prostate cancer in men taking finasteride at 5 times the dose of Finasteride.

    The most common side effects of Finasteride include:

  • decrease in sex drive
  • trouble getting or keeping an erection
  • a decrease in the amount of semen

    The following have been reported in general use with Finasteride:

  • breast tenderness and enlargement. Tell your healthcare provider about any changes in your breasts such as lumps, pain or nipple discharge.
  • depression;
  • decrease in sex drive that continued after stopping the medication;
  • allergic reactions including rash, itching, hives and swelling of the lips, tongue, throat, and face;
  • problems with ejaculation that continued after stopping medication;
  • testicular pain;
  • difficulty in achieving an erection that continued after stopping the medication;
  • male infertility and/or poor quality of semen.
  • in rare cases, male breast cancer.

    Tell your healthcare provider if you have any side effect that bothers you or that does not go away.

    These are not all the possible side effects of Finasteride. For more information, ask your healthcare provider or pharmacist. Call your doctor for medical advice about side effects. You may report side effects to FDA at 1-800-FDA1088.

    How should I store Finasteride?

  • Store Finasteride at room temperature between 59˚F to 86˚F (15˚C to 30˚C).
  • Keep Finasteride in a closed container and keep Finasteride tablets dry (protect from moisture).

    Keep Finasteride and all medicines out of the reach of children.

    General information about the safe and effective use of Finasteride.

    Medicines are sometimes prescribed for purposes other than those listed in this Patient Information. Do not use Finasteride for a condition for which it was not prescribed. Do not give Finasteride to other people, even if they have the same symptoms you have. It may harm them.