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

Kristin Hall, FNP

Medically reviewed by Kristin Hall, FNP

Written by Our Editorial Team

Last updated 6/23/2021

Hair loss supplements are, to put it simply, a big business. Data from Verified Market Research states that the hair loss treatment products market was valued at $8 billion in 2019, with future projections putting the market’s value at $11 billion by the year 2027.

The market for general hair care products is even larger, with data from market research agency Grand View Research estimating that the hair care market will be worth $211.1 billion by 2025.

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.

The Hair Loss Supplement Industry

First,  a few facts about the hair loss supplement industry, and the supplement industry as a whole. 

Although some supplements may contain medical terminology on the packaging and have drug-like names, they aren’t regulated by the FDA in the same way real medications are.

The FDA regulates dietary supplements as food products, not as drugs. This means that dietary supplements aren’t subject to the same thorough testing and approval process that medications go through before they come onto the market.

For the FDA to approve a drug, it needs to be both safe and proven effective for a specific purpose. 

For example, if a new hair loss drug is being tested, the testing process needs to show not only that the medication is safe for people to use, but also that it helps to either prevent hair loss, stimulate growth or do both. 

With supplements, the FDA takes a much looser approach to effectiveness and safety, meaning that many of the supplements available to treat hair loss haven’t been scientifically proven to do anything. Instead, they’re simply considered "safe enough" to be put on the market.

This doesn’t mean that hair loss supplements aren’t effective. Instead, it just means they don’t need to be proven effective in order to go on sale.

Second, supplement companies have a lot more leniency when it comes to making claims about their products than drug companies. 

If a drug company promotes a treatment for hair loss, for example, it needs to stick to the facts when it makes claims about efficacy. 

On the other hand, a supplement brand can use terms like “Maximum Hair Growth Formula” or “Regrow Hair in 30 Days” to market its products with far fewer legal restrictions. 

It’s important to keep these two facts in mind when you look at hair loss supplements, especially if you’re comparing them to FDA-approved medications.

Generally speaking, while supplements may help to prevent hair loss or stimulate hair growth, it’s important to keep an open mind when you’re looking at marketing claims.

Understanding the Hair Loss Process

Here’s a look at how male hair loss develops in the first place.

While a variety of different ailments can affect your hair, the most common cause of hair loss in men is androgenetic alopecia, or male pattern baldness.

This form of hair loss occurs due to a combination of genetic and hormonal factors. If you have a genetic predisposition to hair loss, a hormone called dihydrotestosterone, or DHT, can bind to receptors in your scalp and damage your hair follicles.

DHT is a byproduct of the male sex hormone testosterone, and your body converts a small amount of your testosterone into DHT via an enzyme called 5-alpha reductase.

Over time, the damage caused by DHT can prevent your hair follicles from producing new hairs, resulting in the classic M-shaped receding hairline or bald spot at the crown of your head.

(For more details on the hormonal and genetic factors that contribute to hair loss, check out this guide on  DHT and male hair loss.)

Because of DHT’s major role in the hair loss process, many hair loss treatments work by aiming to reduce the amount of DHT that’s present, either in your body or locally on your scalp. 

Other products work by providing your hair with certain nutrients. While these don’t block DHT, they may help stimulate hair growth.

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Supplements for Hair Loss

Numerous supplements are available for hair loss, from important vitamins linked to the hair growth process, to minerals, essential oils and even plant extracts that may block the effects of DHT. 

Here are the most common hair loss supplements, with information on how each type works along with potential effects on your hair.

Biotin

Biotin is a water-soluble vitamin that’s one of the most popular ingredients in over-the-counter vitamin supplements for hair loss.

As a B vitamin, biotin plays an important role in the growth of your hair, skin and nails. 

People who are deficient in biotin often experience symptoms such as skin rashes, hair shedding and brittle, weak fingers and toenails.

Due to its role in the hair growth process, biotin is a common supplement that can be found as an active ingredient in shampoos, conditioners and oral hair growth supplements. 

Research shows that people who experience hair shedding may be biotin deficient. For example, in a 2016 study published in the International Journal of Trichology, researchers noted that 38 percent of women complaining of hair loss were deficient in biotin.

While this might sound like an alarming issue, the reality is that biotin deficiency isn’t common, especially in men. 

In the United States, biotin deficiency affects between one in every 31,000 and 80,000 infants, with slightly higher rates in other countries.

However, this type of nutritional deficiency is relatively common in pregnant women, with about half of all pregnant women in the US affected.

Biotin is proven to improve hair growth in women with self-perceived thinning hair. 

However, there’s currently very little research available on the effects 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 focuses on oral biotin supplements (for example, capsules and tablets). 

However, there is some scientific data showing that biotin is absorbed through the skin, making biotin ointments a possible option for treating biotin deficiencies.

So, what can biotin do for you? If you’re deficient in biotin, taking a biotin supplement may help you grow thicker, healthier hair. 

However, it isn’t proven to have any benefits for stopping the effects of DHT-induced hair loss such as male pattern baldness.

Saw Palmetto

Saw palmetto is another common ingredient in hair loss supplements. Some research has found that saw palmetto can reduce DHT levels in the prostate, suggesting that it could be an effective natural treatment for male pattern baldness.

In one study, researchers looked at the effects of a saw palmetto herbal blend on DHT levels in men’s prostate tissue. 

At the end of a six-month period, men who took the saw palmetto supplement showed a 32 percent drop in DHT levels—a reduction described by the researchers as “modest but significant.”

While saw palmetto doesn’t have as strong of an effect against DHT as finasteride, it seems to have some positive effects. 

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

Note: Because saw palmetto and finasteride both lower DHT, it’s not recommended to use finasteride and saw palmetto at the same time. 

Instead, it’s safer to stick with one DHT blocker to keep your DHT levels under control and slow androgen-induced hair loss. 

Alternatively, you may want to consider a topical saw palmetto product, such as this hair thickening shampoo, which is designed to block DHT on your scalp rather than throughout your body.

Ginkgo Biloba

Ginkgo biloba, or simply ginkgo, is a popular natural health supplement that’s produced from the fan-shaped leaves of the Ginkgo biloba tree, which is native to China. 

Supplements containing ginkgo are often marketed for their medicinal properties. Proponents of gingko often claim that it can improve blood circulation and cardiovascular health, reduce levels of inflammation and enhance cognitive function. 

Ginkgo is also marketed as a natural supplement that can treat and prevent hair loss caused by male pattern baldness. 

While scientific research on ginkgo’s anti-hair loss effects is limited, some studies have revealed that it may offer benefits.

In an animal study, researchers found that ginkgo biloba leaf extract reduced prostate growth—a common symptom of high DHT levels. 

This same study also noted that ginkgo biloba acts as an antiandrogen (a substance that reduces the effects of androgens, such as DHT).

While these findings are interesting, it’s important to remember that this study wasn’t conducted on humans.

Another animal study from Japan found that an ethanolic extract from ginkgo biloba leaves had a stimulatory effect on hair growth in rats.

However, like the research mentioned above, this study wasn’t carried out on humans with hair loss, sowe can only speculate about its effects. 

Overall, while the evidence for ginkgo biloba is interesting, more research is needed before it’s conclusive to say that this supplement has positive effects on hair growth in men.

Pumpkin Seed Oil

Pumpkin seed oil is a popular essential oil that’s often promoted as a natural treatment for male pattern baldness. 

Research has found that pumpkin seed oil blocks the effects of 5-alpha reductase—the enzyme responsible for converting testosterone into DHT—in rats.

Other research has found that pumpkin seed oil can help improve hair growth in men affected by male pattern baldness.

For example, a study involving 76 men with male pattern baldness found that men who regularly used a pumpkin seed oil supplement experienced a 40-percent increase in hair count, versus a 10-percent increase for those who used a non-therapeutic placebo.

Throughout the study, the men who used the pumpkin seed oil didn’t report any noticeable side effects. 

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

So, what can pumpkin seed oil do for your hair growth? While the amount of scientific research that’s available right now is by no means conclusive, it does suggest that pumpkin seed oil may have real benefits if you’re beginning to experience hair loss.

Selenium

Selenium is an essential mineral that plays an important role in several bodily processes. 

As a health supplement, it’s often promoted as an important nutrient for preventing oxidative stress, improving heart health and protecting against age-related mental decline.

Research has found that selenium is an important component of at least 35 proteins, including those used to create hair.

People with a selenium deficiency may experience some hair-related issues, including hair loss and changes in hair color.

However, selenium deficiency isn’t common. It generally occurs in infants with low body weight, in people who require total parenteral nutrition (nutrient delivery via IV) and in those who live in areas with low-selenium soil.

While selenium is important for healthy hair growth, consuming excessive amounts may cause you to shed hair. 

Because of this, it’s best to focus on getting selenium naturally through fresh vegetables, meat, nuts and other food sources.

Rosemary Oil

Rosemary oil is another natural substance that’s linked to accelerated hair growth. In fact, one study of rosemary oil found that it was equally as effective at promoting hair growth as minoxidil—a hair growth medication that’s used as a treatment for male pattern baldness.

In the 2015 study, participants were assigned into two groups and received either minoxidil or a rosemary oil treatment. 

The researchers assessed the participants’ hair growth after three and six months of treatment.

After six months, both groups showed an increase in hair count, with no significant difference in hair growth between the two groups.

While this study is certainly promising, it’s important to put it into perspective. Right now, there’s only a small amount of research on rosemary oil, meaning it’s hard to draw firm conclusions on its effectiveness. 

Still, it’s an interesting finding that signals that rosemary oil may have real potential as a natural treatment for hair loss.

Antioxidants

Research suggests that oxidative stress—a type of imbalance between levels of free radicals and antioxidants inside your body—may play a role in the aging process of your hair.

Antioxidants—which help to slow down or stop damage to cells caused by oxidative stress—may help prevent this form of damage to your hair follicles.

Common antioxidants include selenium, carotenoids such as beta-carotene, lutein, zeaxanthin and lycopene, as well as vitamins C and E.

Many foods are rich in antioxidants, including fresh vegetables, sweet potatoes, berries, fruit, lentils, nuts, fish, shellfish and certain types of meat. 

Antioxidants are also found in red wine, chocolate and many other food products and beverages.

Antioxidants are also available in supplement form, although research has generally found that supplements containing antioxidants aren’t as effective as antioxidant-rich foods.

Hair Vitamins

Several vitamins are important for healthy, consistent hair growth, including vitamins A, B, C, D and E.

(You can learn more about these vitamins and their role in the hair growth process in this guide to essential vitamins for a healthy head of hair.)

While vitamins aren’t linked to male pattern baldness, certain vitamin deficiencies may result in hair shedding or reduced hair growth. 

Fortunately, most of the vitamins related to hair growth are available in multivitamin supplements, including these Biotin Gummy Vitamins.

Vitamins that are good for your hair also have other important functions within your body, including producing your skin and nails, strengthening your immune system and helping to convert food into energy.

Zinc

Zinc is an essential mineral that your body uses for numerous processes, including supporting your immune system, promoting wound healing and synthesizing DNA.

Research has found that people with several common forms of hair loss often have lower zinc levels than their peers.

However, there’s no authoritative research to show that zinc plays a direct role in male pattern baldness or DHT production.

Zinc is found in a variety of foods, including oysters, beef, crab, pork, lobster and many seeds and nuts. It’s also available as an inexpensive health supplement. 

As with all supplements, you should always seek advice from a healthcare professional before taking zinc for hair loss on a daily basis.

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Are Hair Loss Supplements Right for You?

Male pattern baldness, the most common type of hair loss in men, is caused by a combination of  genetics and the effects of the hormone dihydrotestosterone, or DHT.

While certain hair loss supplements may stimulate hair growth if you have a vitamin or mineral deficiency, there’s little evidence that most supplements reduce your production of DHT.

If you’re losing your hair, you’ll get the best results by using science-based hair loss treatments like finasteride and minoxidil.

These hair loss medications have been thoroughly tested and are proven to stop hair loss and then, in some cases, stimulate the growth of new hair.

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This article is for informational purposes only and does not constitute medical advice. The information contained herein is not a substitute for and should never be relied upon for professional medical advice. Always talk to your doctor about the risks and benefits of any treatment.

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