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

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Medically reviewed by Brendan Levy, MD Written by Our Editorial Team Last updated 9/18/2017

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 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.