The growth of your hair is a complex, multifaceted process that’s controlled by several factors, from your genetics to your hormones, habits and even certain aspects of your diet.
If you’re starting to lose your hair, or if you’ve simply noticed a few extra strands of hair on your pillow or elsewhere around the house, you may have wondered if there’s anything that you can do to promote and maintain healthy hair growth.
While certain aspects of the hair growth process are outside of your control, there are several steps that you can take to promote hair growth.
These include eating the right foods, maintaining a healthy lifestyle, avoiding certain drugs and hair-unfriendly substances and, if necessary, using medication to prevent damage to your hair from the hormonal factors that cause hair loss.
Below, we’ve explained the factors that promote hair growth, as well as what you can do to use them to your advantage for a healthy, long-lasting head of hair.
While hair growth looks simple from the outside, behind the scenes your hair follicles work on a constant basis to produce and grow new hairs.
Often referred to as the growth phase of the hair cycle, the anagen phase is when new hair advances from the hair follicle and grows to its full length.
The length of the anagen phase can vary depending on the location of each hair follicle on your body. Hairs on your scalp generally have a long anagen phase that lasts for two to six years, while body hair has a shorter anagen phase of only a few months.
On average, about 85 percent to 90 percent of your hairs are in the anagen phase of the growth cycle at any one time.
The catagen phase, or regression phase, is an intermediate phase that occurs between growth and shedding. In this phase of the hair cycle, the hair shaft detaches from the follicle and stops actively growing.
Although your hair detaches from its source of growth during this phase, hairs generally don’t shed during the catagen phase. Instead, this is simply the first phase in each hair’s transition from active growth to rest and shedding.
The telogen phase, or resting phase, occurs near the end of each hair’s growth cycle. During this phase, the hair enters into a resting state with no active growth or change.
Like other phases of the hair growth cycle, the telogen phase varies in length based on where hair is located on your body. On average, around 10 to 15 percent of your hair is in the telogen phase at any time.
The exogen, or shedding phase, occurs right at the end of the hair growth cycle. In this phase, the hair shaft is physically released from your scalp and the hair falls out, often while you’re washing, brushing or physically touching your hair.
On average, about 50 to 100 of your hairs are shed every day as part of the hair growth cycle. These hairs are replaced by new hairs in the anagen phase that, over the course of several years, go through the same growth, regression, rest and shedding process.
When your body is supplied with the nutrients it needs for optimal hair growth, this cycle works smoothly in the background, allowing you to effortlessly maintain a full head of hair.
However, a variety of things can interrupt the hair growth cycle, potentially causing everything from mild shedding to permanent hair loss. These include:
Most things that promote hair growth, whether they’re foods, medications or habits, function by either stopping damage to your hair or providing it with the nutrients it needs to optimally enter and complete its growth cycle.
If you’re beginning to notice hair loss, several medications are available to shield your hair from damage and supply it with the nutrients it needs to grow to its full potential.
One of these medications, minoxidil, works by stimulating the growth of your existing hairs. The other, finasteride, protects your hair from the damage caused by the hormone DHT.
When minoxidil is applied to your scalp, it shortens the telogen (resting) phase of the hair cycle and encourages your hairs to enter into the anagen (growth) phase early.
Researchers don’t know exactly why minoxidil stimulates hair growth. However, most research suggests that it acts on the potassium channels of your vascular muscles and hair follicles -- a factor that may stimulate blood circulation and improve the supply of nutrients to your hair.
Minoxidil usually produces noticeable results after around two months, with the most significant results usually visible after four months of regular use.
Unlike other hair loss treatments, minoxidil is available over the counter, making it a convenient, easy-to-purchase option if you have started to notice shedding or other signs of hair loss.
We offer minoxidil online, either on its own or as part of our Non-Prescription Hair Loss Kit. You can learn more about how minoxidil works to promote hair growth on its own and in combination with other treatments in our minoxidil vs. finasteride guide.
Finasteride is an oral medication. It works by preventing your body from converting testosterone into dihydrotestosterone, or DHT.
As we’ve explained in our guide to DHT and hair loss, DHT is the primary hormone responsible for male pattern baldness. If you’re genetically sensitive to DHT, the small amount of DHT that’s produced by your body can have a serious negative impact on your hair over the long term.
Research shows that finasteride can lower serum DHT levels by more than 70 percent, helping to reduce the effects of DHT on your hair follicles.
By blocking the conversion of testosterone to DHT, finasteride stops hair loss from worsening. In some cases, it may even help you to regrow hair in areas of your scalp with thinning. It generally takes six months before the results of finasteride on hair growth are apparent.
We offer finasteride online, following a consultation with a healthcare provider who will determine if a prescription is appropriate. You can learn more about how finasteride works, its results and more in our detailed guide to using finasteride for hair loss.
Some hair care products, including hair loss prevention shampoos containing active ingredients such as ketoconazole and saw palmetto, may help to prevent hair loss and stimulate the growth of your hair:
Several health supplements have been linked to hair growth. While the research behind these is much less comprehensive than it is for science-based medications like minoxidil and finasteride, some may offer real benefits for hair growth.
Vitamin, mineral and nutrient supplements linked to hair growth and hair loss prevention include:
Before we get into the specifics of food and hair growth, let’s clear one thing up. If you’re losing your hair due to male pattern baldness, changing your diet won’t prevent the harmful effects of DHT on your hair follicles.
However, adding certain foods to your diet may help to supply your hair with important nutrients for optimal growth, strength and thickness.
Numerous different foods contain important vitamins, minerals and nutrients for sustainable hair growth. These include:
In many ways, the health of your hair is a reflection of your general health. Although maintaining healthy habits won’t block the effects of DHT on your hair, living a balanced lifestyle may have a positive effect on your hair growth as a whole. Try to:
Hair growth is a complex process with lots of different moving parts, from your hormones to your intake of hair-friendly vitamins, minerals and nutrients.
If you’re losing your hair due to male pattern baldness, your first priority should be stopping any damage caused by DHT. The most effective way to do this is by taking finasteride every day to prevent your body from converting testosterone to DHT.
For general hair health and optimal growth, aim for a combination of healthy foods, hair growth supplements, good habits and topical medications such as minoxidil. Over the long term, these may help to improve your hair’s growth, strength, thickness and overall appearance.