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What to Look For in a Men’s Hair Loss Shampoo

Search for hair loss shampoos online and you’ll find hundreds of different products, ranging from all-natural treatments to clinical shampoos designed to reduce DHT and prevent hair loss.

You’ll also find a lot of promises -- of certain ingredients eliminating hair loss, regrowing lost hair and giving you back the hairline you used to have.

Just like most personal care products, some men’s hair loss shampoos offer real benefits, while others are designed with promotion and marketing in mind more than measurable hair regrowth or loss prevention.

In this guide, we’ll look at the key ingredients that you might want to look for in a shampoo to stop or prevent hair loss. We’ll also review some studies that show which ingredients could potentially play a role in stopping hair loss and helping you grow thick, healthy hair.

While there’s no need for you to look for all of these ingredients in a hair loss shampoo, you may want to try a shampoo that contains at least one or two or the active ingredients featured on our list.

DHT Blocking Ingredients

Ready to begin? Let’s get started with the most important ingredients you should look for in a men’s hair loss shampoo: DHT blockers. These ingredients are designed to block hair loss by preventing dihydrotestosterone from binding to and damaging your hair follicles.

Ketoconazole

Ketoconazole is one of the most common active ingredients in hair loss shampoos. Designed to control skin fungus and prevent common skin irritation ailments, ketoconazole is widely used in shampoos and pharmaceuticals as a means of controlling dandruff, skin rash and hair loss.

One of the biggest benefits of ketoconazole is that it’s linked to disruption of the DHT pathway -- a means by which testosterone is converted into DHT, the hormone that actively attacks frontal and crown hair follicles in men.

While the link between ketoconazole and DHT isn’t as strong as it is for anti-hair loss drugs like finasteride, it’s still a good sign that ketoconazole actively works on the same receptors that are responsible for male pattern baldness.

Salicylic Acid

While salicylic acid (a naturally occurring substance found in everything from walnuts to white willow bark) doesn’t play an active role in blocking hair loss by inhibiting DHT, it does help to reduce the level of sebum in your scalp, preventing DHT from building up over time.

Sebum is a waxy, oily substance that’s produced by your skin. In the scalp, sebum can contain large amounts of dihydrotestosterone (or DHT), which is the primary hormone responsible for male pattern baldness.

Salicylic acid doesn’t directly block DHT at the source (like finasteride) or disrupt DHT pathways locally (like ketoconazole), but its role in reducing sebum levels makes it a great tool for keeping excess DHT at bay and preventing scalp conditions like seborrheic dermatitis and dandruff.

Pyrithione Zinc

Pyrithione zinc is a metal complex of zinc that inhibits the division of fungal and bacterial cells, making it an important ingredient in treating seborrhoeic dermatitis.  

Although pyrithione zinc isn’t as well studied for hair loss prevention as some other ingredients commonly used in shampoos, it’s showed promising results in clinical studies. In one study, the use of pyrithione zinc shampoo for a 26-week period showed a modest increase in hair growth.

Pyrithione zinc is also widely used as an anti-dandruff treatment, making it a great addition to any shampoo if you’re concerned about dry skin or itchy scalp.

Saw Palmetto Extract

Saw palmetto extract is a natural extract of the saw palmetto fruit -- a subtropical fruit that grows in the Southeastern United States.

Small amounts of saw palmetto extract may reduce DHT levels in men by about half as much as finasteride. Since DHT is the main cause of baldness in men, this means that saw palmetto may potentially slow down hair loss.  

It’s important to know that all of the current studies showing a link between saw palmetto and DHT activity are focused on orally ingested saw palmetto. There are studies showing that saw palmetto isn’t completely effective at blocking DHT.

This essentially means that the jury is still out about saw palmetto. Some studies show that it’s an effective DHT blocker, while others aren’t so sure. There’s also a risk of it interacting with more effective DHT blocking substances, such as finasteride.

Unlike ketoconazole, saw palmetto occurs naturally in nature and isn’t the result of lab-based chemical synthesis. If you’re looking for a natural DHT blocker, it might be worth trying -- just don’t expect pharmaceutical-like results and let your doctor know you're taking it if you're considering using finasteride.

Hair Growth Ingredients

Saw palmetto and ketoconazole -- the two DHT blocking ingredients we listed above -- may be effective for stopping hair loss. However, neither of these substances have a measurable effect on the speed and thickness at which your hair grows.

Below, we’ve listed the key hair growth ingredients that you may be helpful to look for in men’s hair loss shampoo.

Biotin

Biotin is a coenzyme that plays an important role in helping you grow strong, thick and healthy hair.

While biotin doesn’t prevent hair loss, it has a measurable effect on the speed at which you can grow new hair. This means that if you’re currently using finasteride and minoxidil to prevent hair loss, you may experience faster regrowth by using a biotin shampoo or supplement.

It’s worth pointing out that biotin is a water-soluble vitamin and that there’s currently no scientific evidence that your body can absorb it through the scalp. As a result, it’s worth approaching any miracle-like claims from biotin shampoo brands with a certain amount of skepticism.

There are trace amounts of biotin in foods like eggs, almonds and sweet potatoes. However, for most people, the best way to boost your biotin intake is to add an oral biotin supplement to your hair loss prevention stack.  

Niacin

Niacin, also known as vitamin B3, is another vitamin that you can find in a lot of men’s hair loss shampoos. Like biotin, niacin and its derivatives are scientifically proven to increase hair growth when topically applied to hair growth areas over the course of several months. However, it's important to call out that this pilot study used female participants.

Since niacin doesn’t block DHT, it won’t protect your hairline or prevent thinning on the crown of your head. However, it does have the potential to speed up the rate at which you grow new hair, helping you thicken and strengthen your hairline after starting finasteride and minoxidil.

Pumpkin Seed Oil

Pumpkin seed oil is another naturally occurring substance that has shown a measurable effect on hair thickness, growth rate and quality in studies.

Studies show that daily administration of as little as 400 mg of pumpkin seed oil produces a 40% increase in hair growth over the course of 24 weeks, compared to a growth rate of under 10% in men given a placebo.

Just like with saw palmetto and biotin, it’s important to note that current pumpkin seed oil studies mostly focus on oral consumption. Right now, there’s no data showing that topical application of pumpkin seed oil, such as in a shampoo or moisturizer, has any effect on hair growth.

Because pumpkin seed oil is widely used in hair loss shampoos, it’s not a challenging ingredient to find. Typically, you’ll find it used as one of several oils in hair loss shampoos, often alongside the ingredient listed below.

Rosemary Oil

Rosemary oil is another oil that may show some benefits for hair growth. In fact, some studies show that rosemary oil is potentially as powerful for promoting hair growth as minoxidil, which is used by hundreds of thousands of men as a topical hair loss treatment.

Interestingly, the same study that showed rosemary oil producing hair growth similar to minoxidil also shows that it doesn’t have any of the negative itching effects that are a common side effect for minoxidil users.

Like pumpkin seed oil, rosemary oil is a common ingredient in hair loss shampoos. It’s also easy to find as an essential oil, making it a simple addition to any shampoo formula if you’re aiming to fight hair loss from every angle.

Other Ingredients

Because many of the ingredients used in hair loss shampoos are quite new, not all of them have been studied by scientists and researchers. This means that you’ll find a lot of speculation about certain ingredients, particularly those that have only been used in shampoos for a few years.

Below, we’ve listed some of the most common new active ingredients you’ll find in hair loss shampoos, along with their purported benefits. While these ingredients aren’t proven to have an effect on hair loss, most have other health benefits that make them worth looking for anyway:

  • Green tea extract is thought to have a positive effect on hair growth, with a 2007 study from South Korea showing an increase in growth of hair follicles.
  • Cysteine is a popular ingredient in hair loss shampoos that has some links to anti aging effects, although little scientific research is available on its effects for hair growth.
  • Panthenol is another popular ingredient in hair loss shampoos, as it’s believed to have benefits for hair thickness and moisturization.
  • Inositol is a vitamin-like substance with some benefits for hair and skin health, but isn’t proven to have an effects on hair growth or preventing hair loss.
  • Horsetail extract is another natural substance that’s commonly used in men’s hair loss shampoos, although it’s only been studied as part of a blend of hair loss ingredients.

Most of the above ingredients can be found further down the list of ingredients on many hair loss shampoos, usually in trace amounts. While these ingredients might have positive effects on hair growth, consider them secondary to the DHT blockers and hair growth agents listed above.

This article was reviewed by Brendan Levy, MD.