When it comes to hair loss and thinning hair, you can get people to buy anything. Including snake oil. The most common supplements for hair growth usually include the ingredient biotin. Some other common ingredients are antioxidants and omega fatty acids. But what really works? Science says that most of the supplements out there are essentially snake oil. There is not a lot of evidence to support that over the counter supplements for hair loss work.
Biotin is a water-soluble B vitamin. It’s also called vitamin B7. Biotin is necessary for a variety of enzymatic reactions in the body.
Biotin is necessary an enzymatic reaction that occurs in the hair roots. This may be why biotin deficiency leads to hair loss. However, there is no evidence to say that normal, healthy people with sufficient biotin can increase hair growth by taking supplemental biotin.
Studies in laboratories to determine whether different doses of biotin increase the expression of certain hair proteins have shown no effect. There are no clinical trials that have evaluated biotin as a treatment for androgenetic alopecia (the most common form of hair loss). (1)
Melatonin is already commonly used for sleeping. But did you know that melatonin can help with hair growth? A laboratory study found evidence that low concentrations of melatonin stimulate the hairs to grow.
A small clinical trial of 40 women with female pattern hair loss found that the application of a 0.1% melatonin solution resulted in a significantly increased number of anagen hairs. (1) Anagen hairs are the ones that are actively growing. The more anagen hairs you have, the thicker your hair will look.
Zinc is another small molecule that has been proposed as a supplement for hair loss. This is a mineral that is also necessary for many enzyme reactions in the body.
Zinc deficiency is associated with alopecia. But, like with biotin, it’s unclear if zinc supplementation helps people with normal zinc levels and hair loss. One study found low zinc levels in the blood of patients with different forms of hair loss (including androgenetic alopecia, female pattern hair loss, alopecia areata, and telogen effluvium). (1)
A clinical trial of 200 men with androgenetic alopecia evaluated the efficacy of 1% pyrithione zinc shampoo, Rogaine, or a combination of the 2 against placebo for hair loss. As expected, they found that Rogaine led to the most hair growth. The zinc shampoo increased the number of hairs in these patients but not as much as the Rogaine. In the group that got both Rogaine and zinc shampoo, the hair count was the same as the patients that got Rogaine only.
Omega 3 and 6 Fatty Acids
The last supplement on this list is the fatty acids we know and love that come from fish. There is evidence to support the use of a combination of omega fatty acids and antioxidants for hair growth. (2)
Researchers conducted a clinical trial of 120 women with female pattern hair loss. In this trial, 80 of the women received a pill of omega 3 and 6 fatty acids and antioxidants (lycopene, vitamin C, and vitamin E). The other 40 did not receive anything.
At the end of 6 months, the found that the supplemented group had more hairs in anagen, fewer hairs in telogen, increased hair density as evidenced by trichometry, and most of the women reported a reduction in hair loss.
Don’t forget that omega 3 fatty acids, like those found in fish oil, also benefit your heart and increase good cholesterol.
Supplements Can Be Dangerous
Anytime you take a new medication, there can be unwanted side effects. This is true of supplements because they are not FDA regulated drugs. Herbal products and supplements have much less regulatory oversight and compliance with strict manufacturing laws than prescription medications.
Supplements can even interact with the medications you currently take for other medical conditions. Always check with your doctor before starting a new supplement.
Do supplements for hair growth work?
So far the results have been pretty disheartening! There isn’t much evidence to support most supplements one way or another. There are risks associated with taking any new medication. Carefully balance the possible risks against the possible rewards when choosing whether to start a hair loss supplement. And of course, there’s always Rogaine which has been proven to be effective time and time again.
What hair supplements have you heard about recently? Do they work?
While you’re here, don’t forget to check out the only 5 hair removal methods.
- Famenini S, Goh C. Evidence for supplemental treatments in androgenetic alopecia. J Drugs Dermatol. 2014;13(7):809-12.
- Le floc’h C, Cheniti A, Connétable S, Piccardi N, Vincenzi C, Tosti A. Effect of a nutritional supplement on hair loss in women. J Cosmet Dermatol. 2015;14(1):76-82.