- No approved products for hair loss
- Should be used with another treatment
- Helpful for people with nutrient deficiencies
1-4 pills per day*
*or a single liquid dose
Supplements and Hair Growth
Do Supplements Really Help With Hair Growth?
It is well known that deficiencies in key nutrients such as iron, zinc, selenium, or vitamin D can lead to hair loss. However, whether reintroducing these nutrients promotes hair growth is less known. Research is ongoing, and studies have shown that supplements can positively affect people with thinning hair and conditions like alopecia areata, alopecia totalis, alopecia universalis, and androgenic alopecia (pattern baldness). (1-3)
Viviscal® is a popular clinically tested supplement. In a randomized, double-blind study, a version of Viviscal® formulated with a marine protein complex and other vitamins and minerals was administered to men with androgenic alopecia. The researchers found it significantly improved hair count and density over 6 months. A 12-month study of men and women with alopecia areata, alopecia totalis, and alopecia universalis also demonstrated marked improvements in hair growth after taking Viviscal®. (3,4)
Another supplement currently being researched is Lambdapil®, which contains L-cystine (an amino acid), saw palmetto extract, and biotin (vitamin B7). This supplement was tested in men with androgenic alopecia and women with acute telogen effluvium (stress-induced hair loss). After 6 months, hair volume significantly increased in both groups. Fewer hairs could be pulled in the telogen effluvium group, and more hair growth was seen in the androgenic alopecia group. (5)
Forti5® is an oral supplement containing green tea extract, omega 3 and 6 fatty acids, vitamin D3, melatonin, beta-sitosterol, and soy isoflavones. This supplement was tested for 6 months in 10 subjects suffering from androgenic alopecia. Results showed significantly improved hair counts and hair mass (combination of hair density and diameter), with 80 percent of participants showing improvement. (6)
Types of Hair Growth Supplements
Hair growth supplements usually contain a wider range of ingredients beyond the vitamins, minerals, and essential amino acids found in multivitamins. In addition to essential nutrients, supplements that help with hair loss usually have natural extracts and other components thought to promote hair growth.
Although there is considerable overlap of the ingredients found in the many varieties of hair loss dietary supplements, they can generally be separated into amino acid supplements, nutraceutical supplements, antioxidant supplements, and DHT-blocking supplements. However, one type of supplement may contain ingredients found in a different kind of supplement. For example, an amino acid supplement may incorporate compounds found in antioxidant supplements and vice versa.
For example, DrFormulas produces HairOmega, a DHT (dihydrotestosterone) blocking hair growth supplement for men and women. This supplement contains 43 ingredients, including most of your essential vitamins and minerals, several potent antioxidants, and various fruit and vegetable extracts. It also contains a number of natural DHT blockers, isolated from plants like:
- Maitake mushrooms
- Shiitake mushrooms
- Reishi mushrooms
- Stinging nettle leaves
- Green tea leaves
- Saw palmetto berries
- African cherry tree bark
Natural DHT blockers like these ingredients can help block the hormonal component involved in pattern hair loss. They’re also a popular ingredient incorporated into many other hair growth supplements, including Foli-Tonic by Herbtonics, Kerotin Hair Growth Vitamins, Nutrafol Women’s Balance, Propidren, and Nutra Champs Prime Beard.
Nearly all hair growth supplements contain a mix of vitamins, including some or all of:
- Vitamin A
- Vitamin D
- Vitamin E
- Vitamin B1 (thiamine)
- Vitamin B2 (riboflavin)
- Vitamin B3 (niacin)
- Vitamin B5 (pantothenic acid)
- Vitamin B6 (pyridoxine)
- Vitamin B7 (biotin)
- Vitamin B9 (folic acid)
- Vitamin B12 (cobalamin)
Some multivitamins exclusively provide a range of vitamins. They may also be mixed with common minerals such as calcium, zinc, or copper, but their premise is that they provide key vitamins to promote hair growth, especially biotin (vitamin B7).
Biotin is involved in hair growth, but research pinpointing the benefits of this nutrient in resolving hair loss is sparse, as most studies investigated supplements containing biotin and many other ingredients. Notably, biotin is generally not recommended as a hair loss supplement, as it is known to interfere with common medical laboratory tests. (9)
Brands of hair growth multivitamins include Hello Lovely Hair Gummy Vitamins, Pure Nature Biotin, Olly Ultra Hair Gels, and Biotin and Collagen Drops by Prettyville Laboratories.
Amino Acid Supplements and Hair Growth
Amino acids are the building blocks of protein that support cell metabolism and the body’s capacity to heal, repair, digest, and produce hair. They can be differentiated into two groups: essential and non-essential. Non-essential amino acids are produced by the body, while essential amino acids need to be obtained from your diet. (15)
There are 20 different amino acids found in human beings. They are responsible for every type of protein found in our bodies. Certain amino acids, like cysteine, proline, and alanine, are found in higher concentrations in the hair. This is why supplements containing amino acids are thought to promote hair growth.
Amino acid deficiencies are rare, but people may consume diets that may be particularly rich in some amino acids and comparatively low in others. Supplements may be able to correct any deficiencies and provide an abundance of building blocks that can be used to form new hair. (9)
Examples of hair growth supplements containing amino acids include Purely Optimal’s Complete Hair Growth, HealthAid’s Hair-Vit, The Mane Choice Manetabolism, and SNAP Hairtonic.
Nutraceutical Supplements and Hair Growth
A nutraceutical is an animal or plant-based compound that provides health benefits. These compounds are commonly isolated and sold as supplements depending on the health benefit they may provide. Nutraceuticals are not usually regulated in the USA as they fall under the same category as “dietary supplements and food additives” by the US Food and Drug Administration. (7)
Methylsulfonylmethane (MSM) is a sulfur compound found in vegetables, fruits, and meats and acts as a powerful antioxidant. It is believed that this antioxidant action aids in hair growth, and one study published in 2019 showed improvements in hair shine, appearance, and volume in patients taking MSM. (49). For this reason, many hair growth supplements include MSM in their formula, including Zhou’s Hairfluence, Hollis Nutrition’s Alpha Beard, Hairfinity Hair Vitamins, and OrionPharma’s Beauty Vitamins.
Fruit extracts are also extremely common in nutraceutical supplements as they can provide vitamins and antioxidant properties. For example, New Nordic’s Hair Volume contains apple extract, and Viva Natural’s Hair, Skin, & Nails supplement totes over 20 fruit extracts!
Pumpkin seed extract is also found in many of the brands already mentioned for scalp hair growth, as well as products used to grow hair elsewhere, such as Timeless’ Eyelash Booster Serum. It has inherent antioxidant and dihydrotestosterone (DHT) blocking properties, allowing it to counteract the hormonal causes of pattern hair loss and the inflammatory aspect of alopecia areata, or autoimmune hair loss. (8) Plant extracts that block DHT and vitamins are often combined in supplements to help with hair loss.
Vitamins and Hair Growth
Do Vitamins Really Help With Hair Growth?
Vitamins are integral to healthy hair growth. They also maintain our overall health and wellbeing. Vitamins support many different functions, including hair production, cell turnover, digestion, absorption of nutrients, immune function, sight, bone growth, and wound healing. (9,10) However, the importance of integrating vitamins into hair growth supplements has yet to be determined.
A, B-complex, C, and D vitamins are considered to be some of the top vitamins for hair loss, as people experiencing hair problems may have low levels of these nutrients. Most research has been conducted in the scope of issues related to nutrient deficiencies. For example, deficiencies of vitamins A, B2, B7, B9, B12, C, and D have been linked to hair loss. Supplementation can help resolve hair issues in such cases. (9,10)
However, research into supplementation in people who are not deficient is scarce. And interestingly, over-supplementation of vitamin A or E can actually cause hair loss! (9,10) More work needs to be done to determine which vitamins can promote hair growth.
Vitamin D and Hair Growth
Vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin made in the skin. When your skin comes into contact with the sun’s UV light, it becomes activated and travels to the liver and kidneys. It then undergoes further chemical reactions to produce its final active form. This nutrient helps control calcium and phosphorous levels in the blood, regulates the immune system, and exerts anti-inflammatory properties. (11)
Hair follicle cells contain receptors for vitamin D, making it important in hair growth. People with genetic mutation of this receptor, like those with type II rickets, have very little to no hair growth on their bodies. (12)
Evidence suggests that vitamin D deficiency is linked to alopecia areata, an autoimmune form of hair loss. A meta-analysis found that the average vitamin D level in alopecia areata patients is significantly lower compared to people without this type of hair loss. Additionally, alopecia areata patients were more likely to be vitamin D deficient. (13)
This study did not find a significant link between vitamin D levels and the severity of hair loss. However, a more recent test in 45 adults found a negative correlation between vitamin D levels and the severity of alopecia areata. (14) Another study showed the same results in 50 individuals with androgenic alopecia (pattern hair loss), with a correlation between vitamin D deficiency and the severity of the disease in these patients, as well. (45)
The link between vitamin D and hair health is strong. However, studies examining whether supplemental vitamin D can promote hair growth in those who are not deficient are lacking. Although many hair growth supplements contain vitamin D, more large-scale studies need to be undertaken before this question can be answered.
B-Complex Vitamins and Hair Growth
B-Complex vitamins are involved in cell metabolism and development, energy production, and cell signaling. These eight B vitamins are:
- Thiamine (Vitamin B1)
- Riboflavin (Vitamin B2)
- Niacin (Vitamin B3)
- Pantothenic Acid (Vitamin B5)
- Pyridoxine (Vitamin B6)
- Biotin (Vitamin B7)
- Folate (Vitamin B9)
- Cobalamin (Vitamin B12)
Biotin is the only vitamin in this list that the body can produce on its own. The other B-complex vitamins can be easily obtained through eating a balanced diet.
Of the vitamins listed, only B2, B7, B9, and B12 are associated with hair loss. (9) Deficiencies of these vitamins are rare in the western world.
Riboflavin (B2) plays an essential role in energy production, fat metabolism, and cellular function. Riboflavin is stored in small amounts in the heart, kidneys, and liver, and while deficiency is very rare in the western world, not getting enough riboflavin is known to cause hair loss. (15)
Biotin (B7) deficiency can be genetic or may occur due to chronic alcoholism, pregnancy, use of certain antibiotics, malnutrition, or consumption of raw eggs. Signs of biotin deficiency include brittle nails, hair loss, and skin issues.
However, studies using biotin supplementation as a treatment for deficiency don’t usually show significant hair growth. One small study showed that biotin supplementation improved growth in 18 patients with hair loss, whether the cause was genetic or not. (16) If you choose to take biotin supplements, be aware that biotin is known to interfere with medical laboratory tests such as thyroid levels or even troponin, which is used to detect if a person has suffered a heart attack. (9)
Both folate, vitamin B12, and hair growth are linked because these B-vitamins are associated with nucleic acid production, the building blocks of DNA. They play a significant role in hair follicles, which are constantly undergoing growth, shedding, and regrowth.
Both folate and vitamin B12 deficiency can cause anemia and skin, hair, and nail changes. A reasonable assumption, then, would be that these vitamins would be found in lower levels in patients suffering from hair loss. Interestingly, studies investigating levels of these vitamins in patients with alopecia areata found no significant differences compared to individuals without this condition. (17,18)
Antioxidant Vitamins and Hair Growth
Vitamins C and E are also antioxidants. They help prevent the oxidation of fatty acids and damage caused by unstable molecules called free radicals. Both of these essential nutrients must be obtained from the foods you consume.
Also known as ascorbic acid, vitamin C also plays a role in collagen production and iron absorption, assisting this mineral move across the intestinal wall. For this reason, vitamin C is indirectly involved in hair loss due to iron deficiency. Body hair changes can be related to vitamin C deficiency, but no studies link low vitamin C levels to hair loss. (9)
Vitamin E, also known as tocopherol, helps modulate the immune system through its antioxidant function. (19) Like vitamin C, it helps protect the body against damage caused by free radicals.
It can be theorized that autoimmune conditions such as alopecia areata, which are dependent on physiological stressors, among other things, may be related to low levels of antioxidants like vitamin E. The evidence for this is conflicting, with studies showing opposite results. (20,21)
One small study gave people a daily dose of 100 milligrams of vitamin E for hair loss. The study participants experienced increased hair counts (by 34.5 percent) compared to those receiving placebo (0.1 percent). (22)
Other antioxidants include beta-carotene and lycopene. Lycopene gives red and pink fruits like watermelon, tomatoes, and grapefruit their characteristic colors. Similarly, beta-carotene is a pigment found in yellow and orange fruits and vegetables. Once in the body, this antioxidant gets converted to vitamin A, an essential nutrient for cell metabolism and development.
These powerful antioxidants have been found to reduce the risk of certain cancers, heart disease, stroke, and even sunburn. (23) However, there is no definitive link between these antioxidants and the promotion of hair growth.
Multivitamins for Hair Growth
Multivitamins can help correct underlying vitamin deficiencies. However, if you’re wondering which vitamins are good for hair, no specific vitamin has been found to conclusively promote hair growth or correct hair loss. Taking a multivitamin for hair growth may not be beneficial, and can even be unsafe in some cases. Over-supplementation of vitamins A, C, E, zinc, iron, selenium, vitamin B6, or vitamin B12 can cause adverse effects. (24)
All vitamins have a maximum recommended daily intake. However, many supplements far exceed these recommended amounts.
Multivitamins and nutraceuticals are classified under the same category as foods and don’t undergo the same regulation that medications do. For example, the daily recommended intake of vitamin A is 2.4 micrograms per day, but OrionPharma’s Beauty Vitamins contain 20 micrograms per dose (2 pills), 833 percent of your recommended daily intake!
Minerals and Hair Growth
Which Minerals Are Important for Hair Growth?
Minerals are essential for good health. They aid in fluid balance, nerve and muscle function, bone health, immune system efficacy, and much more. (9,10)
Minerals important for hair growth include magnesium, zinc, iron, copper, and selenium. These minerals play a role in protein absorption and oxygenation, which are essential for healthy hair growth. Individuals with one of these mineral deficiencies, like low iron levels, may develop hair loss. (9,10) It’s common to find one or more of these minerals in hair growth supplements.
Telogen effluvium is hair loss brought on by a sudden stressor, whether physical or emotional. Iron, zinc, and other mineral deficiencies can act as this stressor and have the potential to cause or contribute to this type of hair loss. (25) Taking these minerals in supplement form may help correct this type of hair loss, but it may not show any effect on other types of hair loss.
Magnesium and Hair Growth
Magnesium is a cofactor that the body utilizes to help enzymes do their jobs. These enzymes are part of hundreds of different biochemical reactions in the body, including protein synthesis, blood sugar control, energy production, nerve function, and blood pressure management. (46) Due to its involvement in so many bodily functions, magnesium is often added to supplements to promote the growth of new hair follicles. However, there’s little evidence to support this claim.
A study investigating magnesium levels in patients suffering from alopecia areata, an autoimmune form of hair loss, found that levels of this mineral are not significantly lower than those found in healthy patients. (26) Magnesium’s utility in causing or promoting hair growth suffers from a lack of scientific backing, yet it continues to be added in many supplements advertising hair growth. (10)
Zinc and Hair Growth
Zinc is a mineral essential for the function of hundreds of enzymes. It’s involved in immune function, gene expression, and cell signaling pathways. These functions are crucial for healthy hair growth, and low zinc levels may cause brittle hair and hair loss. (10) Zinc deficiency can occur due to malnutrition, alcoholism, pregnancy, cancers, and kidney or liver problems. It can even happen to vegetarians, as zinc is not easily absorbed when obtained from vegetables rather than meat. (27)
Zinc can correct hair loss in patients with telogen effluvium (stress-induced hair loss) and zinc deficiency. (28) It’s also helped patients suffering from both alopecia areata (autoimmune hair loss) and zinc deficiency. (29)
A study of over 300 patients found lower zinc concentrations in people with varying types of hair loss compared to 30 healthy individuals. (30) However, it’s unclear how zinc supplementation can benefit those without an underlying deficiency. Over supplementation can result in zinc toxicity, which can cause vomiting, diarrhea, and pain.
Iron and Hair Growth
Iron is a critical factor in the formation of healthy red blood cells and functional hemoglobin, which allows blood to transport oxygen throughout the body effectively. It is also involved in DNA synthesis. Iron deficiency is often found in women with hair loss, but it’s unclear if there’s a causal relationship. (31)
A 2017 review examined five studies examining the link between iron deficiency and alopecia areata (autoimmune hair loss). None of the studies concluded a significant relationship. (32) Other groups attempting to study this link have been found to differ in their design, patient populations, and in their definition of iron deficiency. (10)
At this time, there are no studies that show a definitive link between iron deficiency and hair loss. Yet, a 2003 study did show that levels of ferritin (a protein that indirectly reflects the body’s total iron stores) were significantly lower in women with alopecia areata and with pattern hair loss. (47)
It is very important to monitor iron intake, especially when taking supplements. Iron over-supplementation can result in a condition known as secondary hemochromatosis, or iron overload, which can cause liver, heart problems, and diabetes.
Copper and Hair Growth
Copper partners with iron to help the body form blood cells. It supports the health of the immune system, blood vessels, bones, and nerves. Copper’s role in hair growth is not entirely understood, but one 2007 study found that copper peptides (copper in combination with amino acids) stimulated hair follicle growth in humans. (33) Larger scale studies are needed — and with copper in mind specifically, instead of multiple ingredients — to determine this mineral’s efficacy in promoting hair growth.
A 2013 study evaluated the levels of zinc and copper in people experiencing autoimmune, stress-related, and pattern hair loss. They found that these people had lower zinc levels than healthy individuals, but copper levels were not significantly different. (30)
Selenium and Hair Growth
Selenium is involved in producing many proteins and is necessary for the synthesis of antioxidants in the body. Lately, it’s made headlines claiming a wide range of health benefits, including hair growth, preventing cancers, immune function, and more.
As with many other nutrients in supplements, research on selenium contributing to hair growth is lacking. However, a clinical trial in ovarian cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy found that patients taking selenium supplements experienced less hair loss than those who did not. (34)
The lack of evidence for selenium supplementation has not stopped hair growth supplements from advertising it on their bottles. However, too much selenium can cause nausea, vomiting, skin blisters, irritability, fatigue, and even hair loss.
In 2008, a selenium toxicity outbreak occurred in the United States due to a formulation error in a liquid nutritional supplement. The selenium concentration was 200 times greater than what was advertised on the bottle, causing severe hair loss in most patients affected. (35)
Vitamins, Supplements and Hair Loss
Could a Mineral or Vitamin Deficiency Cause Hair Loss?
Vitamins and minerals are essential nutrients in our diets. They are required for a ton of important cellular and bodily functions.
Low levels of certain vitamins or minerals can cause health problems. Deficiencies in nutrients like iron, selenium, zinc, and vitamin D can result in hair loss. Menkes syndrome, also known as kinky hair syndrome, is due to a genetic defect affecting the absorption of copper, leading to sparse and kinky hair, which breaks and falls out easily. (36)
Do Any Supplements Cause Hair Loss?
Many supplements advertise that they aid hair growth. However, they can sometimes contain dangerous levels of vitamins, minerals, or other nutraceuticals that can lead to toxicity, including hair loss. (9,10,36)
Pay attention to the nutritional information on these bottles. Supplements that contain higher than recommended amounts of vitamin A, vitamin E, selenium, iron, and zinc can actually cause hair loss. (9,10) Too much of a good thing can be bad, something that certainly applies to essential nutrients.
It is not known if supplementation of amino acids can lead to hair loss, but over-supplementation of certain compounds can cause health issues. For example, the amino acid lysine is believed to be involved in iron absorption. Too much of this amino acid can cause iron overload, resulting in liver and heart issues. (9)
Many of the additives in multivitamins can also cause serious reactions with medications. Ginseng, for example, is sometimes added into supplements for hair loss because of its antioxidant, DHT-blocking, and anti-inflammatory properties. However, this plant can interact with warfarin, a powerful blood thinner. It can reduce the drug’s efficacy, making blood more likely to clot in patients who need their blood to be thin. (37) As it stands, hair loss vitamins that work are difficult to establish, and more research is needed before it can be confidently reported.
Do Any Vitamins Cause Hair Loss?
In excessive amounts, certain vitamins may lead to hair shedding or thinning. For example, vitamin A can cause hair loss when levels are high. (10)
Vitamin E is a very important antioxidant, and deficiencies can result in anemia, neurologic problems, and skin issues. Too much vitamin E can decrease thyroid hormone levels, which are essential for hair growth, and cause hair loss. This was seen in healthy volunteers who took 600 IU (international units) — about 30 times the recommended vitamin E intake — per day for 28 days. These volunteers were found to have significantly decreased thyroid hormone levels, a symptom of which is hair loss. (38)
Do Any Minerals Cause Hair Loss?
Minerals are essential for bodily functions, but their role in promoting hair growth is yet to be determined. Deficiencies in essential minerals such as zinc and iron can cause hair loss. However, the same can be said for the over-consumption of minerals, like selenium. Concentrations of these minerals need to be in a moderate “sweet spot” to work.
The levels of minerals in supplements advertised for hair growth are not regulated. Over-supplementation can occur, which may lead to hair loss. (39)
Combining Supplements and Hair Loss Treatments
Can You Take Supplements While Using Hair Loss Treatments?
Minoxidil, finasteride, and low-level laser therapy (LLLT) are the main treatment options for pattern hair loss. All of these can be used while taking supplements.
Finasteride is an oral medication that blocks DHT (dihydrotestosterone), the hormone responsible for pattern hair loss. This drug targets 5α-reductase, the enzyme that converts testosterone to DHT. (48)
Minoxidil is a topical medication that has been a staple in treating pattern hair loss for decades. It is believed to increase blood flow to the scalp while lengthening the growing phase of the hair cycle, leading to increased hair coverage on the scalp. (48)
Low-level laser therapy (LLLT) uses light to stimulate hair growth. The wavelength of red light falls on the “low” end of the spectrum in terms of energy output. In contrast to lasers used for hair removal, LLLT can help regrow hair in people with multiple types of hair loss, including pattern hair loss, autoimmune hair loss, and more. Devices used for LLLT include laser hair caps, helmets, and combs.
Combining supplements with hair loss treatments makes sense. Minoxidil, finasteride, or LLLT can provide a targeted approach, while supplements boost levels of vital nutrients to stimulate hair growth.
One study even combined all three of these treatments with supplements and ketoconazole, an antifungal DHT-blocking shampoo, to help regrow hair in people with different grades of hair loss. (40) This combination was both safe and effective, with hair count increasing by up to 52 percent by 4 months and hair thickness increasing by up to 47 percent over the same period. However, determining which ingredients were most responsible for this improvement is complicated. The authors note that controlled trials are needed to compare this combination treatment to existing alternatives. (40)
Another study used a hair loss treatment and supplements to help a patient suffering from monilethrix, a rare inherited genetic disorder that causes weak and brittle hair. This hair often breaks after growing a few inches. This person used 2 percent minoxidil twice a day and took a cycle of supplements that included:
- Antioxidants, calcium, vitamin D3, zinc, magnesium on day 1
- Iron, folic acid, vitamin C, omega-3 fatty acids on day 2
- B-complex, biotin, and amino acids on day 3
After 4 months, hair thickness improved by 18 percent, while density improved by 23 percent. Vellus hairs, the tiny, fine hairs that cover most of the body and increase in hair loss conditions, were reduced by 35 percent. However, it is worth noting that minoxidil is not FDA-approved to treat this type of hair loss, so this would be considered off-label use. (41)
More research is needed to determine if any specific supplement or ingredient can enhance the effect of hair loss treatments. Unfortunately, since supplements can contain various vitamins, minerals, and nutraceuticals, this may be difficult to study.
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Last updated July 2021