The Real Story Behind Vitamins that Prevent Hair Loss
I hate to start with a spoiler, but I’m going to start with a spoiler. Neither vitamins nor supplements are FDA-approved or regulated for any type of hair loss. Or, for any other health condition for that matter. This means that information required to establish safety and effectiveness has not been submitted to or approved by the FDA. Yet, do an Amazon search using the terms “vitamins for hair loss,” and pages and pages of products appear with assurances that the vitamins will help you regrow your hair. Biotin, keratin, saw palmetto, and proprietary collagen blends are just a few that pop up on the first page, with prices varying from $11 to over $176. Trying to figure out which ones are effective and worth the investment can make your head spin.
If your hair is thinning or balding, it’s smart to question whether vitamins will help or if manufacturer promises are too good to be true. So which ones do dermatologists and hair specialists recommend? We’re here to answer your questions and set the story straight.
Get Diagnosed Before You Buy Vitamins to Treat Your Hair Loss
Before you even think about trying any vitamins, you need to start with a diagnosis. After all, you need to know what condition you’re treating. Here are the three most common types of alopecia that cause either temporary or permanent hair loss:
- Telogen Effluvium
Telogen effluvium is a type of temporary hair loss that can occur up to several months after a traumatic or stressful incident. The condition can be triggered by various events, including high fevers, surgery, certain medications, nutritional deficiencies, and autoimmune diseases. When physiologic stress occurs, hairs that would normally be in a growing phase are abruptly pushed into a resting phase, resulting in shedding. The shedding can occur in either small or large amounts. While hair loss from telogen effluvium can be upsetting in the short term, the long-term prognosis for regrowth is good. No medication is typically needed. Hair usually grows back within six months to a year.
- Androgenetic Alopecia
Androgenetic alopecia is also known as male or female pattern baldness. The hair loss condition occurs when too much testosterone converts to an androgen called dihydrotestosterone (DHT). The condition is genetic and can come from either the maternal or paternal sides of your family. The hair loss pattern among men with androgenetic alopecia differs from that of women. Men tend to lose their hair on the front and top of their heads. Women usually notice their hair loss first along their widening center parts. Oral and topical medications have been proven to help prevent further hair loss and facilitate growth.
- Alopecia Areata
Alopecia areata is an autoimmune hair loss condition that can affect women, men, and children. Hair loss is usually noticed first in small round or oval patches. In some cases, hair spontaneously regrows, and in others, the hair loss becomes permanent. Treatment usually focuses on treating any underlying conditions and using topical and oral medications.
Determining whether you have one of these forms of alopecia is a multi-step process. Your dermatologist will likely order blood work as part of the diagnostic process. The lab results will indicate whether vitamin deficiencies could be contributing to your alopecia. If so, you may benefit from supplementation.
Vitamins are Helpful When People with Alopecia Have Deficiencies
Much conflicting information exists about the role that vitamins and supplements play when it comes to hair loss. More research is clearly needed. The general rule of thumb when it comes to vitamins is to supplement if there’s a deficiency. Particular deficiencies can be associated with the three types of alopecia we discussed. Here are the three most common:
Research has demonstrated that people with telogen effluvium, androgenetic alopecia, and alopecia areata are likely to have vitamin D deficiencies. (01) The greater the deficiency, the greater the hair loss. Vitamin D is absorbed into the skin by keratinocyte cells. The cells process keratin which is found in your hair, nails, and skin. When your body has a vitamin D deficiency, the keratinocytes in your hair follicles have difficulty regulating the growth and resting phases of the hair cycle.
In addition to checking for Vitamin D3 deficiencies, dermatologoists typically check their patients’ iron levels. Iron deficiency inhibits hemoglobin production which produces the oxygen responsible for hair cell growth and repair. Low iron is a common cause of alopecia and can easily be remedied with a supplement.
People don’t typically have Biotin, Vitamin B7, deficiencies in industrialized countries. A regular diet typically provides enough nutrients to ensure adequate levels. However, some research studies have demonstrated that biotin deficiencies often exist in people with hair loss. (02)(03) Experts have conflicting views on whether biotin supplements are necessary, even when there’s a deficiency. It’s best to consult with your dermatologist on this one.
Should You Take Vitamins if You Don’t Have a Deficiency?
Even if you don’t have a deficiency, it’s tempting to take vitamins to see if they will help regrow or thicken your hair. More isn’t always better though, especially in this case. Taking too many supplements or the wrong type of supplements can create issues. For example, extra vitamin A or vitamin E can cause hair loss, which is what you are trying to prevent in the first place.
Prescription Medications Are Often Used With Vitamins to Get Better Results
If your dermatologist doesn’t think that you are a good candidate for vitamin supplementation, prescription medications may be a good alternative. This is especially true if you have been diagnosed with male or female pattern baldness. Medications commonly prescribed include:
Minoxidil (FDA Approved)
A vasodilator designed to enlarge the hair follicles so you can start to regrow your hair.
Finasteride, Proscar, Propecia (FDA Approved)
A medication that blocks the conversion of testosterone into DHT that attacks your hair follicles.
Dutasteride, Avodart (Not FDA Approved)
A DHT blocker prescribed as a second-line medication if Finasteride does not give the desired results.
Spironolactone (Not FDA Approved)
A DHT blocker prescribed only to women as a second-line medication if Finasteride does not give the desired results.
Minoxidil and Finasteride are both available in oral and topical formulas. Topicals are often preferred, especially among men, because they do not cause sexual side effects such as lower libido. Topical medications have been proven to be just as effective as oral medications.
The most effective hair loss plans often combine vitamins and other over-the-counter treatments with prescription medications. Vitamin D, Minoxidil, and Finasteride would be a logical combination if a person with androgenetic alopecia has a vitamin D deficiency. Prescriptions that effectively combine multiple topical medications into one are available and are convenient and easy to use.
Some Supplements Have Shown Moderate Improvement in Hair Loss
Although they are supplements rather than vitamins, there has been a lot in the news lately about pumpkin seed oil, saw palmetto, and rosemary oil. While not quite as effective as Finasteride, these supplements have demonstrated a significant increase in hair growth. (04) These supplements may be a good adjunct therapy when combined with prescription hair loss medication.
Curcumin, the active ingredient derived from turmeric, is known as a natural anti-inflammatory. Interestingly, curcumin did not improve hair growth on its own, but it did give positive results when combined with Minoxidil. The hypothesis is that the curcumin helped the Minoxidil better penetrate the scalp. However, more research still needs to be conducted.
Garlic gel, derived from onions, scallions, shallots, leeks, and chives, doesn’t live up to the hype. Users did not see a significant difference in hair growth.
As with any product you try as a hair loss solution, make sure to consult with your dermatologist first. Even products that seem innocuous can have side effects or contradict other medications. Your dermatologist is the best person to evaluate your treatment plan and determine the best mix of prescription and over-the-counter options.
What To Do If Vitamins Aren’t the Answer to Your Hair Loss
Vitamins can be helpful if your bloodwork indicates that you have certain deficiencies. If not, proceed with caution. Even the most effective supplements aren’t typically as strong as prescription medications to slow hair loss and stimulate growth. If you need an alternative solution for your thinning or balding hair, Finasteride, Minoxidil, and other medications are effective and are available by prescription. For more information about your options, contact us. Our board-certified dermatologists and hair specialists are available to answer your questions and make recommendations based on the type of alopecia you have. We can even customize a formula to meet your specific needs.