Hair growth vitamins, oils, meds and treatments—do any of them really work?

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Recently, a friend showed me a website for a popular brand of vitamins that, supposedly, help your hair to grow, grow, grow.

Just about everyone wants thick, shiny  hair. It’s considered a marker of beauty, virility/fertility, and attractiveness in our culture.

“What’s the deal with these?” she wanted to know. “Do they work?” It’s a good question!

They were blue, sweet like candy and very cute, for vitamins. I’m sure my son would love them.

If you’ve been wondering what to do about your hair, here’s a list of natural and pharmaceutical options for people seeking longer, fuller, shinier, stronger hair.

This isn’t a complete list of every hair growth option out there—just a few of the most common/popular options. For personalized advice, talk to your physician.

Before we jump in, it’s important to ask why? Hair loss may be genetic for both men and women, but it can also be related to aging, illness, malnutrition, stress, and hormonal changes (especially related to pregnancy or menopause.)

At your visit, your doctor might recommend tests to check hormone levels like DHEA, testosterone, prolactin, FSH, LH, T3, T4 and TSH. A complete blood count, serum iron and ferritin levels are also important.

Density of the hair is measured, and sometimes they even pull a small section of your hair to see if it comes out too easily. A tiny biopsy of the scalp is done to look at the tissue under the microscope for possible causes.

- Hair growth vitamins.

What’s in these? Many popular hair growth vitamins contain Vitamin A, Vitamin C, Vitamin D, Vitamin E, Vitamin B-6, Folic Acid, Vitamin B-12, and Biotin. Basically, you’re looking at a standard multi-vitamin with a few additional ingredients, like Biotin, a B complex vitamin that plays a part in maintaining healthy hair, nails and skin.

Do they work? Yes, but reign in your expectations. Supplementing your diet with hair growth vitamins can improve the health and appearance of your hair, but the effect will be gradual and subtle, not instant and dramatic. Hair Anew, Hairinfinity and Viviscal are the top-rated consumer brands on Amazon.

 

Any negative side effects? A small number of people report skin issues (like acne flare-ups) after taking vitamins that contain Biotin. This is probably not due to the Biotin itself, but due to a vitamin B5 imbalance that Biotin might be creating.

 

- Scalp massage.

 

What’s the deal? Giving yourself a scalp massage—either with your bare fingers or a soft bristled brush—is reported to improve circulation and keep your hair healthier, especially when combined with essential oils.

Does it work? Apparently so! Researchers at the University of Maryland found that “massaging the scalp with a combination of several essential oils, including lavender, rosemary, thyme and cedarwood improved hair growth.” But just like with vitamins, keep your expectations realistic. Improvement will be subtle, not instant and dramatic.

 

To try a scalp massage at home, add a few drops of essential oil to 1 tablespoon of jojoba or grapeseed oil and massage into your scalp every day. Rinse out the oil in the shower, followed by your usual shampoo and conditioner.

 

Any negative side effects? Unless you’re allergic to a particular type of essential oil, I don’t see any potential issues with this type of all-natural treatment. Sounds pretty relaxing to me. It would be even better to trade scalp massages with someone you love.

 

- Prescription hair growth medications like Rogaine and Propecia.

What are they? 

 

Rogaine applied to the scalp is helpful for many patients and is available over the counter. I suggest both men and women use the stronger 5% concentration.

You’ve probably seen ads for Propecia, a prescription pill that’s used to treat male pattern baldness/thinning/receding hairline. The clinical name for this drug is finasteride. Finasteride has been approved by the FDA to treat hair loss in men, but not in women. However, that may change in the near future, because researchers are finding that finasteride can be effective for women, too.

Does it work? Yes. Rogaine works to some degree for 80% of patients. Propecia works for about 90% of men. However, it’s important to be realistic with your expectations. You’re not going to go from Bruce Willis (totally bald) to Josh Groban (luscious curls) by using Propecia. In most cases, Propecia will stop hair loss from continuing, and you may experience a modest amount of re-growth as well.

Any negative side effects? Unfortunately, yes. In men, Propecia can sometimes cause impotence, low sex drive, dizziness, swelling in the hands and feet, and several other issues. These side effects are rare, but serious. Always call your physician immediately if you notice any of these side effects.

 -Laser Combs and Helmets.

What are they? Brands like Hairmax and Thermodome use low level laser light to stimulate hair follicles.

Do they work? Studies show that most patients had mild improvement in hair density. They seem most effective for hair loss patients who are in the early or middle stages of hair loss.

What are the downsides? Sometimes it is hard for patients to appreciate mild improvement. These devices get mixed reviews on Amazon. And they don’t come cheap. Prices range from $300 to $1000.

 

-Platelet Rich Plasma (PRP)

 

What is it?  A patient’s blood is drawn and then sterilely spun down to separate the red blood cells form the plasma which contains platelets and growth factors. If you remember Kim Kardashian’s Vampire Facial, this is similar, except the liquid plasma is injected into the scalp.

Does it work? Some providers cite a 90% success rate. It can also be used in combination with hair transplant surgery, lasers, medications and vitamins. PRP is a versatile product that I enjoy working with for many other conditions too, such as acne scarring and skin texture and facial rejuvenation.

 

- Final thoughts.

If getting Rapunzel hair just isn’t possible for you, (or George Clooney for the guys who dare to admit they read this,) please be kind and remember that your value has nothing to do with the number of active hair follicles on your head.

Lastly, if you ultimately decide to chop off your hair and/or embrace your baldness, know that you’re in good company! Here’s some Pinterest bald-spiration for men and for women. All of those photos prove that a cropped, buzzed, or totally bald look can be totally striking and gorgeous.

~Dr. Sue

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