When it comes to hair vitamins and supplements that promise thicker, fuller locks, navigating the crowded market can be overwhelming. Add to that, the fact that the FDA doesn’t regulate claims made by brands. Needless to say, deciphering what really works is, simply put, complicated.
“Supplements, in general, are kind of an unregulated market. A lot of supplements are not FDA approved so we don’t get a lot of research on them,” Michelle Henry, clinical instructor at Weill Cornell Medical College, tells Yahoo Lifestyle. According to the dermatologist, androgenetic alopecia, hypothyroidism, low levels of vitamin D and iron and traction alopecia are among the most common reasons behind hair loss.
While the prescription Finasteride is the gold standard, especially for men dealing with hair loss, she says the combination of some vitamins can help someone dealing with hair loss who isn’t looking to go the pharmaceutical route. Popular ingredients Henry suggests looking for in hair supplements to look for include biotin, collagen, saw palmetto, adaptogens and plant-based proteins.
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“When we’re doing bloodwork and trying to asses why someone is not having optimal hair growth we look at nutrient levels,” she explains. “Biotin is a type of vitamin B and you get it natural in certain food, like salmon, and it is essential for nail growth and potentially hair growth as well.” She adds that the original studies on biotin were related to nail growth, but “hair and nails and hair are similar systems so we extrapolate from that, but it works for hair so we do recommend it.”
Look for biotin dosage between 2,500 to 5,000 micrograms a day. “Studies show you shouldn’t go higher than 5,000 anymore, especially in older patients, because it can obscure some of our other labs,” says Henry.
“Viviscal is known for having marine-based collagen which is like a fish protein and I’ve used it for years and really like it,” says Henry, adding that collagen can also be found in many beauty supplements. “The jury is still out on whether collagen will preferentially concentrate on the hair or skin when we take it, but I do believe it can play a role.”
Henry especially recommends a marine collagen supplement for vegetarian or vegan patients who notice hair loss. “It does provide a source additional protein for them, which is critical for hair growth.”
Iron and vitamin D
Iron and vitamin D are other popular ingredients in hair supplement. “You'll see iron in a lot in hair vitamins because iron deficiency and anemia also cause hair loss,” explains Henry.
“Low vitamin D levels can contribute to hair loss so you'll see products with that, or in the case of Nutrafol — a lot of vitamin D.”
Henry says that she uses Nutralfol because of its unique blend of nutrients and because the brand has a published study in the Journal of Drugs in Dermatology to back up the claims. Women with thin hair who used the supplements for six months had an increase in hair growth rate, hair density and improved quality.
“Traditionally hair supplements are vitamin profiles that target health, but Nutrafol is different because it is a multi-targeting product,” Tess Marshall, NMD, Nutrafol Director of Product Science & Innovation tells Yahoo Lifestyle. “Hair is affected by more than just nutrition.”
Hormones like DHT (dihydrotestosterone), stress hormones, cortisol, inflammation and oxidative stress all affect hair loss says Marshall. “Nutrafol uses vitamins and clinically tested botanicals to work on these targets.”
Marshall explains that most pharmaceutical products target DHT, which is what causes male and female pattern hair loss, but Nutrafol uses a botanical called saw palmetto to address it.
“Although you would need a significant dose to work as well as Finasteride, saw palmetto blocks testosterone which is important for men and women who have androgenetic alopecia, which is basically alopecia due to sensitivity to their own testosterone,” adds Henry.
“Stress and cortisol have a large impact on hair as well,” says Marshall. “It shifts hair from growth cycle into resting phase so hair is more likely to fall out, and this hasn’t been really addressed in vitamins or pharmaceuticals.”
The anecdote? Adaptogens.
“Nutrafol has something called adaptogens which help reduce stress — and we know stress and inflammation cause just about every disease on this planet,” says Henry. “But particularly with women with hair loss, we see more inflammation so I really like Nutrafol for women with hair loss.”
By using adaptogens (Nutrafol uses one called ashwagandha) to rebalance cortisol levels, hair follicles can stay in its growth phase for longer.
“No matter what you choose, make sure that it's targeting the multiple reasons why you are experiencing hair loss and thinning,” says Marshall. “Also, the integrity of ingredients in a product is important, especially when it comes to botanicals as well as the efficacy of the product itself.”
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