A comprehensive guide to natural ingredients for hair growth
Clinically reviewed by
Currently, oral finasteride is the most effective FDA-approved treatment for male pattern hair loss. However, a few natural ingredients have also demonstrated the potential to support hair and scalp health.
This article covers the science behind how natural ingredients for hair growth fight oxidative stress and inflammation, which are two factors that researchers believe play a role in male pattern hair loss. We’ve included examples of 6 of the most popular ingredients and explain exactly what their benefits are.
Products that contain these ingredients might be an option for people who cannot take finasteride, are concerned about its side effects, or have less advanced hair loss.
How do natural ingredients help with hair growth?
Natural ingredients come in different forms and target different aspects of hair growth. Some increase blood flow and nutrient exchange in the scalp, while others are antioxidants or anti-inflammatories. Antioxidants and anti-inflammatories are agents that help remove or neutralize molecules that can cause hair to stop growing.
Some ingredients such as saw palmetto have also been shown to act as anti-androgens. This means that chemically, they behave similarly to finasteride and help reduce levels of male sex steroid hormones (androgens) such as DHT and testosterone. In this way, these natural anti-androgens may help halt premature hair loss.
What are the best natural ingredients for hair growth?
Here are 6 examples of natural ingredients that have been studied specifically for their benefits to hair growth. Many are available as dietary supplements or even formulated into hair care products such as shampoos and conditioners.
Many of these work by keeping inflammation and oxidative stress to a minimum. These biological processes are explained in more detail below.
- Pea sprout extract: antioxidant and growth stimulant
- Acts on dermal papilla to trigger the active growth (anagen) phase of the hair
- Contains isoflavones, a plant source of estrogen that may help regulate levels of DHT
- Saw palmetto (Serenoa repens) extract: anti-androgen and antioxidant
- Blocks conversion of testosterone to DHT
- Also contains estrogen-like molecules called phytosterols that help regulate DHT levels
- Rosemary & peppermint oils: anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, increases bloodflow
- Rosemary oil contains various acids with known anti-inflammatory properties
- Helps reduce prostaglandins and cytokine production (both trigger inflammation)
- Peppermint oil contains alkaline compounds that promote the active growth phase of hair
- Caffeine: Increases blood flow, growth stimulant
- Increased blood flow = greater nutrient exchange
- Combats the inhibitory effects of testosterone on hair growth to encourage a longer active growth phase
- Biotin (vitamin B7): growth stimulant
- Helps with the production of key proteins necessary for hair health, including keratin
- Helps with the production of key proteins necessary for hair health, including keratin
- Ginseng extract: antioxidant, increases blood flow, growth stimulant
- Supports the growth of dermal papilla cells
- Delays cell death following exposure to UV light
- Contains compounds that help prolong the active growth phase of hair and increase collagen (a structural protein) production
Causes of hair loss in men
Although DHT (dihydrotestosterone) is considered the primary cause of male pattern hair loss, scientists have suggested that other factors may be involved. These factors include inflammation, oxidative and psychological stress.
The problem with these factors is that they can disrupt the functioning of dermal papilla cells located in hair follicles. Dermal papilla cells regulate the growth cycle of hair in response to hormones. Inflammation and elevated stress levels may cause hormonal or other biochemical changes around the hair follicle that lead to reduced hair growth.
Inflammation and hair loss
Inflammation is part of the immune response. It is initiated by a type of molecule called a cytokine. Cytokines are necessary to hair growth because they signal the hair follicle to transition from the active phase to the regression phase of the hair growth cycle (Trüeb, 2002).
When cells produce too many cytokines, this can cause a phenomenon known as microinflammation. Microinflammation refers to long-term inflammation that is localized to the hair follicle. Scientists have associated it with androgenetic alopecia (Sadick et al., 2017).
But what causes microinflammation? Bacteria naturally present on the skin can trigger an inflammatory response when their numbers suddenly increase. The toxins they produce can begin to act on the hair follicle (Trüeb, 2002).
Environmental factors such as UV light, irritants and pollutants can also cause cells within the hair follicle to produce reactive oxygen species. These molecules can make existing inflammation worse by triggering the immune system further (Trüeb, 2002).
How does oxidative stress cause hair loss?
Reactive oxygen species are a byproduct of metabolism. These molecules are highly unstable and reactive, but also assist in coordinating the immune response (Lobo et al., 2010).
Like cytokines, reactive oxygen species only become problematic in high numbers. This is referred to as oxidative stress. Because they are so reactive, these molecules easily change and damage the chemical structures of DNA, proteins and fats (Lobo et al., 2010). These changes can affect the growth and strength of hair.
To counteract oxidative stress, cells produce antioxidants. Research has shown that older cells may be less capable of producing these beneficial compounds (Sadick et al., 2017). Fortunately, many natural ingredients function as antioxidants.
Do vitamins help hair growth?
Possibly. Data on the benefits of taking hair growth supplements is generally inconclusive, but some studies have shown that supplements containing vitamin D and iron may positively impact hair growth (Almohanna et al., 2018). Vitamin D has anti-inflammatory properties, while iron encourages cell growth.
The average person is probably not deficient in either of these nutrients, so dramatic hair regrowth is unlikely. Additionally, consuming too much of certain vitamins can have the opposite effect and cause hair loss. It is important to inform your physician about any supplements or vitamins that you might be taking.
Research on the use of natural ingredients for hair growth is steadily increasing. These complementary treatments have shown potential to support hair growth in the laboratory environment, animal models and small scale human trials. However, large-scale clinical trials still need to be conducted to determine ideal dosing, routes of administration, and safety profiles for many of these ingredients.
You should be aware that these alternative treatments for hair loss may not replace the need for pharmaceutical intervention. Consider consulting with a physician to determine the best course of treatment in your case.
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