Can we all agree that 2020 was a stressful year? So perhaps it comes as no surprise that there has been an uptick in people reporting hair loss, which can be triggered by stress, among other things.
To shed some light on how to best treat shedding hairs, we spoke to two board-certified dermatologists—Annie Chiu, who is the founder of The Derm Institute in Los Angeles and Tess Mauricio in Beverly Hills, and Dr. Sophia Kogan, co-founder and Chief Medical Advisor of Nutrafol—as well as Jen Atkin, a celebrity hairstylist, for some advice.
What are some ways we can help with hair growth outside of taking supplements?
For starters, you’ve got to try and relax as much as you can. “Right now [due to COVID-19], we are living through a prolonged period of stressful events, so this type of stress-induced hair loss is occurring at a higher rate than usual,” explains Chiu. “Time almost always helps, but in the meantime, you can find ways to help you manage your stress, like journaling, aromatherapy, taking long baths, and drinking chamomile tea.”
Kogan also recommends incorporating activities like reading a book, meditating, yoga and dance into your day. “Stress can be a trigger for hair thinning in many people, particularly women who tend to be more sensitive to its effects. Incorporating stress reduction techniques into your routine can do wonders for your body, mind and hair health.
“When you are experiencing telogen effluvium, or sudden hair loss due to physical or mental stress to your body, it’s important to supply it with a well-balanced diet,” says Chiu. “Iron and biotin in particularly are very important. I also like collagen, overall vitamins, as well as saw palmetto extract.”
You should also check your shampoos and other styling products. Chiu recommends staying away from drying and harsh ingredients like denatured alcohol and heavy silicones that can cause breakage and weigh your hair down. And avoid heat-styling your hair and being too rough with it when brushing. Both can lead to more breakage, which amplifies the look of hair loss.
Another consideration from Atkin: “Switch to using a silk pillowcase, because ordinary pillowcases (which are typically made of other fabrics like cotton) can cause your hair to pull and tangle while you sleep. Also, it’s important to care for your hair with weekly masks and trims every three or so months to keep the ends healthy and prevent any splitting.”
What ingredients should you look for in a hair growth supplement or vitamin?
“The ingredients to look for can vary based on the specific needs of an individual, and I always recommend consulting with your physician before adding anything new to your routine,” cautions Kogan. Given the proliferation of products available to us, "it’s important to note that not all vitamins and supplements are created equal, so you want to pay close attention to the sourcing, quality and dosage of the ingredients contained in the products you are ingesting," she adds.
With that said, Mauricio shared some ingredients that have been shown to help with hair health and growth:
Biotin: This is perhaps the best-known ingredient. It protects and helps rebuild hair from damage due to over-styling or environmental conditions.
Saw Palmetto: A berry extract that has been shown to play a key role in naturally blocking certain hormones that cause hair loss.
Hydrolyzed Collagen: Collagen is not only important for healthy skin, but it is also important for healthy hair. It works to build keratin (the protein that makes up most of your hair) and increases blood circulation to the scalp. This process helps create new hair follicles and also repairs and strengthens damaged or thinning hair.
Antioxidants: Vitamin C and other antioxidants can help protect hair follicles from damage and slow the natural aging process of the follicular unit.
Flaxseed Oil: As a source of Omega-3 fatty acids, flaxseed oil promotes a healthy scalp and improves the shine and appearance of hair.
Tocotrienols: A highly potent form of vitamin E that have been shown to enhance the immune response and promotes healthy hair growth from within, while strengthening hair follicles.
What results can you realistically expect from taking hair growth vitamins or supplements?
“Most people report that their ponytail is thicker than it was previously and that their hair is growing much faster,” says Chiu. However, all of the experts we interviewed agree that there is no single miracle cure for hair thinning and loss and treating it is a long game that requires patience and consistency.
“Any product that claims to cure hair loss overnight or in a number of weeks should be viewed with skepticism,” adds Kogan. “Supplements can support hair growth and help build healthier hair, but they cannot bring dead follicles back to life. Nothing can.”
“When we are young and healthy, hair follicles contain and produce multiple hairs at once. With age, hair quality and growth can change due to multiple factors,” explains Kogan. “In some people, hair follicles can shrink, go dormant, die and then be replaced. Some dormant follicles have potential for regrowth, but others do not. A board-certified dermatologist can help distinguish what type of hair disorder is present and what may help.”
Bottom line: Healthy hair growth is a slow and steady process that can be supported by promoting wellness from within the body, which is where supplements and vitamins come in. On their own, they don’t solve the issue of hair loss, but they can support growth “by creating an optimal environment for hair health” and by “targeting the underlying causes of hair thinning such as stress, hormones, gut health, nutrition and other environmental factors.”
How long should you take them for before you start to see results?
“Because of the hair cycle (on average, your hair grows up to one inch in two months), it may take a few months before you see results from taking hair supplements,” says Mauricio. “There is no instant gratification. You have to be dedicated and patient.”
“The exact timeline varies from person to person, but ideally you’ll see results within six months,” says Chiu, “at which point you’ll notice more baby hairs coming in and your scalp will be less visible.”
Who are hair supplements best for?
These supplements are best for people experiencing sudden hair loss due to a temporary shock to their body, whether it’s from stress, illness (like a bad cold or flu), or post-partum. If you’re experiencing hair loss due to a more serious issue, supplements might help but it’s best to consult your physician first.
Are there any precautions to consider before they take them?
“If you have any food allergies, I would take caution,” says Chiu. “For some people, biotin supplements can lead to acne. Also, if you’re getting bloodwork done for anything, let your physician know that you are currently taking biotin as it can interfere with certain lab tests,” she adds. “Depending on the test, your physician may ask that you stop to ensure accurate results.”
Kogan, who is the co-founder and Chief Medical Advisor of Nutrafol (a hair supplement), cautions that it's for adult use only and also recommends that pregnant or breastfeeding women refrain from taking [their] supplements. “We likewise recommend that anyone on medications (especially blood thinners) or with medical conditions check with their primary care physician before starting a new supplement regimen.”
Mauricio agrees, adding that because there are many reasons for hair loss and thinning, which can include underlying medical conditions, it’s important to consult with your doctor because treating the underlying condition can result in the reversal of hair loss altogether.
Are there are any other ways to help with hair growth?
“Topical scalp serums like Foligain’s Triple Action Hair Total Solution can help stimulate follicles to help with hair growth,” says Chiu. “And if seeing a board-certified dermatologist is an option, Platelet-Rich Plasma (PRP) injections can be effective for many types of hair loss.”
Luckily, this is a growing field. “We now have many more potential treatments for hair loss than ever before,” says Mauricio. “In addition to nutritional supplements, there are prescription medications like Finasteride, topical treatments like Rogaine and exosomes, at-home laser devices, and regenerative therapies like the use of patient’s own growth factors from platelet-rich plasma, platelet-rich fibrin matrix, and fat-derived stem cells. When used in combination, you can get the best results.”
Ready to shop some expert picks ahead?
1. Viviscal Professional
The Cult Favorite
Mauricio recommends Viviscal, which is “scientifically formulated with AminoMar, an exclusive marine complex that helps to nourish thinning hair from within and promote existing hair growth. Along with AminoMar, it also contains a few key nutrients that are essential for healthy hair growth, including biotin and vitamin C.”
2. Foligain Triple Action Shampoo for Thinning Hair
“For a drug-free option, you can always start with a topical product like Foligain shampoo first. It removes any build-up, which makes your hair look fuller, and uses a proprietary blend called Trioxidil, which includes natural botanic extract [like biotin and fruit stem cells] to improve scalp and hair health,” says Chiu.
3. Nutrafol Hair Growth Supplement
With over 3,000 physicians and hair care professionals who recommend Nutrafol (including Chiu and Kogan), this daily supplement is formulated with potent, bioactive phytonutrients that have been clinically studied and shown to be effective in improving hair growth at three to six months. Included ingredients like Sensoril® Ashwagandha (shown to balance stress hormones) and Marine Collagen (which provides amino acids as building blocks of keratin), all work in tandem to support hair growth. Secondary benefits include stronger nails, improved sleep, less stress and more energy.
4. OUAI Thin Hair Supplements
Speaking of ashwagandha extract, another popular pick is Atkin’s Ouai Thin Hair supplements, which includes the stress-reducing ingredient (Remember: stress is major contributor to hair loss) as well as, biotin, fish oil and vitamin E to support healthier, shinier hair.
5. Olly The Perfect Women’s Multi
“In addition to maintaining a clean, healthy scalp, hair growth starts from within,” says Atkin. “Keeping a healthy diet and exercising are essential for growing out your strands and adding a multivitamin to your routine can further increase the nutrients your body needs to promote hair growth.”
6. Vegamour GRO Biotin Gummies for Hair
Biotin is perhaps the best-known ingredient for hair growth. As a refresher from Mauricio earlier, it protects and helps rebuild hair from damage due to over-styling or environmental conditions. These gummies feature the star ingredient, as well as, folic acid, vitamins B-5, 6 and 12 and zinc to balance and maintain scalp health. (The strawberry flavor makes them more palatable than most we’ve tried and any vegans who are reading this will be happy to know that the gummies are gelatin-free.)
7. Moon Juice SuperHair Daily Hair Nutrition Supplement
Best for Destressing
If you’ve read this far, you know that stress is the ultimate hair killer, which is why this supplement includes adaptogenic ingredients in the form of ashwagandha and ginseng to help balance and reduce the effects of stress, which can contribute to hair loss. Add to that the aforementioned biotin and saw palmetto (which has been shown to naturally block certain hormones that cause hair loss) and supportive vitamins like A, B, C, D, E, and K, it’s a multivitamin-meets-stress-supplement.
8. Nature Made Flaxseed Oil
Best for Shine
“As a source of Omega-3 fatty acids, flaxseed oil promotes a healthy scalp and improves the shine and appearance of hair,” says Mauricio. These 1000 mg soft gels make it easier to add more of the good stuff to your diet. Note that while flaxseed oil is well-tolerated by most, too much of it (i.e., more than what’s directed on the label) can cause gastrointestinal issues for some. If you’re on certain medications (like blood-thinners or blood sugar lowering medications), make sure to check with your doctor before adding these to your diet, as they might have contraindications.
9. Vital Proteins Collagen Peptides
Though the verdict is still out on whether or not ingestible collagen has any significant difference on your hair and skin (there are studies that show that it doesn’t make it past your GI tract), they are generally considered safe and anecdotally, there are many users (including none other than Jen Aniston) who swear by it. Of the collagen supplements available, we like this unflavored powder because it’s easy to add to your morning smoothie, coffee, or tea. We also appreciate that this formula includes vitamin C and has no added sugars or sweeteners.
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