Hair is a physical feature that can impact quality of life, particularly when it comes to how it makes people feel about themselves and act around others.1 People have reported feeling depressed, embarrassed, insecure, and anxious about their hair loss.1 Besides these psychological impacts, hair loss is also linked to social avoidance.1
In men, androgenic alopecia is the most common form of hair loss.2 The causes can be more complex in women as medical conditions, use of medications – particularly oral contraceptives, nutritional deficiencies, and physiological/emotional stresses are all major contributors to hair loss.2 One way to deal with hair loss may be to find effective haircare products. Keeping this in mind, how can you find the best shampoo for hair loss?
The science behind hair growth
The growth of hair follows a cycle with three main stages: anagen, catagen, and telogen.3 First, anagen is the active growth phase in which the length of the hair shaft increases.3 At any given time, 90% of scalp hairs are in anagen.3,4 Hair stays in this stage for 2-6 years, making it the longest part of the hair growth cycle.3
In the catagen phase, hair follicles begin to experience degeneration.3 Since hair is no longer actively growing, this phase is a transition from growth to shedding.3 Less than 10% of scalp hairs are in catagen.4
Finally, the matured hair shaft sheds from the hair follicles during telogen.3 This loss of hair typically occurs while washing or combing.3 About 5-10% of scalp hairs are found in the resting phase of telogen.4
Why does hair loss occur?
A hormone known as dihydrotestosterone (DHT), which is a metabolite of testosterone, is linked to hair loss.5 While males have higher levels of DHT than females, this androgen regulates hair growth in both sexes.5
DHT is associated with many negative outcomes for hair health, including shortening of the anagen phase in the hair growth cycle and miniaturization of hair follicles.5 Both events lead to loss of hair.5 DHT mediates these actions by binding to androgen receptors that are present on hair follciles.5
Treating hair loss using minoxidil and other compounds
A relatively affordable and effective way to re-grow hair and keep it healthy is by using hair growth products. You can start by using shampoos with the right ingredients.
Minoxidil is the only topical treatment approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for alopecia or hair loss.3Sold under the name Rogaine®, minoxidil is available in a 2% or 5% solution and works by lengthening the anagen growth stage and shortening the telogen resting stage.3 Although only minoxidil is clinically approved to treat hair loss, some research evidence suggests the use of some amino acids, caffeine, curcumin – the active ingredient in turmeric, and biotin may be beneficial.6 Let’s take a closer look at some of the compounds currently suggested for hair loss.
Essential amino acids
Cysteine and lysine are the most studied amino acids for treating hair loss.6 Cysteine is a sulfur-containing amino acid.6When 2 cysteine residues come together, they form a strong bond known as a disulfide bridge via dimerization.6 This disulfide bridge promotes hair strength and rigidity.6 Having adequate levels of sulfur is important since deficiencies are linked to brittle and thin hair.6
Lysine is a basic, or positively charged, amino acid that can reduce hair shedding by improving the absorption of iron.6This amino acid therefore works to improve nutritional factors linked to hair loss as iron deficiencies are associated with excessive shedding of the hair.7
Research suggests that caffeine can promote follicle growth through hair shaft elongation and proliferation of cells in the hair matrix.5,6 Caffeine also suppresses the production of a protein called transforming growth factor beta – a hair growth inhibitor. It also increases the production of another protein, called insulin-like growth factor-1 – a hair growth inducer.6
The use of a caffeine-based shampoo daily for six months has been associated with reductions in hair shedding and hair loss intensity.6 Another investigation of the effects of caffeine versus 5% minoxidil found both to be similarly effective in promoting the number of hairs in the anagen phase of the hair growth cycle.3 These results suggest that the best shampoo for hair loss and thinning hair may contain minoxidil or caffeine.
Curcumin is the active ingredient in the yellow spice turmeric.6 As an anti-inflammatory agent, curcumin works to decrease the levels of pro-inflammatory cytokines.6 More specifically, curcumin inhibits tumour necrosis factor alpha and interleukin-1, both of which play roles in follicular regression and hair shedding.6
Biotin, also known as vitamin B7, is perhaps the most advertised and popular hair product for treating hair loss. In women with deficiencies, biotin supplementation may lead to improved hair growth.8 Despite anecdotal evidence, there are no high quality clinical trials that have examined biotin’s potential as a treatment for hair loss.
What is the best shampoo for hair loss?
To find the best shampoo for hair loss, you may need to test out formulations with different ingredients that claim to make your hair long and healthy. One of the culprits behind hair loss is DHT, a sex hormone that shortens the active growth period of scalp hairs and results in hair loss.5
To combat androgenic alopecia, which is caused by elevated DHT levels, or other forms of hair loss, using the clinically recommended minoxidil may help. Other agents that may promote hair growth are some amino acids (cysteine and lysine), caffeine, curcumin, and biotin. As a result, the best shampoo for hair loss may vary from person to person. Although one or more of these treatments may help with hair loss, it is important to consult your healthcare provider to determine the root of your concerns and determine which product is right for you.
1. Aldhouse NVJ, Kitchen H, Knight S, et al. “‘You lose your hair, what’s the big deal?’ I was so embarrassed, I was so self-conscious, I was so depressed:” a qualitative interview study to understand the psychosocial burden of alopecia areata. J Patient-Reported Outcomes. 2020;4(1). doi:10.1186/s41687-020-00240-7
2. Ablon G. Double-blind, placebo-controlled study evaluating the efficacy of an oral supplement in women with self-perceived thinning hair. J Clin Aesthet Dermatol. 2012;5(11):28-34.
3. Dhurat R, Chitallia J, May TW, et al. An Open-Label Randomized Multicenter Study Assessing the Noninferiority of a Caffeine-Based Topical Liquid 0.2% versus Minoxidil 5% Solution in Male Androgenetic Alopecia. Skin Pharmacol Physiol. 2017;30(6):298-305. doi:10.1159/000481141
4. Phillips TG, Slomiany WP, Allison R. Hair Loss: Common Causes and Treatment. Am Fam Physician. 2017;96(6):371-378.
5. Fischer TW, Hipler UC, Elsner P. Effect of caffeine and testosterone on the proliferation of human hair follicles in vitro. Int J Dermatol. 2007;46(1):27-35. doi:10.1111/j.1365-4632.2007.03119.x
6. Hosking AM, Juhasz M, Atanaskova Mesinkovska N. Complementary and Alternative Treatments for Alopecia: A Comprehensive Review. Ski Appendage Disord. 2019;5(2):72-89. doi:10.1159/000492035
7. Rushton DH. Nutritional factors and hair loss. Clin Exp Dermatol. 2002;27(5):396-404. doi:10.1046/j.1365-2230.2002.01076.x
8. Patel DP, Swink SM, Castelo-Soccio L. A Review of the Use of Biotin for Hair Loss. Ski Appendage Disord. 2017;3(3):166-169. doi:10.1159/000462981
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