If you search online for “natural hair loss treatments,” a long list of tonics, creams, and supplements appears. But do they really work?
Paradi Mirmirani, MD, a dermatologist for Permanente Medical Group in Vallejo, California, spends a lot of time steering patients away from products recommended by their friends and family members. Most of those products are costly and have little to no benefit.
“Most natural hair treatments are bunk,” Mirmirani says.
Though few natural treatments have been well-studied for hair loss, there are a handful that may help you hold onto your mane longer if it’s starting to disappear.
Like the cure for cancer, those new treatments aren’t nearly ready for prime time. But they’re coming, promises George Cotsarelis, MD, director of the Hair and Scalp Clinic at the University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia.
“In the last 5 to 7 years there has been a boom in the understanding of hair loss,” Cotsarelis tells WebMD. “We’ve made great strides at the level of basic research. Now the question is how we can convert these findings into clinical benefits. Those kinds of leaps really take decades.”
The great leap would be to grow new hair on bald heads. But smaller steps aren’t that far away.
So, what do we have to know in battling hair loss?
Treatment depends on the cause.
There is no definitive cure to hair loss as the root cause of hair loss varies too. Vitamin deficiencies, thyroid problems, and menopause are all culprits of hair loss. If a medical condition is causing your hair loss, it may need to be treated.
“If something needs our attention, you fix that and the hair takes care of itself,” says Molly Roberts, MD, president of the American Holistic Medical Association. Sometimes medication is needed, Roberts says, but she often tries more general methods first — such as the following:
Interventions on Nutrition
Protein1, the master-builder of our body, is important to strengthen hair and promote growth. Unfortunately, many are not mindful about getting enough protein in their daily diet.
Sally Kravich, CNHP, a nutritionist and author, finds in her practice that “vanity is a good way to inspire people (to eat better) — we all want shiny eyes and radiant hair and skin.” She encourages her patients to get nutrients and minerals from the food they eat. Unfortunately, many people don’t have the best diets.
The recommended daily amount is about two to three 3-ounce servings of meat or a combination of four to five servings of dairy and beans. Kravich tells patients dealing with hair loss to include nuts and seeds, eggs, and fish in their diets. All are important sources of omega-3 fatty acids, which help lower inflammation and create a healthier scalp.
It’s best to avoid a rut; eat a variety of foods every day. Kravich recommends eating six to 10 servings of various vegetables daily, two to four fruits, and an assortment of grains and legumes, and lean meat products.
There are some nutrients that may be helpful for the hair:
- Iron: Anemia can cause hair loss. But iron supplements are only recommended if you’ve tested positive for iron-deficiency anemia, according to the Cleveland Clinic.
- Zinc and biotin: These supplements are assumed to help with hair growth because people with metabolic disorders lacking them can have thin or brittle hair and nails, Mirmirani says. She doesn’t recommend supplements, but she also doesn’t discourage their use.
Know thy supplements.
If you are going to use supplements with your hair in mind, consult a doctor before you start taking them. Know if the supplements are safe. Know if there are any contraindications, or if the supplement will aggravate anything in your system, who knows, it might worsen your situation instead. Consulting your doctor can help your doctor watch out for any possible side effects, including interactions with other drugs you’re taking.
Even though supplements don’t require a prescription, they’re still something your doctor needs to know about, so they have a complete picture of everything you’re taking.
Make sure your supplements are legitimate and labeled safe.
Reassess your style notes.
Rubber bands, dyes, perms, straightening irons, and curling wands can be hard on your hair. If your hair is thinning, you don’t want it to break as well. Avoid these accessories. Be gentle with your hair — don’t overdo brushing or washing.
It is better to stop styling your hair much. But if you feel unsatisfied with it unstyled, you might want to try the following hacks:
- Use scalp coloring products to minimize the contrast between your hair and scalp if it’s beginning to show through.
- Try hair extensions to boost volume.
- Keep your hair cut short so it doesn’t hang and appear thinner.
- Try parting your hair on the side. That takes the focus off the crown, where hair often thins.
- Use body-boosting hair products, which can make hair look thicker.
Stress can be a cause of hair loss. And losing your hair can be stressful. And stress (physical and emotional) can even increase your hair loss rate. Consult your doctor first and know if you should even worry about it.
More hair in your brush may not be the beginning of the end for your tresses. There are times when some extra hair loss is normal — for women, that includes during menopause and after pregnancy.
I have a friend from a premier law school who suffered from hair loss due to stress. She was elected to the highest policy-making body in the university but decided to take a full load of her semester in law school. The job as a student policymaker was tough, and so was being a law student. She suffered from hair loss that she had to use hair covers all the time.
Today, she’s a successful lawyer, and she’s got her hair back. Ha! So, there, manage your stress well.
1“Protein in diet: MedlinePlus Medical Encyclopedia.” 2006. 15 Mar. 2016 <https://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/002467.htm>