So you start to notice that your hair isn’t what it used to be. Maybe your forehead is a bit higher, the crown a bit thinner. You start to see some hair loss. While male pattern baldness is common—two-thirds of men lose at least some of their hair by the time they turn 35—the reasons for it vary. In addition to genetics, hair loss is the result of certain diseases, medications, infections, radiation, toxins, and stress. And in some parts of the world, nutritional diseases and vitamin deficiencies can also cause hair to fall out.
Severe vitamin deficiencies are rare among American men, but scientists have begun to investigate whether vitamins and supplements can slow the rate of hair loss or even help regrow hair. “While we haven’t yet seen large, randomized clinical trials to show that vitamins promote hair growth, a number of smaller studies have produced some results,” says Men’s health consultant and dermatologist Adnan Nasir, MD
The supplement market is flooded with products that promise to make your mane thicker, and vitamins alone probably won’t work as well as prescribed treatments or procedures.
With that in mind, we dug into scientific research to see which vitamins and minerals are worth checking out. And while you’re browsing, we’ve also looked at the most common supplements for you that contain numerous vitamins, herbs, minerals and other natural compounds for hair loss – which often fall under the term “nutraceuticals.”
All about vitamins and minerals for hair loss
Dr. Nasir notes that guys who go on a keto diet, who have had bariatric surgery, or who drink alcohol heavily can end up with lower levels of certain vitamins, including biotin. There is plenty of research to show that the missing vitamin can lead to hair loss (as well as eczema and fungal infections). An article published in the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology, which examined every biotin study since the 1980s, found a number of cases where hair loss was stabilized or reversed after taking the vitamin, though other scientists say more research is needed before it is recommended for hair loss or growth. In people who are not truly biotin deficient, the results are not as promising.
Even more common than a lack of biotin, vitamin D deficiencies affect hardcore vegans, men with milk allergies, those with Crohn’s disease and celiac disease, and those who don’t get enough exposure to sunlight. Vitamin D helps generate new hair follicles, and a prolonged dip in levels can leave hair brittle and in piles around your drain. Vitamin D is found in foods such as fatty fish, liver, eggs and milk (find out the best ways to include it in your diet here). The Mayo Clinic recommends that adults get at least 600 international units (IU) of vitamin D per day, although 1,000 to 2,000 IU per day is considered safe and can also help keep your bones, muscles, nerves, and immune system in good shape .
Studies show an association between zinc deficiencies and a range of hair loss disorders (kidney, liver and sickle cell diseases have also been associated with low zinc levels). Some older studies have shown that zinc supplements helped clear up hair loss due to telogen effluvium, a hair loss disorder usually caused by stress (including covid), toxins, or trauma. However, researchers at Baylor College of Medicine point out that the numbers were small and there isn’t enough evidence to suggest that zinc makes hair grow in other conditions. Overdosing on the mineral can cause tummy problems, including nausea and diarrhea.
What’s what with other supplements for hair loss
“Nutrients such as zinc, iron, niacin, selenium, fatty acids, folic acid, biotin, amino acids, protein, antioxidants, and vitamins D, A, and E can all affect hair growth,” says nutritionist and author Kristin Kirkpatrick, MS, RDN. And two brand leaders selling combinations of these nutrients are Nutrafol and Viviscal. Both “nutraceuticals” claim to aid hair growth by compiling many of these nutrients in a single capsule.
nutrafol: This product combines vitamins, herbs and ingredients such as marine collagen, resveratrol, saw palmetto and a host of other compounds in its pills. The ingredients, the company says, work by targeting the factors that contribute to hair thinning, including environmental stress and aging. It claims that this combination of ingredients lowers levels of dihydrotestosterone (DHT), the by-product of testosterone that, in high concentrations, can cause hair follicles to thin. “Clinical studies show that even androgenetic alopecia (ie, male pattern baldness) is exacerbated by stress,” says dermatologist Michael Gold, MD, medical director of the Global Center for Hair Restoration in Nashville. “Nutrafol contains stress adaptogens – botanicals that have been shown to lower elevated cortisol levels.”
Viviscal: This supplement contains ingredients such as shark collagen and mollusk powder, which are believed to help the native Inuits of the Arctic grow particularly thick hair. Research published in the Journal of Cosmetic Dermatology suggests that marine collagen can both reduce hair loss and grow new hair. But because of the mollusk powder, guys with shellfish allergies should steer clear.
Both Nutrafol and Viviscal are available on the Internet and often through your dermatologist’s office, where Dr. Gold recommends buying them. “It’s always good to talk to your doctor first,” he says. “Even if you have classic familial hair loss, a skilled dermatologist can rule out other contributing scalp and hair conditions, other contributing factors, and recommend a variety of options.”
A month’s supply of Nutrafol costs $75. Viviscal costs a little less, at $50, though the company recommends using the supplement along with the shampoo. Is the price tag worth it? “The bottom line is they work,” says Dr. Gold. “I’ve personally seen great results with Nutrafol and Viviscal in my clinic.”
Some ingredients in Nutrafol and Viviscal are available in individual form. Kirkpatrick warns that “it’s important not to about replenish your vitamins and nutrients as so many other causes medical complications. For example, excess vitamin A is stored in your fat cells and extreme amounts of supplements can become toxic. The same goes for selenium, which ironically can cause hair loss worse if too much is taken. Here’s what’s what with some of the most important, individual ingredients.
saw Palmetto: Saw palmetto, the fruit extract that Nutrafol claims blocks DHT, comes in pill form, as a liquid tincture, and as a topical serum. Research by scientists at UC Irvine, the Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, and the Arizona College of Osteopathic Medicine found that saw palmetto “showed modest improvement in hair growth,” but was inferior to the prescription drug finasteride (Propecia).
L-cysteine: This sulfur-rich amino acid, which is found in soy, wheat, lentils and onions, among other things, strengthens both hair and fingernails. Keratin is one of the most abundant proteins in hair and is packed with L-cysteine. In a 2018 review, Spanish scientists concluded that hair care products enriched with the nutrient “slow down hair loss”. L-Cysteine is available in tablets and capsules of 200 to 500 milligrams. However, too much can lead to nausea, diarrhea, headache, vomiting and even liver complications.
Procyanidin B2 with apple extract: Although many have never heard of it, this is one of the most well-tested nutraceuticals. In a 2018 Italian study, extracts of the Annurca apple promoted hair growth at rates “completely comparable to or even higher” when compared to tests of the leading prescription drugs, but without the side effects of the pharmaceuticals. “Procyanidin may help promote hair cell growth by stimulating Anagen, the active phase of the hair growth cycle,” says Joshua Zeichner, MD, director of cosmetic and clinical research in the Department of Dermatology at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York. The only catch is that while it’s easy to find products with vitamin B2 and apple extract, getting the right compound is a bit trickier. A powdered drink mix can be obtained through Badmonkey Botanicals and Toki Botanicals.
First, get your vitamins for healthy hair from the grocery store
Before hitting the health food store, Kirkpatrick urges guys to take a good look in their fridges and cupboards. “A diet rich in vitamins and minerals is the best choice for maintaining healthy hair,” she says. She especially recommends the Mediterranean diet, which prioritizes fruits, vegetables, whole grains and seeds, and allows poultry, fish and eggs (read everything you need to know about the Mediterranean diet here). In addition to providing all the vitamins and minerals needed for a healthy head of hair, going Mediterranean can lower your BMI and blood sugar levels and reduce your risk of cardiovascular disease.
Dr. Nasir adds that skin, including hair, is “a window into our overall health.” Premature graying of hair, persistent hair loss, and significantly advanced male pattern baldness at a particularly young age can all be signs of underlying medical problems. A vitamin deficiency can not diagnose a man alone. It’s a good idea to consult a doctor before starting a new vitamin regimen to rule out bigger problems. Consulting with a registered nutritionist or dietician can ensure that your diet provides the right balance of essential nutrients and prevents you from being scalped by the hype.
If all is well nutritionally, embrace your hair as it is. Remember, some guys believe that the hottest hairstyle has no hair at all. And they know how to work with it.
David McGlynn’s writing has appeared in numerous places, including _The New York Times, Best American Sports Writing, and Real Simple. He is also the author of One Day You’ll Thank Me: Lessons from an Unexpected Fatherhood. He lives in Madison, Wisconsin.