Do hair loss shampoos actually work?

Published on March 4, 2021
Updated on March 5, 2021
The upper body of a man covered in soap suds washing himself off in the shower
Hair loss shampoos aren't stand-alone treatments for androgenic alopecia, but they can still help

Whenever you walk through any drug store or supermarket hair care aisle, you see hundreds of options. You’ve probably encountered thousands of different shampoos over the course of your lifetime.  

From adding shine and volume to helping you grow thicker, stronger hair, almost all of these products make huge promises. It makes you wonder: Can these shampoos actually do what they say? Can any shampoo really help grow hair back? How do you even know which one to choose?  

If you’ve gone through dozens of shampoos trying to find the one that works best for your hair, you’re not alone. While people may want different things out of their shampoos, there are a few key ingredients you always want to keep an eye out for. And if you’re trying to find a shampoo for hair loss, here’s what to look for and what to avoid.

Can hair loss shampoos work to stop hair loss?

Hair loss shampoos can help stop hair loss… but they won’t work for everyone. They only have the ability to help restore hair growth for people suffering from specific types of hair loss. 

Common hair loss causes in men

The most common type of hair loss men experience is called androgenic alopecia, or male pattern baldness. This type of hair loss is progressive, and is caused by a mixture of genetic and hormonal factors. 

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recommends three different treatments for androgenic alopecia: minoxidil, a topical vasodilator, finasteride, an oral dihydrotestosterone (DHT) blocker, and low level laser therapy (LLLT), a laser light device that helps stimulate hair regrowth. No shampoo is currently recommended as a stand alone treatment for androgenetic alopecia. However, certain shampoos may be able to support FDA-recommended treatments and can be considered good shampoos for hair loss.  

Besides for androgenic alopecia, hair loss can occur due to a variety of other factors. Some of these factors, like nutrition and skin health issues, can overlap with pattern hair loss and aggravate its progression.

The most common type of hair loss that isn’t related to androgenic alopecia is called alopecia areata. It’s caused by an immune system malfunction where the body’s immune system attacks hair follicles. Alopecia areata causes patchy spots of hair loss. Sometimes it only affects the scalp, but in other people, it affects the whole body. Some medications can help stop the progression of alopecia areata, but currently, no shampoos can. 

Nutrition deficiencies and hair loss

Low nutrient levels are well known for causing a range of different health issues. Hair, nails, and skin problems have been related to various types of vitamin deficiencies. When severe, they can even cause hair loss. 

A nutrient deficiency can be caused by a number of different issues, from food poisoning to poor eating habits. They can also be due to a chronic health problem, like a malabsorption disorder. However, people with androgenic alopecia are often found to be deficient in certain essential vitamins and minerals that can affect healthy hair growth. 

Nutrient deficiency-related hair loss generally needs to be treated by giving the person injected or oral vitamins and making dietary changes as recommended by a dietitian or doctor. However, certain shampoos infused with hair vitamins may also be able to help reduce specific symptoms, like hair shedding or thinning. 

Nutrient-rich shampoos work by delivering hair vitamins topically, directly into the hair follicles, to support healthy, strong hair growth. However, they can’t stimulate hair follicles into producing new hairs, and aren’t likely to help people with androgenic alopecia if used as a stand-alone hair loss treatment. 

Skin problems and hair loss

Skin problems, which are usually caused by bacteria, fungi, or an allergen, can also cause hair loss. Whether it’s dermatitis, dandruff, an infection, or something else entirely, these skin issues are a sign of a problem with your scalp and its microbiome. Skin conditions can occur on their own, of course. But some tend to be common among people with androgenic alopecia  just like certain nutrient deficiencies. 

Most shampoos are good at cleaning your scalp and removing harmful bacteria. However, if fungi colonizes your scalp, you generally need a bit of help removing it. One shampoo in particular, known as ketoconazole shampoo, is an anti-fungal shampoo that helps counteract dandruff, dermatitis, and other skin issues. Using it can help restore the scalp microbiome to a healthy state. 

While it isn’t an FDA-approved treatment for hair loss, ketoconazole shampoo may be the closest thing to a true hair loss shampoo. It’s been tested as a treatment option for people with androgenic alopecia and has shown very promising results in counteracting hair loss symptoms.

 

Choosing a shampoo for hair loss: what to look for and how to maximize its benefits

There are three types of products that can be considered to be hair loss shampoos: ketoconazole, minoxidil, and DHT blocking shampoo. Ketoconazole shampoo works best for people with skin issues, but also has had positive effects on people with androgenic alopecia. DHT blocking shampoos work similarly to finasteride, but are made using natural DHT blocking plant extracts instead of medications. 

Minoxidil shampoo is the newest of these products. It’s essentially a shampoo that’s been infused with a low concentration of minoxidil. Unlike topical minoxidil serum or foam, minoxidil shampoo is not approved as a hair loss treatment by the FDA. 

1. DHT blocking shampoos

DHT blocking shampoos are often sought after by people who prefer to treat hair loss with organic or natural solutions. Finasteride and other DHT blocking medications aren’t allowed as additives into shampoos. This means that all of the DHT blockers used in DHT blocking shampoos come from plants. 

At the end of the day, natural DHT blockers work in the same way that DHT blocking medications do: They stop testosterone from being converted to DHT. This is important for people with pattern hair loss since DHT is the hormonal component considered to be one of the main causes behind androgenic alopecia.

You might have used a DHT blocking shampoo without knowing it, since various aromatics and herbs are popular components of shampoo. Ever seen nettle, lemongrass, ginger, galangal, or lime on your shampoo’s ingredient list? According to publications in the Journal of Ethnopharmacology and Andrologia, these are all plants with DHT blocking properties. 

Have you ever tried caffeinated shampoo? According to a study in the journal Skin Pharmacology and Physiology, another DHT blocking ingredient is caffeine. If you were using a green tea shampoo, you may have been reaping twice the DHT blocking benefits. A study in the Physiotherapy Research journal says that there’s another compound in green tea called EGCG (epigallocatechin gallate) that’s also a DHT blocker. 

If you’re looking for a DHT blocking shampoo, keep an eye out for more potent DHT blockers like saw palmetto. The most effective DHT blocking shampoos are likely to use this plant’s extract and blend it with other DHT blockers, like caffeine, EGCG, or a herbal DHT extract. DHT blocking shampoos are likely to work as effective hair loss shampoos when combined with a FDA-approved treatment, like minoxidil or LLLT. 

Prescription DHT blockers like finasteride tend to cause unpleasant issues like sexual dysfunction. Fortunately, natural DHT blockers — even the stronger ones, like saw palmetto — have fewer side effects or lack side effects altogether. 

If you’re keen on treating hair loss and want to add more DHT blockers into your treatment regimen, try combining a DHT blocking shampoo with a natural DHT blocking supplement. Just remember: You’re likely to have the best chance of beating your hair loss if you combine these natural options with an FDA-recommended treatment.

2. Ketoconazole shampoo

Ketoconazole shampoo is technically an antifungal, but it’s also capable of combating yeast infections and other skin issues. According to a report in Skin Therapy Letter, it’s often used to counteract dandruff and treat dermatitis, but can also help reduce hair follicle inflammation, an issue that can affect people with androgenic alopecia.

Additionally, a study in Current Medicinal Chemistry says that ketoconazole works as an androgen receptor blocker known as a CYP17 inhibitor. It’s essentially a type of DHT blocker. But unlike finasteride or DHT blocking shampoos, it blocks the androgen receptor itself by binding to it. Ketoconazole essentially blocks DHT by blocking the DHT receptor from binding to the DHT. 

“With traditional DHT blockers, the analogy would be that you’re removing soccer players from the field so that they can’t score a goal. Ketoconazole would instead act as a very powerful goalie to block the various (DHT) players from scoring. Both of them are blocking, but with two separate mechanisms.”

- Dr. Edward Cole Miller

Medical Doctor at Altnagelvin Hospital and Aesthetics Medical Doctor at Rejuvinox Clinic; Guest Lecturer at Ulster University in Northern Ireland and Honorary Tutor at Queens University Belfast.

When tested in people with androgenic alopecia, ketoconazole shampoo worked about as well as 2 percent minoxidil solution. A study in the journal Dermatology reported that it was able to improve hair density, hair follicle size, and the amount of follicles that were actively growing hair, just like minoxidil. It was also able to decrease sebum production, which is helpful as excess sebum can clog pores and worsen hair loss symptoms.

Ketoconazole is considered to be a medicated shampoo, so it’s usually only sold in pharmacies. You’ll find concentrations of 2 percent ketoconazole (or less) sold over the counter. Higher concentrations are only available with a doctor’s prescription. 

3. Minoxidil shampoo

Minoxidil shampoo can refer to any type of shampoo, as long as it contains some concentration of minoxidil. Generally, minoxidil shampoos are sold in concentrations of 1 percent, though a few 2 percent products also exist. In contrast, FDA-approved serums and foams are sold at concentrations of either 2 or 5 percent. 

Unlike the FDA-approved version of minoxidil, which is available as a serum or foam, minoxidil shampoo is not an approved treatment for hair loss. Out of all of these products, the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology says that 5 percent minoxidil works best for men. Notably, minoxidil shampoo is not nearly as effective as minoxidil serums or foams, which tend to start showing positive results after around 2 to 4 months. 

According to a study published in the Research Journal of Pharmaceutical, Biological, and Chemical Sciences, researchers reported that they weren’t able to determine 1 percent minoxidil’s effectiveness after 3 months. This means that at worst, minoxidil shampoo might not have much of an effect, and at best, it’s slower to work than the FDA-approved alternatives. 

There isn’t a ton of information published on minoxidil shampoo. While there’s nothing to say that it can harm you, there’s nothing to say it’s truly an effective option as far as hair loss shampoos go, either. It’s definitely best to combine this shampoo with an FDA-recommended treatment option.

That being said, since the FDA recommends using a mild shampoo with treatments like minoxidil, we wouldn’t recommend using both a minoxidil serum and minoxidil shampoo at the same time. Minoxidil shampoo might irritate your scalp if you’re already using a topical product. If you’re going to try minoxidil shampoo, it’s likely best to use it with finasteride or LLLT, instead.

What about thickening shampoos?

Thickening shampoos may also be able to help with hair loss symptoms, though they have to be used with a hair loss treatment in order to be truly effective. Thickening shampoos tend to be chock full of nutrients, which can range from proteins that will be absorbed into your hair strands to vitamins that can be absorbed into the hair follicles in your scalp. 

Given the length of the hair growth cycle, it can take a while for a thickening shampoo to have any effect. This type of shampoo is likely to influence your hair follicles at their roots. This means that while your hair follicles might have gotten larger and may be capable of producing thicker hair strands, you’re unlikely to be able to see the results for at least several months. 

Sometimes thickening shampoos are also called thickening and volumizing shampoos. These products may also contain ingredients that can help your hair look lighter and more voluminous after washing. 

Alternatively, the term volumizing can mean that the shampoo contains ingredients that will enter your hair strands to make them look fuller and thicker. This is particularly likely if you’re using a 2-in-1 shampoo and conditioner, since such ingredients are more common in conditioning products. Just remember that these volumizing ingredients are generally temporary. They won’t stay in your hair over time and won’t do anything to resolve hair loss symptoms like thinning hair.

  

What’s the best shampoo for hair loss?

Honestly, the best hair loss shampoo will depend on you and your needs. However, ketoconazole is the most thoroughly studied. It’s had the most positive effects for people with androgenic alopecia. If you’re not sure if you have pattern hair loss, it’s still likely to be helpful if your hair issues are related to a skin infection or similar problem.

But like with any medication, it’s possible for your scalp to react — especially if you have sensitive skin. Although ketoconazole is a great hair loss shampoo, you may be better off using an all-natural option like a DHT blocking shampoo if you know your scalp prefers gentle, mild products.

If you can’t find a good DHT blocking or ketoconazole shampoo, many other shampoos are still perfectly good options. Just stay away from formaldehyde-releasing ingredients and endocrine disruptors, and try to choose products with natural ingredients whenever possible.

Shampoos you should avoid

We’re spoiled by choice when it comes to hair care products. While that can be a good thing, it  can also be frustrating and overwhelming. Whether you’re looking for a plain ol’ daily shampoo or an antioxidant-rich, all-natural shampoo, make sure that your hair care cleanser of choice is actually helping and not hurting you. 

The best hair care products lack endocrine disruptors and formaldehyde-releasing ingredients. Products with these ingredients have the potential to negatively affect your health, and may even increase hair loss issues.

Say no to parabens

Parabens are a type of ingredient commonly found in cosmetics, pharmaceuticals, and hair care products. They’re usually marketed as a preservative agent as they can prevent mold, fungi, and bacteria from affecting products. Unfortunately, parabens are also endocrine disruptors. 

According to a publication in the journal Reviews in Endocrine and Metabolic Disorders, parabens have been associated with DNA damage, the disruption of mitochondrial function, and possibly breast tumors. Fortunately, they’re often pretty easy to identify and avoid thanks to the word ‘paraben’ in their name. 

“To identify parabens on skin care labels, look for propylparaben, benzylparaben, methyl- paraben, or butylparaben.”

- Dr. Trevor Cates

Naturopathic doctor, as published in an interview in , The Independent.

Stay away from phthalates

Phthalates are another endocrine disruptor that’s commonly found in cosmetics and hair care products. This ingredient has many purposes, but generally helps incorporate other ingredients into a cosmetic product’s mixture. Phthalates have been associated with low sperm quality, decreased sex and thyroid hormone concentrations, obesity, breast cancer, colorectal cancer, and various other health issues. 

Steer clear of triclosan

Triclosan is yet another endocrine-disrupting chemical with antimicrobial properties. According to the study in Reviews in Endocrine and Metabolic Disorders, this chemical has the potential to affect your thyroid hormones. The Mayo Clinic says that triclosan also has the potential to affect your immune system and should be avoided when possible.

Avoid formaldehyde (and formaldehyde-releasing preservatives)

You’ve probably heard of the carcinogenic ingredient formaldehyde in other hair care products, but never thought it would be in shampoo. Unfortunately, that’s not the case. Several common items on shampoo labels, including DMDM hydantoin, quaternium-15, diazolidinyl urea, and imidazolidinyl urea, are considered to be formaldehyde-releasing ingredients. 

Formaldehyde can be irritating to your scalp (and people can be allergic to it, as well). This means that products containing either formaldehyde or formaldehyde-releasing preservatives are capable of causing skin issues, like dermatitis. Dermatitis, in turn, can cause issues with your hair follicles, leading to increased hair shedding and hair loss.

 

Found the right shampoo? Here’s what it can do for you

Shampoos make big claims, and the truth is that a lot of them won’t meet your expectations. But if you’ve made sure that your shampoo is free of artificial and chemical nasties, it should be able to remove dirt, grease, and build-up from your hair strands and hair follicles. 

A good shampoo should also be able to clean your scalp without negatively affecting your scalp microbiome. And at the very end, it should leave your hair hydrated but feeling light and fresh, rather than weighed down with ingredients that leave it looking limp and lifeless. 

Additional ingredients, like those  found in thickening shampoos which strengthen and thicken hair by nourishing follicles with hair vitamins are always a bonus. Just be aware that ketoconazole and DHT-blocking shampoos are the only ones likely to have a big impact on a scalp affected by androgenic alopecia. The good news is that keeping your scalp clean and hair moisturized is just as important in helping regrow your hair.  

Takeaway

Although there are tons of volumizing, thickening, and medicated shampoos that market themselves as hair loss shampoos, few shampoos really live up to expectations. Fortunately, as long as you’re staying away from endocrine disruptors and formaldehyde-releasing ingredients, you’re not doing yourself any harm by considering your shampoo options. 

The only product with the potential to combat hair loss on its own is ketoconazole shampoo. This shampoo can help fight hair loss due to fungal, yeast, and other microbial infections and skin issues. While ketoconazole shampoo has yet to be recommended by the FDA as a stand alone treatment option for androgenic alopecia, research has shown that it’s about as effective as 2 percent minoxidil in reducing symptoms. 

Other hair loss shampoo options, like DHT blocking shampoos and minoxidil shampoos, certainly have the potential to support hair loss treatment plans. However, they shouldn’t be considered as stand-alone hair loss remedies. 

At the end of the day, if you don’t feel like ketoconazole, DHT blocking, or minoxidil shampoos are the right choices for you, the only other option you may want to consider are thickening shampoos. Although they’ll only be truly effective if combined with FDA-approved treatments and are unlikely to have an instantaneous effect, they can still deliver valuable nutrients to your hair strands and hair follicles.  

This article is for informational purposes only and does not constitute medical advice. The information contained herein is not a substitute for and should never be relied upon for professional medical advice. Always talk to your doctor about the risks and benefits of any treatment.

HAIR LOSS

Latest Articles

FUT hair transplant (All you need to know)

FUT hair transplant (All you need to know)

If you have androgenic alopecia and have lost a lot of hair, FDA-approved treatments like minoxidil and finasteride might not be able to give you the hair regrowth you were hoping for. It’s not that they don’t work — it’s just that these treatments are meant for mild to moderate hair loss. Fortunately, you have other options, like a hair transplant. FUT (follicular unit transplantation) is ideal for people with later stage hair loss.

FUE hair transplant (All you need to know)

FUE hair transplant (All you need to know)

FUE hair transplants involve the extraction of individual hair follicles. These hair grafts are generally taken from the back or lower sides of the head. However, follicles can also be taken from beard or body hair and transplanted onto your scalp. This surgical procedure is a costly but effective way to deal with hair loss.

Hair loss treatment alternatives to finasteride

Hair loss treatment alternatives to finasteride

Finasteride is an FDA-approved drug that’s effective at combating androgenic alopecia. Unfortunately, it also has various unpleasant side effects. If you’d rather use a different treatment, minoxidil and LLLT are also FDA-approved options. You can also use shampoos and supplements infused with DHT-blocking nutraceuticals.

Share This

Share this post with your friends!