Should you be using hair thickening shampoo?

Published on January 7, 2022
Updated on January 7, 2022
A close up image of the back of a man as he shampoos his hair in the shower
Don't confuse thickening shampoos with volumizing shampoos, which have immediate but short-term effects.

Do you want thicker, fuller hair? You’re not the only one. As people get older, their hair gets thinner. And if you have been experiencing symptoms of male pattern hair loss (androgenic alopecia), you’ve probably been seeing your hair thinning at an increased rate. 

The thing is that not all thickening shampoos work in the same way. Products marketed as thickening shampoos might temporarily add volume to your hair, repair fragile or damaged hair strands, or target hair follicles so that they can produce longer, stronger, healthier hairs. 

What does this mean? Well, some thickening shampoos are really just trying to make your hair temporarily look thicker. Others have the much larger ambition of repairing your hair from root to tip and increasing the thickness of your hair strands over time.

What is thickening shampoo?

Two types of thickening shampoo exist. One type works by repairing hair strands. The other focuses on targeting the root of hair follicles so that they start to produce thicker, stronger hairs. Of course, the best hair thickening shampoo will do both of these things – but you should be aware that some products may do just one and not the other.   

Repairing hair with thickening shampoo

Thickening shampoo for hair repair is usually recommended for people who have damaged their hair through excessive use of heat styling, dyes, or other hair products. It also works well for people like lifeguards, scuba divers, or surfers, who can end up with damaged hair due to repeated chlorine or saltwater exposure.

Products like these generally focus on keratin, the primary protein that makes up hair (as well as skin and nails). You might see keratin listed in the shampoo’s ingredients. Alternatively, you might see amino acids, like cysteine, that are the building blocks for this protein. Thickening shampoos of this type are usually paired with a conditioner or hair mask to help strengthen and repair damaged hair strands. 

Shampoo for thicker, stronger hair

The second type of thickening shampoo targets your hair follicles. Their goal is to nourish them in order to produce thicker, stronger, longer hair strands. Shampoos like this tend to be rich in nutrients and nutraceuticals, particularly vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and DHT (dihydrotestosterone) blockers.

How does thickening shampoo work? 

A good thickening shampoo encourages hair follicles to produce thicker hairs from their roots. This means counteracting whatever issue is causing thinner hairs to be produced. For people with the most common type of hair loss, this means counteracting dihydrotestosterone, a hormone that causes hair follicle miniaturization. 

DHT is the main hormone involved in androgenic alopecia. This androgen causes hair follicles to gradually shrink. When this occurs, follicles produce thinner and smaller hair strands, and eventually stop producing hair completely. 

DHT blockers can help stop the miniaturization process and prompt hair follicles to produce healthy hairs again. Since thickening shampoos tend to contain DHT blocking botanicals, these products can be particularly helpful for people who have been experiencing issues like weak or thinning hair. 

If you’re interested in using a hair thickening shampoo that contains DHT blocking botanicals, keep an eye out for ingredients like saw palmetto, nettle, lemongrass, ginger, galangal, kaffir lime, green tea extract, safflower extract, and black pepper. According to studies in Andrologia journal and  the Journal of Ethnopharmacology, all of these are natural DHT blockers.  

These types of thickening shampoos can also be helpful to people who are regularly exposed to pollution. Did you recently see changes to your hair after moving from a suburb to a city? Most people assume it’s a change in their tap water, but it can actually be the change in air quality. According to a study in the journal Hair Therapy and Transplant, pollution is known to cause hair loss as well as scalp issues like itching, dandruff, irritation, and excessive sebum production. 

Fortunately, antioxidants can neutralize the free radicals (unstable atomic structures) that pollution creates. Antioxidants include essential nutrients, like vitamins C and E, and can be found in several DHT blocking botanicals. According to studies in the journals Free Radicals and Antioxidants and Food Reviews International, a variety of DHT blocking ingredients are also rich in antioxidants, including kaffir lime, ginger, and black pepper. 

Hair loss is more likely caused by androgenic alopecia than air pollution. But weirdly, hair loss due to pollution can actually mimic the symptoms of pattern baldness. It can also occur at the same time as androgenic alopecia, speeding up permanent hair loss. 

If you suspect you have pattern hair loss, feel free to use a thickening shampoo, but start an FDA-approved hair loss treatment, too. You can take finasteride, an oral DHT blocker, start low-level laser therapy treatments, or use minoxidil, a topical vasodilator that increases blood flow to the scalp.

What is volumizing shampoo? 

Volumizing shampoo is not usually a thickening shampoo. Despite sounding synonymous, the words volumizing and thickening mean two different things when it comes to hair care products. 

The goal of volumizing shampoo is to leave your hair looking full of body. Technically, giving you thicker, fuller hair accomplishes this. 

However, it’s much easier to simply make your hair appear thicker. This is usually what volumizing shampoo does. It removes dirt, oil, and other residues weighing down your hair to leave your hair looking light and full of body.

Now, some volumizing shampoos do thicken hair. This is where it gets a bit confusing. According to a review in the Cosmetics journal, polymers are commonly used in hair products, including shampoos. Most of these polymers are just thickening agents or stabilizers. However, some of them have more complex roles, like enhancing penetration into your skin (and consequently, your hair follicles). Some products even contain polymers that attach to your hair strands, making them look and feel thicker. 

Ultimately, a volumizing shampoo can be a thickening shampoo. However, it’s effects are temporary. If you stop using the product, your hair will go back to its original state. Any plumping or thickening effect you thought were occuring will be gone after you go for a swim or wash your hair with another product.

That being said, there’s nothing wrong with using a volumizing shampoo. This product can be beneficial for people who are prone to greasy hair and need to wash their hair more often than average. It’s also sensible to use volumizing shampoo for fine hair, since this hair type can be easily weighed down by the build-up of sebum and oils on your scalp. 

However, if you have thinning hair or are looking for a product that will make a more permanent change, you should probably use a thickening shampoo. These products will actually make your hair thicker in the long-term through nourishment and repair.

What is the best shampoo for hair growth and thickening?

The best hair thickening shampoo will vary depending on the cause of your hair loss. That being said, people with thinning hair are often seeing one of their first signs of pattern baldness. If you have male pattern hair loss, the best shampoo for you will contain DHT blockers. 

For example, caffeine is a well-known DHT blocker. A study in the Journal of Applied Cosmetology asked men with androgenic alopecia to use caffeine shampoo every day for 6 months. The men found that regular use of the shampoo resulted in an improvement in both the quality and the quantity of their hair. And notably, the strength and thickness of their hair improved. 

Red ginseng is another DHT blocker. According to a study in the Journal of the Society of Cosmetic Scientists of Korea, it’s also able to counteract androgenic alopecia symptoms. This study reported that red ginseng shampoo was able to improve the density, thickness, and growth rate of hair after just 16 weeks — much faster than the caffeine shampoo! 

Ketoconazole is another DHT blocker. But you should be aware that it’s not a botanical or nutraceutical. Ketoconazole is a medication that’s usually used to counteract dandruff. It’s also used to treat scalp dermatitis and other scalp infections. According to a study in the Dermatology journal, ketoconazole has antimicrobial properties that can help improve the scalp microflora. 

The same study reported that 2 percent ketoconazole shampoo was able to improve hair thickness and density in people with pattern hair loss symptoms. In fact, after 6 months of use, it worked just as well as a 2 percent minoxidil. This isn’t to say you should use ketoconazole shampoo instead of minoxidil, though — particularly since men have better results when they use the stronger 5 percent solution. 

Another study, published in the International Journal of Cosmetic Science, confirmed that ketoconazole shampoo can thicken hair, even at lower concentrations. After 6 months of using 1 percent ketoconazole, men with both androgenic alopecia and stress-related hair loss had less hair shedding and thicker hair. The shampoo also counteracted their dandruff and decreased excess sebum production on their scalps, making it easier for their hair follicles to produce strong, healthy hairs.

Does hair thickening shampoo work?

Hair thickening shampoo can work wonders, assuming you’ve chosen the right type. Try to avoid products like volumizing shampoos, which offer fast but short-term results. The best thickening shampoo will have ingredients that will repair damaged hair strands while also working to strengthen hair growth from the root.

If you’re hoping to use a thickening shampoo to help counteract hair thinning, you should consider using a DHT blocking shampoo. DHT blocking shampoos made with ingredients like caffeine, red ginseng, and ketoconazole have been able to help counteract symptoms of pattern hair loss, thickening hair and improving hair density. 

While hair thickening shampoos can help prevent the progression of pattern baldness, it’s important to still use an FDA-approved hair loss treatment. If you’re already using a DHT blocking shampoo, try adding minoxidil into your daily routine. This topical treatment, which works by increasing blood flow to the scalp, can also help you regrow thicker, stronger hair. 


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.


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