Do Hair-Growth Treatments Actually Work For Stress-Related Hair Loss?

Dermatologists weigh in on Nutrafol, Vegamour, SugarBearHair vitamins and more.
Telogen effluvium, a type of hair loss that is connected to stress, has become more common during the pandemic, Lilly-Rose Paraskevas, founder and medical director of Rose Dermatology, told HuffPost.
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Telogen effluvium, a type of hair loss that is connected to stress, has become more common during the pandemic, Lilly-Rose Paraskevas, founder and medical director of Rose Dermatology, told HuffPost.

Stress-related hair loss and thinning, particularly in the time of COVID-19, is something many people face but isn’t discussed enough. Products by brands such as Vegamour and Nutrafol are trending wildly these days, promising thicker, healthier hair in just a few months. But they aren’t cheap, and do they even work? We interviewed dermatologists to get their insight on the most popular hair regrowth products on the market right now.

When it comes to choosing a product or combination of products to address hair loss (from supplements to topical treatments), consulting a board-certified dermatologist is a key first step.

“Hair loss is what we train for and treat all the time,” Lilly-Rose Paraskevas, founder and medical director of Rose Dermatology, told HuffPost. “Although not all of us may do hair transplant surgery, we all see, diagnose and treat all types of hair loss.”

The most common type of hair loss is pattern hair loss, which is also known as male pattern or female pattern hair loss, Paraskevas said. This likely isn’t what you’re experiencing if you have stress-related hair thinning.

“[Pattern hair loss] is the diminution of thick terminal hair to fine vellus hair,” she said. “The distribution of this hair loss is usually at the frontal and vertex aspects of the scalp.”

Telogen effluvium is another form of hair loss that differs from pattern hair loss, as it’s temporary and stress-related.

“While it’s normal to have 10% of hairs in the shedding part of the hair cycle, in telogen effluvium, more than 10% of hairs are shedding, which results in the increased shedding that patients notice,” Paraskevas said. “With the pandemic, we are seeing an epidemic of telogen effluvium, which is a transient form of hair loss that occurs after a stressful event, such as a COVID infection or the complete shutdown of business as usual with social isolation that we’ve all been experiencing.”

Working with a professional from the start can help prevent you from wasting money and time on ineffective products, or products that aren’t targeting the specific reasons behind your hair loss.

With that said, dermatologists shared their thoughts below on a few popular products on the market right now. Note that while these products may help with telogen effluvium, the scientific studies testing the efficacy of these products are typically centered around patients with pattern hair loss.

“The use of hair loss treatments for telogen effluvium is mainly anecdotal, and controlled studies on their use for telogen effluvium are needed,” Paraskevas said. “They do appear promising, however, and it’s difficult to discount the anecdotal success stories from my own patients and from the experiences of my colleagues.”

Active ingredients: Marine collagen, sensoril ashwagandha, saw palmetto, curcumin, tocotrienol complex, horsetail, resveratrol, kelp

Expert verdict: It works

The nutraceuticals in Nutrafol are anti-inflammatory, anti-androgen and help provide building blocks for hair growth,” Paraskevas said, adding that saw palmetto inhibits dihydrotestosterone (DHT). “[DHT] is a very potent androgen and is implicated in pattern hair loss.”

“The ashwagandha in Nutrafol is an adaptogen, which promotes homeostasis and increases the system’s ability to handle stress,” Paraskevas continued. “Nutrafol also has Vitamins A, C and D, as well as zinc and selenium.”

Nutrafol’s effectiveness is backed by scientific studies.

“Nutrafol has been investigated in several multicenter, randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled studies, which have demonstrated clinical improvement and were associated with a high degree of patient satisfaction,” Rina Allawh, a board-certified dermatologist at Montgomery Dermatology LLC, told HuffPost. “Studies have also revealed a favorable safety profile.”

Expert verdict: It works

“I can definitely recommend Rogaine because we have decades’ worth of data proving the efficacy of the active ingredient, minoxidil, in hair regrowth and hair maintenance,” Paraskevas said. “It works so well, the main side effect is excessive hair growth in other areas of the body!”

An ideal hair growth product should not only increase the duration of the hair growth phase, but also increase hair density even further by gradually enlarging the miniaturized hair follicles to mature thicker terminal hairs, Allawh said.

“I find that topical minoxidil (Rogaine) is effective for both male and female pattern hair loss as well as promoting a faster recovery of hair regrowth after chemotherapy,” she said.

Rogaine can be found in both 2% and 5% topical solutions, though Allawh said the latter tends to be more effective.

“Despite initial shedding, consistent use of Rogaine for months has been shown to have favorable results,” she said.

Minoxidil is used to treat high blood pressure when taken orally, but it shouldn’t have this effect when applied topically (though definitely consult with your doctor before using products with minoxidil, especially if you have other skin issues, heart disease or hypertension). Continued use of products containing minoxidil is required to see results, and hair loss will resume within a few months if you stop using it.

Active ingredients: AminoMar C marine complex, biotin

Expert verdict: It works

The key ingredient in Viviscal is a trademarked AminoMar C marine complex, which contains a proprietary blend of shark and mollusc powder.

“There is evidence that the proprietary marine complex in Viviscal promotes hair growth and thickens hair,” Paraskevas said, citing a six-month placebo-controlled study done in 2016 that evaluated the effectiveness of Viviscal in promoting hair growth in men with thinning hair.

Both the AminoMar marine complex and apple extract (procyanidin B-2) found in Viviscal have been shown to increase hair density, Allawh said. Viviscal also contains biotin, a vitamin that plays an important role in growing healthy hair, as well as vitamin C, an antioxidant that prevents hair damage.

Expert verdict: It works

Keranique’s Hair Regrowth Treatment, one of four products in the brand’s Hair Regrowth System, contains 2% minoxidil, the same active ingredient used in Rogaine and backed by clinical studies.

“This ingredient has been clinically shown to promote hair growth in both men and women,” Allawh said. “This formulation of a spray makes this product favorable to apply to the scalp.”

If you opt for Keranique’s Hair Regrowth Treatment, continued use is required to maintain results.

Active ingredients: Biotin, vitamin E, vitamin C

Expert verdict: It may work

“This product may help to promote hair regrowth as well as strengthen the hair shaft and prevent hair loss and thinning,” Allawh said.

Clinical studies are needed to prove the effectiveness of these gummies. Just because a product contains ingredients that have been shown to influence hair growth doesn’t necessarily guarantee it will be effective, experts said.

Active ingredients: Red clover, mung bean, curcuma longa, nicotiana benthamiana, caffeine

Expert verdict: It may work

While Vegamour is formulated with plant-based active ingredients that have shown promising results in clinical trials, its exact formula lacks clinical evidence backing it up.

“This product contains red clover, which has been shown to block the production of dihydrotestosterone, a hormone that has been shown to block hair growth, causing thinning of the crown and receding hairline,” Allawh said. “In general, this hair serum is favorable and may promote hair regrowth.”

Dhaval G. Bhanusali, a board-certified dermatologist, has reservations about this $52 hair regrowth product.

“While I do like the turmeric and caffeine, both of which have been shown to help with hair loss, I’m not sure I’d be able to recommend this as an option, particularly at the price point,” he said.

Active ingredients: Vitamin A, vitamin C, vitamin D, vitamin E, vitamin B-6, folic acid, vitamin B12, biotin, pantothenic acid, iodine, zinc, choline, inositol

Expert verdict: It may work

SugarBearHair Hair Vitamins have a cult following and social media influencers have sung its praises, but the product’s formulation lacks the clinical trial data needed to support its effectiveness.

“While it may be a good vitamin, countless patients have come in using this and didn’t have results,” Bhanusali said.

Active ingredients: Vitamin (bamboo extract, amla, kamut, MSM sulfur, kelp, moringa seed, manjistha, saw palmetto, biotin), elixir (grapeseed oil, castor seed oil, argan oil, olive oil, sunflower seed oil, macadamia nut oil, clary sage oil, MSM sulfur)

Expert verdict: It may work

This product contains some trendy ingredients, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it will be effective.

“Amla is a great antioxidant, and there is some promising buzz around saw palmetto and castor oil for hair loss,” Bhanusali said. “That being said, I can’t confidently say there is enough here for hair growth.”

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