Do hair growth supplements actually help your hair?
If you are worried about your hair, you've probably tried a supplement - but will it help?
We know that being deficient in nutrients can cause hair loss, and where someone has a clinical deficiency (such as iron deficiency anaemia) addressing that deficiency with a supplement can improve hair growth. However, in healthy people without clinical deficiencies, there isn’t any evidence that taking a supplement will improve hair growth.
The claims that are used on hair supplements can only be ‘beauty claims’, not ‘health claims’. So they can’t claim to treat or cure hair loss conditions, but they can say something like ‘helps to support maintenance of healthy hair growth’.
Any supplement that claims it will help your hair loss or reduce hair shedding should raise immediate red flags. Regulators do intervene with hair supplement companies occasionally, but the supplement industry does have problems with regulation.
Hair gummies don’t tend to have as many micronutrients in as tablets and they tend to contain sugar, sweeteners and flavourings as they need to be nice to chew. Saying that though, nutrients can interact with each other when combined in a multivitamin, and gummy supplements can be helpful for people who struggle to swallow a tablet.
Now, if you have hair loss, you may have a nutritional deficiency. So in this case, certainly correcting the deficiency can have a significant improvement in hair growth.
What are nutrients that can help support hair growth?
Before you look at nutrients, you need to make sure you are eating enough calories, with a good balance of macronutrients, and that your overall dietary pattern is healthy. Eating too few calories and dropping weight very quickly can cause hair loss, we see this in crash diets, bariatric surgery, and in people using weight loss medications like Ozempic. Protein is important for hair growth, it is what hair is made of after all, but so are healthy fats in the maintenance and protection of hair and skin, and carbs give us the energy needed to power hair growth. We also know that the gut microbiome plays a role in skin health, and researchers are also starting to find evidence that it can directly impact hair health too.
A deficiency in any micronutrient could affect the hair, but common ones are iron, B vitamins, zinc, and vitamin D. But if you are eating a balanced diet that is largely made of vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds, and wholegrains, with regular protein intake and mostly from minimally processed sources, you are probably getting everything you need for hair growth.
In what instances would you suggest hair vitamins to a client, and in what instances would you suggest that they’re not needed?
When I see someone in Clinic, I always emphasise that they should prioritise food first over supplements - you can’t out-supplement a poor diet. Most cases of hair loss do benefit from having a general blood test to check for common nutritional deficiencies that can have an impact on hair growth, so I’ll usually organise a blood test first before I give advice on whether supplements may be helpful.
That being said, most people I see do prefer to take a supplement regardless of whether blood tests show deficiencies. When you have hair loss you can often feel a lack of control over your body – it’s a very visual sign that your body is changing - and taking a supplement can give you some of that sense of control back, it feels like you are doing something. The placebo effect can be very powerful, and we can’t test for everything, so I am always supportive of people incorporating things that they believe in. If you are taking supplements for your hair though, particularly if you are taking multiple different supplements, double check that you aren’t going over the recommended daily limit.
Does my hair type influence what nutrients I need for hair growth?
The need for vitamins isn’t influenced by hair types, whether you have curly, straight, thick or thin hair, our bodies all function in basically the same way. If you have a deficiency, then a supplement will likely be beneficial. Some health conditions and medications make you more likely to have nutrient deficiencies, for example hormonal contraceptives can deplete B vitamins, so be aware of those potential risks.
Can biotin actually help hair growth?
If you are deficient in biotin then yes supplementing for it can help with hair growth, however aside from rare cases of acquired or inherited biotin deficiency, it is actually quite difficult to become biotin deficient in the UK. Biotin can be found in many different foods, and our gut bacteria can also produce it for us. As a B vitamin it is generally safe to take biotin as it is water soluble, so you will pee out any excess that your body doesn’t want, but be aware that large doses of biotin can affect the results of blood tests meaning they might not be accurate. I usually take people off biotin rather than put them on it.