Do Hair Loss Vitamins Work? Or Expensive Candy?

Whether your hair is falling out, or you just want it to grow faster, hair growth supplements and vitamins for hair loss are an appealing concept. They’ve been promoted left and right on social media by celebrities for awhile now.  I mean, all you do is take a little pill (they even have gummy vitamins!) and BAM—long, thick, luscious hair, fast. If it sounds too good to be true, that’s probably because it is too good to be true.

Celebrities claim that bear-shaped gummy vitamins have changed her life, but the truth is that hair growth vitamins will probably not change anything for you. True, people all over the internet claim that “these are the best vitamins for hair loss” or “these hair growth vitamins made my hair grow 6 inches in three months,” but personal testimonies are the only thing that supports the assertion that hair growth vitamins actually work. Actually, there is basically zero scientific evidence that supports that vitamins for hair loss do anything to fight hair loss or spur hair growth.

Gummy vitamins for hair loss are all the rage these days. It makes sense because nearly 85% of men have thinning hair by age 50 and 40% percent of women have visible hair loss by the time they are age 40. If you’re experiencing this, you know how frustrating it can be. Taking supplements is easy and feels like a quick fix. But before you spend your hard-earned cash stop to ask yourself, do they actually work? If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

Healthy hair growth requires vitamins, such as Vitamins A, B, C, D and E, iron, selenium, and zinc.  However, does a deficiency in some of these vitamins cause hair loss? And what if you don’t have any nutritional deficiencies? Are they worth a try?  Unfortunately, while many hair loss vitamins on the market indicate that they were proven effective in manufacturer-sponsored clinical trials, these trials have not been actually published.  And, finding objective, independent studies on the benefits of such vitamins is almost impossible.

So why do these supplements typically not work? Basically, it’s because multi vitamins in general don’t do much—unless you have an extreme nutritional deficiency. For example, a person with anemia might be proscribed iron supplements. However, almost all people who have a balanced diet are unaffected by vitamins, because they already get all the vitamins they need from their food.

What do the experts say?

According to Pieter Cohen, M.D., Assistant Professor of Medicine at Harvard, “I’m not aware of any robust data suggesting that any supplements can treat natural, aging-related hair loss or nail damage, or give you healthier skin.”

Dr. Jerry Shapiro, a prominent hair loss physician, also states that “if a patient is deficient in a specific vitamin, then it’s important to take that vitamin, but if someone isn’t deficient, then I don’t recommend taking them.”

Trichologist Dominic Burg states that, when it comes to supplements, “most people get all the vitamins they need to manage their hair growth from their diet alone.”

Finally, Dr. Antonella Tosti, another physician specializing in hair loss, states that “vitamin supplementation is useful in the case of vitamin deficiency, but not in general. Hair vitamins frequently contain vitamin A, which actually might cause hair loss, and biotin, which has no proven beneficial effect and could alter the results of laboratory tests.”

In addition to gummies, another popular vitamin for hair loss is biotin.  But, unfortunately, the reliable studies supporting the benefits of biotin supplements is equally lacking.

Biotin is not helpful in supporting hair regrowth related to male and female pattern hair loss because biotin isn’t involved in this type of hair loss at all.  Pattern hair loss is due to a combination of genetics and hormones. It is nearly always triggered by the conversion of testosterone to another hormone called Dihydrotestosterone (“DHT”).  Biotin doesn’t play any role in this process, and it’s also not able to stop it.

DHT causes hair loss by shortening the growth phase of the hair follicles. There is insufficient research that vitamins can be of any value addressing and resolving the problems caused by an overabundance of DHT.

While biotin is involved in hair thickness on some level, experiencing a deficiency of biotin is extremely rare. Only one person out of 137,400 has this type of deficiency (called biotinidase), and it becomes obvious during the first few months of the person’s life. Unless you are one of these few, biotinidase deficiency is most likely not the reason for your hair loss. Further, while many companies peddle biotin as something that is good for hair thinning, biotin deficiency causes hair breakage and not hair loss.

Again, hair loss is almost always usually caused by a mix of genetic and hormonal conditions. And, vitamins don’t have a role to play in hair loss that’s related to medication side effects, pregnancy, autoimmune disorders, chemotherapy or thyroid problems. To address hair loss caused by those issues, you need to treat the underlying issues. If thinning hair is your issue, it’s important to figure out why hair loss is happening before choosing a treatment path.

Are you losing hair because of changing hormones? Do you have a dermatologic condition causing discrete bald patches? Or have you over-processed to the point where your fried locks are brittle, breaking, and simply falling out? Better understanding the reason for your hair loss or thinning is important in determining what products might be helpful. Talk with your doctor about the possible causes of your hair loss to determine which treatment suits your needs.

In sum, unless you have been diagnosed with a serious deficiency in a specific vitamin, mineral or nutrient, it is unlikely that any hair growth supplements, including gummies, will have any noticeable effect on your hair growth or regrowth. On the other hand, it is always important to maintain a healthy and balanced diet. You should always make sure you are eating well and getting your recommended daily vitamin and nutrient intake. This doesn’t mean that taking a vitamin supplement is a bad idea — from a general health and wellbeing perspective, it’s usually a very good idea. Just don’t expect to reverse your receding hairline or other genetic hair loss by adding vitamins to your morning routine.

About Brandon Ross MD