Vitamins and minerals play an important role in how your cells grow and behave – including the cells on your scalp that produce hair. If you start to notice your hair thinning out, you might have heard about various minerals and vitamins for hair which are intended to help prevent or slow this process down.
So, do vitamins for hair loss work, when might they be useful and are they your best option?
What are the most common vitamins for hair loss?
Head into any health food store and you’ll likely find a wide range of vitamins which say they can help with hair loss. While scepticism about these products is sensible, there is some evidence which suggests that certain vitamins could play a role in counteracting hair loss in certain circumstances. Studies do seem to show that taking Vitamin D, iron and Vitamin C supplements could help reduce hair loss.
Then there are a number of other vitamins and minerals which claim to counteract hair loss but the evidence suggesting they are effective is less conclusive. These include:
- Folic acid
- Vitamin B12
Finally, worse than ineffective, Vitamin A has been shown to contribute to hair loss – so you should steer well clear of that!
The science behind vitamins for hair growth
Hair loss can sometimes come about because of a mineral or vitamin deficiency or because the patient is suffering from a particular disease or illness.
For instance, androgenetic alopecia (AGA) and telogen effluvium (TE) are two of the more common kinds of hair loss among men and studies do seem to show that taking a little extra Vitamin D could help with these conditions. These conditions might also be helped by taking Vitamin C, which helps protect cells.
Anaemia, which is a common condition caused by iron deficiency may also result in hair loss – so taking iron supplements could help counteract the condition.
As noted above, there are many claims about other vitamins for hair growth, yet at present the science is pretty inconclusive about their effects. You can certainly try taking them – and some people swear by using minerals and vitamins for hair growth – but the scientific evidence for their effectiveness is limited.
Do you really need vitamin and mineral supplements?
There has long been a controversy about the minerals and vitamins supplement industry and whether its products really work. The argument against this sector is that, as long as you follow a healthy, well-rounded diet, you will get all the vitamins and minerals your body needs from your food.
It is possible, therefore, that all the money that gets spent on additional minerals and vitamins is wasted. There is an argument to say your body will only use the vitamins and minerals it needs and excrete the rest (through regular bodily functions like urination or sweating).
If you do start to notice rapid hair loss, with large clumps of your hair falling out in just a few days, it’s important to visit your GP as soon as possible. Taking vitamin or mineral supplements won’t help with this kind of problem.
How long will vitamins for hair take to have an effect?
As we’ve already shown, the evidence for using minerals and vitamins for hair is far from watertight. What’s more, even if you do choose to take mineral and vitamin supplements for your hair, it will normally take a considerable amount of time for you to notice any difference.
Why is this? Basically, all the hair which is visible on your head is already dead. So, if you take minerals and vitamins for hair which claim to give you luscious locks, you won’t see the effects for months – or even years.
Even if these vitamins and minerals do help give you healthier hair, their benefits will only accrue to new strands of hair that have not emerged from your scalp yet. Your head hair grows at a rate of about 1cm per month, so it will be a long time before you see the effects of taking minerals and vitamins for hair loss (and that’s assuming they do in fact work).
Alternatives to vitamins for hair growth
While there’s probably little harm in trying vitamins and minerals for counteracting hair loss, there’s also not a huge amount of evidence that taking supplements will help either. As long as you’re eating a well-balanced and healthy diet, you’re likely to be getting all the minerals you need for hair growth anyway.
A more effective approach might be to consider taking medically tested and proven hair loss treatments. These include:
Propecia is one of the best-known hair-loss treatments and comes as a pill you take daily. It contains an active ingredient called Finasteride which suppresses an enzyme that has a negative effect on hair growth. It can take up to a year for you to see the full benefits of taking Propecia, but long term studies have shown that it has a real impact, with 99% of participants either seeing a visible return of hair or no additional hair loss during the study.
Finasteride is a ‘non-brand’ product which contains the same active ingredient as Propecia and has the same effects but usually costs significantly less. Like Propecia, the pill should be taken daily with a glass of water.
Regaine takes a different approach to hair loss and is applied as a topical application, where you massage the treatment directly into your scalp. It works by stimulating your hair follicles, encouraging them to grow hair and to go through longer growing periods. It has been shown to be effective in as little as eight weeks and is available over the counter. Clinical trials have shown it to be effective for 60% of men with hereditary male-pattern baldness.
Looking beyond minerals and vitamins for hair growth
Although there’s little harm in taking vitamins for hair loss, there doesn’t seem to be much evidence that doing so will help either – especially if you’re otherwise healthy and following a balanced diet.
So, rather than investing in supplements which are not definitively proven to help, it may be worth considering medical hair loss treatments that multiple clinical trials have shown to work instead.