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How To Deal With Hair Loss (Alopecia)

Written by Carlos Tello, PhD (Molecular Biology) | Last updated:
Puya Yazdi
Medically reviewed by
Puya Yazdi, MD | Written by Carlos Tello, PhD (Molecular Biology) | Last updated:

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In the following sections, we’ll outline complementary approaches that may help you deal with hair loss. The below strategies are not meant to replace your standard medical treatment. Make sure to consult with your doctor before making any significant changes to your day-to-day routine.

Lifestyle

Stress Management

Although it has no direct effect on male-pattern baldness, stress is a well-known trigger of other types of hair loss such as diffuse hair loss (telogen effluvium), patchy hair loss (alopecia areata), and hair pulling disorder (trichotillomania). In turn, hair loss can be a source of stress and ultimately worsen the severity of these conditions [1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6].

We‌ ‌recommend‌ ‌addressing‌ ‌sources‌ ‌of‌ ‌stress‌ ‌in‌ ‌your‌ ‌life,‌ ‌either‌ ‌by‌ ‌taking‌ ‌up‌ ‌a‌ ‌stress-busting‌ hobby‌ ‌(such‌ ‌as‌ ‌‌yoga‌‌ ‌or‌ ‌‌meditation‌)‌ ‌or‌ ‌seeking‌ ‌professional‌ ‌help.‌

Hairstyling Habits

The following hairstyling habits damage the hair cuticle and follicles, ultimately leading to hair loss:

  • Hairstyles that pull the hair tight (such as pigtails and cornrows) [7, 8]
  • High-heat styling tools (such as hair dryers, hot rollers, and curling or straightening irons) [9, 10]
  • Chemical treatments (such as dyes, bleach, and chemical straighteners) [11, 12]
  • Shampoos with harsh ingredients [13]
  • Excessive brushing [14]

Avoiding aggressive hairstyling practices, regularly washing your hair with a mild shampoo, and gently brushing it with a soft brush can help you reduce hair loss.

Light Therapy

Light therapy with UV-A combined with drugs that increase the sensitivity of the skin to this radiation (methoxsalen and psoralen) caused patchy hair loss (alopecia areata) regrowth in most cases without causing major adverse effects in 4 uncontrolled trial of 189 people and a non-placebo-controlled trial of 40 people [15, 16, 17, 18, 19].

This radiation was also effective when applied through targeted treatments with an excimer laser in 3 uncontrolled trials of 36 people with patchy hair loss [20, 21, 22].

In 2 small, uncontrolled trials of 31 people with patchy hair loss, LLLT with infrared radiation for 3 minutes every week or every 2 weeks sped up hair regrowth in most patients [23, 24].

Giving Up Smoking

In a study of over 60k people, of whom 154 developed patchy hair loss (alopecia areata), smoking was associated with an approximately 2-fold incidence of this condition. Cigarette smoke may cause oxidative and inflammatory damage in the hair follicles, and impair hair growth [25, 26].

Aromatherapy (Insufficient Evidence)

In a placebo-controlled trial of 86 people with patchy hair loss (alopecia areata), aromatherapy with the essential oils of lavender, thyme, rosemary, and Atlantic cedar improved the symptoms in 44% of the patients [27].

Scalp Massage

Scalp massage for 4 minutes during 24 weeks improved hair thickness, possibly by increasing the levels of several proteins involved in hair growth, in a small uncontrolled trial of 9 healthy men [28].

Diet

Zinc

A study of 342 people associated patchy (alopecia areata) and diffuse (telogen effluvium) hair loss with low blood zinc levels. The authors suggested that disturbed zinc metabolism plays a key role in these conditions [29].

In line with this, zinc supplementation improved both conditions in 2 small uncontrolled trials of 20 people who also had zinc deficiency. In a non-placebo-controlled trial of 73 women complaining of hair loss, zinc was especially effective when combined with calcium pantothenate [30, 31, 32].

Good dietary sources of zinc include red meat, seafood, dairy products, nuts, legumes, and whole grains [33].

Eating Sufficient Proteins

In a study of 100 people with hair loss, most of the 54 subjects with diffuse hair loss (telogen effluvium) had deficiencies of the essential amino acids leucine, histidine, valine, and isoleucine. Dietary sources of these amino acids include protein-rich foods such as meat, fish, dairy products, eggs, and legumes [34].

Topical Supplements

Vitamin D

Low blood vitamin D levels have been associated with increased incidence, severity, and duration of patchy hair loss (alopecia areata) in multiple studies [35, 36, 37, 38, 39].

In an uncontrolled trial of 48 people with this condition, a synthetic derivative of vitamin D (calcipotriol) applied topically for 12 weeks caused hair regrowth of at least 50% in 75% of the patients and full regrowth in 27%. Both this chemical and UV-B radiation (which stimulates vitamin D production) were similarly effective in a placebo-controlled trial of 60 people [40, 41].

Garlic (Insufficient Evidence)

In a placebo-controlled trial of 40 people with patchy hair loss (alopecia areata) a topical garlic gel applied twice daily for 3 months as an add-on to corticosteroids significantly improved hair regrowth [42].

Onion (Insufficient Evidence)

In a placebo-controlled trial of 38 people with patchy hair loss (alopecia areata), applying onion juice twice daily for 2 months caused hair regrowth in 87% of the patients (as opposed to only 13% of those who used tap water) [43].

Squalamine (Insufficient Evidence)

In a placebo-controlled trial of 20 people with hair loss from ringworm, applying a gel with 1% squalamine for 3 weeks improved scaly injuries and caused hair regrowth [44].

Raspberry (Insufficient Evidence)

A topical preparation with 0.01% raspberry ketone applied for 5 months promoted hair growth in 1 out of 4 women with patchy hair loss (alopecia areata) in an uncontrolled trial. The preparation was also effective in men with male-pattern baldness and in mice [45].

Oral Supplements

Apple Polyphenols (Insufficient Evidence)

An oral apple polyphenol extract from Annurca apples (500 mg polyphenols, 2x/day) increased hair density, weight, and keratin content in a placebo-controlled trial of 250 healthy men and women [46].

N-Acetylcysteine (Insufficient Evidence)

N-acetylcysteine (NAC) may help with compulsive behaviors by restoring normal glutamate levels in a brain region involved in reward and reinforcement (nucleus accumbens). It has been reported to improve hair pulling disorder (trichotillomania) in a placebo-controlled trial of 50 people and 5 independent cases. However, NAC was ineffective in a placebo-controlled trial of 39 children [47, 48, 49, 50, 51].

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About the Author

Carlos Tello

Carlos Tello

PhD (Molecular Biology)
Carlos received his PhD and MS from the Universidad de Sevilla.
Carlos spent 9 years in the laboratory investigating mineral transport in plants. He then started working as a freelancer, mainly in science writing, editing, and consulting. Carlos is passionate about learning the mechanisms behind biological processes and communicating science to both academic and non-academic audiences. He strongly believes that scientific literacy is crucial to maintain a healthy lifestyle and avoid falling for scams.

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