If you’ve ever been a sucker for some variation of hair gummies that promise long, luscious locks, you’re not alone. This once-monstrous trend took over Instagram and shopping carts alike—and much to our dismay, they didn’t usually live up to the hype. But, that’s not to say these ingestibles are always a scam. To find out how to know if a hair supplement will work, we reached out to naturopathic physician, Dr. Ralph Esposito.
The doctor—who endorses Athletic Greens for its many benefits, including hair health—breaks down the expectations you should and shouldn’t have for a legitimate hair supplement. And, most importantly, he explains how to know if a hair supplement is a gimmick or the real deal. Keep reading for everything you need to know.
Ingredients That Should Be in Every Hair Supplement
If you’re curious how to know if a hair supplement will work, start with ensuring they include standard baseline ingredients.
“There is technically no ‘staple’ ingredient for a hair formula,” Dr. Esposito explains. “The cause of weak, brittle, or hair loss is multifactorial and oftentimes a sign and symptom of some other deficiency or underlying issue rather than just the ‘bad luck’ most people think they have. But some non-negotiable ingredients are zinc, selenium and vitamin A. These three nutrients are essential for the hair follicle growth cycle. Iron is super important as well, but not every man or woman needs to supplement with iron. A few other ingredients I like to see are ashwagandha, maca, silicon and omega-3 fatty acids.”
Ingredients That Serve More as Fillers in Hair Supplements
This one may surprise you, but one of hair supplements’ most highly touted ingredients isn’t entirely all it’s cracked up to be (at least not as a standalone).
“As much as biotin has a strong reputation for hair growth, its benefits don’t seem to stand up to its reputation,” Dr. Esposito says. “There are certain conditions like alopecia areata and biotinidase deficiency, which require high doses of biotin. In some individuals, biotin absorption may be impaired. However, when I see a supplement company boost their product with high amounts of biotin without paying attention to zinc, selenium, vitamin A, silicon and ashwagandha (to name a few), I immediately know they are just playing off the biotin.”
Red Flag Marketing on Hair Supplement Packaging
Like with any supplement, you want to be wary of the wording on packaging and labels when it comes to hair health ingestibles.
“Anything that claims to improve hair growth by X% is a complete marketing scam,” Dr. Esposito points out. “Hair growth, in people who don’t have a known disorder (alopecia areata, androgenic alopecia, medication-induced), can in no way adhere to a one-size-fits all recommendation well enough to promise an X improvement. In most cases, hair restoration specialists do specific tests to see how much hair growth is growing back per unit area. Unless the company is doing this, there’s no way they can promise results. I would also be wary of supplements that promise things like, ‘grow an inch of hair with our supplement,’ because aside from some medications, it’s very challenging to force a hair follicle to grow quicker and thicker.”
Results You Can Potentially Expect From a Legitimate Hair Supplement
As we noted above, not all hair supplements are a farce. In the case that you do invest in a legitimate ingestible, you want to keep your expectations realistic.
“Over months, it would allow your hair to look healthier as in more shine, thicker follicles and less hair falling out,” Dr. Esposito explains. “You should notice less hair loss in the shower, and you should notice less hair loss in common areas like the angles of the hair line or in the midline of your scalp. These are subjective, so the best way to note progress is by taking before and after pictures. This is probably done best with a friend who can get the top of your head. But don’t expect a 180 change in a month. Hair grows slowly and supplements take time to nourish and replete any deficiencies.”
How to Maximize the Benefits of a Legitimate Hair Supplement
Like with anything new you introduce into your routine, there are additional steps that’ll get you the best results.
“People should not expect a miracle, especially if they’re self-sabotaging in other foundational areas like sleep, nutrition, exercise, stress adaptation and resiliency,” Dr. Esposito says. “Athletic Greens, for example, provides the essential nutrients to support hair growth, but more so, we reinforce health habits to support everything from hair health to energy, digestive health, neural support and so on. The body does not exist in a silo. Each organelle, cell, organ and organ system work together. When they work better together, health happens.”
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