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Can Retinol Work Wonders for Your Hair the Way It Does Your Skin?

No nighttime skincare routine is complete without the use of retinol, but does the same go for your haircare routine? Is retinol the all-powerful hair product that will address your most major hair concerns? With the rise in retinol-based haircare products, it’s starting to feel that way.

We still have our doubts about using the product in our haircare routine, which is why we wanted to reach out to the experts. Beverly Hills-based board-certified dermatologist Dr. Tsippora Shainhouse and Santa Monica-based board-certified dermatologist Dr. R. Sonia Batra were able to answer all of our questions on the topic. Read on to learn everything you need to know!

Dropper filled with retinol to use on hair
(via Unsplash)

Is Retinol as Good for Hair as It Is for Skin?

Retinol is a wonderful skincare ingredient that smooths and brightens skin, while working to prevent acne and combat signs of aging. It’s not wonder everyone uses it on a nightly basis in their skincare routines. With all those skin benefits, what can retinol do for your strands? According to Dr. Shainhouse, a lot of the hair benefits are theoretical.

“There is no strong evidence that topical retinoids are necessary for scalp care,” she shares. “Theoretically, they may help to exfoliate dead surface skin cells. This exfoliation could be helpful in patients with thick scalp scales (psoriasis) or for individuals who don’t wash their hair frequently enough and have skin buildup). It can also help manage patients with certain types of folliculitis/acne on their scalp skin. However, long-term, regular use can help with anti-aging by encouraging new collagen production and dermal thickening to help strengthen the matrix around the hair follicles.”

That all being said, Dr. Batra points out that retinol’s “most useful benefit with respect to hair may be increasing the penetration of ingredients that improve circulation to the follicles or block the effects of hormones that contribute to thinning hair.” Though that’s not necessarily the same way it benefits the skin, it’s still a pretty strong case for using retinol on your strands and scalp.

What Are the Biggest Hair Benefits Retinol Has to Offer?

Retinol actually has quite a few benefits, even if they are theoretical. Let’s get into them, shall we?

1. It reduces greasy hair.

Retinol may very well be a saving grace for those with an oily scalp. Dr. Batra shares that it “decreases the action of oil glands, which will reduce greasy hair and scalp.”

2. It can decrease buildup.

Because retinol is a chemical exfoliant, Dr. Batra points out that it “can decrease the buildup of dead skin cells on the surface of the scalp.” This will lead to a happy, healthier scalp. Plus, when your scalp is free of buildup, Dr. Shainhouse points out that “it might help hair growth by clearing the way for new hairs to pop through.”

3. It may get rid of dandruff.

Though temporary, retinol reduces excess oil on the scalp. This “can help prevent yeast overgrowth on the scalp, which can lead to dandruff,” notes Dr. Shainhouse.

4. It could potentially reduce DHT production.

As mentioned above, retinol reduces excess surface oil on the scalp and also on the follicles. In doing so, Dr. Shainhouse shares retinol “may help to reduce DHT production. DHT is associated with genetic-type male/female-patterned hair loss.”

5. It stimulates new hair growth.

Dr. Shainhouse shares that retinol can promote hair growth, though it won’t do it on its own. “Topical retinoids combined with topical minoxidil can help stimulate new hair growth and thicken existing hairs more than minoxidil alone. There is no evidence that topical retinoids alone can help promote hair growth.”

6. It can increase the effectiveness of other haircare ingredients.

One of the most alluring benefits of using retinol in your haircare routine is knowing how much more effective it makes other haircare ingredients. “By thinning the outer layer of skin, called the stratum corneum, retinol will increase the penetration of other ingredients” and make them that much more effective, says Dr. Batra.

Are There Any Potential Side Effects?

Retinol isn’t for everyone, and that applies whether you’re using it on your complexion, body, or scalp. Dr. Batra stresses that “retinol can be drying and irritating if used too frequently and should be introduced very gradually in anyone with a tendency to dry, sensitive skin, eczema, or psoriasis.”

Dr. Shainhouse lengthens the list by pointing out how retinol can cause “scalp redness, irritation, itch, burning, stinging, peeling, sensitivity.” She notes it can even lead to scalp sunburns and may dry “out hair strands or fade the hair color.”

Which Hair Types Benefit the Most From Retinol?

Dr. Batra shares that “people with oily scalps or a tendency to have scalp buildup will benefit most from using retinol.” Considering how well the ingredient frees up the scalp to promote hair growth, we can see why. Additionally, Dr. Shainhouse notes that she tends to “prescribe prescription retinoids for some patients with plaque-type scalp psoriasis, as it can help to exfoliate the thick skin buildup associated with that skin disease.” She also points out how those with an acne-prone scalp may benefit from using products with retinol.

Is There Anyone Who Should Avoid Using Retinol?

As far as who should avoid using retinol hair products, Dr. Shainhouse suggests people with a sensitive scalp steer clear of using any retinol-based product. It tends to be very drying, which can irritate already sensitive skin and lead to peeling, redness, burning, and the like. “This peeling and inflammation can leave skin prone to sunburns, if exposed to sun (so you must wear sunscreen and a hat),” Dr. Shainhouse shares. “The skin barrier disruption can also leave skin more sensitive and prone to irritation from other active and inactive ingredients in other haircare products.”

How Should Retinol Be Incorporated Into a Haircare Routine?

Before you get a little heavy-handed with the retinol, Dr. Batra stresses the importance of using the ingredient in moderation. “I recommend starting any haircare product with retinol gradually to allow the skin of the scalp to become used to it,” she says. “I tell patients to start a retinol-containing hair product on two nights per week that are not in a row, such as Tuesday and Friday. Try a new retinol product for a couple of weeks like this and monitor for any redness, scaling, or itching. If there is no excess inflammation, increase to every other day for a couple of weeks, and only increase to daily as tolerated.”

The Best Retinol Haircare Products

Now that you know virtually everything there is to know about using retinol for your hair, we wanted to share some of our fave products. We do also want to note that it’s important you speak with a dermatologist before adding retinol into your routine. Even if you don’t have sensitive skin, you never know how your skin and scalp will react to the potent ingredient.


Hey mane muse, we wanted to give you a heads up that some of the links in this post are affiliate links. Okay, so what does that mean for you? It just means that Mane Addicts will collect a small share of the sale from any purchase you make from the products we recommend.


1. Embody The Retinol Gummy: $28

Embody released the world’s first. retinol gummy, making incorporating retinol into your daily routine that much easier. Not only will it work for your hair, but it will also promote better skin. It really is a win-win with this product.

Embody The Retinol Gummy

(via Embody)

2. Monpure Follicle Boost Hair Density Serum: $117

Made with retinyl palmitate, a less irritating retinoid, the Monpure Follicle Boost Hair Density Serum is more than worth the splurge. This wonder product and its miracle ingredients work to gently remove buildup on the scalp so that you can have strands as long as Rapunzel.

Monpure Follicle Boost Hair Density Serum

(via Monpure)

3. Vichy Dercos Nutrients Vitamin A.C.E Shampoo: $11.49

Revitalize and hydrate dry, dull strands with the Vichy Decros Nutrients Vitamin A.C.E. Shampoo. This revolutionary shampoo uses retinol to clear the scalp of any excess buildup and oil, while utilizing vitamin E to moisturize and hydrate any dryness.

Vichy Dercos Nutrients Vitamin A.C.E Shampoo

(via Feelunique)

4. Moroccanoil Hydrating Conditioner: $24

Moroccanoil’s coveted Hydrating Conditioner boasts plenty of vitamin A to give your strands exactly what they need. Though it’s not the star ingredient, it helps the nourishing argan oil and vitamin E work to their fullest potential to give you the gorgeous locks you deserve.

Moroccanoil Hydrating Conditioner

(via Moroccanoil)

Retinol isn’t the only skincare ingredient to now be incorporated into haircare. The skinification of haircare is real. Read all about it HERE!

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