What to Look For in a Men’s Hair Loss Shampoo
Reviewed by Katelyn Hagerty, FNP
Written by Our Editorial Team
Search for hair loss shampoos online and you’ll find hundreds of different products, from natural treatments that offer thicker, fuller hair to clinical shampoos designed to reduce DHT production and prevent hair loss.
You’ll also find a lot of promises -- of certain ingredients eliminating hair loss, regrowing lost hair, and giving you back the hairline you used to have.
Just like most personal care products, some men’s hair loss shampoos offer real benefits, while others are designed with promotion and marketing in mind more than measurable hair regrowth or prevention of thinning hair.
In this guide, we’ll look at the key ingredients that you’ll want to look for in a shampoo to prevent or stop hair loss.
We’ll also review several studies that demonstrate which ingredients could potentially play a role in stopping hair loss and helping you grow a thick, healthy head of hair.
Do Hair Loss Shampoos Really Work?
First of all, let’s answer a common question: do hair loss shampoos and other over-the-counter products actually work?
Since the active ingredients for hair growth used in shampoos can vary so dramatically, there’s no easy, one-size-fits-all “yes” or “no” answer to this question. Instead, the answer depends on the ingredients that are used inside the shampoo.
However, research does show that some ingredients used in hair loss shampoos appear to cut down on hair shedding and improve hair growth.
For example, there’s real scientific research showing that the ingredients ketoconazole and saw palmetto may produce improvements in hair growth and reduce the severity of pattern hair loss, or androgenetic alopecia.
We’ve discussed this research in more detail below, as well as how it relates to your hair growth and general hair health.
As such, it’s best to think of most hair loss shampoo ingredients as “maybes” when it comes to actually targeting the causes of hair loss.
Put simply, while there isn’t that much research available on the effects of shampoo on hair loss, studies have shown that certain ingredients offer benefits when used topically.
Since shampoo is a convenient, practical way of applying these ingredients to your scalp, using a hair loss shampoo is a good option for accessing their potential benefits.
The Best Shampoo Ingredients for Hair Loss
When it comes to shampoos and other hair products, ingredients almost always make more of an impact than brand names.
As such, before you reach for that bottle of Nioxin®, it’s best to look at the ingredients label to check that what you’re getting actually contains ingredients that can stop shedding, stimulate growth and improve your scalp health.
Most active ingredients in hair loss shampoos can be sorted into two categories: DHT blockers and ingredients that stimulate hair growth.
DHT blockers are ingredients that block the hormone dihydrotestosterone, or DHT. DHT is the main hormone responsible for male pattern baldness, as it can damage your hair follicles and cause your hair to gradually become thinner over time.
Many medications for hair loss, such as finasteride, work by stopping your body from creating DHT.
Our full guide to DHT and male hair loss goes into more detail about the effects that DHT can have on your hair and scalp.
Ingredients that stimulate hair growth are exactly what they sound like -- substances that help your hair grow. Some of these ingredients work by accelerating your hair’s growth cycle, while others may work by increasing blood flow to your scalp.
We’ve discussed both types of ingredients below and explained what you should look for when you’re comparing hair growth shampoos.
DHT Blocking Ingredients
Ready to begin? Let’s get started by looking at the most important ingredients you should look for in a men’s hair loss shampoo: DHT blockers.
The idea behind DHT blockers is simple. Since male pattern baldness is caused by DHT, these ingredients protect your hair follicles from damage by reducing DHT levels, either on your scalp or throughout your body.
Ketoconazole is one of the most common active ingredients in hair loss shampoos. Designed to control fungal growth and treat skin infections such as tinea capitis, ketoconazole is widely used in shampoos and medications as a means of controlling dandruff, skin rashes and hair loss.
Although only a limited amount of studies are available on ketoconazole’s effects on hair, some research suggests that it could disrupt the DHT pathway -- the process by which testosterone is converted into DHT.
For example, research published in 2004 suggests that ketoconazole could disrupt DHT activity in the scalp, making it a potentially useful adjunct to treatment with finasteride.
Other research has also found that ketoconazole may increase activity during certain phases of the hair growth cycle.
For example, a study published in the journal Dermatology found that ketoconazole shampoo is associated with increased size and proportion of anagen hair follicles.
While the link between ketoconazole and DHT isn’t as strong as it is for anti-hair loss drugs like finasteride, it’s still a good sign that ketoconazole actively works on the same receptors that are responsible for male pattern baldness.
Our guide to ketoconazole and hair loss goes into more detail about ketoconazole’s benefits for thinning and fine hair, as well as the latest research on its efficacy as a hair loss treatment.
Salicylic acid is a naturally occurring substance that’s found in everything from walnuts to white willow bark. It’s a popular active ingredient in acne treatments, but it’s also known for its effects on hair loss.
As an exfoliant, salicylic acid is used to wash away excess sebum -- the oil-like substance that’s secreted by the sebaceous glands in your scalp.
In the scalp, sebum can contain significant amounts of dihydrotestosterone, the hormone that’s responsible for male pattern baldness. Because of its concentration of DHT, some experts think that sebum may play a part in natural hair thinning.
Although salicylic acid doesn’t block DHT at its source like finasteride or affect its local pathway like ketoconazole, it may help to reduce hair loss by getting rid of sebum buildup.
Our full guide to salicylic acid shampoo goes into more detail about how salicylic acid works, as well as the latest research on its effectiveness as a potential hair loss treatment.
Pyrithione zinc is an antimicrobial substance that’s often used to treat scalp conditions, including dandruff and seborrheic dermatitis. It’s been a popular ingredient in medicated shampoos for at least 50 years, giving it one of the longest track records of any hair loss shampoo ingredient.
Although research on pyrithione zinc for hair loss is limited, some studies have found that it may offer benefits for preventing hair loss and stimulating hair growth.
In one study published in the British Journal of Dermatology, researchers compared a pyrithione zinc shampoo with minoxidil, a topical hair loss medication. They also looked into the effects of pyrithione zinc and minoxidil when used together.
The researchers found that the pyrithione zinc shampoo produced a mild increase in hair count in men with moderate androgenetic alopecia.
However, the minoxidil solution was significantly more effective at stimulating hair growth, with men in the minoxidil group showing more than twice as much new hair growth over the course of the 26-week study period.
Although the effect of pyrithione zinc on hair loss appears to be modest, its anti-dandruff effects still make it an ingredient worth considering.
It also offers antimicrobial benefits that make it great for promoting scalp health and preventing infections that may damage sensitive or fine hair.
For example, research suggests that pyrithione zinc is effective at providing protection against numerous types of gram-positive and gram-negative bacteria, as well as certain fungi that may infect the scalp and hair follicles.
Saw palmetto extract is a natural extract of the saw palmetto fruit -- a subtropical fruit that grows in the Southeastern United States.
Several studies have looked at the effects of saw palmetto on DHT, the androgen hormone that causes male pattern baldness.
In one study, researchers compared DHT levels in the prostate -- a part of the body that’s often affected by DHT -- between men who received a saw palmetto supplement and men who were given a non-therapeutic placebo.
A small group of men were also given finasteride -- a hair loss medication that’s also used as a treatment for DHT-related prostate tissue growth.
After six months, the men who received saw palmetto showed a modest but significant average decrease in prostate DHT levels, suggesting that saw palmetto may provide anti-DHT effects in the body.
Other research has looked more directly at the effects of saw palmetto on hair health. In a 2012 study published in the International Journal of Immunopathology and Pharmacology, a group of researchers compared saw palmetto with the hair loss medication finasteride.
Over the course of 24 months, 38 percent of the men that used the saw palmetto treatment saw an increase in hair growth. In comparison, 68 percent of the men treated with finasteride noted improvements.
Although these studies are certainly promising, it’s important to keep in mind that the amount of research to support saw palmetto as a hair loss treatment is still limited right now.
However, over the next few decades, we may see more studies that compare saw palmetto with other popular hair loss medications and products.
Our guide to saw palmetto for hair loss goes into more detail about the current state of research about saw palmetto, as well as its potential benefits for your hair’s health and thickness.
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Hair Growth Ingredients
Treating male pattern baldness is a two-step process. The first step is preventing hair loss from getting worse by reducing DHT levels or blocking the effects of DHT. The second is stimulating new, sustainable hair growth.
While the active ingredients listed above may offer benefits for step one, none appear to have a measurable effect on the rate at which your hair grows.
Below, we’ve listed several growth-promoting active ingredients that you’ll want to look for when you compare men’s shampoos for hair loss.
While biotin doesn’t prevent hair loss, research suggests that it may have a significant effect on the speed at which you can grow new hair with the use of other hair loss treatments.
This means that if you’re currently using finasteride and minoxidil to prevent hair loss, you may experience stronger regrowth by using a biotin shampoo or supplement.
It’s worth pointing out that biotin is a water-soluble vitamin and that there’s currently no scientific evidence that your body can absorb it through your scalp. As such, you’ll likely get better results from a biotin supplement than you would from a shampoo that contains biotin.
Our Biotin Gummy Vitamins provide a convenient daily dose of biotin, as well as other vitamins and nutrients for healthy hair, nails, skin and digestion.
You can also get biotin through your diet. Foods such as eggs, salmon, pork, minced beef, tuna, beef liver, almonds, and spinach are all rich sources of biotin, making them worth adding to your diet if you’re aiming to maximize your hair growth.
Niacin, also known as vitamin B3, is another vitamin that you can find in a lot of men’s hair loss shampoos.
Research shows that niacin and its derivatives can stimulate hair growth when applied to areas of the scalp with pattern hair loss. It’s worth noting that this study featured female participants, rather than men with male pattern baldness.
Nicotinamide, a water-soluble amide form of niacin, also has anti-inflammatory effects that may help to prevent skin irritation.
Although irritated skin doesn’t cause male pattern baldness, it may contribute to hair breakage, especially if you scratch your irritated scalp. Some issues that can cause skin irritation can also potentially contribute to dry hair.
Since niacin doesn’t block DHT, it won’t protect your hairline or reduce thinning on the crown of your head.
However, it could contribute to healthy hair growth and improve your hair’s thickness, coverage, density and general appearance.
Pumpkin Seed Oil
Pumpkin seed oil is another naturally-occurring substance that’s been linked to improvements in hair growth, thickness and quality in research.
For example, in one study, researchers found that men with male pattern baldness who used a pumpkin seed oil supplement showed a 40 percent improvement in hair growth after 24 weeks, compared to just 10 percent of men who used a non-therapeutic placebo.
Just like with saw palmetto, biotin and other ingredients, it’s important to note that most scientific research into the effects of pumpkin seed oil focuses on oral consumption, not topical use in the form of shampoo.
Our complete guide to hair loss supplements goes into more detail about the latest research on pumpkin seed oil and other ingredients.
Because pumpkin seed oil is widely used in hair loss shampoos, it’s not a challenging ingredient to find. You can often find it as one of several oils in hair loss shampoos, conditioners and other hair care products.
Rosemary oil is another oil that might offer benefits for hair growth, with a few studies showing that it improves hair coverage.
In one study published in the journal Skinmed, researchers compared rosemary oil to minoxidil to see which substance was more effective at promoting hair growth in people with pattern hair loss.
The researchers found that rosemary oil was equally as effective as minoxidil at promoting hair growth. After six months of use, both groups showed a measurable increase in hair count, with no significant difference in hair growth between the two groups.
While this study is certainly promising, it’s important to put it into perspective. Right now, there’s only a small amount of research on rosemary oil, meaning it’s hard to draw a firm conclusion on its effectiveness.
Another study found that a mixture of oils, which included rosemary oil and several others, was effective at treating a form of hair loss called alopecia areata.
Like pumpkin seed oil, rosemary oil is a common ingredient in hair loss shampoos. It’s also easy to find as an essential oil, making it a simple addition to any shampoo formula if you’re aiming to fight hair loss from every angle.
Other Hair Loss Ingredients
Because many of the ingredients used in hair loss shampoos are quite new, not all of them have been studied by scientists and researchers.
This means that you’ll find a lot of speculation online about certain ingredients, particularly those that have only been used in shampoos for a few years.
Below, we’ve listed several of the most common new active ingredients that you can find in hair loss shampoos, along with their purported benefits.
While these ingredients aren’t proven to have an effect on hair loss, many offer other health and skin benefits that make them worth looking for anyway:
Cysteine is a popular ingredient in hair loss shampoos that has some links to anti-aging effects, although little scientific research is available on its effects for hair growth.
Panthenol is another popular ingredient in hair loss shampoos, as it’s believed to have benefits for hair thickness and moisturization.
Inositol is a vitamin-like substance with some benefits for hair and skin health, but isn’t proven to have an effect on hair growth or preventing hair loss.
Horsetail extract is another natural substance that’s commonly used in men’s hair loss shampoos, although it’s only been studied as part of a blend of hair loss ingredients.
Some of the above ingredients can be found far down the list of ingredients on many hair loss shampoos, usually in trace amounts.
While these ingredients might have positive effects on hair growth, it’s best to think of them as secondary to the DHT blockers and hair growth agents listed above.
Are There Shampoos That Cause Hair Loss?
Currently, there’s no research to suggest that shampoos and other hair care products play any role in the development of hair loss.
However, some ingredients that are used in shampoos may contribute to scalp irritation, which could potentially result in damaged hair and skin.
These include certain sulfates such as sodium lauryl sulfate and sodium laureth sulfate, which have been associated with transepidermal water loss (moisture loss in your outermost layer of skin) in research.
There’s also some evidence that these ingredients could cause damage to your hair proteins -- the substances that make up each strand of your hair. If you’re worried about these ingredients, try looking for shampoos and other hair products that are labeled “sulfate-free.”
Our guide to sulfates in shampoo goes into more detail about the effects that sulfates and other ingredients in cleanser shampoos, styling products and other hair care treatments can have on your hair and scalp.
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The Bottom Line on Men’s Hair Loss Shampoos
Dealing with hair loss can be a stressful experience, especially if it worsens quickly and starts to make certain hairstyles off-limits.
The right shampoo can keep your hair and scalp clean, smooth and safe from damage, all while preventing or slowing down the effects of male pattern baldness.
If you’re starting to feel worried about hair loss, you’ll get the best results by combining hair loss medications like finasteride and minoxidil with a hair-friendly, volumizing shampoo like our Hair Thickening Shampoo for Men.
Want to learn more about dealing with hair loss? Our complete guide to the best treatments for thinning hair goes into more detail about your options for stopping shedding and maintaining a full head of hair, regardless of your age or hair type.