Will Popular Hair-Loss Products Help My Alopecia?

Viral hair-loss products have been gaining popularity, but use caution before jumping on the bandwagon.

woman holding shampoo bottle aisle drugstore shelf product hair hairloss
Be cautious of popular hair loss products that may do more harm than good.Oscar Wong/Getty Images

If you have alopecia areata (AA), a condition that involves hair loss and can lead to bald patches, you’re likely curious about whether certain hair loss and hair maintenance products can help manage or improve your condition.

It may feel like you’re being bombarded with advertisements for new products — from topicals to implants and everything in-between — and it’s not a coincidence. These products are having a resurgence in mainstream media advertising, from TV commercials to ads on the internet and public transit.

Curious if these viral products could be a fit for your alopecia? Here’s what the experts say.

11 Potential Causes of Hair Loss and Baldness

Losing hair is a common symptom of aging, but there may be more contributing behind the scenes!
11 Potential Causes of Hair Loss and Baldness

What to Know Before You Try Popular Hair Products for Alopecia

Alopecia areata is a type of autoimmune disorder that occurs when the body’s immune system attacks the hair follicles, leading to hair loss.

Various new hair loss products are available — whether over-the-counter, by prescription, or even as subscription services. Depending on the product, it may claim to help you:

  • Retain natural hair
  • Disguise thinning hair
  • Implant and regrow hair or hair alternatives

Many of these options may be enticing if you have a condition like alopecia. But, before you rush to try one of these products, consult with a dermatologist to develop an appropriate individualized treatment plan, says Dina D. Strachan, MD, a board-certified dermatologist and assistant clinical professor in the department of dermatology at New York University and director at Aglow Dermatology in New York City.

“There are many treatments for hair loss, but these are diagnosis-dependent,” Dr. Strachan says. “Get a diagnosis first, then seek to treat.”

This is especially important with alopecia, as there’s more than one type and level of severity for this condition, none of which respond equally to treatment. According to the American Academy of Dermatology, there are three main types of autoimmune alopecia:

  • Alopecia areata, the most common type, which can lead to patchy hair loss anywhere on the body, including your scalp, eyebrows, and eyelashes
  • Alopecia totalis, which leads to total baldness on the scalp
  • Alopecia universalis, the rarest type, which results in full-body baldness

The prognosis can vary from type to type. Some people may be able to regrow hair without condition recurrence, while others may experience permanent hair loss across their entire body.

Hair Regrowth Products

One popular and potential option is minoxidil (Rogaine), often combined with a short course of hair supplements, Strachan says.

However, “topical minoxidil can help in some cases of minimal alopecia areata, but if there’s active inflammation, it’s unlikely to make a considerable difference,” adds Lindsey Bordone, MD, a dermatologist who specializes in hair loss at ColumbiaDoctors and is an assistant professor of dermatology at Columbia University Irving Medical Center in New York City.

In the case of androgenetic alopecia (which is not autoimmune related and more commonly known as pattern baldness) without severe hair loss, research shows 5 percent minoxidil has been shown to improve density and hair shaft diameter.

“It is best to use it early to preserve the hairs growing on the scalp, [because if] hairs have miniaturized, minoxidil may help to restore some features of the hair before it was as thin and fine,” explains Dr. Bordone.

When it comes to hair loss in other areas, Bordon notes: “Minoxidil does help to improve facial hair growth when applied consistently to the beard area. It can also help eyebrow growth, but great care would need to be taken to avoid getting minoxidil in the eye. Use along the eyelashes is strongly discouraged.”

At the same time, there is some risk of excessive hair growth on the forehead and sideburn area due to minoxidil applied to the scalp, Bordone adds.

“If facial hair becomes excessive, and this is sometimes problematic in women, the minoxidil would need to be discontinued,” she says. “If hair growth persisted beyond six months after discontinuation, then laser hair removal or other treatments to reduce hair would likely be needed.”

Hair Implants

While it can be tempting to many, both Bordone and Strachan caution against seeking out implant treatments for alopecia.

“Implanted hair that isn’t done through a transplant is not an FDA [U.S. Food and Drug Administration] approved treatment,” Bordone explains. “Most claims made for hair regrowth are false. The only studies showing over-the-counter improvement in growth that have significant scientific support involve the use of minoxidil.”

5 Things You Should Never Say to Someone With Alopecia

Alopecia is another term for hair loss and can be a touchy subject for those affected.
5 Things You Should Never Say to Someone With Alopecia

Hair Regrowth Serums

Many popular and name-brand serums seek to address hair loss or thinning for hair on other parts of the body. These various serums claim to improve eyelash length and thickness and help regrow eyebrow hair — but Bordone advises talking to your doctor before trying them for alopecia-related hair loss.

“Using any product near the eyes carries risk,” she says. “I only recommend physician-prescribed bimatoprost solution for use in these delicate areas.”

Prescription Options for Alopecia?

Prescription medications are also available for various types of alopecia, she adds, including one that recently became FDA-approved to treat alopecia areata, specifically. This new oral drug, baracitinib (Olumiant) is primarily for people who experience at least 50 percent hair loss.

“Physicians can also perform steroid injections when limited areas are involved,” Bordone says.

Other options include topical corticosteroids or anthralin, which is applied to the bald area to help stimulate hair regrowth.

Overall, these options provide promise for those living with alopecia areata. “We have considerable success with treatment in most cases,” notes Bordone.

Temporary Fixes and Other Options

If over-the-counter or prescription options aren’t working for you, you may be curious about temporary solutions that can help camouflage hair loss. Some options to try that are safe for alopecia include:

  • Wigs
  • Weaves
  • Toupees

“Pigmented fibers that look like hair or even different dark makeup powders and sprays on the scalp can give the illusion of additional hair,” Bordone adds.

According to Strachan, products that don't specifically address inflammation but stimulate and support hair growth could also be helpful as a supplemental therapy tool for autoimmune-related alopecia. One such example is red light caps, which are FDA-cleared for androgenetic alopecia and can be effective for pattern hair loss. Like minoxidil, red light works to promote blood flow, in addition to inhibiting DHT (aka the androgen dihydrotestosterone), similar to finasteride, which is often prescribed for male-pattern pattern hair loss. It also has an anti-inflammatory effect.

Additionally, supplements — when used in conjunction with other treatments — can sometimes support regrowth by providing a burst of nutrients, she says.

“For example, people with this condition who are zinc deficient get some hair growth benefit when this deficiency is addressed,” she says. “Good hair and scalp hygiene also reduce inflammation which supports recovery.”

The Bottom Line

Whether or not popular hair regrowth products can help your alopecia depends largely on your individual diagnosis and situation as each person reacts uniquely to different treatments. It’s important to keep your physician in the loop to help you understand the risks and prioritize your overall health above cosmetic concerns.

“Using an inappropriate product could delay diagnosis, leading to increased and permanent hair loss or missing an underlying medical problem,” emphasizes Strachan.