Do Caffeine Shampoos Reduce Hair Loss?

By Steve Watson
September 20, 2020

There have been some remarkable claims in the past by manufacturers of hair and scalp products for balding, or thinning hair, but do they actually work?

There have been some remarkable claims in the past by manufacturers of hair and scalp products for balding or thinning hair. The German manufacture, Alpecin, stated, “Shampoo is too small a word for it. Alpecin provides caffeine to the hair, so it can actually help to reduce hair loss.

However, the Advertising Standards Agency dismissed these claims in 2018, stating they were unsubstantiated and misleading.

The Theory Behind the Claim

Hair grows in cycles with a finite number of cycles, dictated by genetic make up. Each cycle lasts between 2 and 6 years. It is believed that during male puberty the testosterone levels shorten the duration of the hair cycle.

For example, assume Dave has a finite number of 12 cycles of hair growth before new hair stops growing permanently. Prior to puberty, the duration of each cycle is 6 years. At this rate, Dave would maintain a full head of hair into his 70s before experiencing hair loss. As Dave’s testosterone levels increase at puberty the hair cycle duration is reduced, e.g. 50%, to 3 years. At this rate, Dave would begin to show thinning or baldness in his late 30s, early 40’s.

The theory behind the claim that caffeine shampoos reduce hair loss is that caffeine inhibits the effects of testosterone on the hair growth cycle, extending the duration of the growth phase.

Bolstering the claim that caffeine extends the hair cycle phase is the effect caffeine has on stimulating the blood supply to the hair follicle. In reading the labels of caffeine shampoos, the emphasis is towards the stimulating effects of the caffeine on the hair and scalp as opposed to reducing hair loss.

Does it Work?

The internet is a battlefield of blogs and articles debating the effectiveness of caffeine shampoos on reducing hair loss. It’s highly probable that the authors of the pseudo-scholarly articles promoting the products receive some financial benefit for their contribution. In fact, so much conflict surrounds the debate that it’s difficult to distill any truth from it at all.

Ultimately, the proof is in using it and seeing if there are any benefits.

Alpecin UK simply claim it “helps hair feel stronger” with “enhanced grip” by virtue of omitting silicone from the ingredients. It’s quite a step back from claiming it reduces hair loss. It doesn’t even claim to make hair stronger, rather helps it feel stronger.

The Advertising Standards Agency may have banned Alpecin’s unsubstantiated and misleading claim that it reduces hair loss, and caffeine may provide no positive benefit whatsoever, but it doesn’t do any harm either. If you’re using a caffeine shampoo in response to hair loss and experiencing some benefit then continue using it. In the final analysis, if your hair looks and feels thicker as a result of using a caffeine shampoo, and your confidence is boosted, what does it matter?

In conclusion, I have noticed with some clients, whose hair I have cut for some time, that their hair sometimes feels thicker. On discussion, it has transpired that they have been using a caffeine shampoo. Caffeine shampoos like Alpecin do have some positive affect on the appearance of the hair but whether they reduce hair loss or even promote growth is still out there.

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Steve Watson
Author and founder of Watson's barber's
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