Have you ever been looking for a solution to your hair loss and come across a treatment that contains an ingredient that you have never heard of and claims to be “great for thinning hair” or able to “stop hair loss in its tracks”?
Well, unfortunately there are a lot of them out there that don’t measure up to what they claim. But there are also some relatively under researched ingredients that, although they aren’t yet mainstream hair loss treatments, may show a lot of potential for benefitting androgenic alopecia (AGA; pattern hair loss) sufferers.
Today we are going to talk about one called hyaluronic acid (HA). There is a good chance that many of you have not heard of HA, and those who have may not have considered it to be a potential hair loss remedy.
In this article we are going to discuss what HA is, how it (supposedly) works for hair loss, and use the available research to help determine whether it is a viable option for someone trying to overcome hair loss or not.
What is hyaluronic acid?
HA is a molecule that is naturally occurring throughout the body.
It is widely used in cosmetics because it is a humectant. What this means is that its primary benefit is to keep the skin, connective tissue, and joints lubricated. It does so by retaining and attracting water to molecules that it binds with.
It also contains properties that may be able to help combat hair loss.
How can hyaluronic acid benefit hair loss?
There are two primary ways that HA may be able to benefit AGA sufferers: reducing inflammation and promoting the formation of new blood vessels. Let’s dive into each and discuss how they relate to hair loss.
Inflammation is part of the body's natural healing process. The body sends white blood cells to the area of the body that is injured or irritated to fight off bacteria and viruses that may be trying to invade.
While inflammation is normally a healthy process there are times when it can be damaging, especially for someone with hair loss, in fact the two have been shown to be related (1). Scientists theorize that this is because dihydrotestosterone (DHT), the androgen responsible for hair loss, causes irritation of the hair follicles that leads to inflammation.
Now, short term inflammation is usually not a problem for hair, but when inflammation is prolonged (which, if you have DHT-induced hair loss it likely is) it can cause damage to the hair follicles and worsen miniaturization.
Note: miniaturization is the process that results from DHT binding to the hair follicles. The growth phase of the hair cycle gets slowly shortened over time, eventually getting to the point where the follicle does not grow long enough to reach the surface of the skin (i.e. balding)
Therefore, by suppressing inflammation, HA may be able to slow the process of miniaturization and protect the hair follicles from the damaging effects that long-term inflammation can cause.
Blood vessel formation
Minoxidil, one of the most effective hair loss treatments available, acts as a vasodilator to improve blood flow, and it does so because improving blood flow is an extremely important aspect of hair regrowth.
Red blood cells carry oxygen and nutrients, delivering them throughout the body, including to the hair follicles. Hair then uses these vital compounds to grow and complete healthy cycles. But, without adequate blood flow hair cannot grow to its full length/thickness, which is why low blood flow and hair loss are inherently associated with one another (2).
HA plays a role in angiogenesis: the formation of new blood vessels. By increasing the number of blood vessels in the scalp, HA may prove to be a unique way to get more blood to the hair that needs it most.
What does the research say?
As far as inflammation goes, the research linking it to hair loss is well established, and there is research (3) that strongly indicates that HA has powerful anti-inflammatory properties.
But we need to bear in mind, though it is established that HA can help reduce inflammation, there hasn’t been any studies conducted on how it specifically affects hair loss. This means that nothing is conclusive yet and there needs to be more research done before we can say that it helps reduce DHT-induced inflammation.
While inflammation reduction certainly could help someone with hair loss, the potential blood flow promoting properties of HA could be much more profound. Sadly there is currently only one study (4) that shows that hyaluronic acid may aid in blood vessel formation, though the subject is largely untouched by science.
If there was more evidence showing that HA helps blood flow the case would be much stronger, but for now, just like in the case of inflammation, we do not have enough evidence to confirm this as a benefit or not.
In conclusion, there is potential for HA to have some benefit for people suffering from AGA.
The two primary potential benefits that people commonly recognize when looking at HA for hair loss are inflammation reduction and blood vessel formation. There is evidence showing that HA does help reduce inflammation, although we do not know how that applies to DHT-induced inflammation and hair loss, meaning that we cannot say for sure that it will work. Additionally, the evidence for blood vessel formation is in its infant stages and is essentially theoretical at this point.
Overall you should not turn to HA as a hair loss remedy. There are many other treatments that can do that same thing that HA claims to be able to do, but with more evidence supporting them. Using HA would be a low-risk, low-reward endeavor.