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Is Caffeine Shampoo A Legitimate Hair Loss Treatment?

Stick with FDA-Approved Treatments and Avoid Falling Prey to Unproven Lotions and Potions

Cup of coffee, bag and scoop

If you are a coffee drinker, you appreciate the positive impact of a jolt of caffeine in the morning. Is it possible your hair follicles could benefit from a jolt as well? Is it possible that the most frequently used stimulant could stimulate hair growth?

We’ve been seeing quite a bit of media coverage of late about claims that shampoos that contain caffeine could help to prevent or slow down hair loss among those with male pattern baldness (androgenic alopecia). In April, the Wall Street Journal reported, “Can Shampoos with Caffeine Thicken Men’s Hair?” Then in May, the CBS affiliate in Miami reported, “Study: Caffeine Shampoo May Help Treat Baldness.”

Both news reports echoed earlier stories about a 2015 study by researchers from the Institute for Dermatology at Germany’s Lübeck University published in the British Journal of Dermatology. Headed by Dr. Tobias Fischer, the researchers found that when small concentrations of caffeine were applied to hair follicles extracted from human males and grown in a lab, it stimulated hair growth and prolonged the time the hair follicles remained in their growth phase.

The paper has a regrettably complicated title: “Differential effects of caffeine on hair shaft elongation, matrix and outer root sheath keratinocyte proliferation, and transforming growth factor-β2/insulin-like growth factor-1-mediated regulation of the hair cycle in male and female human hair follicles in vitro.” For those interested in scientific advances in battling hair loss, the researchers offer some interesting information, but it was this line from their abstract that commanded the most attention:

“This study reveals new growth-promoting effects of caffeine on human hair follicles.”

That is a blockbuster announcement! So why isn’t everyone putting coffee grounds into their shampoo? Well, as is always the case, it isn’t as simple as some would have you believe.

First, the obvious: This research was done in a laboratory, not on a human scalp. It is far too early to conclude that caffeine in shampoo will have any impact on preventing or slowing hair loss. Any claims otherwise are just hype.

Second, it is important to consider that the research was funded by Dr. Kurt Wolff, the company behind the Alpecin brand of caffeine shampoos and liquids. We aren’t suggesting that the researchers sold out, but it is always wise to follow the source of the money.

To be clear, at Arocha Hair Restoration, we have nothing against Alpecin, other than the fact that it has not been approved by the FDA as a treatment for hair loss. Dr. Arocha is a bicyclist and a fan of bike racing, so we cheer for Team Giant-Alpecin in the Tour de France and other major cycling events. But we cringe when we see any unproven product presented to the public as a “cure” for male pattern baldness.

Such claims can be misleading and even dangerous. People experiencing hair loss tend to want shortcuts and they are open to trying unproven but heavily marketed lotions and potions that clutter the market. In reality there are only three proven hair loss solutions: surgical hair transplant, Propecia® (finasteride) and ROGAINE® (minoxidil).

Two prescription drugs for hair loss have been approved by the FDA: minoxidil and finasteride. These prescription drugs have been effective in preventing baldness and even growing new hair.

  • The brand name for minoxidil, ROGAINE® is sold over-the-counter. It has been scientifically proven to be effective at reducing hair loss and can stimulate hair growth for some users. However, any new hair that grows could fall back out if ROGAINE® use is stopped.
  • Loniten® is another brand name for minoxidil, but the difference is that this is a prescription medication. Initially formulated to treat high blood pressure, doctors discovered that hair growth is one of its side effects, leading to its prescription as a hair loss drug.
  • The brand name for finasteride, Propecia®, is proven to diminish hair thinning. It has been approved by the FDA to reduce male pattern baldness in men. Under no circumstances should it be taken by women.

Determining the cause of an individual’s hair loss can help to evaluate the best hair loss products to try. We have had quite a bit of success with combination therapy, especially performing a hair transplant followed by ROGAINE® and/or Propecia®.

Unfortunately, only about three percent of U.S. men and women affected by hair loss, (approximately 2.5 million people) seek one of those proven hair loss solutions. It is tragic that people get frustrated by the inflated promises of lotions and potions. Based on what we’ve observed here at Arocha Hair Restoration, if those experiencing hair loss would just stick with what we know can work, they would be much better off.

Does the role of caffeine in hair biology deserve further exploration? Absolutely! This is essentially what Dr. Fischer and his team of researchers stated in the conclusion of their paper.

“In summary, the in vitro data in outer root sheath keratinocytes and human whole (hair follicles) presented here are just opening a new chapter of the complex and obviously pluripotent role of caffeine in human hair biology. They strongly support the concept that caffeine is a credible hair growth-promoting and HF protective substance that deserves further exploration both in vitro and in vivo.”

We applaud the researchers and scientists who continue to learn about male pattern baldness and develop novel treatments to prevent or slow the rate of hair loss. And we applaud those organizations that are funding those activities. But for the hair loss community and the journalists who cover these developments, it is essential to step back from the hype and give science a chance to separate the hype from the reality.


If you would like more information on hair loss and the treatments available at our practice, or if you would like to schedule a complimentary consultation with Dr. Bernardino Arocha, please contact us today.