Caffeine is the most popular drug in the world. It is consumed by people from all walks of life and in various forms and preparations. Apart from its addictive nature, caffeine has been shown to positively improve concentration, mental clarity, and even athletic performance. Caffeine has been praised, demonised, and brought up in scientific discussions and a lot of myths have propagated around the general population. To understand how caffeine and hair loss are linked, myths will need to be busted and fresh scientific discoveries need to come to light.
Does caffeine cause hair loss?
The coffee bean has never been fought over like spices. In the 17th century, wars were fought and many people killed over simple spices we take for granted today.
It is believed that the properties of coffee were discovered long ago by an Ethiopian farmer, who after seeing how it affected his sheep, decided to try it himself. Ever since then, coffee has spread like wildfire around the globe, with coffee shops on practically every corner. People need their fix, and caffeinated beverages are the perfect pick-me-up for a dull day or a needed blast of energy.
The adverse effects of caffeine range from:
- Heart palpitations
- Elevated blood pressure (although this may be positive in some cases)
The debate on whether caffeine causes hair loss is based on the notion that caffeine dehydrates the body, including the scalp and hair. Although there is some truth in this, evidenced by the frequent trips to the bathroom, it is not as bad as people make it out to be.
A recent study found no evidence of dehydration with moderate daily coffee intake. By studying various blood and urine markers for dehydration, the researchers concluded that previous evidence of the dehydrating effects of caffeine need to be re-evaluated. Of course, this evidence only highlights that moderate use is completely safe, and will not affect the hair. It is possible that habitual, heavy caffeine drinkers could be at risk for dehydration.
What does caffeine do to hair?
Caffeine is a bitter substance that occurs naturally in more than 60 plants, including coffee beans and tea leaves. It is a powerful stimulant and this translates to hair as well.
In a paper published in the British Journal of Dermatology, researchers concluded that caffeine had surprising benefits for hair follicles. Both men and women showed positive results when caffeine was used topically, but women showed more pronounced effects than men.
Caffeine has hair growth stimulating properties on different levels (molecular, cellular and organ)
Benefits of caffeine for hair
- Stimulates hair growth
- Makes hair manageable
- Enhances hair shaft elongation
- Extends the growth phase of the hair cycle
- Stimulates protein production
- Inhibits the death of keratinocytes (cells that produce keratin)
Is caffeine good for hair growth?
The most current theory of male pattern hair loss states that dihydrotestosterone (DHT) is what causes hair follicle to shrink and eventually stop functioning. DHT is produced when testosterone is broken down with an enzyme called 5α-Reductase. Androgenetic alopecia (male pattern hair loss) is characterised by shortening of the hair follicle growth phase in genetically predisposed individuals.
FDA approved medications like 5α-Reductase inhibitors are aimed towards reducing the production of DHT, however some side effects like impotence and some psychological issues make many men turn to other options.
In a breakthrough study, scientists demonstrated that very small concentrations of caffeine are able to suppress testosterone. These results indicate the possible basis for use of topically applied caffeine in the management of androgenetic alopecia. Caffeine is well-absorbed by hair follicles and the scalp. This means that everyday hair care products like shampoos and conditioners that include caffeine are beneficial for stimulating hair growth.
A naturally-based conditioner that can be left in can make hair grow faster because of the fact that it’s not washed away like a shampoo. Caffeine easily penetrates hair follicles and is good for hair on many levels.
Drinking coffee won’t have much benefit for hair. To reach the hair, a person would have to drink an unimaginable amount of coffee or tea. The Mayo Clinic has stated that up to 400 mg of caffeine a day appears to be safe for most healthy adults. This is approximately the amount of caffeine in four cups of brewed coffee or 10 cans of cola. To get the most out of caffeine’s hair stimulating effects, topically applying hair products with caffeine is the best choice.