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8 Best Hair Growth Serum Ingredients for Women and Men

best hair serum

Hair growth serums contain a variety of ingredients touted to reduce hair loss while supporting healthy hair growth, but some ingredients may be more effective than others. Here are some of the best hair growth serum ingredients that you should look for.

Read next: 10 Vitamin Deficiencies that Cause Hair Loss

1. Minoxidil

Minoxidil is one of the most common drugs prescribed for hair growth. Minoxidil was initially used as an oral treatment for high blood pressure, but side effects of the drug included the increased growth and darkening of fine body hairs.1 When applied topically, minoxidil may help stimulate hair growth by prolonging the anagen, or active growth, phase.2

The exact mechanisms of action still require further study, but experts believe that minoxidil acts as a vasodilator. This means that, when applied to the scalp, minoxidil may widen blood vessels to allow for more blood, oxygen, and essential nutrients to the hair follicles to support growth. Furthermore, research speculates that minoxidil may open potassium channels, which may cause the hyperpolarization of cell membranes.1

Topical formulations usually use 2% concentrations and 5% concentrations for male and female androgenic alopecia. The most common side effects include irritation and allergic contact dermatitis.1 These side effects can be minimized by using the 2% minoxidil solution.  Hair growth usually occurs within 6 months of using topical minoxidil, though it will last only as long as you use it.3

2. Peppermint

Commonly used in cosmetics and foods, peppermint oil is one of the most effective hair growth serum ingredients. Peppermint oil is naturally antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory, which may help to reduce itching and dryness in the scalp.4

Studies also suggest that menthol, the main active ingredient in peppermint oil, may act as a vasodilator (similar to minoxidil). A topical solution of 4% menthol was found to increase blood flow in cutaneous microvasculature more than placebo and ilex solutions.5

In a rodent study, mice were split into four groups given topical applications of either saline, jojoba oil, 3% minoxidil, or 3% peppermint oil over a 4-week period. Researchers evaluated results based on hair growth, enzymatic activity of alkaline phosphatase, gene expressions of IGF-1, and histological analysis. Results of the study found that the topical peppermint oil solution showed the most prominent effects on hair growth, including significant increases in dermal thickness, follicle depth, and total number of follicles. Most importantly, peppermint oil had no signs of toxicity or effect on weight gain and food efficiency. This suggests that peppermint oil may help to stimulate hair growth by inducing a rapid anagen phase without any noticeable side effects.6

3. Lavender

Lavender oil features natural antimicrobial and antifungal properties, which may help to reduce itchy scalp and dandruff caused by fungi.7

Studies also suggest that lavender may have a direct role in supporting hair growth. In a mouse study, animals were randomly assigned to five groups that received topical solutions of saline, jojoba oil, 3% minoxidil, 3% lavender oil, or 5% lavender oil. Each solution was applied to the backs of mice once per day, five times per week, for four weeks. Researchers studied changes in hair follicle number, hair follicle depth, and dermal thickness. Results of the study found that the minoxidil group and the two lavender oil groups showed statistically significant increases in hair follicle numbers, dermal layer, and hair follicle depth. Neither of the groups exposed to lavender oil showed any notable adverse effects.7 Though the exact mechanism of action still requires further human study, this suggests that lavender oil may be as effective as minoxidil in promoting hair growth safely.

4. Ketoconazole

Ketoconazole has been added to shampoos specifically to address fungal infections that affect the scalp, including forms of dandruff and psoriasis. While some dandruff is caused by a dry scalp, ketoconazole may be more effective against dandruff caused by seborrheic dermatitis, which is typically associated with an overgrowth of the Malassezia fungi. The dryness and itching may also contribute to hair loss. Ketoconazole may help to eliminate the fungus and reduce inflammation, thereby preventing dandruff and dry scalp.

While more studies are necessary, initial research also suggests that ketoconazole may show promise as an effective ingredient in hair growth serum. In a mouse study, rodents were treated with either minoxidil, a 2% ketoconazole solution, or a combination of minoxidil and tretinoin. The control group received a topical solution of ethanol. Each solution was applied once per day for three weeks. Results of the study found that all three experiment solutions were effective in stimulating hair growth compared to the control. While Minoxidil alone was found to be more effective of the three, topical ketoconazole still significantly stimulates hair growth, suggesting it may help those with androgenic alopecia.8

5. Caffeine

While caffeine is most commonly associated with coffee and tea, caffeine may actually play a role in stimulating hair growth. In a randomized, open-label study, researchers evaluated the effects of a 0.2% caffeine-based topical solution compared to 5% minoxidil in 210 male participants with androgenic alopecia. Researchers looked at the percentage change in proportion of anagen hairs in the six-month study. Results of the study found that the minoxidil treatment showed an anagen improvement of 11.68 percent, while the caffeine solution showed a 10.59 percent improvement. While the minoxidil showed slightly better improvement, the caffeine solution was still surprisingly effective, suggesting that topical caffeine solutions may be as effective as minoxidil in supporting hair growth in men with androgenic alopecia.9

In another study, researchers used hair follicles from 14 biopsies taken from men with androgenic alopecia. Hair follicles were treated with either a control or a solution containing concentrations of caffeine and/or testosterone. Results found that testosterone significantly suppressed hair follicle growth, but this suppression was counteracted by caffeine in concentrations of 0.001% to 0.0005%. Furthermore, solutions of caffeine alone resulted in significant hair growth stimulation. This suggests that caffeine may act as an effective hair growth stimulator for men with androgenic alopecia.10

6. Tea Tree Oil

Another ingredient to look for in hair growth serums is tea tree oil. Extracted from the leaves of Melaleuca alternifolia, tea tree oil presents a variety of potential benefits for hair. Small amounts of tea tree oil applied to the hair shaft may help to prevent the buildup of chemicals and debris while reducing dandruff. This supports a normal hair growth rate and prevents hair from falling out. Tea tree oil also possesses antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory properties.11

In another study, researchers evaluated the effects of a multimodal emulsion comprising minoxidil, diclofenac, and tea tree oil on men with androgenic alopecia. Researchers compared this multimodal formulation to minoxidil alone and a placebo control solution applied to a group of 32 men. The solutions were applied for a period of 32 weeks with researchers evaluating average hair count, thickness, and weight. The results of the study found that the solution containing tea tree oil and minoxidil showed far superior responses related to hair count, hair weight, and hair thickness. Patient self-assessments also showed that the multimodal emulsion slowed down hair loss, increased hair growth, and improved appearance with no notable adverse effects. This suggests that tea tree oil in combination with minoxidil may be more effective in improving androgenic alopecia than minoxidil on its own.12

7. Biomimetic Signal Peptide with Red Clover Extract

Biomimetic peptides are a synthetic chemical that mimic organic amino acids and may interact with growth factor receptors.13 Studies suggest that biomimetic signal peptides combined with Trifolium pretense (red clover) extracts may stimulate hair growth. Red clover extract is rich in biochanin A, a compound known to block DHT.14 In a randomized, placebo-controlled study, 30 volunteers experiencing hair loss were given a topical application of the biomimetic peptide mixture or a placebo.

After four months of application, the group given the biomimetic peptide and red clover extract combination showed an increase in anagen hair density, a decrease in telogen hair density, and an increase in the anagen/telogen ratio. The placebo group showed completely opposite results. The potential mechanisms for biomimetic signal peptides with red clover include DHT blocking, reducing inflammatory reactions in the scalp, and stimulation of ECM protein synthesis in the area of the hair follicle.15

8. Saw Palmetto

Saw palmetto is an herb with known DHT blocking capabilities. While it is usually taken orally it can also be applied topically. One prospective, open comparison limited to 24 weeks using no placebo controls found that saw palmetto increased average hair count and terminal hair counts at weeks 12 and 24 compared to baseline at week 0.16 

Finding a hair growth serum that works often comes down to finding the right ingredients.  HairOmega® Foaming Serum combines multiple hair growth boosting ingredients including minoxidil, myricetin, and saw palmetto. These ingredients work together to address multiple causes of hair loss and produce better results.

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