Over-the-Counter Hair Loss Treatments: Help or Hype?

December 2018 | Volume 17 | Issue 12 | Original Article | 1317 | Copyright © December 2018

Kristin L. Bater BAa and Evan A. Rieder MDb

aJohns Hopkins University School of Medicine, Baltimore, MD bThe Ronald O. Perelman Department of Dermatology, New York University School of Medicine, New York, NY

INTRODUCTION: A limited number of treatments have been approved for androgenetic alopecia, however, myriad over-the-counter products for hair loss are available and readily purchased by consumers. This study aims to provide an overview of popular over-the-counter hair loss products and to review the available evidence regarding their use.

METHODS: Top-selling hair loss products were identified using sales data from the online retailer Amazon.com. The active ingredients, consumer ratings, quantity, and price were collected for each product. A search of the literature was conducted for ingredients that frequently appeared on the top-seller list.

RESULTS: Forty-two of the top 50 products met inclusion criteria, including orals (21.4%), topicals (35.7%), or shampoos/conditioners (42.9%). Common active ingredients included minoxidil, nutrients (ie, vitamins, minerals, proteins), and plant-based botanicals. 23.8% of products were FDA-approved treatments for androgenetic alopecia. Evidence for non-approved treatments is limited to small studies without generalizability.

DISCUSSION: While some over-the-counter treatments may be efficacious, more rigorous study is required. Dermatologists should be equipped to discuss the efficacy of these therapies as well as the risks and benefits associated with their use with patients.

J Drugs Dermatol. 2018;17(12):1317-1321.


Hair thinning and loss is highly prevalent in the adult population. Estimates suggest that by age 50, approximately 50% of men will experience some degree of hair loss secondary to androgenetic alopecia (AGA).1 AGA is also a common cause of hair loss among women.2 AGA is thought to be due to a constellation of hormonal and genetic influences. More broadly, hair loss has been associated with a range of nutritional, hormonal, inflammatory, genetic, and environmental factors.3 The effects of hair loss can be devastating, with many patients reporting decreased self-esteem and quality of life.4-7 Furthermore, studies have demonstrated that men who are balding are rated less favorably in social domains of attractiveness, successfulness, and likeability compared with their non-balding counterparts.8,9 This psychosocial impact of hair loss motivates patients to seek treatment, both from medical providers and the unregulated marketplace. To date, two medications have been approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for use in AGA minoxidil and finasteride.10 Clinical trials have demonstrated the efficacy of topical minoxidil in the treatment of AGA in men and women, and this product is available over-the-counter (OTC).11,12 Finasteride is approved in men with AGA and may be obtained only with a prescription.13 In addition to these FDA-approved interventions, there are myriad hair loss treatments available for purchase OTC. Evidence supporting the use of these treatments, however, is often limited. Despite a lack of clinical data regarding these interventions, consumers frequently purchase these products and may be actively using these treatments when they present for evaluation of hair loss. As the experts in disorders of the hair, dermatologists should be knowledgeable about popular OTC treatments and the available evidence regarding their use. This study aims to provide an overview of products that are frequently purchased OTC to treat hair loss and to evaluate the data supporting their use.


A list of popular hair loss products was generated using data from the online retailer Amazon.com. A regularly updated list of the top-selling hair loss products is made available to the public under the “Amazon Best Sellers” in Beauty and Personal Care > Hair Care > Hair Loss Products. We collected data on the top 50 products included within the best seller list on July 24, 2018. Hair loss treatments including shampoos/conditioners, serums, foams, oils, and oral supplements were included. Products like hair building fibers and those not intended to specifically treat hair loss on the scalp were excluded. Data collected included: active ingredients, price, quantity, product rating, and number