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There are no shampoos on the market that will make your hair grow, but there are a few that will help keep the strands you have and make them look as full as possible.
When you’re noticeably shedding hair or your hair doesn’t fill an elastic like it used to, it can be alarming. “While humans do not die from hair loss, it can be particularly devastating to identity and self-esteem,” says hair and skin researcher Thomas L. Dawson, Jr, Ph.D., the CEO of Beauty Care Strategics. It’s estimated that 50% of women will experience significant hair loss in their lives (and the number is higher for men over 50).
Understandably, for many, a panic takes hold — along with a willingness to hock your great-grandma’s heirloom jewelry to pay for any product that will grow your hair back and restore hair thickness. That’s why there is no shortage of shampoos that specifically bill themselves as “hair growth shampoos.”
At least for now, sorry to say, that’s a hard no if you’re talking about actual new growth or awakening follicles as opposed to making thinning hair look thicker or fuller. “To be blunt, be wary of shampoos claiming to boost hair growth, grow new hair, regrow hair, grow hair faster,” says Jeni Thomas, Ph.D., Principal Scientist at Proctor & Gamble Beauty. P&G makes Pantene, Aussie and Head & Shoulders, among other hair care lines, so you can bet if there were a magical growth ingredient to put in shampoo, they’d be bringing it to market. Hair growth from shampoo “has yet to be scientifically proven, at least in published research or to FDA’s standards,” says Thomas.
The only treatment that is FDA-approved and proven to stimulate hair growth is the drug minoxidil, the main ingredient in the topical leave-in Rogaine, which is thought to work by dilating the blood vessels to your follicles, increasing their nutrient source and keeping them in the “growth” phase of the cycle longer, says Ben Benham, MD., FAAD, a dermatologist and co-founder of Happy Head, a hair loss treatment subscription service based in Los Angeles. But even a shampoo containing minoxidil isn’t likely to help, because the drug needs to be left on the scalp to be absorbed into the skin, rather than rinsed off. “A shampoo by itself is not going to make hair grow, as it usually doesn’t address the root of the problem,” says Dr. Benham — that is, what’s causing you to lose your hair in the first place.
So what shampoo should you use if you’re experiencing hair loss — that is, which are the best shampoos for various types of thinning hair to help you retain the hair you have, help it look thicker and/or keep it from breaking, so it can grow long and strong? Some over-the-counter shampoos contain ingredients that make it seem thicker and healthier to the touch, which in essence make you feel you have more hair, says Dr. Benham. Others are designed to treat skin conditions on the scalp that can irritate or damage the follicle, preventing hair from growing, or even help retain hair you have. We consulted medical experts in hair loss, product chemists and our own scientists in the Good Housekeeping Institute to find this list of the best shampoos for thinning hair, one of which might be right for you.
The Good Housekeeping Institute did not evaluate these shampoos for any claims of growing new hair (since that’s not a thing) or for breakage prevention, but our Beauty Lab experts did consider other factors. “We gathered products that we’ve found to counteract the undesirable appearance of fine and limp hair, as well as sulfate-free shampoos for those who feel that sulfate-based surfactants are drying to their scalp or strands,” says GH Beauty Lab Director Birnur Aral, Ph.D. From hair-thickening shampoos to shampoos for thin hair, “Some of these picks are products that rose to the top of our category tests, while others have been tested by the Good Housekeeping Beauty Lab as one-offs or are editors’ picks,” she says. One of these could be your new go-to.
This is a rare bird: A product that lives up to its claim that it strengthens the hair root, thus reducing shedding: Lab data analysis found 2,400 more hairs on users scalps after six months, compared to those who used a placebo. That’s why we picked it as a breakthrough winner in our 2021 Beauty Awards. The kit contains a serum along with the shampoo and must be used together to achieve the best results.
Experts rated this shampoo the best overall hair-thickening shampoo. The shampoo and conditioner, which contain moisturizing hyaluronic acid, together earned top ranks for making hair feel thicker and bouncier, while still being lightweight, according to our testers.
For a very affordable price, this shampoo delivered visibly more bouncy hair in our tests, tying for first place in volumizing evaluations. “My hair instantly felt fuller after just one use,” a tester raved. “I was shocked!” Testers said hair felt soft and conditioned, and we love its great fruity scent.
Used together with a conditioner and a leave-in treatment as a trio, this 2022 Beauty Award winner did indeed make testers’ hair feel stronger and more protected against damage, with one commenting that the effects lasted. Our experts evaluated the company’s data, which found that 93% of users said their hair felt more moisturized, and 82% saw visibly reduced split ends.
The GH Beauty Lab was so impressed with this shampoo because when used with the conditioner, it left hair soft but not weighed down — important for fine or thinning hair to maintain volume. The line also includes a detangler, which is not just for kids — anyone with thinning hair will appreciate the reduced need to pull with the comb or brushed.
Fine or flat hair that is also dry needs special consideration. Our volumizing shampoo and conditioner test results showed that this affordable option left users’ hair with more volume and less frizz.
This pick is not only sulfate-free, but comes in a bottle made of 100% recycled material. It made our list of the best sulfate-free shampoos because of its cleansing capabilities and uplifting scent that leaves hair feeling deeply cleansed.
You may be avoiding sulfates because you’re looking for a gentler formula, but still miss the foamy feel of a traditional shampoo. If so, this one is worth a go. Not only does it offer a great lather thanks to purified sulfates, but also leaves hair feeling shiny and smooth, earning it a top spot in our sulfate-free shampoo test.
Thanks to peppermint oil and menthol, this sulfate-free shampoo makes your scalp feel refreshed. While it doesn’t contain any hair-growth treatment, it comes in a kit with a 2% minoxidil leave-in solution, which has been proven to regrow hair in many people.
Why use a dry shampoo when your hair is thinning? While it is still important to cleanse the scalp to keep it healthy, washing a little less will often help reduce scalp friction and pulling on wet hair (hair is most vulnerable when it’s wet, says Aral). This formula has conditioning benefits, which is why our Beauty Director liked it so much. “It has a clean, fresh aroma that’s not overpowering,”
Our Good Housekeeping Beauty Lab pros did not test any claims of hair growth or breakage prevention, and while we did not hands-on evaluate every product above, the products we did test rose to the top of our rankings according to Lab data and consumer feedback. Each of the products on our list was chosen for one or more of the following reasons:
Hair loss can be a symptom of many issues, says Dr. Benham, which is why before you shell out for any product or treatment, you should visit a dermatologist to figure out what’s going on and how to treat it. Some big reasons for hair loss? Stress is a common one, says Dr. Benham, as it can lead to telogen effluvium. That’s when, three to six months after a shock (say, a death in the family, giving birth, or a physical shock like COVID or a surgery), a person can lose a lot of hair at once.
Another common reason for hair loss is a high level of testosterone (this can happen in women, too!) or particularly sensitive testosterone receptors. Androgenic alopecia (that is, hair loss resulting from a hormonal issue) is genetic, and doctors typically treat it with medications that block testosterone receptors. Other reasons can include:
The short answer is ASAP. “The earlier you do this, the better,” says Dr. Benham. “I see patients four or five years after they start losing their hair, and they’ve already lost a significant amount. It is much easier to save hair than to grow hair back,” he says. That is because of the way hair grows — and how it sometimes stops growing. Hair typically grows in three phases over roughly six months — the growth, or anagen phase; the catagen phase, a short transitional phase; and the telogen, or resting phase, where it naturally falls out. You normally lose between 50-100 hairs a day during this cycle, which is nothing to worry about. But for various reasons, follicles can start to miniaturize, which leads to thinner individual hairs, and eventually none at all being pushed out of the follicle. There are medications, depending on what is causing the miniaturization, that may prevent further miniaturization, says Dr. Benham, keeping the hair follicle out of retirement, and the sooner you start taking them, the better for keeping your hair.
A nutritious diet is key, says Dr. Benham, who says he sees a lot of hair loss among vegans and vegetarians, who may need to take supplements to be sure they get enough iron and vitamin D, to name a few important nutrients. If you are prone to heavy periods, you also may need to supplement with iron, or perhaps go on a hormonal contraceptive that can regulate your periods. And of course, if you have any of the above medical problems that cause hair loss, says Dr. Benham, treating the underlying issue is key to arresting hair loss.
It’s also important to treat the air you do have with care. Brush gently, vary your hairstyle (tight buns worn every day can lead to traction alopecia) consider skipping heavy hair weaves or braids and don’t over-process or style hair. “Use a quality shampoo and conditioner, minimize damaging treatments that can increase hair breakage and hence make it look like less hair, such as permanent dyeing and waving,” says Dawson.
Dr. Benham favors hair products that contain argan oil, keratin (the same protein that constitutes hair itself), B vitamins and collagen. “These can help nourish the follicle, keeping it healthier,” he says. Using shampoos that moisturize and condition also helps. “Imagine if your skin is very dry — you’re more likely to get cuts, infections and sores,” he says. “The same thing happens with your hair. So when you use a moisturizing shampoo with things like rice silk and wheat proteins and panthenols, it coats the outer part, so it looks shinier and gets less damaged.” These can also make the scalp feel less dry and flaky, he says.
A bit of advice to keep in mind, whatever shampoo you use: “Shampoos and conditioners are developed and tested for breakage efficacy in pairs,” says Aral, so if you’re hoping to prevent further hair damage (which contributes to the appearance of thinning) you would get the full benefits when you used the matching duo. Mixing and matching or skipping the conditioner may not give you as much of a benefit, she adds.
By and large, shampoos that are on the market have been tested and do not contain ingredients known to cause hair loss. “However, from time to time we see certain ingredients being called out for causing hair loss. The most recent one is DMD hydantoin, a formaldehyde-releasing preservative in cosmetics, which is actually the subject of an ongoing lawsuit,” says Aral. But that is an anomaly, she says.
In addition to being a health editor and writer for decades, writer Stephanie Dolgoff experienced hair loss firsthand after an incredibly stressful series of life events and going off The Pill 12 years ago. She used her reporter brain to learn everything there is to know about hair loss, the reasons behind it and treatments — legit and not-so-legit. “I know how desperate you can feel when you see handfuls of hair coming out, so it’s important to me personally to help people not waste their money or their time on things that won’t work.”
Birnur Aral, who holds degrees in both mechanical and chemical engineering, has led Good Housekeeping’s Beauty Lab for 15 years, overseeing hands-on tests for myriad health and beauty products we use every day. Prior to that, she spent seven years in R&D at Unilever, which owns several cosmetic brands that make shampoo. She is Good Housekeeping‘s go-to for understanding the science behind beauty products and debunking misconceptions.