Sunday, August 12, 2018

Flax Seed Gel Diagnostics: The Video!

There are plenty of "how to make flaxseed gel" videos on YouTube, right? I made this video to show you how to tell whether you're going to get a thin, easily strainable result or a thick, difficult-to-strain result. Because flax seeds are a natural product and how they behave when heated can vary based on seed variety and growing conditions, storage time and conditions, your water, how fast you get to the stove when you hear the seeds boiling, how low you turn down the heat when they boil - you need more cues than just timing.

Thinner flax seed gel: Boil the water and seeds about 5-8 minutes. The gel will thicken over the heat a little. Gel will hang in thin threads from your stirring utensil (see the video). The gel will strain quickly and easily.
This gel will provide some support for your hair, shine, all the good things flax seed gel can do. This thinner gel is good for thin or fine hair, hair that is easily weighed down or tends to be low porosity.

Thicker flax seed gel: Boil seeds 10-15 minutes. Some people boil them longer than that. The gel with be thick over heat, you'll get thicker strings of gel hanging from your stirring utensil. It will not run readily through a strainer, it will require some pressure. I usually mash with a spoon, some people strain through the cut-off foot of nylon stockings. NOTE: having your hands contact the gel while straining through nylon stockings will contaminate the gel! You'll need to re-boil it to kill bacteria if you want a long shelf-life in the refrigerator.
This gel will provide extra support and thickness, it might be too softening or heavy for thin or fine hair or hair that tends to go limp easily or is low porosity. Possibly great for thick or coarse hair.

Overnight-soak flax gel will tend towards the thicker side upon boiling. The longer the seeds are in water, the more mucilage/polysaccharides (gel!) can be extracted, whether that is an overnight soak, a longer boil, or leaving the seeds in the hot water after boiling.

Whether or not more mucilage/polysaccharides (gel!) is better depends on your hair and your personal preference.

Links to flax gel recipes on this blog:
Basic flax seed gel recipes with ideas for add-ins.
Super-Smooth Flax Curl Cream
Flaxseed Curling Cream (uses commercial strong-hold gel)
Flaxseed/Aloe Gel with Protein (scroll down a bit)

Watch the video to see demos - and what seem like awkwardly long close-ups of my strainer and Pyrex measuring cup.

Sunday, August 5, 2018

Conditioning Technique: Squish to Condish, How it Works

First of all - this is not my technique. It was named by Melissa Stites, hairstylist and owner of There Once Was A Curl salon in Southgate, Michigan. Squish to Condish is a conditioner-rinsing method for which you can find Ms. Stites text here on her blog - which she has generously shared and it is helpful to so many people. This technique is meant to leave some conditioner in the hair and achieve excellent hydration and lubrication. I often recommend this technique, so I've had to think quite a lot about why it works so well. You can find videos on YouTube demonstrating the technique.

I use un-glamorous words like hydration and lubrication for hair. Because they seem most literal and accurate to me.

When hair is hydrated - meaning it contains a certain percentage of water - it is flexible. Dehydrated hair becomes inflexible, which is part of what we mean when we say hair feels dry or, "like straw." Flexible hair is more pliable. It can be shaped when wet. It has some weight or heft when dry. It will group more readily with neighboring hairs into waves or curls during styling. If your hair is straight - hydrated hair is less likely to spread out at the ends (like the end of a broom) if it is well-hydrated.

When hair is lubricated, hairs can settle in snugly next to neighboring hairs. Lubrication reduces friction - and friction creates frizz.

Squish to Condish: This method enhances 4 important elements to conditioner-use.
  1. Adding water to conditioner once in the hair to take advantage of conditioner's action as a "wetting agent." Wetting agents like surfactants (and conditioners contain cationic surfactants) help a conditioner overcome hair's resistance to water absorption. This is a little counter-intuitive because conditioners also help hair repel water once adsorbed to the hair. But don't over-think it - instead try it yourself. You'll find that if your hair tends to repel water and be slow to wet, applying conditioner to it first helps it become wet more quickly. Shampoos are even more effective wetting agents than conditioners.
  2. The physical manipulation used - scrunching, gliding, pressing hairs together, gentle squeezing, finger-combing, helps saturate hair evenly. Like kneading bread just enough - there will be no little bits of dry flour here and bits of wetter dough there after you've done this. The hair is more evenly saturated with water, and evenly coated with more-fluid conditioner.
  3. Better contact with all hair surfaces means conditioner can bond to more bonding-sites on the hair, and with it, water for more thorough saturation.
  4. More of the hair-penetrating ingredients can find their way into the hair because of better coverage, and more thorough saturation. That includes ingredients like Glycerin, Panthenol, Amino acids, Cetrimonium chloride (or bromide).
This is not a technique for smoothing down cuticles. As far as cuticles are involved - between cuticle edges is where water can seep past, and with it, some of the humectants and conditioning ingredients and oils in conditioners. Conditioners also bond to cuticles and their edges. But conditioner and Squish to Condish doesn't change the cuticle-condition, nor the cuticle position. This technique alters elements of flexibility, hydration and lubrication to change the behavior of the hair strands.

I admit it took me a long time to get to writing this post because I was having trouble with the visual aids. I wanted to use real hair, but imaging hair with conditioner on it is difficult. I decided on silver hair for its translucence, and I added blue dye to the conditioner for visibility. The dark lines in the center are medullas. The conditioner appears as some blobs or irregularities on the sides of the hair. In the end, I had to "enhance" the final images a little to show you what seems so helpful about this method to me. 

Above: Hair with conditioner smoothed over the surface. The conditioner is blue. This seemed like good coverage to the naked eye and to the fingers. The blue dye worked fairly well If you *click to enlarge* the photo, you can see some blurry areas of non-blue conditioner which did not retain the dye. Conditioner coverage is not very continuous when just smoothed over the hair!


















Close-up of hair with conditioner smoothed over the surface. Coverage is patchy.

Now the Squish to Condish hair. 


Hair using Squish To Condish - water added to conditioner on the hair, squeezed together, but has not has the excess water removed - a little more water/conditioner removal would be the next step. Blue coloring is spread more evenly over more of the hair, meaning more conditioner has contact with the hair, and the hair is better-hydrated from having "kneaded" the water and conditioner into the hair.

Squish to Condish hair close-up - blue-colored conditioner covers most of the hair surface.


Keep in mind - this is a dramatization to help you visualize and understand how this technique works. I did work with real hair and real conditioner - it's a conditioner with a little protein and oil, so this is very close to what happens in your hair.

By "kneading" the water and conditioner into your hair, you create a more-hydrated, better-lubricated, more malleable result. Just like kneading bread or mixing muffin or brownie batter to assure every bit of dough/batter is properly prepared.
Even if you need to rinse out your conditioner after conditioning due to sensitive skin, or hair that tends to become limp or develop an oily or coated appearance, this technique still provides much better conditioning that combing conditioner through your hair and hoping for the best.






Sunday, May 27, 2018

My Problem-Scalp Line-Up


Greetings blog-readers! The blog has been quiet because while I have ideas for blog posts, they generally take more hours to carry out than I have to write them. This is not intended as medical advice and does not replace a consultation with a doctor. Use any and all treatments at your own discretion - or ask your doctor or pharmacist. Nor does it replace buying half a dozen dandruff shampoos and handing them off to a family member or friend when they don't work for you. Alas. I buy these products myself - this is not a sponsored post. Everything you see here should cost less than $25.

I have an entire page dedicated to itchy, flaky, bumpy scalp products because so many of us encounter those problems from time to time, or on a more or less constant basis.

What kind of scalp problem do I have? My skin falls into the "atopic dermatitis/eczema" category. Also "seborrheic dermatitis." I don't see those things as separate entities, there is overlap, even though eczema usually means dry skin and seborrheic dermatitis usually means oily skin. Atopic dermatitis means you have allergies, and part of your allergic reaction is your skin barrier breaks down when your skin is bombarded by allergens - things like mold spores, pollen, pet dander. But because allergies have an inflammatory component, some people's skin "learns" that inflammation reaction and will also become inflamed - dry, red, painful, peeling or flaking, raw - from exposure to wind or cold or heat or pressure (hat-wearing or headbands).

The "seborrheic dermatitis" component applies because scalps (and eyebrows, noses, cheeks, chins) can sometimes be more-oily. And sometimes the flaking and peeling of skin is a more-visible symptom in these areas. And oiliness - greasy hair. But for some people, that "oiliness" actually looks like thick, waxy, yellow flakes. Or it may feel like a waxy/powdery residue or "scalp build-up" that accumulates under your fingernails if you scratch your skin, or leaves that residue on your fingers if you rub it. Some people get "scalp acne" or bumps or cysts.

What do I use? The right treatment varies a lot from person to person. I have skin that reacts badly to a lot of products, and I have tried many dandruff treatments with very few "hits." This is what works for me, when it works and why it works.

Scalp massage: Before washing, or between washes if you go several days between washes. Nothing fancy, massage the scalp gently with the finger-pads (not the nails - if you have a very sensitive scalp, that can leave you with skin damage). Then I stroke my fingers over and through my hair - which spreads any oils over the hair and can help hair feel more-hydrated and flexible after washing.

*For people who have a waxy, thick build-up, a shampoo brush can do a great job loosening that up. Using very warm water helps to soften waxy oils (or a warm towel wrapped around the head), by bringing them closer to their melting point so they're easier to remove - but if heat makes your skin worse, just use water as warm as you can tolerate.

DHS Sal shampoo: For dry-weather peeling/flaking and humid-weather itching and bumpiness. This product contains Salicylic acid to act as an exfoliant to remove skin cells which need shedding. Those of us with problem scalps tend to need help with exfoliation because our skin is not functioning like healthy skin, and skin cells which should be shedding freely tend to stick together instead. That can provide a moist little environment for yeasts and bacteria - the ones that normally live on our scalps without causing a problem - to grow more than usual -causing itch and inflammation. FYI: Yeasts are a kind of fungus. Good exfoliation can help keep your microbial community in check.

I use this 1-2 times per week when my scalp is flaring up. I wash my hair frequently to remove allergens. This shampoo is fragrance-free and contains no conditioners - which are a problem for my skin. My hair is short, but if it were long, dry, highlighted, relaxed, dyed, heat-styled or damaged, I would want to condition it before washing as well as after to protect the hair from drying out. An oil pre-wash treatment would also protect hair from drying effects of shampoos such as this. This shampoo is meant to de-grease hair and scalp, but not all itchy and flaky scalps are especially greasy. Mine isn't. I usually wash after this with my favorite mild shampoo to make sure there will be nothing left behind to cause itch.

I can't buy this product locally, so I order it directly from Person and Covey - their shipping is quick and I'm certain to receive a product which has not been sitting in a warehouse for too long. As I write this, it costs $8.60 for a 4 oz. bottle. That skimpy little bottle lasts a long while unless more than one person is using it.

Hydrocortisone cream: For applying to itchy, peeling, red (inflamed) or flaky areas. Some people get flaking and peeling all over. My scalp will flake or peel in patches (usually) with itching. So I can spot-treat with hydrocortisone cream, which reduces inflammation and itching quickly.
Cortizone-10 is my favorite, but I'll buy a generic if the ingredients are the same. In other countries, this anti-itch medication will have different brands, but the active ingredient is Hydrocortisone 1%.


That which needs extra medicine: When hydrocortisone cream fails, in summer when it is humid, when I've been sweating, if there has been a dramatic weather change, I've been wearing a hat, etc., the yeasts on a sensitive scalp (and sometimes bacteria too) can get a little out of control and that means extra itching, inflammation - usually slightly different symptoms than during our more-dry, colder winters. Sometimes it seems to turn on an allergy response, if you're not outright allergic to molds/yeasts to begin with. In which case, your eyes might itch or get watery, you might feel tired or foggy-headed and your mind will drift to washing your scalp and it's really, really hard not to scratch. This is the muscle for really bad skin days.

Tinactin antifungal: This is what I use to spot-treat itchy areas when topical Hydrocortisone does not work. Designed for athlete's foot, a fungal skin disease - this cream works so quickly when I need it on my feet, I decided to try it in my itchy pool-ears and eyebrows and after a few applications, things are usually back to normal. Sometimes I need to use this in addition to hydrocortisone cream on an itchy/peeling spot. One could use any brand or athlete's foot treatment you like, this is the one that gets along with my skin and works very fast. I use it to spot-treat my scalp sometimes. It's a cream, and it comes in a small-ish tube, so obviously I'm not going to put this all over my scalp. The active ingredient is Tolnaftate.




Zinc, Ketoconazole and antifungal shampoo/conditioner or treatments: I like DHS zinc shampoo, but the fragrance is strong. If the itch of an itchy scalp is more than I can spot-treat, and Salicylic acid shampoo isn't getting the job done, it's time to try something anti-microbial.
Pyrithione zinc shampoos like this tend to work for lots of people by reducing yeasts on the scalp. There are Pyrithione zinc, Ketoconazole shampoos and Piroctone olamine shampoos and treatments in a list on this page. Those are also anti-yeast.
I use these "as needed" because I've been dealing with this for years and I know (mostly) how my scalp will respond - usually a few uses is enough for me if I'm using other treatments at the same time - which I do. Usually one needs to use a medicated shampoo for about 2 weeks, and then less often for maintenance after your scalp has cleared.

Antihistamines: For those of us with seasonal allergies, taking antihistamines regularly when you need them, assuming it's safe for you to take them, can help minimize the intensity of skin reactions.

There you have it - one person's strategy for dry-weather scalp problems, humid-weather scalp problems, and things in between.


Saturday, November 4, 2017

Is this oil good for MY hair?



Greetings! The blog has been very quiet lately. Life gets busy, busy, busy.

I keep reading how many people experience problems with oils. Some people's hair never met an oil it didn't like. And for others, their hair has a problem with all but 1 or 2 oils. Occasionally we try an oil and get such a bad result, we want to swear off all oils. But then you're probably missing out on some beneficial, inexpensive effects.

Here's my quick assessment checklist for whether your hair gets along with an oil or not. Don't worry that somebody else's hair does really well with an oil that makes yours look and feel awful. We're all as different as we are the same. Skin and hair chemistry vary subtly from person to person.

Good oils for your hair: A good oil for your hair will look and feel good when you apply it - maybe adding a little sheen, a smoother feel, ease of detangling. And it will still have that sheen and smoothness hours later. You may need to re-apply the oil at some point between washes, but your hair should not be worse off after using the oil.

Oils that don't work for your hair: Obviously limp, flat hair means your hair doesn't get along well with an oil - or you used too much. If your hair becomes dry, frizzy, waxy, brittle, tangly, stiff, crunchy or dull-looking - your hair is NOT getting along well with an oil you used. This may happen right away, or it may occur over the course of many hours - or maybe not until after days or weeks of use. Sometimes we blame other ingredients for some of these effects and forget to consider the oils in products.

Oils that are underwhelming: Do you keep adding oil to a deep conditioner or doing oil treatments and not seeing any result? You may not yet have found the right oil for your hair. Some people's hair will tolerate a lot of different oils without showing much change for better or worse - but when you find the right one - that's when your hair stands up and does a little dance!

Watch out for: 

  • Many products combine 1 or 2 or a whole bunch of oils (and butters, too) in a single product. If your hair does well with one of those oils, but the product as a whole does not agree with your hair - the problem may be an oil you are not familiar with. If your hair is picky about oils, save your money and don't buy products that use several different oils.
  • A problem with quantity vs. the oil itself. Too much of a good thing can be a bad thing. If you've only ever used enough oil to get your hair greasy or wet-looking and found it too difficult to wash out, and leaving your hair feeling crunchy and like artificial hair you may need to use less to get a useful result.

Make it work for you: Not all oils are good in the same application. Some oils are nicer to use on dry or damp hair, but terrible if mixed into a conditioner - save those for oil treatments. Some oils might not provide a nice result when used during styling, but are good in a conditioner (added by you upon use, or by the manufacturer). Some oils work well for one part of styling, but not another - for example, smoothing frizz in dry hair only, or sealing damp hair only. You never know what will work - sometimes you'll be pleasantly surprised. Sometimes you'll have to go wash your hair again. It's all part of the learning process, right?

What sort of hair is more picky about oils? I don't know if there is any foolproof, always-accurate way to guess with the tools we all have at our disposal. Low-porosity hair seems to be more reactive to oils sometimes. Hair which is quite coarse (wide in width) may be more picky because any added rigidity is more noticeable. Hair which tends to feel or behave wiry or springy may also be more sensitive about oil choices because of the "added rigidity" problem. Hard water can go either way, it can make your hair more or less oil-friendly. Porous hair may be more oil-loving, but it can still have bad reactions to different oils. Temperature and humidity matter too - oils may behave differently in your hair in hot weather vs. cold weather.




Monday, July 10, 2017

UV Protectant Hair Ingredients and Products

UV protectants are ideal for active people, for going to the beach where sand and water amplify UV radiation, and especially helpful for gray hair which tends to discolor (usually turning yellowish) in sunlight. Any hair benefits from UV protection because direct sunlight increases hair's porosity. Sunlight tends to make your hair's cuticles shrink and fuse together - like "shrinky dinks" or similar to what happens to hard plastic placed in a hot oven. That means tiny pores are opened up where the cuticle used to cover the hair. This takes only 200 hours in the sun - half an hour a day for just over a year.

Brown to black hair tends to fade both lighter and reddish in the sun and blonde hair and red hair lose color. Highlighted hair tends to become "brassy" and gray/white hair can turn yellowish as well.
One may not blog about summer and
sunshine without invoking a beach
scene. Here you go.


The Ingredients:
These are all UV light absorbers - the word "protectant" is commonly how these are marketed.

  • Octylmethoxycinnamate - This works best as a spray containing oils or oily ingredients - not as well in gels or shampoos or conditioners. 
  • Cinnamidopropyltrimonium chloride - This is a good UV protectant simply because it is also a substantive (bonds to hair) conditioner - it bonds to the hair whether applied as a shampoo, conditioner or spray, it stays on if you go in the water. It also helps prevent breakage because it is a conditioner. This is used in quite low concentrations – it does not need to be at the top of the ingredient list. 
  • Benzophenone-3, Benzophone-4 - Water-soluble UV absorber. For leave-on products, but may wash off if you go in the water. 
  • Quaternium-95 and Propanediol - This is also fairly new and is also a substantive conditioner, so it can be applied as a shampoo, conditioner, or leave-on and should stay on if you go in the water.
Products
Clothing
You know, wear a hat. A hat with a dense fabric (straw hats need to be a reasonably tight weave) will keep off much of the UV. Or you can buy a UPF 30 or 50-rated hat (the fabric has the UPF rating). Hats protect your eyes from sun so you don't get cataracts, keeps the sun off part of your face so you don't end up with lots of wrinkles or dry skin, prevents "part-burn." Hats keep the UV light off your hair, but your hair can still get pretty hot under a hat and dehydrate.

UV Buffs with UPF of 30 or 50 are handy too. Cover all your hair - if you have long hair, pin the ends up so they're covered.


Saturday, May 27, 2017

Humidity-Resistant Hair Styling Products

Updated: May 2018. It's the unofficial start of summer this weekend in the Northern Hemisphere. For a lot of us, that means humid weather and frizzy hair - whether the dewpoint is high (above 50°F/10°C) or it's foggy, dewy or rainy.
Raindrops on a Monarda
leaf.

In the last decade or so, the creative folks who make cosmetics ingredients have developed ingredients that withstand high humidity better than some of the older ingredients for providing "hold." They are slowly working their way into products in a variety of brands.

These ingredients are polymers - film-forming, even hold-providing. The performance of the product as a whole is the sum of its parts - so you do want to look for these ingredients if you really need to keep your hair together in high humidity - but keep in mind that just because they're in a product doesn't mean the product will suit your hair or your hairstyle.

What is humidity-resistance? It means a product is less likely to lose it's hold or allow your hair to lose its shape in high humidity as your hair (and the products in your hair) absorb moisture from the air around them. This is tested in the lab by applying a product to locks of hair and placing them in a humidity and temperature-controlled chamber for a period of time - usually many hours. Sometimes the hair is left in its natural state to see how much it expands. Sometimes the hair is intentionally curled to see how well it retains the curl. Good humidity-resistance means the hair doesn't lose it's shape too much, despite very high humidity conditions. That should apply to straightened hair too.

The Ingredients:
  • Polyquaternium-69
  • Polyamide-1 (usually used with another ingredient for hold and humidity-resistance)
  • Polyquaternium-72
  • Polyquaternium-11
  • Polyquaternium-10
  • Polyquaternium-4 
  • PVA/VP Copolymer (particularly in addition to any of the others here, alone it tends to fail in very high humidity over time)
  • "Acrylates copolymer" ingredients (often found in hairsprays, but now also in gels and other styling products) such as:
    • VP/DMAPA Acrylates Copolymer
    • "Polyacrylate acid"
    • Polyacrylate-2 Crosspolymer
    • VP/Dimethylaminoethyl Methaceylate Copolymer (VP/DMAEMA) - this is also known as Polyquaternium-11

Some Products Containing These Ingredients - as always, double-check the ingredient lists:
  • Alba Botanica Soft Hold Style Cream
  • Alba Botanica Strong Hold Gel
  • AG Volume Foam Weightless Volumizer
  • Arvazilla Ultra Curl Defining Cream with Argan Oil
  • Aussie Miraculously Smooth gel
  • Aussie Instant Freeze Gel
  • Bain De Terre Bamboo Ultra Control Styling Gel
  • Beyond The Zone Bada Bing Super Hold Gel
  • Biosilk Rock Hard Gelee
  • Bounce Curl Light Creme Gel
  • Boo Bamboo Frizz Contro Curl Defining Gel
  • Boogie’s Bold Hair Gel
  • Bronner Brothers Foam Moisturizing Wrapping Lotion
  • Bumble and Bumble Anti-Humidity Gel-Oil
  • Bumble and Bumble Curl Defining Creme
  • Bumble and Bumble Curl Conditioning Mousse
  • Bumble and Bumble Multi-Talented Sculpting Medium (gel)
  • Boldify Curl Defining Cream
  • Curl Friends Control Gel
  • Curly Hair Solutions Curl Keeper Gel
  • Deva Curl Frizz-Free Volumizing Foam
  • Dippity-Do Girls with Curls Curl Boosting Mousse
  • Fragfre Styling Gel
  • Free & Clear Styling Gel
  • Got2B Glued Spiking Glue
  • Herbal Essences Set Me Up Gel
  • Herbal Essences Totally Twisted Curl Scrunching Gel
  • It’s A 10 Miracle Hold Gel
  • It's A 10 Miracle Styling Cream
  • Jessicurl Spiralicious
  • Joico Joiwhip Firm Hold Designing Foam
  • Kenra Curl Control Gel 10
  • Kenra Curl Glaze Mousse 13
  • Kenra Curl Defining Cream
  • LA Looks Nutra Curl
  • L'Oreal EverCurl Sculpt and Hold Cream Gel
  • L'Oreal Studio Head Lock Mega Gel
  • Madam CJ Walker Humidity Block Curl Gel
  • Mop Top Medium Hold Anti-Frizz gel
  • Moroccanoil Styling Gel Strong hold
  • Moroccanoil Curl Control Mousse
  • NAK Kurls Styling Creme (Amodimethicone, Cyclomethicone)
  • Not Your Mother’s Naturals Blue Sea Kale and Coconut Water Mousse
  • North American Hemp Co. Mousse
  • Not Your Mother’s Kinky Moves Curl Defining Hair Cream
  • OGX Coconut Curls Moisture Mousse
  • OGX Honey Hold Mega Glue
  • Okay: Roots Therapy Biotin Professional Mousse
  • One N Only Argan Oil Mousse
  • Ouidad Climate Control gel
  • Oribe Curl Shaping Mousse
  • R+Co Twister Curl Primer 
  • So Gorgeous Non Aerosol Volumizing Mousse
  • Schwarzkopf Amino-Q Hold Gel
  • Smooth Viking Strong hold Hair Gel
  • Tresemme Tres Two Extra Hold Hair Gel
  • Tigi Catwalk Curls Rock Amplifier
  • Paul Mitchell Curls Ultimate Wave beachy texture cream-gel
  • Paul Mitchell Express Style Fast Form
  • Philip B Styling Gel
  • V05 Mega Hold Styling Gel (UK and European product)
  • Wet Line Xtreme Professional Styling Gel
  • Winsome & Wisdom Define Yourself Gel-Cream (contains Cyclomethicone, an "evaporating" silicone)
  • Zenz Hair Mousse Pure No. 90


Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Scientifically tested, over-the-counter treatments for thinning hair


Please remember that this information can and should never replace the care and advice of a physician. If you experience hair thinning, seek consultation with a medical professional who listens and will physically examine your scalp. If you take medications on a regular basis, always check for interactions between medications and supplements.

Be aware that scalps can be sensitive to any and all treatments and products, including natural ones. Scalps that are losing hair may be more sensitive than scalps in which hair density is stable.

This post has lots of links. Where I can link you to a full article, I did. Otherwise, I linked to abstracts, which contain a summary of the study's contents.

Updated: September, 2018

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Androgenic alopecia is the clinical term of male and female pattern hair loss. It’s one of those diagnoses of exclusion. If you don’t have telogen effluvium (hair loss following an exposure to an allergen, due to physical or mental trauma), or alopecia areata (patches of hair loss), traction alopecia due to tension on your scalp, or hair loss due to thyroid disease, scalp disease or polycystic ovarian syndrome - then you likely have androgenic alopecia.©Science-y Hair Blog 2017

If you start to experience hair loss that is more than you are accustomed to, it’s ideal to have a doctor or dermatologist check for other causes of hair loss before concluding you have androgenic alopecia. Hair loss can be a sign that something else is wrong.

Female pattern hair loss and male pattern hair loss take on different patterns, which you can find men's here and women's here. ©Science-y Hair Blog 2017

Androgens are hormones which are more abundant in men than women, specifically testosterone. Testosterone circulates in your blood and in the hair follicle, can be transformed into dihydrotestosterone (DHT) by the enzyme alpha-5 reductase in your hair follicles. This is thought to be damaging to hair follicles. The end result is that hair follicles begin to produce narrow, “vellus” hairs. Like the hairs on non-hairy parts of your body, they are very thin, narrow and difficult to see. As these replace normal-width hairs on your head, overall hair thickness decreases.

Note that the "DHT-causes-hair-thinning" idea is not unequivocally proven. There are other variables at work on scalps with thinning hair like low-grade inflammation and atopy (allergy to airborne allergens, contact allergens, yeasts in normal scalp flora).©Science-y Hair Blog 2017

There are some proven treatments for Androgenic alopecia which work in a variety of ways. These are ones you can buy over the counter, they don't require a prescription. Some of them you can use together because different treatments address different causes of hair thinning, such as enzymatic pathways or circulation or inflammation. If in doubt, ask a pharmacist, doctor or dermatologist.

1) Minoxidil. For example: Rogaine. Minoxidil must be applied twice daily as indicated on the label. ©Science-y Hair Blog 2017
Everybody (women and men) can to use the 5% men’s strength to get the best result.
Minoxidil must be used twice daily to achieve the best result. Minoxidil is effective in around 50% to 60% of people who use it. Minoxidil is a vasodilator (expands blood vessels to increase blood flow).

2) Topical caffeine.  
It has to go on your scalp, drinking caffeinated beverages doesn’t count. 


Caffeine is a quickly-absorbed vasodilator to increase blood flow in the scalp. Caffeine does not need to stay on the scalp until the next washing (that's why shampoos work), but it does need about 2 minutes to absorb into your skin before rinsing
In men especially, topical caffeine may decrease trans-epidermal water loss, which means skin stays hydrated.
The concentration used in the studies linked here, done in the lab (not on people, just their hair follicles/skin in the lab) is 0.001% to 0.005% - very low for an active ingredient, but enough to be effective. 

In a 2018 study done on men with androgenetic alopecia (in vivo), a 0.2% caffeine solution was used twice per day, increasing the number of hairs in the growing phase (anagen) by almost 11% - similar to the results from Minoxidil in the same study.

Topical caffeine affects the whole body and too much on your skin is the same as too much when ingested. Larger concentrations can be dangerous. If you're caffeine-sensitive, topical caffeine might keep you awake if you use caffeine in products at night, or give you a "caffeine buzz" during the day. 


In lab tests on skin in culture which was treated with testosterone, hair growth was suppressed. When topical caffeine was added, it stimulated hair growth back to normal, so caffeine may counter hair-thinning effects of testosterone in hair follicles.
Caffeine stimulates hair growth and helps hair stay in anagen phase longer - the growing phase - than it otherwise might in people with androgenic alopecia.
Caffeine may slow down excessive shedding and stimulate hair growth.
Topical caffeine has been measured to stay active in hair follicles for up to 48 hours, so it needs to be used every 1-2 days to be most effective.©Science-y Hair Blog 2017

There are a number of products - shampoos, sprays, serums you can purchase which already contain caffeine. Some contain additional ingredients which may be beneficial. There is a do-it-yourself recipe following this list.

Caffeine-Containing Hair Products

Alpecin Caffeine shampoo (with ketoconazole)
Alpecin After Shampoo Liquid
Amplixin Intensive Hair Growth Serum
Dove Men + Care Fortifying 2 In 1 Shampoo, Complete 2-in-1 shampoo
Art Naturals Organic Argan Oil Hair Loss Shampoo
GrowMe Shampoo, Sulfate Free - Watermans UK brand
ConditionMe Hair Growth Conditioner - Watermans UK brand
Hair Lab Hair Growth Serum
Hair Lab Regrowth & Thickening Shampoo
Man Cave Caffeine Shampoo
Pura D'Or Anti Hair Loss Argan Oil Shampoo (with pyrithione zinc) (Sulfate free)
Revita Hair Stimulating Shampoo (with ketoconazole) (Sulfate free) (Not for vegetarians)
SebaMed Scalp Activating Shampoo for Thinning Hair
Thicker Fuller Hair Shampoo
Thicker Fuller Hair Weightless Conditioner
Thicker Fuller Hair Instantly Thick Serum (this is a styling product, not a scalp product)
Ultrax Hair Surge Caffeine Hair Growth Stimulating Shampoo
Ultrax Hair Solace Conditioner
Ultrax Labs Hair Lush Thickening treatment serum
Wick and Strom Anti Hair Loss Shampoo (with ketoconazole)

DIY caffeine recipe: Here are 2 options.

Option 1) Lower concentration, ready to use without further diluting - but dilution may be a good idea:
Mix the contents of one-fourth of a 200 mg capsule of caffeine powder (such as this one with no fillers or additives) with 1 gallon (about 4 liters) distilled water.  Using too much caffeine can cause the same side effects as ingesting too much caffeine, or can cause scalp irritation. ©Science-y Hair Blog 2017 
The end concentration is approximately 1.25% to 1.3% with this mixture. I recently updated this concentration due to a arithmetic error.  This is more concentrated than necessary - but we're working with really small amounts that require much more sensitive equipment than most of us have!
I encourage you to dilute this before using it. Use 1 part caffeine-water, 3 parts water or shampoo or whatever you are adding the caffeine water to.
The caffeine-water could be mixed with a shampoo (when using, don't dilute a product in its bottle), or made into a spray or put in or in a dropper-bottle to apply to the scalp.

Option 2) Higher concentration, needs to be diluted to use: Add the contents of a single, 200 mg capsule of caffeine powder (with no additives) to 1 gallon (about 4 liters) distilled water. This is your concentrated solution. Dilute this solution to make sprays or scalp "drops" or to add to a shampoo by using 5% to 10% caffeine solution in your product. For example, 5 grams caffeine solution per 100 grams total product is 5%. To be exact, 5% caffeine solution + 95% "everything else" = 100%. I make shampoo and a leave-on scalp gel this way.

Can brewed tea or coffee be used?
Yes. But not decaffeinated tea or coffee. Tea and coffee can create or enhance "cool" or ashy tones in hair. The tea or coffee needs to contact your scalp and be left on for at least 2 minutes.
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3) Ketoconazole shampoo

Ketoconazole is an anti-fungal medication that can help reduce hair loss - it’s sold for managing seborrheic dermatitis - dandruff. Higher concentrations are found in Nizoral shampoo, and Regenepure DR in the US. There are some shampoos with both caffeine and ketoconazole in the list above (Alpecin Caffeine shampoo, Revita Hair Stimulating Shampoo, Wick and Strom Anti Hair Loss Shampoo). Ketoconazole may help by ultimately reducing inflammation, or by interfering with the alpha-5 reductase enzyme. ©Science-y Hair Blog 2017
Ketoconazole shampoos are used every 2-3 days in studies that showed decreased hair loss by about 17%, a greater number of hairs in anagen phase (growing phase), greater hair density and width (compared to narrowing hairs with androgenic alopecia).
It may be especially helpful for thinning hair if you have ever had seborrheic dermatitis, eczema, rosacea, or itchy scalp or any sort of scalp flaking, including little powdery dry flakes.
Results are similar to 2% Minoxidil - which is response in approximately 40% to 50% of people using it.
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4) Pyrithione zinc shampoo

This is another dandruff shampoo that can decrease inflammation in the scalp and slow hair shedding (by about 10%). It may or may not encourage more normal-width hairs to grow, depending on the study.
It may be more helpful if you’ve ever had seborrheic dermatitis, eczema, rosacea, or itchy scalp.
Use a pyrithione zinc shampoo every 2-3 days.
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5) Pumpkin seed oil (with other active ingredients) 

Pumpkin seed oil supplements in one, 6-month study which was double-blinded and placebo-controlled (the gold standard for studies such as this) had a positive effect on hair re-growth in men with mild to moderate androgenic alopecia. That translates into 40% increases in hair counts in men treated with pumpkin seed oil after 24 weeks versus only 10% increases in hair counts for men in the placebo group.
In animal studies, pumpkin seed oil alone has been demonstrated to block the action of alpha-5 reductase.
The dose was 400 mg of pumpkin seed oil in 4 capsules, 2 were taken with a morning meal and 2 with the evening meal, though the product used was not exclusively pumpkin seed oil. 


The specific supplement used in this study was
Octo-Sabal Plus” which is not available in the U.S., containing : Octacosanol, Pumpkin seed powder, Mixed vegetable powder, Evening primrose powder, Corn silk extracted powder, Red clover powder, Tomato powder. These are not inactive ingredients, though we don't know the dosage. 

  • Red clover extract is a phytoestrogen (plant estrogen), corn silk extract contains plant sterols which may help with glucose metabolism. Phytoestrogens from plants may modify the onset of androgenic alopecia by reducing inflammation around hair follicles.
  • Octocosanol may have anti-inflammatory effects and/or improve lipid metabolism. 
  • Tomato powder may reduce inflammation and improve lipid metabolism.
  • This supplement contains some of the same active ingredients.
Pumpkin seed oil may also support nitric oxide formation, an effect which may be supportive of healthy skin barrier function

A tablespoon or about 15 ml of pumpkin seeds contains about 5 grams of fat (oils), which is 5000 mg - more than used in this study. If you regularly eat pumpkin seeds - it may be having a similar effect. And you get other nutrients too!
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6) Protective foods and nutrients: 


  • Regular consumption (1-3 days per week at least) of soy beverages (for the phytoestrogen content). One study of men with moderate to severe androgenic alopecia (including more of the scalp) found that regular consumption of soy beverages and higher vanadium intake appeared to be protective of hair thinning. It is a study done in Taiwan, of men only.
  • Higher vanadium intake. Having an adequate intake of vanadium, which is especially high in shellfish, mushrooms, parsley and dill, is correlated with a lower likelihood of having moderate to severe androgenic alopecia, mild androgenic alopecia is still possible. 
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7) Protective behaviors: Sleep
Sleeping for fewer than 6 hours each night is correlated with more widespread hair thinning in men with androgenic alopecia (in the reference linked in #6). I know, you don’t need to hear that, busy people and night owls. Get 6 to 8 hours of sleep every night!
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8) Nigella sativa oil (topical), aka black cumin seed oil for telogen effluvium.

One double-blinded, placebo controlled study (pdf link) showed this oil, diluted and applied topically, can be helpful in re-growth of hair after telogen effluvium, which is significant hair loss following childbirth, serious illness, major surgery, exposure to severe allergens or irritants, severe emotional stress, significant weight loss. Acute telogen effluvium can persist up to 6 months after the initial provocation, but it lasts typically 3-6 months. Chronic telogen effluvium lasts longer than 6 months and can last for years. It is spread over the whole scalp, not in a pattern like androgenic alopecia although one may have thinning at both temples.

The “recipe” used in the study is 0.5% Nigella sativa oil, 3% glycerin, 0.4% lavender oil, and 60% alcohol, adding water to make up the balance of 100%. You should not put Nigella sativa oil on your scalp undiluted.
This was applied daily to the scalp for 6 months.
At 3 months, 9 of 10 patients receiving this treatment had increased hair counts, and half continued to have increased hair counts at 6 months.
Placebo-treated patients had improvement in 6 of 10 at 3 months and 6 months showed hair loss rather than increase.
Can you create this formula at home? Yes. You need a scale. This would usually be formulated with ethanol as the alcohol. the “60%” is a volume or weight, not a percentage alcohol or “proof.”
So if you were making 100g of this, you’d use 0.5g Nigella sativa oil, 0.4 g lavendar oil, 3 g glycerin, 60 g ethanol (vodka, or something with the highest proof number you can get) and just under 40g water.
What about another application method? If you oil your scalp overnight, add 1 teaspoon (5 ml) Nigella sativa oil to 1/2 cup (4 oz., 125 ml) oil of your choice and use that mixture lightly on your scalp. Add 1/4 to 3/4 teaspoon lavender essential oil if you like that fragrance better than smelling like cumin.
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9) Melatonin (topical)

One study of topical melatonin in androgenic alopecia found that both men and women, treated with a 0.0033% melatonin solution (with other ingredients) experiences a reduction in hair loss of up to 60%. Seborrheic dermatitis was also improved, when it was present. Melatonin may work through an anti-oxidant effect on a scalp experiencing oxidative stress. ©Science-y Hair Blog 2017

Products for the scalp containing melatonin include Asatex
One "Full dropper" of this liquid melatonin product in 100 grams water will equal approximately the concentration used in the study linked above.
Melatonin products are applied to the scalp daily or taking 1 or 2 days off per week.
Because we have melatonin receptors in our skin, you may experience some sensations of sleepiness or dizziness after applying such a product, just like melatonin supplements. People who have asthma are cautioned to avoid melatonin, and probably need to avoid topical melatonin too. Use with caution! 
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DIY leave-on melatonin: If you have a scale that weighs in tenths of milligrams, you can use a powdered melatonin with no fillers like this one. The final concentration would be 0.3 mg melatonin per 100 grams distilled or deionized water. But it won't dissolve in the water. First, mix the melatonin powder with glycerin. Use as little glycerin as you need to get it to dissolve so it won't be sticky. Once it is dissolved, add the water to the glycerin/melatonin mixture. Use this as a spray or in a dropper-type bottle to apply to the scalp.
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10) Essential oils 

10 a) In one study, 44% of participants treated with a blend of essential oils in a carrier oil blend (compared to only 6% of the group who used the carrier oils without the essential oils) experienced improvement in return of hair with this particular form of hair loss. The study is linked here and they provide their formula (Scroll down to "Materials and Methods). 

These essential oils have anti-inflammatory, anti-microbial effects and can promote healing in skin. The oil was applied to the scalp at night (every night), massaged for 2 minutes, then wrapped with a warm towel. No mention is made of whether the scalp/hair was washed in the morning.
This was done nightly for 3-7 months.

This formula is not without risks. Essential oils, even diluted, can cause scalp irritation (which can provoke hair loss - ironically). People with seborrheic dermatitis or very sensitive skin may react badly to the application of oils to the scalp, or may be sensitive to the essential oils. The fragrance of this blend is very strong!

10 b) 3% Peppermint oil produced (in mice) a better result in a leave-on solution than 3% Minoxidil (which is not full-strength) for inducing hairs in the growth (anagen) phase and increasing follicle number. Results were visible at 4 weeks in shaved mice.

10 c) Rosemary oil proved to be as effective than 2% Minoxidil (which is also not full-strength) at increasing hair count by 6 months. I have yet to access the full article to learn the concentration of rosemary oil, but my impression is that it would be similar to the concentration in the first article linked in this "Essential Oils" section - but without the other essential oils.
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11) Red Clover extract with Acetyl Tetrapeptide-3 (topical)
This ingredient has been shown to inhibit the alpha-5-reductase enzyme, encourage collagen production in the hair follicle (which may stimulate hair growth - this is not entirely clear), and inhibit some pro-inflammatory compounds in the skin. After 4 months of treatment, in a very small (14-person treated, 15 placebo) study, the treated group had significantly (statistically significant = unlikely to be due to chance) more hairs in anagen phase - new hair growth - than the untreated group. 15% more hairs in anagen phase than the untreated group. There was also a reduction in hairs in telogen -getting ready to fall out- phase - was about 30% fewer than the untreated group. That means a net gain in hairs both growing in new, and staying on the scalp longer before falling out. This study was published in the Journal of Cosmetic Science (pdf link). For people with male/female pattern hair loss, that means hairs stay growing for a "normal" life span rather than a shortened life span typical of pattern hair loss. Bear in mind - this is a very small test group!

The treatment was left on, and based on the molecular weights of the active ingredients, a leave-on treatment may be more effective than a shampoo.

You can find these ingredients in:
  • Alterna Caviar Clinical Root and Scalp Stimulator
  • Amplixin Shampoo
  • Amplixin Conditioner
  • Beauty Facial Extreme (BFE) Hair Regrowth Serum
  • Keranique Follicle Boosting Serum
  • Peter Thomas Roth Hair To Die For Treatment Serum
  • Strong Hairpro Deep Scalp Hair Therapy
  • Shea Moisture Jamacian Black Castor Oil Strengthen and Grow Shampoo