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Caffeine shampoo for hair loss: Does it work?

Does caffeine shampoo wake up hair follicles like it does our brains in the morning?

Written by
Joe Cutcliffe
Medically reviewed by
Russell Knudsen
Last updated
April 18, 2024
min read
Caffeine shampoo for hair loss: Does it work?
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Hair loss is a common concern among Australian men. In fact, it affects around 1 in 5 men in their 20s, 1 in 3 men in their 30s, and almost half of men in their 40s [1].

You'd think a health concern so common would have a cure by this point, but while there's not yet a magic solution to male pattern hair loss, modern science has done a great job developing a number of successful treatments to prevent hair loss and aid in regrowing of thinning hair.

You've probably heard of hair transplants — while these can be effective, they are also often eye-wateringly expensive. Thankfully, modern pharmaceuticals that treat hair loss, like those offered by Pilot doctors, come at a fraction of the cost and can be just as successful for maintaining and preventing hair loss — especially when started early.

But another treatment for hair loss is fast gaining popularity for the fact that it's both affordable and widely accessible: caffeine shampoo. Read on as we dive into the potential benefits of caffeine shampoo for hair loss and hair health in general.

First things first, what is caffeine shampoo?

This one's easy. Caffeine shampoo is just like regular shampoo in that it's formulated to lather up and clean your hair. The main difference — you guessed it — is the added ingredient of caffeine or coffee bean extracts.

Caffeine shampoos often contain additional ingredients designed to promote good hair and scalp health, like zinc, niacin, biotin, niacinamide and aloe vera. But, the main idea is that because caffeine is a stimulant, when you apply it topically to the scalp, you could stimulate the hair follicles and encourage new hair growth.

So far so good, but does that logic actually apply?

To answer this question, let's look at the research there is behind this product.

Caffeine shampoo: Where it all began

Caffeine shampoo is fairly new to the market. It first became available in the mid-2000s, courtesy of the German men's hair care company Alpecin, which was established in 1905.

Alpecin caffeine shampoo launched with some pretty audacious claims, with advertising for the product stating that the formula was "German engineering for your hair."

"Shampoo is too small a word for it. Alpecin provides caffeine to your hair, so it can actually help to reduce hair loss. Simply apply daily and leave on for 2 minutes ... to help the Caffeine Complex penetrate your hair and scalp."

For a long time, Alpecin got away with the promises that its caffeine shampoo could "reduce hair loss" — that is, until Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) weighed in.

Alpecin's claims questioned

In 2018, the ASA — a body in the UK that is responsible for making sure brands can back up their claims — famously stepped in and banned Alpecin from advertising that its product could help reduce hair loss [3].

As a response, Alpecin provided a bunch of evidence to the courts (8 full studies, 7 summary studies, and a “consumer opinion survey"), in an attempt to contest the ASA's decision, but the company's evidence was deemed insufficient.

Basically, because Alpecin's studies had been privately funded, used tests that are not largely backed by the greater scientific community, and have not been peer-reviewed, the evidence simply didn't hold up.

While Alpecin's product has been found to help hair growth in the company's own studies, the results related to hairs tested in a petri dish. Outside of a lab, the concept was largely untested on actual human scalps.

The ASA finally rebuked Alpecin's claims in March 2018 with the following statement:

“Taking into account the body of evidence as a whole, we considered that we had not seen any studies of the actual product as used by consumers on their scalp, using an accurate and objective analysis of hair growth, in a well-designed and well-conducted trial.

"We concluded that the claim 'it can actually help to reduce hair loss' had not been substantiated and was therefore misleading." [4]

Other small-scale studies have since been conducted on the benefits of caffeine for hair loss, but there's lacking viable evidence to suggest that it is an effective treatment on its own.

So, does caffeine shampoo work for hair loss?

In short, no.

There isn't enough clinically viable evidence to support caffeine shampoo alone as an effective hair loss treatment. But that's not to say that caffeine has no use when it comes to maintaining and supporting hair growth.

On the contrary, some studies support the claim that caffeine shampoos can thicken hair, like one from 2012 that looked at the role of caffeine in the management of androgenetic alopecia, and another from 2010 that analysed the use of caffeine for the same condition [5][6].

Plus, there is some evidence to suggest that topical caffeine can help reduce dihydrotestosterone — the hormone which causes male pattern baldness.

It's worth noting that these studies are largely lab-based and would need more reviewing in a larger controlled clinical trial conducted with actual patients.

The good news is, however, that caffeine shampoo has been found to cause no harm and can help improve the health of the scalp, which in turn supports healthy hair growth when paired with a clinically proven treatment.

What are the benefits of caffeine for hair loss?

Caffeine shampoos are helpful in removing product build-up from gels and pomades and do well to rebalance the pH levels of the hair and scalp, while the mere act of massaging your scalp while shampooing your hair can clear dandruff and reduce itching.

Since caffeine acts as a vasodilator, there's potential that its topical application could improve blood flow to the area, which could stimulate hair growth.

Some people make their own coffee scrubs at home to serve as a gentle scalp exfoliant, though this can also cause hair dyeing — which may or may not be a good thing unless you intend to mask greys.

Dr Vikram Jayaprakash is an experienced hair transplant surgeon based in Melbourne. Here, he talks through the role of caffeine in hair loss treatments.

So, what can actually help with hair loss?

While caffeine shampoos can help lay the groundwork for healthier hair follicles, it's largely accepted by the medical community that they aren't an effective treatment for hair loss.

For noticeable results, try Pilot's Hair Growth Shampoo & Conditioner. Formulated with ingredients like saw palmetto, zinc, biotin and niacinamide, these products work to thicken and keep your hair, especially when used together.

Take it one step further with our Hair Growth Booster Kit, which includes our Shampoo & Conditioner as well as our Biotin Hair Gummies, to support the fibres your hair follicles need to grow strong strands of hair, as well as a Derma Roller, which uses microneedling to help activate the scalp's stem cells, stimulate follicles and encourage hair growth.

Looking for something a bit more intensive? Pilot's clinical hair loss treatment blocks the hormone that stops hair growth, while also increasing blood flow around your hair follicles. Start your consult today so our practitioners can create a personalised treatment just for you, and then discreetly receive it at your door.

To further reduce or prevent hair loss, you can also:

  • Be extra gentle when brushing or styling your hair to avoid pulling on your hair.
  • Eat foods that are rich in iron, omega-3 and protein, as these nutrients can help keep your hair healthy [7]
  • Reduce your stress levels by doing activities that help you unwind (meditating, exercising, reading, Netflix and chilling... whatever works for you)
  • Avoid booze, ciggies and vapes, as all of these reduce blood flow to the hair follicles and impair hair growth

The takeaway

While the jury is still out on a “cure” for hair loss and probably will be for a while, it's reassuring to know that treatment is so easily available, and is especially effective for men who start early.

If you've noticed hair thinning or a receding hairline — and feel bothered by it — there's no shame in exploring your options. Modern-day hair loss medications, like those offered by Pilot doctors, are affordable and have a high success rate in helping more than 80% of men to keep and regrow their hair.

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