Can Retinol Really Help With Hair Growth?

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Whether it’s prebiotic sodas being the secret to curbing bloat or menstrual blood facials being good for your skin, TikTok seems to provide us with new, increasingly interesting “solutions” to a wide array of common health and beauty concerns. Most recently, users have been trying their hand at unconventional way to combat hair loss, this time through the powerful skin-care ingredients of retinoids and tretinoin. Before you go running to the skin-care aisle, here’s what the pros have to say about whether or not this trend is effective.

“With regards to the recent TikTok trend suggesting that retinoids and tretinoin can help with hair growth, it is important to note that hair loss and hair thinning are complex processes with multiple factors at play,” begins New York dermatologist Julie Russak, MD. “It involves the cells of the scalp, hair follicles, and scalp microbiome.” She explains that common hair growth treatments like minoxidil—more commonly known as Rogaine—targets the growth phase of the hair, while ingredients like retinol promotes the health of the skin cells within the scalp.


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♬ original sound – William J. Knape | Science

“Retinol has been found to regulate cell proliferation and differentiation in the epithelium, which improves vascular proliferation and the delivery of nutrients to the hair follicle,” Dr. Russak says. “Studies suggest that combining minoxidil and retinol can have synergistic effects on their functions and the delivery of minoxidil to the hair follicle.”

But, like everything, there are risks to be considered. “While these findings are promising, it is important to exercise caution when using retinol and tretinoin for hair growth,” Dr. Russak cautions, “as retinoids can cause irritation and sensitivity in the skin, and overuse or misuse can lead to adverse effects. It is recommended to consult with a dermatologist before starting any new hair growth treatments, including the use of retinoids and tretinoin.”

Fellow New York dermatologist Doris Day, MD, echoes Dr. Russak’s concerns, explaining that “tretinoin can help with hair growth but it can also be irritating to scalp skin. Typically, concentrations of .02 to .05% of tretinoin are used, along with minoxidil and sometimes a little steroid to reduce irritation and increase absorption.” She also notes how “most of the formulas [of tretinoin] work best when combined with minoxidil but there are some who can’t tolerate or who don’t want to use it, so for them it’s good to have other options.”

Additionally, it’s easy for individuals who see shocking results on apps like TikTok to expect immediate results from these “unorthodox” treatments, but Dr. Day reminds patients that “with any hair growth formula, it is important to understand that it can take months to begin to work, and once you stop using it, it stops working.”

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