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Can Shampoos Cause Hair Loss?
Dr Mir Malkani (MBBS, MISHRS, FRCS)
Medically reviewed by
Dr Mir Malkani (MBBS, MISHRS, FRCS)
Updated on October 6, 2022

If you’re worried about your hair falling out, you may find yourself hunting for a potential cause. This could lead you to blame one of the products you use on your hair on an almost daily basis – your shampoo.

All it takes is a quick search online to be bombarded with information about damaging chemicals and ingredients in shampoos that cause hair loss — but this isn’t always true.

Keep on reading to find out more about whether your shampoo could really be the cause of your sudden hair loss.

The science of hair loss

Can shampoos cause hair loss?, Wimpole Clinic

To understand why your hair may be falling out, you first need to understand the hair growth cycle that your hair goes through. This cycle consists of four different stages:

  • Anagen, where your hair is actively growing
  • Catagen, where your hair stops growing
  • Telogen, where your hair is in a ‘resting’ state
  • Exogen, in which your hair sheds from the follicle to make way for regrowth

This is a cycle that everyone’s hair goes through, even those who have long, luscious locks. In fact, it’s completely normal to lose between 50 and 100 hairs every day without any cause for concern [1].

Hair loss that goes beyond the normal rate can be brought on by a range of triggers, including ageing, changing hormones, or even stress, which often has nothing to do with the hair products you use. So can shampoo cause hair loss, too?

Find out why your hair is falling out.

Can shampoos cause hair loss?

Shampoo is rarely a direct cause of hair loss. The American Academy of Dermatology (AAD) doesn’t list any shampoos or ingredients that are commonly found in shampoos as causes of hair loss [2].

But research suggests that certain ingredients can impair your hair. This includes antimicrobial agents, surfactants, and preservatives [3]. Here are some of the most common shampoo ingredients that can directly or indirectly lead to hair loss.

Sodium dodecyl sulphate

Sodium dodecyl sulphate, also known as sodium lauryl sulphate, creates a lathering effect in many shampoos. This makes shampoo easy to apply and effectively cleanse your tresses.

But some research shows that sodium dodecyl sulphate can cause your hair to lose protein [4]. Hair mainly consists of a type of protein called keratin. Loss of protein damages the keratin, leading to split ends and difficulty brushing your hair. Breakage and inadvertently pulling out hairs that aren’t in the telogen or exogen phases may lead to hair loss. It may also appear that your hair isn’t growing, when in fact the ends are just breaking off.

The more damaged your hair already is, the worse protein loss can be. So if your hair is already looking a little worse for wear, avoid shampoos that contain sodium dodecyl sulphate. Consider switching to a shampoo that contains sodium laureth sulphate instead — this is a common moisturising shampoo ingredient which is less irritating than sodium dodecyl sulphate [5].

DMDM hydantoin and formaldehyde

DMDM hydantoin, a common shampoo ingredient, has been in the news recently thanks to claims it causes hair loss. And while it won’t directly cause your hair to fall out, there is some evidence it could lead to conditions that may impact your hair.

DMDM hydantoin is a preservative and antimicrobial agent which releases small amounts of formaldehyde into the product. These small quantities aren’t considered harmful to most people, although approximately 8-9% of people who come into contact with it may experience an allergic reaction [6-7].

This reaction often leads to contact dermatitis, a type of skin irritation [8]. While this won’t always cause hair loss, contact dermatitis of the scalp has been linked with telogen effluvium [9-10].

Selenium sulphide

This ingredient reduces itching associated with skin irritation, minimising the risk of hair loss related to dandruff and seborrheic dermatitis [11]. But another study suggests shampoos containing selenium sulphide can actually cause diffuse hair loss across the scalp [12].

It’s also been linked with scalp discolouration — while this is unlikely to cause hair shedding, it’s an unsightly side effect you probably want to avoid [13].

As a result, it’s a good idea to avoid shampoos containing selenium sulphide unless you have severe dandruff or scalp skin irritation.

Can shampoo improve hair loss?

Some shampoo ingredients are proven to actively reduce hair loss, including:

  • Zinc pyrithione — this has been shown to keep your scalp healthy, reduce dandruff, and prevent premature hair loss — it’s found in mainstream shampoos like Head & Shoulders [14]
  • Caffeine — topical caffeine solutions have been shown to be effective at reducing hair loss if left on the scalp for an extended period [15] — learn more about caffeine for hair loss
  • Ketoconazole — specialist shampoos containing ketoconazole can improve hair density [16]
  • Salicylic acid — another popular anti-dandruff ingredient, shampoos containing salicylic acid have been linked with successful treatment of alopecia areata [17].

Not all shampoos contain all these helpful ingredients. So if you need to treat a scalp condition or promote hair growth, check the shampoo ingredients list first.

Does Alpecin work? Find out more about caffeine shampoo for hair loss.

How can I stop my hair from falling out?

If you’ve noticed lots of hair falling out in the shower when you wash it, it may seem like your shampoo is the problem. But in the majority of cases, there’s another underlying cause of excessive hair loss.

Your GP or a trichologist can help you identify the cause of your hair loss. Once you know what the cause is, you’ll find it much easier to stop your hair falling out.

For some people, the solution may be as simple as making small lifestyle changes, such as holding off the heat styling products, switching to a caffeine shampoo, or using stress-relief techniques to regain hair loss after stress.

For others, especially those who are experiencing more advanced hair loss, you may need to look into over-the-counter treatments. Some of the most popular include FinasterideDutasteride and Minoxidil.

However, if you’ve tried all the above and still find that your hair is falling out, you may be interested in getting a hair transplant. A recent study found the average cost of a hair transplant in the UK to be £4,820.

A hair transplant involves taking healthy hair follicles and reimplanting them to areas of the scalp where you’re experiencing balding.

A hair transplant involves taking healthy hair follicles and reimplanting them to areas of the scalp where you’re experiencing balding. It’s a quick, long-lasting procedure that can make a real difference to people with male pattern baldness or female pattern hair loss. Learn more about how hair transplants work.

At Wimpole Clinic, we’ve helped thousands of men and women deal with hair loss. If you’d like to learn more about hair transplants and how they could work for you, book a free consultation with our team.

Can shampoos cause hair loss?, Wimpole Clinic

References:

[1] https://www.aad.org/public/diseases/hair-loss/insider/shedding  

[2] https://www.aad.org/public/diseases/hair-loss/causes/18-causes

[3] http://www.eurekaselect.com/article/69543 

[4] https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/15698750/ 

[5] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5419772/ 

[6] https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/24335968/ 

[7] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5152996/ 

[8] https://journals.lww.com/dermatitis/Fulltext/2015/01000/Formaldehyde.2.aspx 

[9] https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jamadermatology/fullarticle/478194

[10] https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/11176691/ 

[11] https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/8245236/

[12] https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jama/article-abstract/304912

[13] https://www.researchgate.net/publication/50938555_Scalp_Discoloration_from_Selenium_Sulfide_Shampoo_A_Case_Series_and_Review_of_the_Literature

[14] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6369642/ 

[15] https://www.karger.com/Article/Fulltext/508228

[16] https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/9669136/

[17] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3681108/

Dr Mir Malkani (MBBS, MISHRS, FRCS)
Medically reviewed by Dr Mir Malkani (MBBS, MISHRS, FRCS)Updated on October 6, 2022
The Wimpole Clinic offers FUE Hair, Beard & Eyebrow Transplants & Trichology.
Talk to a specialist ☎ 020 7935 1861.
Dr Mir Malkani (MBBS, MISHRS, FRCS)
Medically reviewed by
Dr Mir Malkani (MBBS, MISHRS, FRCS)
Updated on October 6, 2022

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