You may have rejoiced when you were researching hair loss treatments online and came across caffeine as a possible option, sipping your steamy cup of joe and imagining your hair getting thicker and thicker by the minute.

But before you pour yourself another, it’s important to understand what caffeine can and can’t do when it comes to male pattern baldness, and how to best use it in a way that helps your hair without hurting you. The studies can be confusing (especially if you haven’t had enough coffee yet today), so we did the work of figuring out the effects caffeine has been shown to have on the hair and the best way to add it to your treatment plan if you’re looking to improve your ‘do.

What is caffeine?

Nope, it’s not just coffee. Caffeine itself is a stimulant found naturally in a number of plants around the world. It helps keep the plants alive by acting as a natural pesticide. More relevant to humans, it is the substance that people around the world rely on to get up in the morning and keep going throughout the day.

Many are intimately familiar with caffeine’s effects on the central nervous system. When you sip on your favorite cup, you’re likely to feel more awake and alert for a few hours. If you’re sleep deprived but need to get something done, it can actually help make you mentally sharper and reduce the number of mistakes you make. It does this by temporarily preventing the molecule that causes drowsiness from binding to the synapses in your brain.

With all of these effects, caffeine is actually considered a drug by the FDA, though you probably don’t think of it this way since you don’t have to go to your local pharmacy to get it.

What are the benefits of caffeine for your hair?

While caffeine is most commonly used for its effects on the brain, it can actually benefit something else on your head—your hair and skin. While the treatment could benefit from more research, the studies that have been done show that caffeine may have many positive effects on hair growth.

In one in vitro study (aka it was done in test tubes and not on actual humans), caffeine was found to significantly stimulate the hair follicle, leading to more growth. Moreover, it was found to counteract testosterone’s negative effects on the follicle’s growth stage. A similar study also showed that it actually caused an increase in the number of cells that create the hair shaft and its protective structure, while also stimulating a hormone that promotes tissue growth and promoting a longer growth phase for the hair.

In experiments studying its cosmetic uses, caffeine helped inhibit 5-α-reductase—the enzyme known as DHT that’s tied to male pattern baldness—which suggests it positively impacts hair growth. As a bonus, it was also found to protect cells from UV radiation, which can help keep the goods on your head strong, supple, and looking their best.

Another study comparing the effectiveness of topical caffeine to minoxidil—a proven hair loss treatment—found them to have similar effectiveness.

What forms does caffeine come in (and what’s best for your hair)?

We’re sure you’re familiar with a few forms of caffeine already. But drinking a few extra cups of coffee or tea every day or developing an energy drink habit to help with your hair growth isn’t advised. According to dermatologist Diane Walder, it would require far more caffeine than is considered safe to ingest to notice a difference in the hair follicle. You’ve probably experienced what one cup too many can do to you—jitteriness, a quickly-beating heart, inability to sleep later on, and even anxiety.

Go beyond that and you could hit caffeine intoxication, a temporary condition that can cause restlessness, muscle twitching, dehydration caused by diuresis, gastrointestinal issues, chills, and nausea and vomiting. Extremely high doses can cause respiratory distress or seizures and even be fatal.

For similar reasons, although caffeine is available in a pill form, you probably shouldn’t take them as a supplement for taking care of your hair.

It’s better to target the source directly, a.k.a put the caffeine straight on your scalp. No, we’re not suggesting you rinse your hair with yesterday’s cold coffee, a treatment discussed in certain corners of the internet. A better option are the many caffeine shampoos and serums on the market. Many of the studies mentioned above were looking at the topical application of caffeine, showing that these can be effective, and a shampoo makes it easy to keep up regularly for continued results. A little of that energy will be absorbed into your bloodstream, but not enough to cause negative or noticeable effects.

Got any recommendations for shampoos with caffeine in them?

Yup—Keeps Thickening Shampoo contains caffeine and other ingredients chosen by experts to benefit hair health. As the name suggests, it’s best for guys who want to make their thinning hair look as thick and healthy as possible. You can try it out and order here.

Ultimately, while caffeine may seem like a godsend when you’re sipping on it, it’s unlikely to be the saving grace of your scalp on its own. And while we can’t be sure whether it helps with hair loss, it’s looking like caffeine has some sort of positive effect on growth and strength. Combined with other promising ingredients—like green tea, saw palmetto, and biotin—and a proven hair loss treatment like finasteride or minoxidil, we bet caffeine will be just the jolt your head of hair needs.

The information provided in this article is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. You should not rely upon the content provided in this article for specific medical advice. If you have any questions or concerns, please talk to your doctor.

Finasteride is an oral medication used to treat male pattern baldness in men only. It is not for use by women. When used by men, finasteride is generally safe but it can also cause serious side effects, including but not limited to allergic reactions, sexual dysfunction, depression, and high-grade prostate cancer. Most patients find that problems with sexual function resolve when they stop taking the medicine. For full prescribing information, view the drug label information.

Photo by Priscilla Du Preez on Unsplash