The Effects of Caffeine on Hair

Women drinking coffee and chatting at cafe
Women having coffee (Image: Jupiterimages/Goodshoot/Getty Images)

Healthy hair and regular hair growth relies on a number of factors, including vitamins, minerals, and the presence of other nutrients. Medications, genetics, nutritional deficiencies, and underlying diseases and disorders can all negatively affect your hair. Caffeine, a naturally-occurring compound found in several plants, might have a beneficial effect on your hair follicles to promote healthy hair.

Cycles of Hair Growth

The condition of your hair, as well as your hair length, is determined by the health of your follicles and your hair growth cycle. Each hair follicle contains a population of progenitor cells, capable of assembling hair shaft tissue, to ultimately support hair growth. During the initiation phase of hair growth, the cells begin to manufacture a new hair shaft, which continues to grow throughout the elongation phase of the hair cycle. After a predetermined period of hair growth--which can range from days to years, depending on the type of hair follicle--the hair remains static within the follicle, then eventually falls out. Defects in the initiation, elongation or shedding phase of hair growth can all lead to hair disorders.

Caffeine and the Hair Cycle

Caffeine has the ability to interact with your hair follicles, helping to guide your follicles' behavior and regulate hair growth. A study published in the "International Journal of Dermatology" in 2007 found that the presence of caffeine stimulated laboratory-cultured hair follicles, increasing hair growth. As a result, caffeine might help to restore hair growth, or prevent abnormal hair loss. However, the clinical effects of caffeine on promoting hair growth have not yet been thoroughly investigated.

Caffeine Absorption

There are several ways to expose your hair follicles to caffeine, to potentially stimulate hair growth. Caffeine consumed via food and beverages enters your bloodstream, and eventually reaches your hair follicles. In addition, your hair follicles can absorb caffeine directly via topical application of caffeine-enriched shampoo, according to a study published in "Skin Pharmacology and Physiology" in 2007. This might allow doctors to expose your hair follicles to a high dose of caffeine, without causing the side effects that can occur due to high-dose caffeine ingestion. As a result, hair products containing caffeine might represent treatments for hair loss, if caffeine eventually develops into a drug therapy for alopecia.

Possible Implications in Cancer Therapy

Preliminary studies have identified caffeine as a possible treatment for hair loss, which might have implications in the treatment of other diseases. Many cancer patients receiving radiation therapy suffer hair loss, due to damage to the hair follicles by the radiation. A study published in the "Journal of Radiological Protection" in 2002 found that treating laboratory mice with caffeine helped reduce hair loss following radiation treatment. Although further research into the effect of caffeine on radiation therapy-induced hair loss in humans requires further investigation, caffeine might eventually help prevent hair loss due to some cancer therapies.

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