Zinc for Hair Loss – Does It Help?

It’s cheap and easy to find, so why not try zinc for your hair loss? It can’t hurt, right?

Using this kind of approach to treat your hair loss is a little like throwing spaghetti against the wall to see if it will stick — not necessarily a good tactic when it comes to medical treatment. You could be wasting your time, your money, and putting yourself at risk without doing a bit of research first.

When you’re losing your hair, you don’t have time to try out every supplement that might be effective. We know, with each passing hour, you feel like you’ve lost another hair. With each passing week, you worry you’re getting that much closer to doing the balding man shave-off. You need to know that what you’re spending your money on is worthwhile. Unfortunately, there are no guarantees, but doing a bit of research on the front-end could save you some serious stress down the road.

We’ll get into the details below, but if you’ve only got a few minutes to spare, here’s what you need to know about zinc and hair loss:

  • Zinc is an essential mineral found in many food sources. Animal proteins are a particularly good source of zinc.
  • Extreme zinc deficiency can cause hair loss.
  • Zinc levels in the blood and hair are lower in men experiencing androgenetic alopecia, also known as male pattern baldness.
  • It’s believed zinc acts as a 5-alpha reductase inhibitor, blocking the creation of DHT, known for contributing to prostate enlargement and pattern baldness. Propecia, a drug prescribed to treat such hair loss, is also a 5-alpha reductase inhibitor.
  • There is no hard proof that zinc can aid in slowing or reversing balding.
  • The risks associated with taking zinc supplementation are many, but typically reserved for those taking very high amounts of the mineral.

What is Zinc?

Zinc is an essential mineral — not only does your body need it, but it doesn’t store it. It’s found naturally occurring in some foods, added to some that have been “enriched”, and in supplements.

It is needed for proper immune function (keeping you healthy), wound healing, cell division and growth, physical growth and development, and even your senses of smell and taste. Because your body doesn’t keep a stockpile of zinc, a steady supply is needed for it to aid in all of these important functions.

Zinc Deficiency: Signs and Symptoms

Hair loss can be a sign of zinc deficiency, though other symptoms of deficiency would have to be present for your doctor to make that call.

What we know about zinc deficiency largely comes from the study of people with a genetic disorder called acrodermatitis enteropathica. People with this condition suffer from severe zinc deficiency and prior to scientists discovering the cause, they typically died. It is highly unlikely that a lack of dietary zinc could lead to this level of severe deficiency. More likely is moderate or marginal zinc deficiency, with less dramatic (but still serious) effects.

Symptoms of mild/moderate zinc deficiency:

  • Loss of appetite
  • Delayed growth
  • Poor immune health

Symptoms of severe zinc deficiency:

  • Hair loss
  • Chronic diarrhea
  • Delayed sexual maturation
  • Night blindness
  • Skin lesions

Zinc and Your Hair: The Evidence

It’s believed zinc acts as a 5-alpha reductase inhibitor (5-ARI). This means it inhibits the transformation of testosterone into DHT, or dihydrotestosterone, a more potent androgen associated with enlarged prostate and hair loss. Prescription drugs like finasteride (Propecia) also act as 5-ARIs. A 1988 study of zinc sulphate classified the mineral as a “potent inhibitor of 5-alpha reductase activity.”

Many studies have looked at the effects of zinc on hair loss, though most have focused solely on alopecia areata, an autoimmune disease. Most men coping with hair loss have androgenetic alopecia, or pattern hair loss. While these two forms of hair loss may have different causes, they also have things in common, making the research on alopecia areata potentially useful for men with pattern baldness, too.

  • Zinc supplementation may be the catalyst to slowed or reversed hair loss in hypothyroidism, according to a case study published in the International Journal of Trichology. Hypothyroidism, or an underactive thyroid gland, is a widely known cause of hair loss. Researchers in this 2013 case study found that the hair loss of a hypothyroidic woman was only improved when zinc was added to her treatment regimen.
  • Zinc levels in the blood are lower in patients with various forms of hair loss, according to research published in the Annals of Dermatology. Though zinc levels were lower in all hair loss patients, they were only “significantly” different in those with alopecia areata and telogen effluvium, not androgenetic alopecia. However, another study, published in 2016, confirmed blood zinc levels to be lower in men with androgenetic alopecia with “statistical significance”.
  • A few studies focusing specifically on alopecia areata saw improvements with zinc supplementation. In the Annals of Dermatology, researchers wrote, “Zinc supplementation needs to be given to alopecia areata patients who have a low serum zinc level.”

The Bottomline

There is no significant proof that zinc supplementation can aid in slowing or reversing male pattern hair loss. However, there is some evidence that it may aid in certain types of hair loss, including alopecia areata, an autoimmune disease. It’s believed zinc acts as a 5-alpha reductase inhibitor, like Propecia (finasteride), commonly prescribed for hair loss.

Because the risks of taking zinc supplements are low, you may want to discuss a supplement regimen with your physician. You’ll want to ask about any potential drug interactions, including whether it can or should be taken with other 5-ARIs.