When we first grow head hair as babies, we have approximately 100,000 hair follicles on our head. This is the total number of follicles we will ever have, and as we age, these follicles individually stop producing hair, eventually resulting in balding for many individuals. Our hair grows roughly 6 inches per year on average, and there are numerous factors that contribute to this, such as age (although younger men experience hair loss too), hair type, overall health, and diet.
For those who have slow hair growth, or who are losing hair and wish to either prevent more loss or encourage new growth, this article helps to outline how hair growth works and what can be done to give your hair the best chance of thriving.
The Cycle of Hair Growth
Hair grows from our hair follicles in a cycle, following four key stages. These stages are known as the following:
- Anagen Phase: this is the active stage of hair growth, lasting approximately between 3 and 7 years per hair strand, and in rare cases even longer! The duration of this phase varies across different locations of hair on the body, for example which is why our eyebrows don’t keep growing as long as our head hair. At any one time, up to 90% of your head hair is in the anagen phase.
- Catagen Phase: also known as the transition phase, this is where the hair growth slows down, lasting between 2 and 3 weeks.The hair follicles shrink, and the hair strand separates from the bottom of the follicle, although it remains in place during this final period of growth.
- Telogen Phase: also referred to as the resting phase, this is where your hair neither grows nor falls out, and new hairs begin to form in the follicle underneath the resting phase hair. This stage tends to last around 3 months, with roughly 10% of your head hair being in this phase at any one time.
- Exogen Phase: sometimes combined with the telogen phase, the exogen phase is the final stage in which the hair is shed from the scalp. It’s common to lose between 50 and 100 hair each day, each strand often helped along through brushing or washing.
How to Increase Hair Growth
Certain medications are known to affect hair growth, and in some cases contribute to hair loss. These commonly prescribed treatments may be in the following categories: high blood pressure medication such as beta-blockers, statins for reducing blood cholesterol, antidepressants, birth control pills, antibiotics, and hormone replacements. This list is not exclusive, and not every drug in these categories has links to hair loss, so it’s important to discuss side effects and alternative treatments with your doctor or prescriber, as there are often other approaches of treatment available that are kinder to your hair growth.
There are a number of key nutrients for healthy hair growth that we should all make sure we get enough of in our diets. These include the following:
- Omega-3 and Omega 6
- Vitamin B and Biotin
- Vitamin C
- Iron (available in this Multivitamin with Iron)
- Vitamin D
Whilst more than the daily recommended quantities of these nutrients isn’t proven to boost hair growth, a deficiency of them in your diet may contribute to poor hair health, hair thinning or hair loss. Check out our infographic that goes into more detail about the essential nutrients for hair growth.
Adequate amounts of protein in your diet is also important for supporting optimal hair growth. This is especially a consideration for vegetarians or vegans who do not eat high-protein foods like meat or other animal-derived products, in which case foods like tofu, edamame, lentils, chickpeas, and quinoa should be eaten due to their high protein content.
Most of us are familiar with the boost in energy and concentration that caffeine can give us, but did you know it can also promote hair growth? Several studies have found hair benefits to caffeine supplementation, best used directly on the scalp in the form of a topical product. For example, Alpecin Shampoo and Alpecin Liquid contain added caffeine to promote hair growth, and are massaged into the scalp for effective localised results.
One of the two treatments that the Medicines & Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) approves for hair loss is Finasteride. Finasteride is a medication in the class of type II 5-alpha reductase inhibitors, that lower the DHT levels in the scalp, a chemical associated with balding. The popular brand of Finasteride is Propecia, which contains the same active ingredient as generic Finasteride. Approximately 90% of men can benefit from the hair loss reducing effects of Finasteride, and approximately 50% can expect increased hair coverage.
Some research has suggested that certain essential oils may be beneficial for healthy hair growth, and even hair regrowth. Studies have found benefits to locally applying oils containing rosemary, peppermint, jojoba, coconut, sunflower and pumpkin seed. Whilst this approach may be beneficial, it should be used as a complimentary remedy for other clinically-proven medications.
One study found that massaging the scalp for 4 minutes per day for 24 weeks boosted the thickness of hair in men.  Whilst this study had a small sample size, the suggestion here is that massaging the scalp could help to dilate the blood vessels supplying the hair follicles, promoting hair growth.
Minoxidil is one of only two treatments approved by the MHRA for treating pattern baldness (hereditary hair loss). The active ingredient Minoxidil works by widening the blood vessels in the hair follicles, allowing them to carry more of the all-important nutrients to the hair. Regaine, a popular brand of Minoxidil treatment, is applied locally to the scalp, either in the form of the Regaine Solution for Men, or the Regaine Foam for Men. It has been shown to be effective at preventing further hair loss in 80% of men, and promoting new hair growth in 60% of men, making it one of the only clinically-proven methods of treating hair loss. For women, the Regaine Solution for Women and the Regaine Foam for Women is most suitable.
You can find out which hair loss medication is right for you by reading our Finasteride vs. Minoxidil article.
Protect Hair from Heat Damage
Regularly using heating utensils on your hair, such as hair dryers, curlers or straighteners, can damage the hair by drying it out and making it brittle, increasing hair breakage. If you still want to use these tools for hair styling, we advise using them less frequently, reducing the heat, and using products like certain hair sprays that offer some level of heat production.