When you suffer from chronic hair loss, it can seem as if your body is constantly working against you. You may be surprised to learn, then, that the body actually has many naturally-occurring molecules that work to promote hair growth.
One such molecule that supports a healthy hair growth cycle is hyaluronic acid.
Hyaluronic acid has been used in the cosmetics industry for decades. The molecule has gained mainstream popularity more recently, though.
So what is hyaluronic acid, and how might it help to promote hair growth? This article will answer those questions and more.
What is Hyaluronic Acid?
Hyaluronic Acid (HA), also known as hyaluronan, is a naturally-occurring molecule within the body. It’s a glycosaminoglycan, which simply means it’s a long chain of carbohydrate molecules bound together. Another glycosaminoglycan that you may have heard of is keratin.
The main role of hyaluronic acid in the body is as a humectant. The molecule attracts water to the skin where it then binds to collagen. This makes the skin appear plumper and more youthful as collagen forms the structure of the skin.
There are various names for hyaluronic acid as it’s used in cosmetics. The most common include hyaluronan, sodium hyaluronate, hyaluran, and hylan.
The Skin and Hair Benefits of Hyaluronic Acid
You may be wondering why hyaluronic acid has gained such popularity in the cosmetic industries in the past few years. Here’s a quick look at a few of the molecule’s skin and hair benefits which explains much of its popularity.
Moisturizes and Hydrates
Hyaluronic acid’s main claim to fame is its ability to hydrate the skin.
It works by first binding to collagen molecules within the skin. It then draws water to itself, which “bulks up” the collagen molecule. This ends up trapping the collagen molecule within the skin so it appears fuller, firmer, and more dewy-looking.
That’s not all, though.
As a humectant, it’s in hyaluronic acid’s very nature to draw water to the skin. There are many factors, both external and internal, that can cause the skin to lose its water content quickly, though. These include skin conditions, harsh weather, and even certain cosmetic products.
The great thing about hyaluronic acid is that it’s also a moisturizer. This means it not only draws water to the skin but it also locks it in.
Whether you’re looking to soothe an irritated scalp or treat an underlying condition, hyaluronic acid has also been shown to promote healing.
When the scalp is injured or otherwise irritated (such as from DHT sensitivity at the follicles), the body’s natural healing process will begin. There are four steps in this healing process:
In the event of a wound, hemostasis is the first step. This involves constriction of the surrounding blood vessels as well as blood clotting.
Next is inflammation. While chronic inflammation is damaging, temporary inflammation as part of the healing process can be beneficial. This is what signals to the body that a traumatic event has taken place. This is when white blood cells (lymphocytes) and anti-inflammatories (cytokines) rush to the area.
Then there is proliferation. This is the phase when the skin begins to visibly heal over as new skin cells are produced. There is also the formation of new blood vessels, and the synthesis of collagen (one of the skin’s most important protein complexes) begins.
And finally is remodeling. Now that collagen has been synthesized, it can model itself naturally. This is when the new blood vessels have also established themselves, and the final stages of repair to the skin and surrounding tissues are complete.
So, where does hyaluronic acid fit in?
Hyaluronic acid plays a role in at least two of the four healing stages.
For one, hyaluronic acid helps to regulate inflammation levels. It does so by flooding into the area during the second stage of the healing process (inflammation) both as a pro-inflammatory agent (low molecular weight HA) and as an anti-inflammatory (high molecular weight HA).
Its second role in healing is in angiogenesis, or the formation of new blood vessels. It has been found that HA is useful in both initiating and regulating angiogenesis “under physiologic and pathologic scenarios.”
What does this mean exactly?
It seems that the main role of hyaluronic acid is to maintain tissue homeostasis. Using both structural and cell-signaling cues, this polysaccharide chain helps to maintain the delicate balance that is required for healthy tissues.
Now, how does this relate to hair growth?
In the event of a chronic condition (such as androgenetic alopecia) that triggers inflammation, hyaluronic acid can both combat inflammation and help to create new blood vessels to the area. This means that hyaluronic acid has two-fold benefits:
- It helps to combat the issue immediately by acting as an anti-inflammatory.
- Its ability to stimulate the generation of new blood vessels means oxygen and nutrients can make it to the affected hair follicles even in the face of chronic “injury.”
Hyaluronic acid isn’t just for hair growth, though. It’s also likely to be beneficial for various other skin conditions that affect the quality of your scalp and hair.
Combats Oxidative Stress
Oxidative stress is the process by which free radials build up within the body and cause damage to various tissues as a result. This is often implicated as the “cause” of aging, and it’s also thought to be linked to hair loss.
Free radicals are molecules that are missing an electron. The loss of electrons happens naturally during cellular metabolism. The free radicals, however, still need an electron to be “complete” so they attempt to steal electrons from surrounding tissues.
The loss of an electron will obviously damage the molecule and, if enough of a tissue’s molecules lose their electrons, the tissue itself will become damaged.
What’s the answer to this problem? Antioxidants!
Hyaluronic acid is an antioxidant which has been shown to effectively combat oxidative stress. Its role as an antioxidant is to donate its own electron to roaming free radicals so as to prevent tissue damage and breakdown.
Is it likely that oxidative stress is the sole cause of your hair loss? No. However, the presence of free radicals within the body may contribute to the difficulty you face in hair regrowth. As such, the use of antioxidants like hyaluronic acid is highly recommended for anyone struggling with hair loss.
Hyaluronic Acid and Hair Growth: Does It Work?
To understand the potential mechanism of hyaluronic acid for hair growth, you first need to understand why hair loss occurs.
Hair loss is an umbrella term that includes an array of conditions, including androgenetic alopecia (pattern baldness), alopecia areata, telogen effluvium, etc.
These conditions have their own underlying causes, and some of them are easier to treat than others.
While there have yet to be studies done, the type of hair loss that may benefit the most from hyaluronic acid use is pattern baldness.
This is because two of hyaluronic acid’s proven mechanisms – inflammation regulation and new blood vessel formation – can work to directly combat the condition’s effects.
There are two main theories regarding pattern baldness: the DHT Theory and the Scalp Tension theory. While these theories suggest different initial causes, they both come down to one thing: DHT sensitivity at the hair follicle.
In the DHT theory, those with pattern baldness are genetically predisposed to DHT sensitivity at the hair follicle. They also appear to have greater levels of DHT at the scalp. This is believed to trigger miniaturization of the follicle.
In the Scalp Tension theory, it’s thought that chronic scalp tension is the trigger for follicular DHT sensitivity. This then lends itself to the inflammation and miniaturization seen in those with genetic hair loss.
As you can see, the outcome is the same: the hair follicles become miniaturized due to inflammation. This means poor blood flow, decreased oxygen and nutrient delivery, etc.
Now on to how hyaluronic acid may be able to help.
As mentioned in the previous section, hyaluronic acid has been shown to regulate inflammation levels. This means it can mediate the inflammatory response to reduce inflammation at the site of injury (or miniaturization in this case).
What does this mean?
Hyaluronic acid may be able to reverse miniaturization and its effects (shedding, scalp calcification, etc.) by simply reducing inflammation at the follicle. What’s more, it might even be able to increase blood flow to the area to further promote healing.
How to Use Hyaluronic Acid for Hair Growth
There are a few ways to use hyaluronic acid for the potential benefit of hair growth. Let’s take a look!
Add It to Your Shampoo
If your shampoo doesn’t already include hyaluronic acid (remember, it can appear under various names listed above!), you can add it to your current shampoo.
Apply It Directly
To apply hyaluronic acid to the scalp, first apply it to your fingertips or use a medicine dropper to apply directly to the hairline. You’ll want to start out with just a few drops, but you can add more if you feel you need it.
Using your fingertips, gently massage the hyaluronic acid into your scalp using smooth, circular motions. You should focus on the areas with the most pronounced hair loss, but you can safely apply it all over the scalp, too.
Then just wash your hands and allow the hyaluronic acid to soak into the scalp. I’d suggest you leave it in overnight for best results.
Since hyaluronic acid is lightweight and watery, it won’t weigh your hair down. You can apply it right after a shower (the best time for absorption) or to a dry scalp.
Use It Alongside Scalp Massage
I spoke briefly above about the Scalp Tension theory of hair loss. You may be wondering what you can do to treat chronic scalp tension. One answer? Scalp massage.
Scalp massage is a technique where you apply manual stimulation to the scalp using your hands or a specialty massage tool. The benefits of scalp massage are numerous, and when it comes to fighting hair loss they include:
- Reducing chronic scalp tension
- Breaking down scalp calcification
- Increasing blood flow
- Reducing inflammation
This may seem too good to be true, but studies on the topic are very encouraging.
If you suffer from pattern baldness, scalp massage is a great technique to add to your hair care routine. And best of all, it only takes 10 to 15 minutes once per day to see results.
To learn more about scalp massage techniques, go here.
One other benefit to scalp massage is that you can use this technique to apply topicals to your scalp. This includes hyaluronic acid.
One way to use hyaluronic acid is to apply it directly to the scalp, which I’ve mentioned above. By adding it into your scalp massage routine, though, you can further ensure its spread and absorption.
The best way to reap the benefits is to add hyaluronic acid to your scalp as soon as you begin the massage. This will ensure the product is spread evenly throughout the scalp. You may also want to apply a few drops to the “problem” areas afterwards just to be sure they received their fair share.
Then leave it in for at least 2 hours. You can also leave it in overnight (recommended).
Apply After Microneedling
Do you want to increase the amount of hyaluronic acid absorbed through the skin? Apply it after a microneedling session!
The skin is quite adept at absorbing whatever is applied to it. If you want to increase the absorption rate, though, you can apply hyaluronic acid to the scalp immediately after you microneedle.
Microneedling is a skin procedure that uses tiny needles to wound the scalp. These wounds will go through the healing process which has been shown to promote new hair growth.
To learn more about microneedling, and how you can do it at home, go here.
In addition to increasing absorption rate, the hyaluronic acid may speed up the healing process. This can, in turn, lend itself to faster hair growth.
Get a Hyaluronic Acid Injection
There are plenty of cosmetic products, including serums and sprays, that include hyaluronic acid as a main ingredient. This may be a good option if you’re looking for a ‘boost.’
As of this writing, hyaluronic acid injections are FDA-approved for use in eye surgeries and in treating eye injuries. They are not FDA-approved for use as a hair growth agent, but your dermatologist may recommend the off-label use in certain cases.
The benefit of an injection over topical application is the amount of hyaluronic acid that’s actually making it to the hair follicles and cells. Absorption through the skin is quite effective, but injection ensures almost 100% delivery of the ingredient.
If you have a more advanced stage of pattern baldness (Norwood scale 4+) then you might also want to consider injection. This is because the skin thickens as hair loss worsens. This is a process known as scalp calcification.
When this occurs, it becomes more difficult for products to penetrate the skin. This means that anything you apply may simply sit on the surface of the skin. Injections enable you to bypass the skin entirely.
If you’re interested in learning more about hyaluronic acid injections, speak with your dermatologist.
Are There Side Effects of Hyaluronic Acid Use?
As with any product that you apply to your skin, there is always a slight risk of sensitivity or allergic reactions.
The signs of an allergic reaction include redness, itching, hives, swelling, and skin that’s hot to the touch. If you experience such a reaction, discontinue use of hyaluronic acid immediately.
If your dermatologist recommends a hyaluronic acid injection, there are other potential side effects to consider. These include difficulty with moving, muscle pain and/or stiffness, and pain in the joints. These side effects should be short lived. If they last for longer than a few days, or if they worsen over time, contact your doctor immediately.
If you have scleroderma, don’t use hyaluronic acid on your skin.
As a molecule that’s found naturally in the body, hyaluronic acid is a relatively safe and scientifically-backed cosmetic ingredient. It’s been growing in popularity over the past few decades, and there’s plenty of evidence to back its benefits.
As it relates to hair growth, hyaluronic acid has plenty of direct benefits. It’s thought to
- Moisturize and hydrate the skin and hair
- Reduce inflammation
- Promote the synthesis of new blood vessels
- Combat oxidative stress
When combined, it’s thought that these benefits can promote hair growth even in spite of hair loss conditions such as androgenetic alopecia.
Is hyaluronic acid the answer to your hair loss woes? While it can provide many benefits, it’s best used alongside other approved hair loss treatments. A multi-faceted approach is always best.