Can Retinol Really Help With Hair Loss?

Find out if the Holy Grail skincare ingredient is as good for your hair as it is your face.

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Person inspecting their short hair with their hands
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The benefits of including retinol (aka vitamin A) in your skincare routine are unrivaled. Dermatologists regularly recommend the ingredient because it treats a number of common skincare concerns, from fine lines and wrinkles to acne. But, can retinol's ability to jumpstart skin cells' renewal process do the same for your hair?

One haircare brand thinks so. Monpure, a UK-based brand that focuses on scalp health has included retinyl palmitate, the least irritating retinoid, in its Follicle Boost Hair Density Serum. This product works to improve cell turnover (that's where the retinyl palmitate comes in) to clear the scalp of buildup that can stunt hair growth, block a DHT-releasing enzyme that can lead to hair loss, and make hair look thicker and fuller. To get more info on the science behind how retinol can help support hair growth, we checked in with some experts.

Keep reading for our complete guide to using retinol for hair.

Benefits of Retinol for Hair

Before we can fully understand how retinol can benefit hair, it's important to note that hair health begins with scalp health. "Like the skin on your face, the scalp needs to be well cared for to function at its best. The scalp plays a crucial role as an incubatory environment for pre-emergent hair growth, directly impacting the quality of the hair once it starts to appear," says Sue Ann Chan, M.D., Monpure's resident dermatologist. "The skincare industry up until now has kept [retinol] to themselves and so the transformative effects it can have on the scalp and hair growth is seldom spoken about amongst consumers," she adds. Some of these benefits include:

  • Enhances effects of hair loss treatments: Retinol can help prolong the growth stage (the anagen phase) of the hair cycle when combined with minoxidil, the active ingredient found in Rogaine, one of the most popular over-the-counter hair loss treatments. "The reason I recommend retinol to patients with hair loss is to increase the penetration of the minoxidil they are using," says Debra Jaliman, M.D., a board certified dermatologist in NYC. She points out studies have proven that retinol can make minoxidil work better, but more research needs to be done on vitamin A used alone.
  • Promotes a healthy scalp: NYC-based cosmetic dermatologist Michele Green, M.D. adds that overall scalp health is important when treating hair loss, in addition to using prescribed or over-the-counter treatments. "Using retinol on the scalp can help maintain a healthy scalp, which will in turn facilitate hair growth," she explains. "Scalp health is also contingent upon external as well as internal factors. The hair follicles need the right nourishment and the scalp also needs to maintain the right pH balance for hair to grow."

How to Use Retinol for Hair

While there are hair serums formulated with retinol, if you already use a retinol serum or cream in your skincare routine, buying another retinol product may not be necessary. According to Dr. Jaliman, you can apply the same retinol products that you use on your face to your hair and scalp — but do so with caution.

When used for hair loss, retinol might not always jive with the scalp's pH level. "The pH level aids in the barrier function of the epidermis and protects the hair follicles," says Dr. Green. "The scalp should maintain a pH between 3.5 to 5.5. Products that are too alkaline deplete the scalp of its natural oils and can make the scalp too dry." So always check the pH level of a product before using it. (FYI: retinol naturally has a ph of approximately 5 to 6, notes Dr. Green.) Everyone's scalp is different so check with your dermatologist first to determine if using retinol for hair loss is right for you.

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The Side Effects

As it turns out, the side effects of using retinol on your face go for your scalp, too. "You can experience sensitivity, redness, and irritation, which can make the situation worse resulting in hair loss or thinning," Dr. Green explains. "The same holds true with regards to sensitivity. If you have a sensitive scalp, you should stay clear of using any form of retinol on your scalp."

Since retinol can make the scalp more sensitive, Dr. Green suggests using a spray-on sunscreen to prevent sun damage. She also points out that those with scalp psoriasis, eczema, or dermatitis should consult with a dermatologist before using retinol on the scalp. And if you're experiencing extra flaking, Dr. Jaliman says you may want to use a zinc pyrithione shampoo (like Head & Shoulders) to reduce dandruff and improve your scalp's health.


Since retinol can be drying, it's important to keep the scalp hydrated. Dr. Green recommends leave-in conditioners that are free of mineral oils and parabens, or oils like rosemary, argan, and tea tree. "Using these oils three to four times weekly on your scalp will keep it healthy and moisturized resulting in healthy hair growth and less breakage," she says.

Co-washing is another great option, especially if you have color-treated hair since it's less likely to strip the scalp of its natural oils. And since heat styling is super drying and damaging to your strands, try to keep it to a minimum and always apply a heat protector before using any hot tools, emphasizes Dr. Green.

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  1. Hg Y, Iy C, Hk P, et al. "The additive effects of minoxidil and retinol on human hair growth in vitro." Biological & pharmaceutical bulletin. 2007;30(1).

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