Originally discovered and sought after by the Native Americans of the Seminole tribe, saw palmetto has been used to treat myriad issues for generations. It is popularly used as a form of alternative medicine for urinary and reproductive issues, but it is also believed to influence hormone levels in both men and women. In fact, many popular hair growth supplements and thickening products contain saw palmetto.
Testosterone levels are a leading contributor to hair loss in both men and women. Specifically, testosterone can be broken down into a hormone called dihydrotestosterone, or DHT, which has been linked to a specific form of hair loss, male-pattern or female-pattern hair loss (AKA androgenic alopecia). It is believed that saw palmetto may prevent block the absorption of DHT, thereby reducing hair loss. We asked the experts for more information on the supplement.
Meet the Expert
Keep reading to see if saw palmetto is the answer to your thinning hair.
Saw Palmetto For Hair
Type of ingredient: Supplement (available orally or topically)
Main benefits: Prevents hair loss, promotes hair growth, and reduces inflammation.
Who should use it: In general, anyone experiencing thinning hair. Saw palmetto can provide benefits across all hair types, as it promotes scalp health. Pregnant and breastfeeding women should avoid saw palmetto.
How often can you use it: If taking an oral supplement, consult your doctor for appropriate dosing information. The standard dose is 320mg taken with food to avoid digestive discomfort. If applying topically, it can be used twice weekly as a part of your hair care routine.
Works well with: Pumpkin seed oil and Niacin.
Don’t use with: It may interfere with medications like birth control and anticoagulants. Consult your doctor before beginning any new supplements.
What is Saw Palmetto?
Saw palmetto is a shrub-sized member of the palm family that originated in the southeast United States. When people reference saw palmetto as a supplement, they are typically referring to the powder that is made from its berries, which is often found in capsule and liquid form, as well as in many teas and products designed to help with hair loss.
Does Saw Palmetto Work for Hair Loss?
The main motivator for many who seek out saw palmetto is hair loss. Friese explains that saw palmetto affects the 5-alpha reductase enzyme. This is the enzyme that is responsible for converting testosterone into DHT, the hormone responsible for male and female pattern hair loss. Zeichner agrees, adding that "saw palmetto is a botanical extract that has been shown to block the effect of androgen hormones. We know that high levels of these hormones are associated with hair thinning, so blocking them may theoretically improve hair growth."
It's important to note that most studies on saw palmetto have been focused on its effects on men. More large-scale research is needed on humans to conclusively understand the impact on women. Women who are nursing or pregnant should not take saw palmetto.
Benefits of Saw Palmetto on Hair
Saw palmetto has myriad benefits on the hair and scalp, including the following:
- Prevents hair loss: By potentially preventing the body from converting testosterone into DHT, saw palmetto may prevent hair loss.
- Fights inflammation: Friese shares that saw palmetto has anti-inflammatory properties on the scalp. Inflammation is the cause of many scalp-related issues and hair growth problems. By reducing inflammation, the idea is that saw palmetto may improve the overall health of the scalp.
- Promotes hair growth: A reduction of inflammation in the scalp may also contribute to new hair growth. A healthy scalp is the key to new growth and Friese shares that less inflammation can result in improvement of hair growth and prevention of hair loss in both men and women.
- Strengthens the hair follicle: Most studies on saw palmetto have been focused on its ability to treat hair from its source. But, there could be further benefits to the actual hair follicles. "There have been few studies on what it actually does to the hair itself. However, anything that strengthens the hair follicle will help the hair become stronger and thicker," Friese adds.
- Regulates testosterone levels: Researchers believe that saw palmetto may reduce hair loss by preventing the conversion of testosterone into DHT and preventing the binding of DHT in the body.
How to Use Saw Palmetto for Hair
Saw palmetto supplements can be taken in capsule, liquid, or tea form. It is typically found combined with other natural hair growth supplements, like pumpkin seed oil. You can also find saw palmetto powder, which can be applied topically to the scalp and hair. It is possible to find hair care products that contain saw palmetto already. Zeichner points out that it is an ingredient that you may find in shampoos targeting thin hair.
- Take a saw palmetto supplement: Saw palmetto can be taken orally as a capsule. Friese explains that "Capsules may provide better results than a topical treatment because unless you are using a leave-in treatment, a lot of the ingredient can be washed away." There are several medications, like birth control and anticoagulants, that can be affected by saw palmetto, so a doctor should always be consulted before starting use. It is typically recommended that you take this supplement with food, as saw palmetto can cause gastrointestinal discomfort.
- Use a shampoo for thinning hair: Many shampoos designed to treat thinning hair contain saw palmetto. "Use a normal amount of each product and follow the instructions on the packaging. They will both be rinsed out before styling the hair," says Friese. "The BosleyMD Thickening Treatment is a great leave-in scalp treatment that contains saw palmetto."
- Create a treatment: You can create a hair thinning prevention treatment by adding saw palmetto powder to your shampoo. Zeichner recommends changing up your shampoo routine when doing so. "For them to be used as a scalp treatment, it is important to rub the product into the scalp and let it sit there for five minutes before rinsing out. This ensures enough contact time. If the goal is just to treat the scalp, then the treatment 'shampoo' does not necessarily need to be applied to the length of the hair. When it comes to improving hair growth, it is important to treat the scalp, rather than the hair. However, you do want to keep the hair that you have as strong and hydrated as possible," he explains.
Possible Side Effects
Saw palmetto is thought to be safe when used as directed, with side effects being rare. If you do happen to experience nausea, headache, or dizziness, however, it's a good idea to see a doctor.
Does Saw Palmetto Work on All Hair Types?
Saw palmetto can be used across all different hair types and textures. Its benefits will be most appreciated by those experiencing hair loss or thinning, as it is primarily used to prevent hair loss. Friese concurs, adding that any hair type and texture can benefit from improved scalp health. It is important to consult a doctor if you are experiencing hair loss, as it can be caused by a number of hormonal imbalances and health concerns. Saw palmetto is typically used for the treatment of male and female pattern hair loss due to DHT.
The Best Hair Products With Saw Palmetto
Friese recommends BosleyMD’s nourishing shampoo and conditioners (both the Defense and Revive), as they contain saw palmetto. This sulfate-free shampoo also contains additional natural DHT blockers, as well as pumpkin seed extract and rosemary to reduce inflammation and increase scalp circulation for hair growth.
Pura D'Or Hair Thinning Therapy Shampoo contains 15 DHT blockers, including saw palmetto and nettle extracts, to help prevent hair thinning and promote hair growth. It also is infused with essential oils, including argan oil, for shiny and healthy-looking hair.
Simply massage two to three drops of this Organic Saw Palmetto Oil Serum to your scalp two to four times per week to help reduce thinning hair and promote hair growth. This topical treatment is free of harsh chemicals and contains all-natural ingredients, including saw palmetto, pumpkin seed oil, and rosemary essential oil.
Spray the BondiBoost Procapil Hair Tonic directly onto your scalp to get all the hair thickening benefits of not only saw palmetto but also their patented Procapil ingredient. This leave-in hair tonic is suitable for all hair types and contains all-natural ingredients.
If you want a conditioner to leave your hair soft while also getting the thickening benefits of saw palmetto, then the Shapiro MD DHT Fighting Conditioner covers all the bases. In addition to saw palmetto, this product also contains green tea extract and caffeine to stimulate hair growth. Apply this product on your hair and scalp after shampooing and wash out before styling as normal.
How long does it take for saw palmetto to work for hair loss?
Does topical saw palmetto block DHT?
Saw palmetto is thought to prevent testosterone from being converted into DHT, which is the hormone that is linked to hair loss. Studies on the effects are promising, showing that topical application increased hair density by 35 percent in three months.
Is saw palmetto safe to take?
Saw Palmetto is considered safe, with some mild side effects reported, including nausea, dizziness, constipation, and headaches. It is recommended to take it with food. Talk with your doctor before starting this supplement and those who are pregnant or nursing should not take it.
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