One Shocking Trend About Hair Loss Ingredients

One Shocking Trend About Hair Loss Ingredients

By Elizabeth Lee and Avinash Boppana

Dec. 21, 2021 • 7 min read

Isn’t it a little suspicious how EVERY company today promises real and improved results?

Maybe it’s the thinning hair-line that becomes obvious as you adjust your hairstyle or the increased fallout from shedding in the shower. It could even be a nagging bald spot that catches your eye in the mirror at the salon. Everyone experiences hair loss in different forms and at different stages, but the frustration is an overwhelming constant. The panic, the hunt for advice, the optimism of trying new products, and the ultimate disappointment when the results don’t match the promise.

Regardless of where we are in our hair loss journey, what’s that one place we all inevitably visit? The internet. All it takes is one google search about a potential solution and we are immediately bombarded with a monsoon of ads from dozens of companies showcasing their new products on YouTube, Instagram or Facebook. A dizzying amount of serums and supplements that seem to call out our deepest insecurities, all touted as revolutionary solutions with real and improved results, impressive claims, and special, new ingredients.

At the end of the day, there are three simple factors that contribute to these “revolutionary” products (that hopefully deliver us the results we want to see): Marketing, Packaging, and Ingredients. Put them together, and we have a product.

                             Marketing + Packaging + Ingredients = Product

Marketing impacts the way we emotionally interact with the product, packaging dictates how we physically interact with it, but only the ingredients define how our bodies actually respond to it. So when a hair loss company claims new and improved results, there absolutely needs to be something different about their ingredients. Right? A secret formula that sets the product apart. The yeast to make the bread rise. It would be crazy to think that there are companies that put hundreds of thousands of dollars solely into marketing and packaging, with no consideration on what’s actually addressing the hair loss. Or is it…? Let’s take a step back and assume that this isn’t the case. Let’s start by talking about ODMs and OEMs.

The Deceptively Easy Way Out For Hair Loss Companies

ODMs or Original Design Manufacturers (also known as private labels) are companies that provide an existing, tried-and-true formulation for a cosmetics company to use. As the article (linked above) mentions, “we do everything for you”. The only step the client has to do is print their brand on the package and sell it. What’s even crazier is this very same formulation can already exist on the market, sold by a different brand. We should be shocked if a company takes this strategy with age-old ingredients and claims new and improved results. Notably alarming is the fact that “the cosmetics ODM market size will surpass $12.02 Billion in 2021.” The numbers are there. This does occur, and it happens on a huge scale. But a company would never willingly reveal this. So how about the case when hair loss companies truly claim innovative, new ingredients?

OEMs or Original Equipment Manufacturers are companies that help a brand to design a new formulation. A company working with these formulators has complete design control over their products and oftentimes has the ability to customize the ingredients to fit their branding. Brands can add or remove fragrance, adjust texture, tweak color, and even add the special ingredients that they source and discover themselves. This is much better. There exists a service that hair loss companies can use to provide new ingredients and ideas to make products with legitimate, real results. End of story? We’re afraid not.

Yes, there is an avenue for customization, but the obligation now falls on the hair loss company to actually discover and validate the ingredients they supply to an OEM. OEMs have existed for decades, so it would be nice to assume that some companies have earnestly taken up the challenge and proven themselves in recent years.

We attempted to validate this by interviewing over 40 women about their hair loss journey and the implications were astounding. When seeking professional help, women were strongly recommended a minoxidil-based product (like Rogaine). And oftentimes, minoxidil was the only solution that had any effect on their hair. This ingredient has unequivocally been the gold-standard (for both men and women) since approved by the FDA for hair loss in the late 1980’s. But it goes back even further. Minoxidil was specifically developed in the 1950s as an ulcer medication. Hair growth was just an unexpected side-effect!

After over 30 years of use, the number one ingredient that is still professionally recommended and the foundation of dozens of successful companies’ products is:

(1) Associated with a laundry list of unpleasant side effects

(2) Shown to variably work 50-60% of the time

(3) Accidentally discovered to have hair growth side effects

It sounds to us like no company has taken up the challenge of innovating and discovering better, novel ingredients given the state of the market. But don’t take our word for it. Let’s show you.

The Only Graph You NEED to see to understand what’s wrong with the hair loss industry.

We investigated 84 products with claims of visibly thicker and fuller hair from 18 different companies and compiled a master list of ingredients. After removing identical ingredients (or the same ingredient in different forms), we were left with over 600 unique ingredients. In addition, we set aside ingredients sourced from nature (like sunflower seed oil or panax ginseng root extract). We recognize that natural ingredients are exploding in popularity, but again this isn’t the full story (we will provide an interesting perspective on “natural” in a future article). 

Ingredients from nature have existed for hundreds and thousands of years, without any agenda to specifically stimulate human hair growth. Providing new versions of only natural ingredients to these OEMs is often what happens. Companies take advantage of the sentiment that natural means safe and use “all-natural” as a cheap substitute for ingredient novelty and results.

The 18 brands we considered include Grow Gorgeous, Keranique, Nutrafol, Vegamour, and many others. These are reputable, present-day companies at the forefront of solving hair loss with access to the latest science and technology to discover new ingredients and create better formulations. We hold these brands to a high standard, given their claims of science and improvement over other treatments that exist today. To figure out how new these ingredients really are, we went on a scavenger hunt to find the earliest, documented cosmetic use for each and every one. We used four strategies in our search.

(1) Cross-referencing official cosmetic ingredient lists (ie: INCI, CosIng)

(2) Searching scientific article databases (ie: PubMed)

(3) Searching patent databases with cosmetic applications (ie: Google Patents)

(4) Web searching for cosmetic related content (ie: blogs, news presses)

After writing computer algorithms to gather information from these sources as a starting point, we meticulously searched by hand to pinpoint the dates of earliest cosmetic use.

This took a long time, but we did the hard work for you. As the hours progressed, the story became all the more interesting. The results below are well worth it.

The labels underneath each bar represent the ingredient category, whether from nature or having documented evidence of a cosmetic use in the displayed time range. The height of each bar represents the number of ingredients from our list that fall into the labeled ingredient category. Here’s what we noticed:

(1) Over a third of the ingredients are natural, or a close relative of a natural ingredient

(2) Around half of these ingredients are from over 30 years ago

(3) There’s a painfully sharp decrease in new ingredients from before 1990 to 2011+

What this tells us is that hair loss companies either can’t find better ingredients or are not willing to. We took a closer look at some of these newer ingredients in the 2011+ category. We found a source for bis(tripeptide-1) copper acetate in 2014. This is actually just a mix of copper and some amino acids, all of which have been used for cosmetic applications for several decades prior. Peg‐12 dimethicone (2011) is simply just a blend of polyethylene glycol and dimethicone. A similar story as the previous ingredient. In fact, this ingredient is not even included for the purpose of hair loss. It’s main role is to help the physical consistency of the formulation it exists in.

These tangential roles are especially prevalent in the categories denoted with an asterisk (*) from 1991-2010. Butylphenyl methylpropanal (2006) is an ingredient used for fragrance, while polysilicone-15 (2002) protects against UV radiation. Poliquaternium-67 (1998) helps to condition the hair by preventing static texture.

We can list out many more examples, but one thing is abundantly clear. While there are a small number of ingredients that might be relatively “newer”, an even smaller portion is specifically related to hair loss.

Without a doubt hair loss brands have given up on what you deserve

The verdict is clear. In the last 30 years, hair loss companies simply have not contributed significant novel ingredients to support hair growth, yet the claims of new and improved results are constantly increasing. Companies seem to rely on marketing and packaging to counteract weaknesses in true ingredient innovation. This model has worked and may work for years to come, but we strongly believe things need to change: we need ingredient-first companies that deliver results, not promise them.

Stay tuned as we uncover more facts and give you the truths that brands are afraid to speak on!

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