For the more than 50 million men and 30 million women in the United States alone, androgenetic alopecia is a stark reality. (1)
At the root of this problem is the substance di-hydrotestosterone, or DHT, a derivative of the hormone testosterone.
And as much as it wreaks havoc with your hair, even topical treatments like minoxidil do nothing to block DHT from attacking your hair follicles.
But there are some ways you can remove DHT from your scalp to give your follicles what they need to grow and flourish.
To begin, let’s look at how DHT impacts your hair’s growth.
DHT and Your Hair
DHT is made from the naturally-occurring hormone, testosterone. DHT is formed when an enzyme known as 5-alpha-reductase, or 5AR, converts testosterone into di-hydrotestosterone (2).
Lowering testosterone levels to control DHT is not an option. Whether you’re male or female, your body needs a certain amount of testosterone to function properly, and you don’t want to upset the natural balance of your hormone levels (3).
Men and women who suffer from male pattern baldness don’t necessarily have more DHT; instead, they have a sensitivity to it — one that causes their follicles to miniaturize and weaken (4).
So, although one approach to controlling DHT would be to control the amount of 5AR circulating in your body or to slow the action of the enzyme, a better option might be to reduce the sensitivity of your follicles to DHT.
This, in concert with topical ways of reducing your scalp’s level of DHT, can help your hair grow stronger and thicker (5).
However, in order to reduce your scalp’s DHT levels, you’ll need to make sure there’s no build-up of waste products or sebum on your scalp.
This excess debris, called a plaque, is quite common in people suffering with androgenic alopecia, and can block hair follicles and weaken hair growth.
What’s Causing Your Sebum Build-up?
There are several things that can be contributing to a build-up of hair-stifling plaque on your scalp. Let’s look at three of the most common.
Androgenetic alopecia is the most common form of hair loss, and it’s believed to be triggered by DHT, a natural hormone found within the body(6).
As mentioned, those suffering this condition are sensitive to the hormone, and this sensitivity triggers a process known as hair follicle miniaturization.
As hair miniaturization occurs, the sebaceous gland grows. A larger gland causes more oil to be produced, and sebum buildup becomes more likely (7).
As more sebum is present within the scalp, more DHT becomes trapped within the follicles. If untreated at the earliest signs, it can be difficult — or even impossible — to reverse (8).
High-fat, greasy foods are a large part of the modern Western diet. These can contribute significantly to the overproduction of sebum and can trigger irritation, inflammation, and blockage of the hair follicle.
In fact, studies show that the three largest dietary contributors to pore-blocking sebum production are (9):
- Hyperglycemic carbohydrates
- Milk and dairy products
- Saturated fats including trans-fats and deficient ω-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs)
The best way to keep your diet from interfering with your hair growth is to change how you eat.
You should cut out foods in the above categories and replace them with foods that are known to alkalize the bloodstream and, therefore, alkalize the scalp’s pH.
Alkalizing diets are low-glycemic diets, a way of eating proven to reduce sebum production, thereby reducing DHT accumulation on your scalp (10).
Poor or Improper Hygiene
It’s commonly believed that washing your hair too little can lead to an oily scalp, but the opposite is true. Washing your hair too much is more likely to cause overproduction of sebum (11).
When you wash your hair with shop-bought products, you strip your hair and scalp of natural oils. This means the sebum must be replaced, causing the sebaceous gland to activate.
Washing your hair too frequently leads to a constant production of sebum. This means you’ll need to wash your hair more often, continuing the cycle of overwashing.
There are two things you can do to break the cycle.
- Wash your hair less often, four or less times per week
- Use gentle shampoos with only natural ingredients
The ingredients in such shampoos are not as harsh, so your natural oils won’t be completely stripped away. Using gentle, natural shampoo cuts down on sebaceous gland activities, and ensures your scalp has the right amount of oil.
Step One: Scalp Exfoliation for Topical DHT Removal
In order to remove DHT from your scalp, you must first remove the waste products that have built up on the epidermis.
Without cleaning this debris, new hairs will be less likely to be able to push through, making it more difficult to grow strong hair.
By cleansing your scalp, you’ll be removing:
- Embedded sebum
- Dead skin
- Cosmetic products
These substances mix together on your scalp and become a plaque that prevents hair growth and causes miniaturization of existing hair follicles.
If you are bald or your hair is thinning, you may notice the skin of your scalp becoming shiny. That shininess is evidence of a plaque of debris.
The plaque also contains DHT crystals that are secreted through the epidermis, creating a perpetually inhospitable environment for hair growth.
Removing this plaque is the object of exfoliation, a dermatological technique proven to remove dead cell build-up and waste by-products (12).
In fact, certain exfoliants have been used effectively to remove hardened sebum and cleanse the skin of your scalp (13).
There are several techniques you can use to effectively exfoliate the skin of your scalp to remove debris. They range from gentle acids to natural products that are safe enough to eat.
Any of these substances is safe for the skin of your scalp will not damage the roots of your hair. Hair follicles grow at a deeper layer that is unaffected by these types of topical solutions.
Salicylic acid is a gentle acid that’s miscible, or able to mix, with lipids like the sebaceous and epidermal liquids that surround your hair follicles (14).
In fact, studies show that salicylic acid can help shed dead cell buildup without affecting the normal functioning of your scalp’s cells (15).
Along with this, salicylic acid can stimulate the renewal and growth of new cells without damaging, or in any way affecting, nearby follicular cells. Being part of the compound that forms aspirin, it also provides anti-inflammatory benefits to your scalp and hair follicles (16)(17).
Still other studies show salicylic acid to have anti-fungal and anesthetic qualities, both of which can be useful in treating androgenetic alopecia (18).
To use salicylic acid as a scalp peel, shampoo and rinse your hair thoroughly, then apply coconut oil to your scalp to moisturize and protect the scalp from the drying effects of the acid.
After 30 minutes, take an eye dropper and apply a solution of 15% salicylic acid to your scalp one section at a time. Be sure to cover areas that are thinning or have dandruff.
Leave the acid on your scalp for 10 minutes, then rinse well. If there is any salicylic acid left behind, just peel away.
This peel is safe enough for monthly use to keep your scalp free of plaque.
Natural Scalp Exfoliators
By far, the most effective way to remove the epidermis plaque is to use a homemade scalp exfoliator to gently and naturally remove the plaque making the method more effective.
There are several safe, effective ingredients that can be used to remove plaque build-up on your scalp.
This natural and minimally-processed salt is antibacterial, and can draw bacteria and mites from the pores of your scalp (19)
It is gently abrasive to help loosen the build-up of plaque without damaging your skin.
The salt also balances excess acidity in the scalp by neutralizing acids that may have formed and would otherwise be damaging the hair follicles.
Activated Powdered Charcoal
Activated charcoal is created by burning wood, coconut shells, or other debris — basically, any source of carbon.
The intense applied heat removes all oxygen to “activate” the charcoal with gases. This process then fills the final product with millions of tiny pores.
Activated powdered charcoal is a well-known cleansing agent because of its ability to adsorb toxins. Adsorption is different from absorption (20).
The tiny pores in charcoal cause the toxins to stick in their crevices and edges, or adsorb. This ability to draw out toxins not only aids in removing grease and impurities from your scalp, but helps with wound healing.
If you have any irritation on your scalp, charcoal can help soothe the inflammation and help it heal (21).
Activated charcoal, besides helping to remove impurities, is fairly ‘rough,’ meaning it can help to gently exfoliate the scalp by rubbing against any plaque and gently removing it (22).
The charcoal also helps to neutralize molds which can grow on the embedded plaque (23).
Lemon juice is a weak tricarboxylic acid that can break down oils, dead skin cells, and leftover cosmetics attached to the scalp (24).
The citric acid contained in the lemon juice is a powerful, but gentle, cleanser that removes flaky skin and cleans the pores without damaging hair or scalp.
Studies show that lemon oil also has anti-inflammatory properties. These can help soothe any inflammation or scalp irritation present (25).
The active ingredient in ginger juice, 6-gingerol, has amazing therapeutic properties — including the boosting of blood circulation, which is essential for scalp health (26).
In addition, a study published by Xu Y, entitled Dermatology in Traditional Chinese Medicine (Donica Publishing Ltd.; 2004) successfully used an herbal mixture including ginger root to treat androgenetic alopecia.
Hyaluronic acid (HA) is important in providing an environment for the synthesis of extracellular matrix molecules and in encouraging healthy epidermal cell interaction with the surrounding environment (27).
Importantly, it can hold a large amount of moisture for hydrated skin. As we age, we lose HA in our skin, contributing to dry skin and wrinkles.
Emu oil is a potent anti-inflammatory with anti-fungal capabilities. It is clinically effective in improving scalp conditions such as seborrheic dermatitis, and can be a useful adjunct in preparing your scalp for a topical DHT blocker (28).
In addition, it’s well-known that alpha linoleic and gamma linoleic fatty acids help inhibit 5-alpha reductase from making DHT.
Oleic acid is also a known 5-alpha-reducatase inhibitor, but in most forms, like flaxseed oil, its large molecules can’t penetrate the skin to reach the follicle (32).
Emu oil consists of primarily oleic acid with about 20 percent linoleic acid and a small percentage of linolenic acid. In addition, it’s an effective anti-inflammatory with good skin penetration (33)(34).
Step Two: Reducing DHT Sensitivity
There are several things that can affect your follicles’ sensitivity to DHT.
Understanding how your body reacts to DHT will allow you to take measures to offset this sensitivity through proper nutrition and hormone balance.
Proper Nutrition to Lower DHT Sensitivity
Hippocrates once said, “Let your food be your medicine.” This is especially true for those suffering from androgenetic alopecia.
What you put in your body has an enormous impact on the growth and health of your hair. If you’re trying to regrow hair or prevent hair thinning, you need to think carefully about the foods you eat.
For some, hair loss from eating certain foods can be as a result of a subtle allergic response, as in food sensitivities.
Rather than a severe allergy, as sometimes induced by foods such as tree nuts, shellfish, and even eggs, food sensitivities cause low-level inflammation that persists over days, weeks, and month (35).
While inflammation may be unnoticeable, over time it is cumulative, and can wreak damage to many systems of your body, including your hair follicles.
Also, food sensitivity may crop up at any time. New research has found a link between common reoviruses and sensitivities to food proteins (36).
For many, specific foods have an strong impact on hair and follicle health because they make the environment of your body acidic — an environment in which DHT thrives.
Alkalizing Blood to Lower DHT Sensitivity
After our body metabolizes the foods we eat, there is a leftover substance known as metabolic waste.
This waste is either acidic or alkaline in nature, depending on what sort of food was eaten. Sometimes, the process is counter-intuitive. Just because a food is acidic in nature doesn’t mean it will leave acidic waste.
For example, lemons are acidic, but have a highly alkalizing effect on the body.
Our body has evolved eating certain foods that leave an overall stable and healthy pH. But, due to our modern diets, the foods we eat are often heavily weighted on the acidic side of the spectrum.
Many of the foods found in our modern diet — grains, meat, dairy, and refined sugars — are acid-forming. After habitually consuming large quantities of these foods, your body becomes more acidic.
A recent study showed that, in the scalp, alkaline conditions inhibited the effect of the enzyme 5-alpha reductase converting testosterone into DHT, reducing the likelihood of hair loss taking place (37).
This means eating an alkalizing diet to keep your body at its correct pH — 7.4 pH is healthy — will minimize DHT in the scalp (38).
The foods that are most alkalizing are mainly fresh fruits and vegetables, herbs, spices, grasses, and raw, soaked nuts and seeds.
Shifting your diet from acid-forming foods to alkalising foods will naturally lower the DHT levels in your scalp.
Reducing the Allergy/Immune Response to Lower DHT Sensitivity
Allergies and autoimmue responses lead to increased hair follicle sensitivity to DHT.
For some, hair loss from eating certain foods can be as a result of a subtle allergic response, as in food sensitivities.
While inflammation may be unnoticeable, over time it is cumulative, and can wreak damage to many systems of your body, including your hair follicles (39).
One of the most prevalent food sensitivities is to gluten, the protein found in grains. It’s called non-celiac gluten sensitivity, and can present a host of problems such as heartburn, indigestion, gas, diarrhea, and others. (40)
Also, many people are sensitive to dairy, a condition known as lactose-intolerance. This condition can also be sub-clinical, particularly in overweight people, causing oxidative stress and inflammation quietly (41)(42).
While this is the most widely-studied food sensitivity, there are plenty of others.
Everybody responds to these delayed allergic reactions differently. For some, the allergies can increase sensitivity to DHT.
The best way to determine if you’re having any food sensitivities is through an elimination diet, where you remove suspect foods completely from your diet for at least four weeks, then reintroduce them to gauge your body’s reaction (43).
Balancing Blood Sugar Levels to Lower DHT Sensitivity
Blood sugar level spikes are another dietary mistake that can cause sensitivity to DHT leading to hair loss.
Studies show that androgenetic alopecia is associated with metabolic disorder and insulin resistance — both disorders having do with blood sugar (44).
Another study showed a causal link betwen hyperglycemia, Type 2 diabetes, and hair fall. Even if you don’t have diabetes, the research is clear in presenting a link between high blood sugar levels and thinning hair (45).
This means that a good hair-promoting diet would be high in low-glycemic foods and contain few or no products with added sugars.
Step Three: Blocking DHT from Accumulating
Once you’ve removed as much DHT from your scalp as possible and you’ve begun eating clean to promote good hair health from within, you can add some natural topical DHT blockers to your hair growth regimen to accelerate results.
Natural DHT Blockers
It’s important to use natural products on your hair to minimize side effects and adverse reactions.
There are a few research studies which highlight the anti-androgen activities of saw palmetto.
One of the most in-depth studies showed a combination of gelatin-cystine and saw palmetto was effective in reducing free radical levels and inducing hair growth (46)
This study followed 48 volunteers (24 male and 24 female) as they applied lotion (either active or placebo) over a period of 50 weeks.
Some participants (12) also took an oral supplement which did not contain saw palmetto, but did contain gelatin-cystine.
All of the patients were previously diagnosed with androgenetic alopecia, ranking anywhere from a stage III to IV on the Norwood-Hamilton scale.
The 48 volunteers were split into five groups:
- Group 1: Active lotion A;
- Group 2: Inactive (placebo) lotion B;
- Group 3: Active diet supplement C;
- Group 4: Inactive (placebo) diet supplement D; and
- Group 5: Active lotion A and active diet supplement C
The lotion was applied twice per day (morning and evening) and the participants were also provided a mild shampoo. They were instructed to use this shampoo throughout the study.
Researchers assessed hair growth using mean percentage variation of hair number per squared centimeter of scalp.
The three active groups (lotion, diet, and lotion + diet) performed significantly better than the two placebo groups (lotion and diet). The most effective was the lotion + diet group, followed by diet, and then lotion.
Since the study was performed to test both saw palmetto and gelatin-cystine, there’s no way to say which of the two worked best.
However, as mentioned, other studies have been performed which show saw palmetto’s benefits for hair growth.
Stinging nettle is another herb which has been shown to have anti-androgenic effects.
One study performed in 2011 showed stinging nettle’s effects on Benign Prostatic Hyperplasia (BPH) in human patients (49).
This study consisted of 620 patients, and it was performed over six months. The results were collected using various techniques, including:
- International Prostate Symptom Score (IPSS);
- Maximum urinary flow rate (Qmax);
- Postvoid Residual Urine Volume (PVR);
- Serum Pros-tatic-Specific Antigen (PSA);
- Testosterone levels; and
- Prostate size
The techniques above were used throughout the study, and the six-month results proved stinging nettle’s efficacy.
Most notably, both the IPSS and Qmax decreased significantly when compared to the placebo group. The fact that stinging nettle was useful in the treatment of BPH proves its ability to inhibit the activities of 5-apha-reductase.
Further studies carried out on stinging nettle’s abilities to inhibit 5-alpha-reductase showed increasingly encouraging results. Two recent studies performed on rats showed a strong inhibitive effect of stinging nettle on 5-alpha-reductase. (50)(51)
With its undeniable ability to inhibit the substance the forms DHT in your body, stinging nettle makes a good topical DHT inhibitor.
Reishi Mushroom Extract
Finasteride is a drug often used in the treatment of androgenetic alopecia, and it also works by inhibiting 5-alpha-reductase. However, it has numerous side effects.
A partial list includes (52):
- loss of interest in sex
- trouble having an orgasm
- abnormal ejaculation
- swelling in your hands or feet
- swelling or tenderness in your breasts
- feeling like you might pass out,
- runny nose
- skin rash
There are even more serious side effects like the development of benign prostate hyperplasia.
Fortunately, there is a natural alternative to finasteride — reishi mushroom (53).
According to a 2005 study created to gauge the DHT-blocking abilities of 19 different mushroom species, reishi mushroom performed in a way comparable to finasteride — without the side effects.
Researchers prepared ethanol extracts of each mushroom species, and then added the extracts to a suspension containing rat liver and prostate microsomes. This was carried out to see which species, if any, could inhibit 5-alpha-reductase.
Reishi showed an inhibitory percentage of over 70%, which was significantly better than the other mushrooms in the study.
Since reishi can inhibit 5-alpha-reductase, it can be used to reduce the amount of DHT that attaches to the hair follicles.
To remove DHT from your scalp and keep it from reforming, follow the three-step plan for lasting results.
First, exfoliate your scalp to remove plaque and DHT build-up.
Then, reduce your scalp’s sensitivity to DHT by eating an alkalizing, low-glycemic diet and finding and controlling food allergies.
Finally, use natural, topical DHT blockers to keep your scalp free from new build-up of DHT so your hair follicles can heal, rejuvenate, and thrive.