THE BLOG
06/06/2013 01:54 pm ET Updated Aug 06, 2013

Can a Vaginal Cream Really Make Your Hair Grow?

An interesting Internet meme has recently emerged: women using vaginal yeast infection products to grow their hair longer or to reverse hair loss.

A quick search of YouTube will net you hundreds of testimonial videos from women who've used this to treat their hair. Some of them have even begun organizing "Monistat Hair Growth Challenges" online. A local TV station in San Antonio also reported on the trend recently.

Using a feminine product to grow your hair sounds crazy -- but does it really work?

The short answer: possibly.

The active ingredient in these products is miconazole nitrate, an antifungal agent. So how does an antifungal chemical help your hair grow? Well miconazole's chemical structure is similar to another antifungal agent called ketoconazole which has been shown to block dihydrotestosterone, the hair-killing hormone responsible for female- and male-pattern hair loss. In fact, several studies (Skin Therapy Letter, Journal of Cutaneous and Aesthetic Surgery, International Journal of Cosmetic Science, Journal of Dermatology Science, Journal of Dermatology) have evaluated ketoconazole as an "anti-androgen," meaning it combats the kill-off of hair follicles. Since miconazole is similar in nature to ketoconazole, it makes sense to think that it could also be effective at stopping female-pattern hair loss.

It's important to remember that vaginal creams haven't been clinically evaluated as a hair loss treatment -- and I don't recommend trying this without a doctor's consent. Here are a few things you should keep in mind:

  • Does It Work? While it does seem possible that miconazole could help grow your hair, it's important to remember that this specific ingredient hasn't been clinically tested to prove its effectiveness in growing hair or treating hair loss. Theoretically, it is possible and there is anecdotal evidence that supports this possibility, but until it is properly tested, there's no way to know for sure how well or if it works. Also remember that every person is different and you may not have the same response to a treatment that others do. Because this product hasn't been tested for hair regrowth, I would not advise anyone to spend their money on this treatment or to take it in place of clinically proven therapies.
  • Side Effects. Miconazole is FDA approved and is sold as an over-the-counter treatment for vaginal yeast infections. Therefore, the risks of using it are low. That said, however, there are still risks for using any drug "off-label." Since its use on the scalp hasn't been tested in a clinical trial, it's unclear what all of the potential side effects might be. However, the side effects listed for the traditional use of miconazole cream are rashes, itching, irritation, burning sensation and headaches. There is anecdotal evidence from some online testimonials that women who apply miconazole to the scalp can also experience headaches, burning and discomfort. Miconazole is also contraindicated in girls under the age of 12. It could also pose a risk for women who are taking the blood thinner warfarin. To be safe, check with a doctor first before trying this product on the scalp.
  • What Causes Female Hair Loss? Women have a 40 percent chance of developing hair loss in their lifetimes. Just like in men, genetics is the primary culprit -- and female-pattern hair loss (also called androgenetic alopecia) can occur at any age (even in your teens or 20s), but typically accelerates after menopause. But there are other causes too: a poor diet, "crash dieting," hormonal fluctuations (like pregnancy, post-partum, peri-menopause and menopause), certain medications, hormone therapy, stress and physical damage to the follicles from hair extensions, braiding or harsh chemical treatments can all cause hair loss. It's important to know the exact cause of your hair loss before starting any type of treatment.
  • Treatment Options. For a woman who has androgenetic alopecia, medical treatment is really the only option. The only FDA-approved medical treatment for women is minoxidil (brand name Rogaine For Women), but other therapies include finasteride (for post-menopausal women), prostaglandin analogs, nutritional supplements, low level laser therapy and minimally-invasive "follicular-unit extraction" microsurgical hair transplants. New "anti-aging" shampoo/conditioner lines can also help to make hair look thicker instantly, although they don't actually treat the underlying medical condition.
  • Get Tested. If you think your hair is thinning or you want to know if you're at risk for hair loss down the road, go to a doctor. They can give you an "androgen sensitivity" genetic test to see if you carry the hair loss gene and would respond well to current treatment methods. They can also evaluate your hair using a microscopic analysis tool and check the progression of your hair thinning/growth using a strand-analyzer tool. Accurate diagnosis and routine tracking and measurements with these hair analysis tools are the key to getting the most effective treatment possible. I always advise hair loss patients to seek out a board-certified hair restoration physician first, but if there isn't one in your area, a dermatologist should also be able to help.

What other hair loss treatments have you heard about? Send me your comments and questions in the forum below.

Subscribe to the Lifestyle email.
Life hacks and juicy stories to get you through the week.