Dealing with hair loss or thinning?

Chat with our Care Team

Start now

Saw Palmetto for Hair Loss: Is It Effective?

Knox Beasley, MD

Reviewed by Knox Beasley, MD

Written by Grace Gallagher

Published 09/17/2017

Updated 01/18/2024

Imagine losing your hair, and someone appears out of nowhere to tell you the solution is to rub extract from the berries of a specific plant on your head. Sounds like a mythical quest at best and a snake oil salesman at worst, right?

Well, it’s actually just us talking about saw palmetto for male pattern baldness — allow us to explain.

Saw palmetto is a plant extract often found in supplements for hair loss and shampoo for thinning hair (like DHT-blocking shampoos).

One of the main saw palmetto benefits is that it seems to reduce dihydrotestosterone (DHT) uptake by the hair follicle. We’ll break down why this is important soon, but the TL;DR is that for many men, less DHT in the body means a longer hair growth cycle and more hair on their heads.

Below, we’ll explain what saw palmetto is, go over the numerous forms it’s sold in and discuss how you may be able to use saw palmetto for hair growth and preventing hair loss.

Not a shrub guy? We’ll also share other evidence-based hair loss treatments you might want to try if you’re starting to notice a receding hairline, a bald patch or other signs of moderate hair loss.

What Is Saw Palmetto for Hair?

Saw palmetto is a plant found mostly in the southeastern United States. It also answers to a scientific name, Serenoa repens.

The dietary supplement ingredient may help alleviate symptoms linked to an enlarged prostate gland, also known as benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH). It’s also sometimes used for chronic pelvic pain, migraines and other conditions.

That’s all great. But what does this have to do with hair loss?

We’ll explain, but first, we need to dive deeper into DHT (promise it’s relevant). DHT is a pesky little male androgen that’s probably partially responsible for your hair loss. Male androgenetic alopecia is largely hormonal, and it’s the most common form of hair loss in men, affecting 30 to 50 percent by age 50.

After puberty, when DHT’s key role of growing facial hair and deepening the voice is done, it looks for something else to do. Unfortunately, the hormone doesn’t get a hobby. Instead, it decides to spend its free time shrinking hair follicles, a process also known as hair miniaturization. Smaller follicles mean thinner, patchy hair and hair loss in men.

Some things work as a shield, blocking DHT’s ability to enter the follicle. Arguably the best-known DHT blocker is the prescription medication finasteride (the active ingredient in Propecia®).

You know what else is a DHT blocker? You guessed it: saw palmetto.

Now we’re full circle back to the topic at hand. In some studies, saw palmetto appears to partially block DHT.

hair loss treatment

balding can be optional

The Different Forms of Saw Palmetto

Saw palmetto may be a buzzy ingredient these days, but it’s not new. It has a long history as a folk medicine ingredient, with records showing it was used by Native American tribes to treat urinary and reproductive health problems.

The natural ingredient comes in different forms. You may see it as an oil extract, dried berries, powder capsules or tea (though the fatty acids in saw palmetto aren’t water-soluble, so tea doesn’t really do much). 

For hair loss, it’s often applied topically via shampoo or serum. Our thickening shampoo with saw palmetto is an easy and safe way to use the substance topically. More research is needed, but some findings on saw palmetto and hair loss show that the supplement may help.

Does Saw Palmetto Block DHT?

To answer your question (okay, fine, our question), saw palmetto does block DHT — at least in part. The harder thing to answer is to what extent it blocks the hormone. 

A 2012 study looked at 100 men with mild to moderate male androgenetic alopecia (AGA). It showed that 38 percent of patients treated with saw palmetto had an increase in hair growth compared to 68 percent of those treated with finasteride who noticed an improvement. But even finasteride doesn’t completely block DHT.

How Effective Is Saw Palmetto for Hair Loss?

Here’s the so-so news: While there isn’t a ton of evidence supporting the idea that saw palmetto is effective against hair loss, that doesn’t mean it’s not. Confusing, right?

Think about it like this: We don’t have much solid research supporting the belief that vitamin C helps prevent colds, but that’s not stopping anyone from downing it in powdered form all winter. And many swear by it.

Is everyone just placebo-ing themselves into oblivion? Probably not. Dietary supplements usually don’t require approval from the FDA (U.S. Food and Drug Administration) and often aren’t studied as much as their prescription counterparts.

So, just because something doesn’t have a bunch of clinical trials to its name doesn’t necessarily mean it doesn’t work.

That said, some studies do exist. A 2009 review found that saw palmetto is the most popular botanically derived 5 alpha reductase (5aR) inhibitor. 

Another meta-analysis looked at both oral and topical saw palmetto. It found that 60 percent of those studied showed improvement in overall hair quality, 27 percent showed improvement in total hair count, and just over 83 percent saw increased hair density.

Will you join thousands of happy customers?

4.5 average rating

Before/after images shared by customers who have purchased varying products, including prescription based products. Prescription products require an online consultation with a healthcare provider who will determine if a prescription is appropriate. These customers’ results have not been independently verified. Individual results will vary. Customers were given free product.

Saw Palmetto Dosage for Hair Loss

Many people are curious about the correct saw palmetto dosage for hair loss. Since saw palmetto is a natural supplement and haircare product ingredient rather than a medication, there’s no evidence-based dosage your healthcare provider may recommend for treating hair loss.

In the meta-analysis mentioned earlier, men were given a dose of between 100 and 320 milligrams (mg) per day.

Powder vs. Liquid Saw Palmetto Supplementation

If you’re taking saw palmetto berry powder capsules (as opposed to an oil capsule or liquid tincture), it’s important to note that this formulation usually contains much less saw palmetto than you’d find an oil-based extract.

The liquid extract is much more potent, even if the pills are the same size or contain the same number of milligrams. This means the powder may not have enough fatty acids or phytosterols to be effective, which is a bummer for hair loss and potentially dangerous for those using saw palmetto to treat BPH.

When using saw palmetto, always check the instructions on the packaging for information about the recommended dosage. It’s also best to talk to your healthcare provider before taking any supplement or using a haircare product containing saw palmetto as an active ingredient.

Side Effects of Saw Palmetto for Hair 

If you’ve ever seen a drug commercial, you know every medication or supplement has some side effects — and saw palmetto is no exception there (though the side effects are generally mild).

Some may experience stomach discomfort after taking saw palmetto, which can usually be alleviated by eating first.

There’s also a risk that self-medicating with saw palmetto (or any medication that reduces levels of 5-alpha reductase) may delay the discovery of prostate cancer.

This is because with continued use of six months to a year, saw palmetto reduces levels of PSA (prostate-specific antigen), an antigen that can indicate prostate cancer when found in high numbers. Findings on this topic are mixed, so it’s always a good idea to check in with your provider if you have concerns.

Saw palmetto may also interact with other medications, including:

  • Blood thinner medications, such as warfarin (sold under the brand name Coumadin®), clopidogrel (Plavix®) and aspirin

  • Oral contraceptives, such as the birth control pill

Talk to your healthcare provider before using saw palmetto if you’re prescribed any medications.

Saw palmetto hasn’t been studied on pregnant or breastfeeding women and, for that reason, should be avoided unless otherwise specified by a medical professional.

Other Ways to Promote Hair Growth

There are plenty of other hair loss treatments, some of which can be used in combination with saw palmetto. Here are a few options to consider.

Finasteride

We touched on finasteride earlier, so we’ll keep this brief. This hair loss medication was FDA-approved in 1997 to treat AGA in men at a 1-milligram daily dose. At a higher 5-milligram dose, it’s approved to treat BPH.

Minoxidil

Minoxidil (brand name: Rogaine®) is an FDA-approved medication for hair loss. It’s a vasodilator — in non-medical speak, that means it widens blood vessels, bringing blood, oxygen and nutrients to the scalp.

This medication also shortens the telogen phase of the hair growth cycle, thereby extending the anagen phase (growth phase), and it increases hair length and diameter.

We offer minoxidil foam and minoxidil liquid solution (both at a 5% strength). They’re both applied directly to the scalp, but those with longer or thicker hair may find the solution easier to use since the dropper allows you to really get in there.

On the other hand, minoxidil foam may be a better option for folks with sensitive skin or who’ve experienced irritation with the medication in the past. The foam doesn’t contain propylene glycol, which some researchers think may be responsible for adverse reactions.

Finasteride-Minoxidil Combo

Sonny and Cher. Hall and Oates. Mary-Kate and Ashley. Topical finasteride & minoxidil spray. Yep, our spray makes it easy to apply this absolutely iconic duo at once.

A 2019 meta-analysis found that when used in combination, finasteride and topical minoxidil are more effective but just as safe as using one or the other on its own. 

Biotin

Biotin helps produce a protein known as keratin, which hair is made of. A biotin deficiency is rare (but possible if you follow a strict diet), though it could be the reason your hair is falling out.

Our biotin gummies contain biotin (shocker) and other ingredients essential for healthy hair, like vitamin B6, vitamin D and folic acid.

Volumizing Hair Products

Volumizing shampoo and volumizing conditioner are like the mascara of the scalp world. While they make your hair look fuller and longer, the results aren’t permanent. Still, it’s a great fake-it-til-you-make-it solution, especially when used in tandem with other hair loss treatments.

Our dandruff detox shampoo (made with pyrithione zinc 1% and salicylic acid) helps keep your hair flake-free so it looks clean and healthy.

Hair loss treatments, delivered

Most popular

Topical Finasteride

If a pill feels like an overwhelming way to treat male pattern hair loss, this spray with finasteride & minoxidil could be for you.

Minoxidil Solution

Generic for Rogaine®, this FDA-approved over-the-counter version of topical minoxidil is used for regrowth on the crown of the head.

Finasteride & Minoxidil

This is the FDA-approved dynamic duo. When used together, men saw better results in clinical trials compared to using either alone.

Oral Finasteride

If you’re looking for something effective but don’t want too many steps in your routine, this once-a-day pill could be right for you.

Minoxidil Foam

Clinically proven to regrow hair in 3-6 months, no pills required.




The Verdict on Saw Palmetto for Hair

Does saw palmetto work? The age-old question (or at least the question of the hour). If you’re beginning to notice the signs of hair loss, saw palmetto can be a good addition to your hair loss prevention stack.

Here’s the verdict:

  • Saw palmetto is a type of palm tree. Oil from the saw palmetto berry is extracted to help treat certain health conditions, including hair loss and prostate enlargement.

  • More research is needed, but saw palmetto shows promise in helping with hair loss that has a hormonal cause, like androgenic alopecia. However, since it works on DHT, it won’t be effective in aiding hair regrowth from non-hormonal causes, like telogen effluvium (aka hair loss from stress).

  • We talked a lot about how saw palmetto is an alternative to finasteride, but what about “dupes” for other hair loss drugs? Those exist too. Check out our guide to minoxidil alternatives and other supplements for hair loss.

Want to learn more about protecting your hair? Of course you do.

Our guide to preventing hair loss goes into detail about how to gain control over male pattern baldness using a mix of medications, lifestyle changes and more.

18 Sources

  1. Murugusundram, S. (2009). Serenoa Repens: Does It Have Any Role in the Management of Androgenetic Alopecia? Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2840915/
  2. National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH). (n.d.) Saw Palmetto. Retrieved from https://www.nccih.nih.gov/health/saw-palmetto
  3. Prager, N., Bickett, K., French, N. & Marcovici, G. (2002, April). A randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial to determine the effectiveness of botanically derived inhibitors of 5-alpha-reductase in the treatment of androgenetic alopecia. Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine. 8 (2), 143-152. Retrieved from https://www.haargroeispecialist.nl/resources/media/saw-palmetto-beta-sitosterol.pd
  4. Ho, C., Sood, T., Zito, P. (2022, Oct). Androgenetic Alopecia. StatPearls Internet. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK430924/
  5. Kinter K., Anekar A. (2023, March). Biochemistry, Dihydrotestosterone- StatPearls Internet. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK557634/
  6. Evyatar Evron,E., Juhasz, M., Babadjouni, A., Atanaskova, N.Mesinkovskab(2020, Nov).Natural Hair Supplement: Friend or Foe? Saw Palmetto, a Systematic Review in Alopecia. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7706486/
  7. Kwon, Y. (2019). Use of saw palmetto (Serenoa repens) extract for benign prostatic hyperplasia. Food Science and Biotechnology. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6859144/
  8. Zito, P.M., Bistas, K.G., Syed K. (2022, Aug. 25). Finasteride- StatPearls. NCBI Bookshelf. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK513329
  9. U.S. Food & Drug Administration. (2022, Oct.) Questions and Answers on Dietary Supplements. https://www.fda.gov/food/information-consumers-using-dietary-supplements/questions-and-answers-dietary-supplements
  10. PR Newsire (2019, Aug). Leading Saw Palmetto Producer Reports That Consumers May Be Using Saw Palmetto Incorrectly in Support of Prostate Health. Retrieved from https://www.prnewswire.com/news-releases/leading-saw-palmetto-producer-reports-that-consumers-may-be-using-saw-palmetto-incorrectly-in-support-of-prostate-health-100342039.html
  11. Penugonda, K., & Lindshield, B. L. (2013). Fatty Acid and Phytosterol Content of Commercial Saw Palmetto Supplements. Nutrients, 5(9), 3617-3633. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3798925/
  12. American Cancer Society. (n.d.) Screening Tests for Prostate Cancer. Retrieved from https://www.cancer.org/cancer/types/prostate-cancer/detection-diagnosis-staging/tests.html
  13. Tachjian, A., Maria, V., & Jahangir, A. (2010). Use of Herbal Products and Potential Interactions in Patients With Cardiovascular Diseases. Journal of the American College of Cardiology. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2831618/
  14. NIH.(n.d.) Dietary Supplements: A Framework for Evaluating Safety.
  15. Appendix K: Prototype Focused Monograph: Review of Antiandrogenic Risks of Saw Palmetto Ingestion by Women. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK216069/
  16. Chen, L., Zheng, J., Wang, L., Wang, H., Chen, B. (2019, Nov). The Efficacy and Safety of Finasteride Combined with Topical Minoxidil for Androgenetic Alopecia: A Systematic Review and Meta-analysis. Retrieved from https://cdn.mednet.co.il/2012/05/the-efficacy-and-safety-of-finasterideminoxidil.pdf
  17. Patel, P., Nessel, T., Kumar, D. (2023). Minoxidil-StatPearls. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK482378/
  18. Friedman, E., Friedman, P., Cohen, D., Washenik, K. (2002). Allergic contact dermatitis to topical minoxidil solution: etiology and treatment. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/11807448/
Editorial Standards

Hims & Hers has strict sourcing guidelines to ensure our content is accurate and current. We rely on peer-reviewed studies, academic research institutions, and medical associations. We strive to use primary sources and refrain from using tertiary references. See a mistake? Let us know at [email protected]!

This article is for informational purposes only and does not constitute medical advice. The information contained herein is not a substitute for and should never be relied upon for professional medical advice. Always talk to your doctor about the risks and benefits of any treatment. Learn more about our editorial standards here.

Knox Beasley, MD

Dr. Knox Beasley is a board certified dermatologist specializing in hair loss. He completed his undergraduate studies at the United States Military Academy at West Point, NY, and subsequently attended medical school at Tulane University School of Medicine in New Orleans, LA. 

Dr. Beasley first began doing telemedicine during his dermatology residency in 2013 with the military, helping to diagnose dermatologic conditions in soldiers all over the world. 

Dr. Beasley is board certified by the American Board of Dermatology, and is a Fellow of the American Academy of Dermatology.

Originally from Nashville, TN, Dr. Beasley currently lives in North Carolina and enjoys spending time outdoors (with sunscreen of course) with his wife and two children in his spare time. 

Education

Training

Certifications

Publications

Read more