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Reviewed by Mary Lucas, MSCIS, MPhil, RN
Written by Our Editorial Team
Can taking doses of iodine give you healthy hair? Can it make you go bald? Will iodine supplements and some iodine-rich foods give you the hair you want, or no hair at all? Are there any benefits of iodine that are backed by science?
The relationship between iodine and hair loss is a complex one, with a lot of complicated mechanisms making your hair’s health distantly related to your iodine levels.
Let’s start with what we know: a little less or a little more than your recommended intake of iodine is going to have little or no short-term impact on your hair health.
But as excess or insufficient iodine becomes a problem, there can be some bigger concerns to deal with, that might eventually include your hair.
To understand the complicated relationship between the iodine in table salt and hair growth, you need to understand what iodine actually does to your hair.
Iodine is a trace element naturally found in your body, and it has important roles in your normal function.
Iodine is needed for normal cellular function — your cells use iodine in the process of changing food into energy, and your thyroid needs a regular supply of iodine for normal function.
You can consume iodine from medications, but iodine intake can also come from iodine-rich foods, where you can meet your daily allowance of iodine.
You can get the necessary iodine per day from some dairy products, iodized salt and certain fish (think cod, sea bass, haddock and perch), as well as kelp and land-dwelling plants grown in iodine-rich soil.
According to the Food and Nutrition Board, adults can have approximately 150 micrograms per day, and lactating or pregnant women can go as high as 290 micrograms safely.
There are many trace elements in your body that are required for your body to function normally — selenium is another one that you’ll frequently hear about. In small doses, it’s integral to healthy function.
A deficiency in a trace element, however, comes with consequences.
What you definitely don’t want is an iodine deficiency. Iodine deficiency can lead to enlarged thyroid cells and an enlarged thyroid gland (also known as a goiter) or hypothyroidism (medical conditions where the thyroid is unable to make enough thyroid hormone).
These conditions are more common in women than in men. For children, insufficient iodine intake may result in a condition called cretinism, which is a now-rare genetic abnormality that affects physical and mental capacity.
Iodine poisoning is extremely rare, according to the National Library of Medicine, but an excess of iodine can cause hypothyroidism and hyperthyroidism under certain circumstances.
The relationship between hair loss and iodine actually has little to do with iodine deficiency, but excess iodine in fact may have a tertiary association with causing hair loss.
The connection between the two? Your thyroid gland.
Hyperthyroidism is a condition in which your thyroid may become overactive, essentially producing too many thyroid hormones and causing all sorts of problems in the process.
In the most extreme, untreated versions of thyroid dysfunction, the condition can eventually start to cause irreparable damage to the hair structure.
So, where does iodine come into this? Well, excessive iodine can be one of the main causes of hyperthyroidism.
In fact, excess iodine from food sources or medications is one of the most common causes of hyperthyroidism after genetics, age and gender.
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The short answer to this is no — taking iodine supplements will have little to no effect on your hair growth.
There’s no medical indication to support this as a benefit, and as we mentioned above, excess iodine could cause much bigger problems in the long run.
The relationship between your thyroid to your hair growth aside, iodine supplements aren’t going to fix anything.
In fact, it could be argued that taking iodine to reduce hair loss is the equivalent of monitoring your salt intake while stranded aboard a lifeboat in the ocean: it’s irrelevant to your current problem.
The only case in which you should consider iodine supplements for hair loss would be if you happen to be losing hair due to a thyroid issue, and your healthcare provider happens to think that iodine supplements may somehow mitigate symptoms of that ongoing thyroid issue.
But at that point, you’re treating a thyroid problem — not a hair loss problem.
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Iodine is not going to be your supplement aisle solution to hair loss any more than vitamin C is going to cure autoimmune diseases, and therefore they should be treated the same way.
You don’t need iodine (if anything, you may need less).
If you’re noticing more hairs on your pillow or at the bottom of the shower every morning, what you should do is contact your healthcare provider.
The first step to keeping the hair you have left or even re-growing some of what you’ve lost starts with them.
There are FDA-approved hair loss products and treatments you should consider.
Finasteride, for instance, is a medication shown in research to block the hair loss-causing hormone dihydrotestosterone (DHT). Studies have repeatedly shown that daily finasteride use can drop your DHT levels by about 70 percent.
Oh, and you won’t need a prescription either for hair health vitamins — our Essential Vitamins for a Healthy Head of Hair guide is a great resource for understanding what vitamins benefit your follicle health.
We have other resources available, like our What to Look For in a Men’s Hair Loss Shampoo guide
One final parting word: there’s a chance you’re reading about iodine because you’re looking for fringe, easy hair health solutions — and we get that.
It can often feel easier to go to the internet than to reach out to a healthcare professional. Do us and yourself a favor? Do it anyway.
Treatment may just be one consultation with a medical professional away — the sooner you take that step, the sooner your hair loss fears will be explained and addressed. And it probably won’t even require you to up your kelp consumption.