I recently appeared on Channel 4’s Supershoppers to talk about Alpecin shampoo. I have been amused for some time the way they run adverts for this shampoo on the television that manage to talk about it without actually mentioning that it is intended as a treatment for hair loss. I was quite surprised to discover, literally in front of the camera, that they have no such inhibition on the pack itself. It states in big letters that is what the product is for. I had assumed that if they were following the rules in their on air promotion, they would be just as scrupulous across their whole marketing platform.
I am always interested in the basis of for product claims, and especially so now I have talked about it in public. I have written before about my skepticism for caffeine in general, so I was even more intrigued than usual about this particular one.
In fact to their credit the supporting data is neatly listed on their website. It isn’t a long list, but it is there so let’s have a look at it.
Effectiveness of a caffeine-containing liquid against premature hereditary hair loss in men
Not placebo controlled so of very limited value indeed, and not published in a peer reviewed journal and so not subject to any independent scrutiny. Probably an accurate report though because the effect discovered is too pathetic to be worth lying about.
Use of a caffeine shampoo for the treatment of male androgenetic alopecia
This study has no placebo and investigated the quality of the hair left behind rather than any reduction in the amount of hair. Basically weak evidence of an effect that nobody is buying the product for anyway.
Alpecin Dandruff Killer Shampoo in a dermatological anti-dandruff test
This is an unpublished study with no placebo and very small sample size indicates that caffeine might have a mild anti-dandruff effect. Only relevant for people who want to an antidandruff treatment that doesn’t work as well as the ones that are currently available.
Alpecin Caffeine Liquid promotes hair root activity
Unpublished study with no placebo. Only demonstrated a subjective effect.
Caffeine neutralizes the negative effect of testosterone
This shows caffeine enhancing barrier property in male skin. This effect is already known and is in the literature. I even wrote a blog post on it because this effect of caffeine on the skin was quite interesting. I haven’t seen it linked to testosterone levels before. In any event, it has no obvious connection to hair loss, though I suppose you could argue that hormone levels have something to do with it.
Caffeine Complex is Effective in the Treatment of Androgenetic Alopecia
This is a tissue culture study. These are useful for screening molecules for activity but don’t constitute proof of efficacy. I wouldn’t personally buy a product on this evidence only.
Tests regarding the penetration of caffeine from a shampoo formula
This demonstrates that caffeine can be absorbed across the skin from a shampoo in sufficient quantity to have a chance of having a clinical effect. This is not surprising given the nature of caffeine, but a study like this is a necessary step in developing an effective treatment. What it doesn’t do is actually prove the caffeine is doing anything once it has penetrated the skin. All this does is remove one possible objection to the product.
Alpecin Double-Effect Caffeine Shampoo in comparison to the leading market reference product against dandruff
This shows that a caffeine shampoo works less well than a reference anti-dandruff shampoo. The market for not very good antidandruff shampoos does not at first sight seem to be one with great commercial potential, but I suppose they could be positioned as being milder or more natural than ones with greater efficacy. Good marketing people can make anything sound good. But it has nothing to do with hair loss.
So the overall case for Alpecin is pretty weak. What they really need is a placebo controlled trial carried out under double blind conditions with a reasonable sample size. If you don’t give two equal groups of people the shampoo with and without caffeine, and make sure that nobody knows which group they are in, you can’t say you have proved that it works. To be scrupulously fair, until you have done that you can’t be sure it doesn’t work either. Speaking personally, I’ll be keeping my money in my pocket until I see something that is a bit more convincing.
If you liked this you might find my post on Plantur 39 Caffeine Shampoo interesting.
All the details above come from the Alpecin website http://www.alpecin.co.uk/en-gb/studies/ but things like that change quite often so here is a screen shot from the point in time that I wrote this post.