Rice water, castor oil, and collagen are all over the app. Here's what experts have to say about their potential to aid hair growth.

By Renee Cherry
May 03, 2021
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If you've been hoping to grow long, full, healthy hair, then TikTok is brimming with hair growth treatment suggestions. Judging by the fact that the tag #hairgrowth has over 1.2 billion views on the platform, plenty of people consider it a useful resource.

But as with anything you encounter on social media, it's not a bad idea to approach said tips with a healthy dose of skepticism. Some posts are sponsored and you never know whether a before-and-after photo truly reflects reality.

All that is to say that it never hurts to gather some insight from the app before spending time and money on a hack you found on your FYP. If you're curious about what's hair growth treatments, hair growth products, and hair growth tips are actually worth trying, keep reading for expert takes on popular TikTok healthy hair hacks.

A Trichologist Ranks 5 TikTok Hacks for Hair Loss
Credit: Getty Images

Popular TikTok Hair Growth Treatments and Tips

Just to manage your expectations right out of the gate, there's no scientific evidence that any of the below can speed up your rate of hair growth, according to Bridgette Hill, certified trichologist and colorist. And if you're trying to address hair loss, that can prove challenging. It often necessitates working with a hair loss expert to sort out the root cause with lab tests, then coming up with a personalized plan of topical hair loss treatments and hair growth supplements that might help, says Steven Shapiro, M.D., a dermatologist specializing in hair and scalp health and founder of Shapiro MD.

That said, the popular trends have anecdotal backing. Some can benefit hair and scalp health, "providing proper foundation for hair growth to take place as well as — for certain hair types and textures — offer healing properties that may minimize hair breakage and add strength and shine to the hair fiber," says Hill. Here's a rundown on five of the most popular hair growth treatments and hacks on the app. (Related: Ashley Graham Has Been Relying On This Scalp Serum to Help with Hair Loss)

Rice Water for Hair Growth

One of the (if not the) most popular hair growth tips on the app is using rice water for hair growth, and it's extremely easy to pull off. You just rinse and soak rice in water for two to three days, then drain the rice and save the starchy soaking water. You apply it to your hair and scalp and leave it on for an hour or two before washing your hair.

This popular DIY beauty treatment has long been a part of East Asian beauty practices and is dermatologist- and celebrity-approved. (Cardi B and Kourtney Kardashian are two famous fans.) "What people are experiencing is anecdotal benefit of nurturing their hair fibers with the amino acids in fermented rice water," says Hill. Amino acids, compounds found in proteins, are commonly incorporated in hair growth serum formulas to help protect hair from breakage.

As with any protein hair treatment, though, you want to avoid doing this DIY too frequently. "It's difficult for nutrients to pass through hairs, and even though rice water is filled with nutrients, it can actually damage the hair with 'protein overload' or reverse osmosis, where the hairs lose water, leading to dry and brittle hair," says Dr. Shapiro. If your hair becomes weak and brittle, that's a sign you're going overboard with protein treatments.

Aloe Vera and Castor Oil for Hair Growth

Another popular hair growth tip on TikTok involves making a hair mask by blending up a spoonful of castor oil with all the goop from inside one aloe vera leaf. Some variations on the trend include adding olive oil, coconut oil, or honey. The major benefits that TikTok users note from the aloe vera and castor oil mask likely result from the anti-inflammatory properties of castor oil, says Hill. "Castor oil can add volume to hair, reduce split hairs, and help with dandruff," adds Dr. Shapiro. "Because the first step in hair loss is often inflammation, reducing dandruff, a manifestation of inflammation, can be beneficial." Caveat: Going overboard with oils, in general, can backfire if you have dandruff. An overgrowth of yeast on the scalp can contribute to dandruff, and that yeast can feed off excess oil.

As for the aloe vera, the ingredient brings additional scalp-calming benefits to the table that makes it beneficial for people with dandruff. It likewise has anti-inflammatory properties, and is rich in amino acids. (Related: The Best Shampoos for Thinning Hair, According to Experts)

Collagen for Hair Growth

If you could do without the effort of a DIY hair growth mask, you might be more intrigued by the prevalence of collagen supplements on TikTok. "Collagen is essential for scalp and healthy hair, and as we age collagen production does slow down, but collagen alone will not be the magic supplement to suddenly speed up hair growth," says Hill, who stresses the important of checking with your doctor before starting on any supplement.

A reason why some experts argue that collagen supplements are overhyped is that collagen is not as bioavailable (able to be absorbed and used by your body) as other protein sources. And that's a key factor to keep in mind if you're using it in hopes of hair growth. "I think that if you're a believer that oral collagen can be absorbed in the gut, drift into blood vessels, travel around the body, and end up in the hair matrix cells to form new hairs, then taking oral collagen makes sense," says Dr. Shapiro. "But realistically, too many variables and factors stand in the way of this process; even if collagen makes it to the scalp, it's more likely to affect the texture of [scalp] skin and not necessarily grow hair." (Related: The Best Foods to Eat Together for Nutrient Absorption)

Onion Juice for Hair Growth

If you were to try to list foods that help hair growth, onion might not even make the top 50. But many TikTok users have posted videos to share that they swear by a DIY onion mask for hair growth. This one involves blending and straining an onion with water and using the resulting juice as a hair mask. Some people will heat the mixture first or add an oil such as coconut oil or olive oil.

If you can get past the smell, there's something to it. "Onion juice is high in sulfur, which also makes up the bonds in hair," says Dr. Shapiro. "This leads to stronger and thicker hair. Onions may also boost circulation, which can provide nutrients for hair growth." In one small study, patients with the hair loss condition alopecia areata applied onion juice or tap water to their hair twice a day. After eight weeks, about 87 percent of the onion juice group saw hair regrowth, while only 13 percent of those who used water saw the same results.

Store-Bought Hair Growth Serums

A lot of TikTok creators have shared their thoughts after using various hair serums, along with before and after photos. "Most hair density serums are moisturizers for hair, just like moisturizers for the skin," says Dr. Shapiro. "And in that sense, they do provide a benefit. They can help reduce split ends, making hair look more dense and fuller. They can also reduce inflammation around hairs, decreasing dandruff." Some common hair growth serum ingredients coat the hair to make it appear fuller rather than actually making new hair grow thicker. "For instance, vitamin E is a common hair density serum ingredient, which if you know much about vitamin E, sounds like it should help to grow hair," says Dr. Shapiro. (Psst, he's talking about vitamin E's antioxidant properties.) "However, vitamin E is fat-soluble and won't penetrate the skin or hair, so it will just coat the hair, making the hair look thicker and fuller." (Related: The Best Hair Growth Serums If You're Thinning Out or Shedding a Worrisome Amount)

Some serums might actually affect how your hair falls out, though. "There are serums that assist with extending the anagen phase (the growing phase) of the hair growth cycle," says Hill. "By extending the anagen phase, the hair follicle continues to draw nutrients and the hair fiber remains rooted in the follicle for a longer period. People will feel as they are 'growing more hair' simply because you have more hairs in an extended growing phase for a longer period." Minoxidil is believed to make hairs transition from the telogen phase (when strands are released and fall out) to the anagen phase faster. Some serums with minoxidil include Women's Rogaine 5% Minoxidil Foam for Hair Thinning and Loss (Buy It, $24, amazon.com) and Nioxin Minoxidil Hair Regrowth Treatment For Women (Buy It, $62, ulta.com).

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"Additionally, there are serums on the market that also block harmful androgens [hormones] such as dihydrotestosterone DHT," says Hill. Saw palmetto and ashwagandha are two examples of ingredients that inhibit DHT, she notes. "Science has identified DHT as one of the culprits that are responsible for androgenic (genetic) hair loss," she explains. "We are not exactly sure how this hormone triggers hair loss; however, we know that when we apply serums to the scalp topically with DHT blockers, hair thinning and hair loss can be mitigated and preventable." You can find saw palmetto in products such as Bosley BosRevive Color Safe Nourishing Shampoo (Buy It, $21, ulta.com) and ashwagandha is in Fable & Mane HoliRoots Pre-Wash Hair Treatment Oil (Buy It, $34, sephora.com).

TikTok is full of intriguing beauty advice, and it's totally fine to experiment (provided you do your research, and in some cases, consult a doc first). Plus, now you know the reasoning behind some of the most popular hair growth treatments and tricks on the app. When you see yet another video of someone swearing that rice water or castor oil changed their life, you'll have some context.

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