MSM for Hair Growth: Everything You Need to Know About How it Works and How to Use it

/

If you’ve been diligently looking for hair growth enhancers in the past couple of years, there’s a big chance that you’ve come across MSM during one of your searches.

MSM is primarily used as a dietary supplement. But as of late, it’s fast-growing in popularity as a hair growth enhancer….and with good reasons. 

MSM has been touted as the compound that will awaken dormant hair follicles, spring them back into action, and strengthen the old strands in the process.

With all those benefits, it’s no wonder MSM is referred to as a miracle hair-growth enhancer.

But is it, really? Will MSM give you all those satisfying results?

Or is it one of those hair-growth treatments that’s filled with broken promises of “yes, it does work”?

That’s what we’re going to find out today.

Below is an in-depth guide about the relationship of MSM to hair growth—from its definition to how MSM should be used to get the maximum potential benefits.

What is MSM?

MSM is the abbreviated name of an organosulfur compound called methylsulfonylmethane.

Organosulfur compounds are organic compounds. Organic compounds are primarily composed of carbon. MSM, on the other hand, has high sulfur content.

MSM is already part of our bodies — it’s inside our cells. It’s a natural nutrient that’s vital to our overall health and well-being.

MSM is being utilized in a number of ways. Out of all, MSM as a nutraceutical agent is the most recognized and most used, especially in the field of Complementary and Alternative Medicine (CAM).

CAM — also referred to as Complementary Health Approaches — is non-mainstream health and medical practice.

Oftentimes, the word “complementary” is used in place of “alternative.” But the truth is, they’re not one and the same.

According to the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health, complementary medicine is a non-mainstream practice that is used along with conventional medicine (1).

On the other hand, alternative medicine is a non-mainstream practice that is used in lieu of (or sometimes alongside) conventional medicine.

MSM is known by many names in the world of Complementary and Alternative Medicine. Here are some of them:

  • Crystalline dimethyl sulfoxide
  • Dimethyl sulfone
  • Methyl sulfone
  • Organic sulfur
  • Sulfonylbismethane

MSM doesn’t just come with a list of alternative names; it has a good list of benefits, too.

Through numerous scientific studies, it has been found out that MSM has powerful anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties—something it inherited from its parent compound: Dimethyl Sulfoxide (DMSO).

MSM is often sold as a dietary product in the form of capsules, tablets, and powders. But it is not uncommon to see it in topical form as well, like shampoos, body oils, lotions, and creams.

Health Benefits of MSM

MSM has been proven to provide positive health benefits in a number of ways (2). Below are some of them.

  • Relieves osteoarthritis pain: MSM inhibits the breakdown of cartilage — a connective tissue in joints that’s responsible for fluidity in movement. When it breaks down, the person will experience pain, stiffness, and swelling. 
  • Reduces oxidative stress: Oxidative stress is one of the biggest factors in the development of diseases. It’s an imbalance of the amount of free radicals and antioxidants in the body. When there are more free radicals, cell damage occurs. MSM prevents the accumulation of free radicals in the body by increasing the levels of glutathione. Glutathione is a powerful antioxidant that pushes free radicals out of the body before they can do irreparable damage.
  • Alleviates gastric ulcer: MSM suppresses gastric inflammation by reducing the levels of pro-inflammatory proteins.
  • Improves skin conditions: It boosts collagen, keratin, and elastin production. Mild improvement in burn sites, rosacea, and melasma have been seen with the topical application of MSM.
  • Reduces the symptoms of seasonal allergies: The anti-inflammatory properties of MSM inhibits histamine in the mucous membranes of nasal pathways thereby alleviating the symptoms of allergies such as sneezing, runny nose, congestion, and itching.
  • Reduces exercise-related muscle soreness: MSM’s anti-inflammatory properties will ease muscle soreness caused by exercise.

There are plenty of MSM benefits that are currently being explored. One of that is the role that MSM plays in preventing the growth of cancer cells. The cytotoxicity of MSM is attributed to the metabolic alterations that it causes (3).

Why is MSM Used for Hair Growth?

Remember what we said earlier about MSM being an organic sulfur compound? 

These compounds are found in every cell of the human body and the environment.

There are 4 types of organic compounds that are very important in helping our bodies grow and function properly.

  • Carbohydrates
  • Lipids
  • Nucleotides
  • Proteins

Carbohydrates and lipids are composed of hydrocarbons and oxygen. Proteins, on the other hand, contain hydrogen, carbon, oxygen, nitrogen, and sulfur.

Each organic compound provides a list of benefits to the different areas of your body.

But since we’re talking about hair, we will focus on proteins. Why?

Because hair is primarily composed of a protein called keratin, and keratin contains sulfur.

Types of Keratin

There are two types of keratin: hard and soft. They are distinguished based on their chemical composition (4).

Hard Keratin

  • Found in hair and nails
  • Has high sulfur content in the form of cysteine and methionine
  • Facilitates rapid metabolism

Soft Keratin

  • Found in the epidermis layer of the skin
  • Has lower sulfur content
  • Has a low degree of consolidation that’s why the outer layer of the skin sloughs off

A deficiency in keratin will have a detrimental effect on your hair because more than 90 percent of your hair is composed of keratin (5).

Keratin can also be found in your skin, fingernails, and toenails.

Keratin strengthens your hair strands, makes them soft, keeps them shiny, and speeds up hair growth.

MSM is necessary for the production of keratin and for repairing the broken structure of keratin in your hair.

Unfortunately, the keratin structure of your hair gets damaged over time. This may be due to constant exposure to toxic chemicals, environmental factors, or ageing.

Can MSM Help Hair Grow?

Yes, it can. And below is the evidence that supports that answer.

In 2009, a study was conducted to determine the exact effect of MSM on hair growth promotion, and the results are very promising (6).

The solution that the researchers made for the study is a combination of MSM (1%, 5%, and 10%) and 7.5% magnesium ascorbyl phosphate (MAP).

The mixture was applied on a mice’s depilated back once a day for 20 days.

Saline and 5% minoxidil solution was also as a comparison.

The researchers used visual scoring to evaluate hair growth. The hair growth quantification scale is from zero to 5, with 5 being complete hair growth.

Here are the results of the study:

  • 1% MSM plus 7.5% MAP solution – no significant additive effect
  • 10% MSM plus 7.5% MAP solution – shows a significant additive effect as early as day 10 of the study

The study revealed that the 10% MSM plus 7.5% MAP solution is equally effective, or better than, the minoxidil 5% solution.

The researchers believe that MAP enhances hair growth through anagen (growth phase) induction. MSM helps make it happen by increasing the transdermal penetration of MAP.

Anagen induction is considered by experts as one of the most effective strategies when it comes to treating hair loss.

The researchers concluded that the “results of the present study indicate that topical application of magnesium ascorbyl phosphate (MAP) and methylsulfonylmethane (MSM) is effective in promoting hair growth in C57BL/6N mice in vivo.”

The researchers added that “MSM could be used as a penetration enhancer that augments hair growth pro-motion of MAP in vivo through higher dermal accumulation of MAP demonstrated by in vitro skin study. The penetration enhancing effect of MSM was found to be dose-dependent, both in vivo and in vitro. Overall, topical application of MAP together with MSM appears to be useful for the treatment of alopecia.”

It’s effective on mice. But will it be effective on humans?

While it’s true that humans and mice share the same hair cycles, we can’t exactly say that the same results will be seen in human subjects.

Are There Any Other Hair Benefits of MSM?

Yes, there are. Here are other evidence-based benefits of MSM for hair: 

Slows Down Greying of Hair

Greying of hair cannot be completely prevented. It’s just one of those inevitable age-related processes.

You will not be able to prevent or reverse the greying process of your hair, but you can slow it down with the help of MSM.

How?

There is an enzyme in the body that prevents your hair from turning grey by degrading hydrogen peroxide. That enzyme is called catalase.

Factors such as ageing and accumulation of free radicals destroy catalase in your body.

MSM increases the production of catalase (7). This, in turn, will help slow down the greying process.

Gets Rid of Dandruff

When you check the label of anti-dandruff shampoos in the market today, more often than not, you will see sulfur as part of the ingredients.

MSM may be able to reduce dandruff.

This is because sulfur is a very effective dandruff fighter. It’s been proven to lessen the degree of scaling (8). And it has antibacterial, antifungal, and keratolytic properties as well Ref(s)?.

Increases Collagen Production

Collagen is another protein that promotes hair growth, and MSM is indispensable in its production.

Collagen serves as the building block for the structure of hair. It supports the dermis — the layer of the skin where the hair follicles are located.

Collagen is composed of different amino-acids such as glycine, proline, and hydroxyproline (9).

The aforementioned amino acids are important in keeping the connective tissue sheath (CTS) that covers the outside of the hair follicle strong.

Is MSM Safe?

We just found out that MSM may be effective in promoting hair growth, as well as providing a list of extra hair benefits in the process.

That’s good news for those who are looking for an effective alternative to naturally regrow their hair.

But is MSM safe to use?

A product’s safety is understandably one of the biggest, if not the biggest, factors that any consumer wants to look into before buying a product.

As we’ve mentioned earlier, MSM is a natural sulfur compound that resides inside our cells. If it’s already there, then that means it’s safe for our bodies, right?

Well, it’s not as simple as that. There’s always a degree of risk in every substance — whether it’s a lab-produced MSM or an MSM-rich food that you bought at your favorite grocery store.

When it comes to the safety of both, we turn to a regulatory authority such as the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

FDA experts test products to determine if they’re safe to use or not. The FDA will also provide the recommended dosage and how the product should be used.

Let’s take the case of Bergstrom Nutrition. 

Bergstrom Nutrition’s case is significant in the history of MSM because it paved the way for further MSM research. More researchers were conducted to find out about the health benefits of MSM.

On February 18, 2008, Bergstrom Nutrition informed the FDA through a letter that their nutritional supplement with MSM is GRAS safe (10).

GRAS is the acronym for Generally Recognized as Safe. It’s an FDA notification program that allows a person to notify the FDA regarding the safety of a substance or product.

After the FDA has evaluated a submission, it will respond to the person in 3 different ways.

  1. The first type of response – The FDA will inform the notifier that they have no question about the submission; which means they’re not contesting it.
  2. The second type of response – The FDA will inform the notifier that there’s not enough evidence to support the submission.
  3. The third type of response – The FDA will inform the notifier that it will stop the evaluation.

Bergstrom Nutrition got the first type of response.

The FDA stated that it had “no questions regarding Bergstrom Nutrition’s conclusion that methylsulfonylmethane (MSM) is GRAS for use as an ingredient in meal supplement and meal replacement foods, fruit smoothie-type drinks, and fruit-flavored thirst quencher-type beverages at levels up to 4,000 mg/kg and in food bars such as granola bars and energy-type bars at levels up to 30,000 mg/kg provided that food standards of identity do not preclude such use.”

On February 27, 2017, Bergstrom Nutrition notified the FDA again.

The FDA responded by saying that they “have no questions at this time regarding Bergstrom Nutrition’s conclusion that MSM is GRAS under its intended conditions of use.”

When it comes to safety, how MSM is manufactured and the amount used for a particular product is very important.

In this case, the FDA considers MSM safe.

Can MSM Be Toxic?

No, it’s not.

There’s no evidence on MSM’s toxicity. According to the FDA, they haven’t found any topical, intravenous, or ophthalmic data that shows that MSM is toxic (11).

A 2002 report about the toxicology study of MSM shows a no observed adverse effect level (NOAEL) when rats were orally given a dose of MSM that’s 5 to 7 times the maximum recommended dose in humans (14.5 g/60 kg person/day).

However, in another study, MSM was detected in the brain signifying that it does cross the blood-brain barrier.

Can Pregnant or Nursing Women Take MSM?

There are still no conclusive data about the use of MSM for pregnant or nursing mothers.

It’s always best to ask your obstetrician and pediatrician about MSM first before taking any of it via oral, topical, or any other route.

How is MSM Taken?

MSM is originally intended to be taken orally as a dietary supplement. It comes in tablet, capsule, powder, gel, and liquid forms. But it can also be taken 

How Much MSM Should I Take?

This will depend on several factors such as the following:

  • The type of condition MSM will be used for
  • If you have pre-existing medical conditions
  • Duration of the therapy

For hair growth, topical route is ideal. However, just to be sure, it’s best to consult with your doctor first.

Your doctor will compute your ideal dosage and tell you which route is best for you.

What are Good Sources of MSM?

The good thing about MSM is that it can easily be sourced. Most MSM-rich foods might just be growing in your own backyard.

According to the American Nutrition Association, onions, garlic, broccoli, and eggs are all rich in sulfur (12).

Here are other good sources of MSM:

  • Vegetables – cauliflower, cabbage, Brussels sprouts, watercress, kale, asparagus, leaks, peas, sweet potatoes, and chives
  • Fruits – watermelon, avocado, bananas
  • Dairy – milk, cheese, eggs
  • Coffee
  • Tea

While MSM is organic, too much of it may be harmful—just like everything else. It is still best to eat the recommended serving along with other foods that are included in a well-balanced diet.

How Can I Use MSM to Promote Hair Growth?

There are different ways that you can do this. But before we talk about those, let’s first talk about some important points about MSM.

Unlike synthetic sulfur, organic sulfur is non-allergenic; however, you must still take extra precaution when using MSM.

First, you must do a spot test to check whether you’re allergic to it or not.

You can do this by applying a pea-sized amount of any of the MSM mixtures or products below on your forearm.

Wash the solution off with water after 10-15 minutes. Check if there’s any redness, itchiness, or burning sensation on the area. Do not use the mixture or product if you see or feel those.

Even if you don’t see any reaction right away, it’s better to wait 24 hours before you use a product. Sometimes, the reaction is immediate; other times, it’s delayed.

Now that we’ve covered that up, here are effective ways that you can use MSM to promote hair growth starting with DIYs:

Coffee Hair Mask

Coffee provides a multitude of benefits. Not only does it taste and smell good, it also stimulates hair growth by counteracting the suppressive effects of testosterone (13).

Aside from that, coffee has sulfur-containing compounds that are beneficial in hair follicle growth stimulation.

Frequency: Once a week

What you’ll need:

  • 5 tbsp. of ground coffee
  • 4 tbsp. of coconut oil
  • Fork

Instructions:

  • Combine the two ingredients in a clean bowl
  • Mix with fork until the mixture attains a pasty consistency
  • Wash your hair with warm water before applying the hair mask
  • Remove excess water with a clean towel
  • Separate your hair into sections then apply the coffee hair mask on your scalp while your hair is still damp
  • Make sure that your entire scalp is covered with the coffee hair mask
  • Massage your scalp
  • Leave the mixture on for 30 to 45 minutes
  • Rinse your hair thoroughly with warm water
  • Use shampoo and conditioner after to completely remove the mixture

Optional: Wet a towel. Wring out the excess water. Microwave the damp towel for 1 minute on low heat. Allow the towel to cool down for a couple of seconds if it’s too hot for you.

Once you’re comfortable with the temperature, wrap the warm towel around your head for 10 minutes. This will help the mixture penetrate the cuticle and follicles.

Coffee Hair Spray Treatment

You can use coffee hair spray treatment as an alternative to the coffee hair mask. Some prefer this because it’s easier to rinse off and not as messy.

A man applying a topical hair loss treatment to his scalp

Frequency: Once a week

What you’ll need:

    • Coffeemaker
    • 8 tbsp. grind coffee beans
    • 700 ml of water
    • 1 spray bottle
    • 1 shower cap

Instructions:

    • Brew a pot of coffee as you normally would
    • Allow the coffee to cool down before transferring it into a spray bottle
    • Wash your hair with warm water to remove any excess scalp sebum
    • Gently squeeze your hair dry with a towel
    • Spray the coffee directly onto your scalp and massage gently
    • Cover your hair with a shower cap
    • Let it sit for 30 to 60 minutes
    • Rinse your hair thoroughly with cold water

Getting rid of the excess sebum will allow the solution to work its way into the hair follicles. Washing your hair with warm water is enough. There’s no need to shampoo your hair before spraying it with the solution.

Egg, Lemon, and Olive Oil Hair Mask

Frequency: Once a month

What you’ll need:

  • 2 eggs for short hair, 3 eggs for medium-length hair, 5 eggs for long hair
  • 2 -3 drops of lemon juice
  • 1 – 2 tbsps. of olive oil
  • 1 small bowl
  • 1 fork
  • 1 old makeup brush that’s been thoroughly cleaned
  • 1 comb
  • 1 shower cap

Instructions:

  • Crack the eggs into a small bowl
  • Beat the eggs using the fork
  • Add the olive oil and lemon juice
  • Slightly beat the mixture
  • Use the comb to draw up a section of hair at a time
  • Dip the makeup brush in the mixture
  • Apply the mixture directly onto the scalp using the makeup brush
  • Pour the rest of the mixture on your hair once you’ve covered your entire scalp
  • Massage the mixture into your scalp for 3 minutes
  • Cover your head with a shower cap
  • Let it sit for 5-10 minutes
  • Thoroughly rinse your hair with warm water first
  • Lather a good amount of shampoo then rinse with cold water
  • Apply conditioner after then rinse with cold water

Avoid rinsing your hair with cold water first will leave leftovers sticking to your hair.

Caffeine Shampoo

If you prefer a pre-made caffeine hair growth enhancer over a DIY version, try a caffeine shampoo.

It’s convenient, effective, and boasts of amazing properties that will be beneficial to your hair, like oleuropein and taurine.

Taurine is an amino acid with anti-inflammatory effects. It helps improve blood circulation in the scalp and protects it from stress-induced hair loss, too.

Oleuropein, on the other hand, accelerates hair growth and increases the size of hair follicles (14).

Frequency: Two to three times per week

Instructions:

      • Thoroughly wet hair and scalp with warm water
      • Apply a generous amount of caffeine shampoo to produce enough lather
      • Gently massage entire hair and scalp for 2 minutes
      • Rinse hair and scalp with cold water
      • Blot your hair with a clean towel

You can follow up with your favourite brand of your conditioner after or Argan oil to lock in moisture.

MSM Powder Hair Oil Treatment

There’s no shortage of MSM powders in the market today. When scouting for one, look for an MSM powder that adheres to the FDA’s Current Good Manufacturing Practices (CGMP) regulations.

Frequency: Once a month

What you’ll need:

  • 1/2 tbsps. of MSM powder
  • 1/4 cup of coconut oil
  • 1 small bowl
  • 1 fork

Instructions:

  • Pour the coconut oil into the small bowl
  • Microwave the coconut oil for 30 seconds
  • Add the MSM powder after
  • Mix the solution well
  • Allow it to cool down
  • Apply the mixture directly on your scalp
  • Massage your scalp once you’ve covered it entirely with the mixture
  • Allow the mixture to stay on your scalp for 10 to 15 minutes
  • Rinse thoroughly with warm water
  • Shampoo and condition hair after

MSM can be drying to the scalp, so it’s best to mix it with coconut oil or olive oil than water. Do not apply the MSM powder directly on your scalp.

Conclusion

Based on the study we looked into earlier, MSM is effective in growing hair when used in conjunction with MAP. In fact, one of the three MSM-MAP solutions used is even more effective than minoxidil.

As of the moment, MSM is believed to help in delivering ingredients better by improving cell wall permeability.

The critical importance of MSM as a crucial hair growth enhancer is still in its infancy stage.

Even though there are scientific-based evidence and anecdotal evidence (personal experience), the exact role it plays is still unclear when it comes to hair growth.

Like we said earlier, the evidence about the effectivity of MSM on hair growth is very promising. We expect to see further studies about it in the very near future.