Note: This advice is given by the CAP Executive about non-broadcast advertising. It does not constitute legal advice. It does not bind CAP, CAP advisory panels or the Advertising Standards Authority.
CAP understands that there are three main causes of hair loss:
1. Alopecia Areata - patchy hair loss that results in distinct bald patches and can develop on any area of the scalp. It can affect the eyebrows and eyelashes or more rarely, the entire body.
2. Hair shedding (Chronic Telogen Effluvium) - a change in the proportion of growing (anagen) to resting (telogen) hair. It is common in women after childbirth. If the problem persists, hair volume reduces but it is largely reversible without intervention. To date, neither the ASA nor CAP have seen evidence that any product can treat or help with hair shedding. Marketers that claim to treat hair shedding should make clear they are not claiming to treat other causes of hair loss (Irish Response, 6 June 2007).
3. Androgenetic Alopecia (also known as male-pattern baldness) - a diffuse loss of hair between the crown and the frontal hairline. Women progressively lose hair from just behind the front hairline and hair density reduces but the hair may remain relatively normal in appearance.
Marketers offering treatments for any of the above conditions should ensure that they hold relevant substantiation or, if they hold authorisation from the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA), their claims do not go beyond those allowed by their licences.
CAP understands that claims that a product can prevent or cure baldness, hair loss or male pattern baldness are likely to be medicinal claims because hair growth or the lack of it, is a physiological function. Therefore marketers wishing to make claims along those lines should check with the MHRA in the first instance because they might require a marketing authorisation. However, claims that a product could slow down or reduce hair loss or promote or strengthen existing hair growth, are unlikely to be considered medicinal claims. Irrespective, marketers should hold robust evidence to prove their claims. See Healthcare: Medicinal Claims.
CAP understands that the only two authorised treatments for Androgenetic Alopecia are Finasteride, an anti-androgen therapy, and Minoxidil. Minoxidil is available in two forms: as an external treatment (available over-the-counter in chemists) or as a stronger prescription-only medicine. Clinical trials have demonstrated both those products to be effective in improving hair growth. We understand that the best effect is obtained if they are used at the earliest possible stage of hair loss, because their effect depends on the stimulation of existing hair follicles. Later in the disease, hair follicles are completely lost from the affected areas of the scalp and at that stage hair transplantation is likely to be the only treatment effective in reinstating hair growth.
Marketers who offer treatments that include but are not limited to non-prescription Minoxidil should not imply the efficacy of the whole treatment is proven if it is not (The Belgravia Centre Ltd, 1 August 2012, Pentoc Ltd, 14 July 2004, and Hair Loss Centre, 5 May 2004).
Marketers wishing to sell shampoos specifically designed to reduce hair loss or increase hair growth are advised to ensure that they hold robust clinical evidence for their claims prior to using them in marketing communications.
In 2019, the ASA investigated an ad for “Volume & Growth Elixir” which would "Reduce hair loss ... improving the quality and strength of each strand ... will leave hair longer, healthier ...". The advertiser provided a summary of a clinical study which they purported substantiated the efficacy claims they wished to make, and clarified that the product had an active ingredient called AnaGainTM which reduced hair loss and increased hair growth. However, the advertiser only provided a summary of the clinical study and, as the ASA noted issues with the methodology and study design, the evidence was considered insufficient and this part of complaint was upheld (Hairburst Ltd, 14 August 2019).
Similarly, in 2018, the ASA reviewed whether Alpecin caffeine shampoo could “reduce hair loss”. The advertiser, who said that caffeine had a long history of use with individuals suffering from thinning hair, provided a multitude of studies and a consumer opinion survey. As the ad only referenced reducing hair loss, not curing or preventing hair loss, the claim was considered non-medicinal, which meant that the advertiser simply needed robust clinical evidence for the claims rather than a licence. However, the ASA found that there were issues with submitted studies – for instance, one did not have a control group, one did not relate to the product in question and other studies had problems with the methodologies. Taking into account the entire body of evidence, the ASA did not consider that they had seen sufficient substantiation that this product could reduce hair loss, and the complaint was upheld (Dr Kurt Wolff GmbH t/a Alpecin, 28 March 2018).
In addition, similar claims were investigated in 2022, with the ASA assessing evidence for claims "Helps stimulate growth", "Helps reduce thinning" and "Thicker hair goals" for a scalp treatment product. In this case, the ASA again decided that these claims were not medicinal since they referred to promoting hair growth, rather than preventing or curing hair loss. The advertiser provided a file which contained in vitro and ex vivo tests along with clinical assessments for their main ingredient, Redensyl, in order to support the advertising claims - however, the ASA found that the some of the subjects used were limited in both number and gender, and some of the evidence consisted of subjective survey results, which the ASA did not consider adequate in order to support objective claims. Generally, the evidence was found to be insufficient (Brand Evangelists for Beauty Ltd, 11 May 2022).
Marketers looking for advice on the level of evidence required for these types of claims may find this guidance of use.
Celebrities should not be used to advertise medicines and that includes Minoxidil (Advanced Hair Studio, 30 May 2007). See Health: Celebrities and Health Professionals.
Marketers offering hairpieces, wigs or other products that offer cosmetic or temporary results should not describe them in a way that confuses readers into thinking they are offering a treatment for hair loss (Hair Techniques, 2 February 2005, and Pentoc Ltd, 26 June 2002). In 2011, the ASA upheld a complaint about an ad headlined “Who else wants to solve their thinning hair problem...” because the product offered was for fibres that electro-statically attached to the user’s own hair (Bravelane Ltd, 23 November 2011).
The ASA has upheld several complaints about ads for laser therapy products that claimed to treat hair loss, because of a lack of substantiation (Pentoc Ltd, 14 July 2004; Hair Loss Centre, 5 May 2004, and Hair Loss Centre, 13 August 2003).
In 2012, the ASA ruled against claims that using a product called the Hairmax Lasercomb (a light therapy device for promoting hair growth) would result in "A healthy thick head of hair", "shinier and thicker looking hair" and consumers noticing "...hair gradually becoming fuller, stronger, denser looking" because they were not substantiated. The ASA accepted that the data showed that the product had been clinically proven to promote hair growth in men and women because the trials showed that most users had experienced an improvement in hair growth, and that some users had experienced an improvement not found in the placebo group. However, the ASA ruled that this supporting data was not sufficient to show that the effects of the product on hair growth were statistically significant or that the results were visibly noticeable to most users (Health Innovations Ltd, 11 January 2012).
Marketers who use “before” and “after” photographs should ensure that they accurately reflect the results of the product or service used - see also Before and after photos.
A health claim is defined as “any claim that states, suggests or implies that a relationship exists between a food category, a food or one of its constituents and health...” Marketers advertising food supplements wanting to make claims about hair health should hold evidence to show that their products meet the conditions of use associated with the relevant authorised health claim, as found on the EU register (rule 15.1.1). In 2017, the ASA upheld a complaint for a hair loss/thickener supplement because the advertiser could not produce any authorised health claims for their product (Cocoalocks.com, 19 July 2017). See Food: General Health Claims and Beauty and Cosmetics: Food Supplements for further information on hair supplements.