Valensa positions saw palmetto for hair growth

By Claudia Adrien

- Last updated on GMT

@ Tara Moore/Getty Images
@ Tara Moore/Getty Images

Related tags Hair care Saw palmetto

Florida-based ingredient supplier Valensa has launched its USPlus Derm hair growth supplement in a market that is increasingly looking to natural products for healthier and fuller hair.

According to Transparency Market Research, the hair supplements market​ is projected to surpass $2.86 billion by 2031. The research firm also indicated that there’s an increased consumer preference for “organic, clean label and healthy chemical-free hair supplements for personal care, and nutraceutical industries [are] anticipated to trigger the growth of the hair supplements market.”

Moreover, some consumers are turning away from biotin (a water-soluble B vitamin) supplements to promote hair growth due to potential side effects including upset stomach, skin rashes and kidney problems, Transparency Market Research noted. However, demand is still there for solutions especially as excessive hair thinning became a problem during and post Covid-19, the research firm suggested.

For Valensa CEO Umasudhan Palaniswamy, hair loss is personal struggle. He started losing his hair in his early 20s and tried everything from biotin to multivitamins to promote hair growth, but nothing helped, he said.

“Just like plants without a healthy root system, watering it and adding nutrients like biotin or keratin won’t help if the root is gone,” he said. “Once you lose your hair follicles, they're gone. You don't get them back. And the only options I had [at the time] were pharmaceutical drugs, which I didn't want to take.”

How USPlusDerm works

The effectiveness of USPlusDerm is backed by scientific research which shows in an ex vivo​ model that the ingredient prevented the biochemical signaling that moves the hair out of the healthy growth phase, Palaniswamy said.

USPlusDerm, an extension of its saw palmetto-based ingredient USPlus used to address prostate health, employs a patent-pending ultra-high pressure supercritical CO2 process to concentrate the key bioactive fatty acids needed by hair follicles. The proprietary technology concentrates these specific fatty acids in free form to deliver the most potent and effective form of supplement, Palaniswamy added.

Additionally, it increased the dermal papilla size, which is the root bulb of the hair follicle. Research published in Dermatology Practical and Conceptual​ also showed the ingredient supports differentiation of keratin-producing cells called keratinocytes that make the keratin in the hair shaft as it grows. Keratinocytes are also responsible for androgen degradation, so they can help in prevention of hair loss.

The free fatty acids which comprise USPlusDerm are also the key to hair health, as the acids are the most common lipids in the hair matrix, and they are the building blocks of healthy hair. They play a major role in protection from environmental and chemical damage and prevention of hair breakage and thinning as well as helping to maintain its shine, strength and manageability, according to articles published in the Journal of Cosmetic Science​, International Journal of Trichology ​and the Journal of Anatomy​.

The key is a high-quality standardized oil extract of saw palmetto, also called a lipidosterolic extract of Serenoa repens​ (LSESr), Palaniswamy said. According to the U.S. Pharmacopeia, this extract of saw palmetto must have a minimum of 80% fatty acids in a specific ratio to lauric acid creating a "bioactive fatty acid fingerprint signature," Palaniswamy said. A recent study found only one of 28 commercially available saw palmetto extracts met those criteria​, and USPlusDerm was one of those.

Women’s hair growth

According to Dermatologic Surgery,​ male pattern hair loss affects 50% of men by age 50. Women are also impacted by the process of androgenic alopecia​, the most common type of hair loss. For women, this often means hair thins over the top of the head and on the sides.

For both men and women, this hair shedding revolves around the balance of male hormones. The major circulating androgen, testosterone, is converted to the more potent androgen dihydrotestosterone (DHT) by the enzyme 5α-reductase (5αR), Palaniswamy said. In the prostate of adult men, it even causes growth and enlargement, according to Urology​.

“In the scalp, if there are high levels of hormone DHT from the conversion from testosterone within the dermal papilla part of the inner root sheath, it then plays a central role in shortening the growth cycle of the hair follicle,” he added.                   

Palaniswamy is aware of this first-hand, as his wife experienced hair shedding after the birth of their second child. The stress of post-pregnancy-induced hair loss made him more conscious of women’s needs when it comes to hair health, he said.

However, not everyone thinks palmetto-based supplements for the prevention of hair loss is the best solution for women.

Rob Maru, head of innovation at Naomi Whittel, a supplement and wellness company geared toward women, said saw palmetto has been shown in several studies to have positive impact on hair health when elevated DHT appears to be a cause.

“However, there are multiple factors and root causes such as stress, inflammation, antioxidant status and lifestyle that saw palmetto alone cannot solve,” he said. “Many of these studies looked at male-only participants, and those that included females demonstrated only modest benefits.”

More larger scale, gold standard double-blind placebo controlled studies are needed on saw palmetto or other plant sources of phytosterols that perhaps can show benefits in a shorter time frame and validation could provide benefits to all women seeking to improve hair quality, not just those that may be experiencing female pattern baldness, he added.

Palaniswamy said Valensa is working on research to determine what amount of saw palmetto extract is appropriate for both male and females, although he noted “there are studies which show it's working at the same dose level.”

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