MSM (methylsulfomethoane), also known as dimethyl sulfone, methyl sulfone and DMSO2, is a colorless, crystalline substance which is an organic source of biologically active sulfur which can exert a direct physiological effect in the body. Often touted as the “miracle supplement,” it is recommended for inflammatory conditions such as arthritis,along with other health applications such diabetes, chronic pain, TMJ and migraines. Many people also want to know, what does MSM do for your hair?
As a popular health supplement, MSM has also been linked to hair and skin beauty. By supplying sulfur, MSM is said to improve our collagen production for the skin and keratin for the hair. But does this mean that MSM can actually help hair grow?
A Research Study on MSM for Hair Growth versus Drug Delivery
One study wanted to find out if MSM could help another compound called MAP (Magnesium Ascorbyl Phosphate) improve its ability to grow hair . Within their research, the scientists also tested the ability of MSM, by itself to grow hair.
Previous studies have shown that MAP is able to end the telogen (hair growth resting stage) phase and initiate the active anagen hair growth phase in mice (Sung et. al., 2006). It can promote the proliferation of derma papilla cells which regulate hair follicle growth and development
What is MSM Used for as a Topical Treatment?
As derivative of DMOS, the researchers believed that MSM (which has a very similar chemical structure) could also improve the permeability of cells. It was likely that MSM could potentially improve the hair growth performance of MAP as a skin penetration enhancer for drug delivery.
Testing the Benefits of MSM for Skin Penetration
The researchers performed their experiment on mice with alopecia. They first prepared various concentrations of MAP
At concentrations higher than 7.5%, they found that hair growth effects plateaued. This is how they determined that 7.5% was highest concentration needed for improving hair growth.
The researchers also wanted to test various concentrations of MSM, along with the 7.5% MAP. This included:
5-10% MSM was able to produce better hair growth effects compared to MAP 7.55 alone. The researchers. In fact, the amount of hair growth achieved was proportionate to the concentration of MSM used.
In the next phase of the experimentation, the researchers wanted to find out how and why MSM was able to enhance hair growth.
Does MSM for Hair Growth Actually Work?
The scientists first tested the hypothesis that MSM itself worked to enhance the growth of hair, compounding the effects of MAP. This was based on the idea that MSM provides sulfur which is used to create keratin for the hair fibers.
The scientists applied 7.5% MSM by itself to the backs of mice with alopecia. But no hair growth was achieved.
The next hypothesis they tested was that MSM works as a skin penetration enhancer, by improving the transdermal delivery of MAP to the follicles. When applying higher concentrations of MSM along with the 7.5% MAP, they found that skin penetration actually decreased, instead of improving. This outcome disproved the notion that MSM helps improve hair growth by enhancing the receptivity of the skin.
The final possibility tested by the researchers was that MSM improved the retention of the 7.5% MAP. When measuring the amount of MAP in the skin due to 10% MSM, they found that it had accumulated at an impressive 8.5 ug/cm2, nearly 200 times more than MAP alone.
The researchers concluded that while MSM does not improve hair growth, it can work in a dose dependent fashion to improve the retention of a particular ingredient in the skin, like MAP, to boost its effectiveness.
What is MSM Taken For? How Can It Help Hair Follicles?
MSM supplement usage is primarily recommended for treating inflammation. Inflammation is part of our immune system’ response. It is intended to help our tissues heal, following an injury, or provide defense against invaders like viruses and bacteria.
During an inflammatory reaction, our bodies release cytokine proteins which signal and communicate for other resources (e.g. hormones, nutrients and immune cells) to aggregate at the site of the trigger in order to fix the issue.
But sometimes, these responses are miscalibrated. They may be excessive or present when there is no internal threat. White blood cells may start attacking other cells and tissues, including those of the hair follicles, which causes damage to them.
MSM treats chronic, low-grade inflammation by inhibiting a protein complex and nuclear factor known as NF-kB which promotes gene expression for the production of cytokines, chemokines and expression molecules 
Within the context of hair follicles, inflammation is often linked to a common and reversible form of hair loss known as telogen effluvium which manifests as unwanted thinning and shedding.
By suppressing excessive inflammatory responses throughout the general physiology, MSM can also contribute to healthier hair follicles.
MSM Benefits for Oxidative Stress
Health articles found online discuss the detrimental effects of oxidative stress. And many people are aware that this issue can be countered with the help of antioxidants.
Oxidative stress is a leading cause of aging processes in the body which also affect our hair follicles. It is is caused by unstable free radical molecules which are missing an electron and attempt to regain it by stealing it, so to speak from nearby cells and tissues, perpetuating a chain reaction.
MSM supplements are often described to have powerful antioxidant capabilities. However, the compound itself works to aid in the synthesis of glutathione in the liver, As the most important antioxidant found within our bodies, it is often regarded as an anti-aging nutrient.
Glutathione requires sulfur , a nutrient which can be supplied by MSM. As this antioxidant works to neutralize free radicals within the body, it contributes to the health, vitality and longevity of our hair follicles.
In summary, MSM can improve the delivery of other topical agents which benefit the hair producing functions of the follicles. However it will not directly promote hair growth. Rather, MSM can realistically be expected to stave off inflammation and oxidative stress as two key sources of follicular damage which can lead to possible hair loss.
Frequently Asked Question – What is MSM?
What is MSM derived from?
MSM can be made synthetically in lab settings and most commercially available MSM in the food and pharmaceutical industry is synthesis. Very precise methods of synthesis results in bio-identical MSM that is the same in every practical sense as the naturally occurring form. Likewise, MSM can also be derived from natural plant sources such as
- Alfalfa sprouts
- Coffee beans
- Swiss chard
The starting point of MSM is sulfate in the ocean which is taken up by algae, phytoplankton and other marine micro-organisms. It turns into various compounds before it is released into the atmosphere. Eventually, MSM is formed and descends into the earth’s soil through rain and precipitation. Plants then absorb the MSM allowing the nutrient to become available through food sources.
What are some common MSM side effects to be aware of?
MSM is generally considered to be safe. However, there have not yet been any long term studies on the effects of high doses. Possible side effects may include fatigue, nausea, diarrhea, insomnia, headaches, concentration difficulties, skin reactions or swelling in the feet or ankles.
It is important to ask your doctor if it is safe to take MSM if you are pregnant or breast-feeding. Other conditions to inquire about with a physician include: high blood pressure, high cholesterol, prostate cancer, asthma, allergies, bleeding or blood clotting disorders like hemophilia.
Can MSM supplements improve the texture and softness of the hair?
As the third most abundant mineral in the body, sulfur is undoubtedly crucial for our health and well-being . MSM is an excellent source of organic sulfur to create keratin which is needed for normal hair structures. However, dryness and brittleness of the hair is largely due to moisture loss which can be attributed to age and UV radiation from the sun. The sulfur provided by MSM can help the hair’s general state of health, a benefit that has been exploited by some oral and topical hair product lines. But there are no known studies which link sulfur deficiencies to changes in hair texture.
- S. Shanmugan et. al., The Effect of Methylsulfonylmethane on Hair Growth Promotion of Magnesium Ascorbyl Phosphate for the Treatment of Alopecia, Biomolecules and Therapeutics, 17(3), 241-248 (2009)
- T.Lawrence, The Nuclear Factor NF-kB Pathway in Inflammation, Cold Spring Harb Perspect Biol. 2009 Dec; 1(6): a001651
- Ahn. H et.al., Methysulfonylmethane inhiibits NLRP3 inflammasome activation, Cytokine 2015 Feb; 71(2):223-31.doi: 10.1016/j.cyto.2014.11.001. Epub 2014 Nov 21.
- Grimble RF1. The effects of sulfur amino acid intake on immune function in humans. J Nutr. 2006 Jun;136(6 Suppl):1660S-1665S. doi: 10.1093/jn/136.6.1660S.