If you’re itching to grow out your hair but neither patience nor extensions are in the cards, there’s a good chance you’re familiar with the world of hair-growth supplements. Every girl who’s ever tried to defy nature for super-fast hair growth has at least experimented with Biotin, the B-complex vitamin for which there’s little real evidence of an effect on the growth process. And then there’s Viviscal, for those of us who take it a little more seriously.
Countless celebrities, models, and hair experts sing the praises of Viviscal, which is the most-researched supplement for hair growth. It’s drug-free, it’s effective, and if you’re really committed to getting longer hair faster, it’s worth the $49.99 a month. But we recently started on the regimen, and a quick survey of what’s actually in it had us mildly startled. Its star ingredient, the component that makes it so expensive and popular, is shark powder. Yes, Viviscal contains shark. That explains the fishy taste.
This realization is, understandably, shocking—and fortunately we aren’t vegetarians, because we had already started taking the pills without reading the ingredients list (oops). The brand’s signature AminoMar marine complex, a blend of both sustainably sourced shark powder and mollusk powder, is exclusive to Viviscal, but after some research of our own, we found that they’re not the only ones that use fish-based ingredients. That said, we’re going to go ahead and assume the copycats got the idea from Viviscal, considering its formula is backed by 25 years of research.
Viviscal has a cute backstory to explain its fishy formula: In the 1980s, it says, a Scandinavian professor researching the Inuits found that the indigenous people had a fish- and protein-rich diet to thank for their extraordinary skin and hair. Isolating the key molecules of the Inuit diet then led to the creation of AminoMar. This isn’t the first time that fish has been linked with better appearance: Omega-3 fatty acids and oily fish are great sources of the vitamins and minerals we need to keep skin and hair healthy.
Still, the actual science behind what makes AminoMar and ingredients like it so effective is still somewhat of a mystery. “There is little published science to describe why the marine polysaccharides found in shark cartilage (the ingredients in Viviscal PRO) help with hair growth,” says Dr. Alan Bauman, a board-certified hair restoration physician. “However, having offered the product to our patients since 1999, admittedly with skepticism at first, I can say with great confidence that there is certainly a physiological effect on hair fiber production. Improvements in hair quality, thickness, and texture are extremely common when the product is used consistently.”
Even a double-blind study published in the Journal of Clinical and Aesthetic Dermatology concluded that Viviscal is effective—and it’s the shark- and mollusk-based powders that make it so. If you’re a vegetarian, or don’t consume fish for other reasons, you can opt instead for Bauman’s recommendation of professional-grade, 10,000-mcg Biotin taken once a day. But if you’re hesitant to give Viviscal a try based on the “contains shark powder!” warning on the packaging alone, consider this your confirmation that unless you’re allergic to fish, it’s really nothing to fear. It may be weird, but it works.