Could fulvic acid really be the missing ingredient for thicker, healthier hair? That’s what some companies are saying, most notably Phylia de M. with its Fulphyl de M.. But does it really work?
Fulvic acid is one of two strong acidic (pH 1) organic polymers that can be derived from soil, sediment, or aquatic locations. (In case you were wondering, the other is humic acid). It comes from humus, which is organic, nonliving matter in soil that comes from the decomposition of plants or animals (Encyclopedia Britannica). Studies including fulvic acid often obtain it, as well as humic acid, from peat.
While humic acid and fulvic acid are different, they’re both subdivisions of a group called humic substances, which are differentiated primarily by their solubility in water adjusted for different acid-alkaline (pH) conditions (The Wonderful World of Humus and Carbon). There aren’t as many studies looking intently at fulvic acid independently of humic acid, though the two have slightly different properties.
So, here’s how fulvic acid might benefit hair and what the studies say.
Fulvic Acid to Detoxify
In this case, fulvic acid would be detoxifying heavy metal. Humic substances are chelating agents, meaning they bind with metal atoms. In theory, chelating shampoos will prevent the adherence of minerals, but there’s not much research to back them. There is research demonstrating that chelating agents might affect heavy metal absorption: In a study on cadmium absorption in rat intestines, rats given fulvic acid absorbed about half as much cadmium as those that were not (Archives of Toxicology; FDA Scientific Report).
But that doesn’t mean that chelating agents in hair products will be beneficial, aside from not being well-researched in products. Unless it’s a one-time thing to clean off after a swim (pools can have high levels of certain metals), if you’re concerned about heavy metals (from hard water, for example), then it’s probably better to invest in a shower head filter than to rely on chelating products. After all, the rest of your skin is exposed to your shower water too.
Fulvic Acid and Anti-Inflammatory Effects
It’s also possible that inflammation plays a role in the most common type of hair loss: androgenic alopecia (Journal of Drugs and Dermatology). Early research shows that, in particular, inflammation could be a factor in androgenic alopecia in women.
Fulvic acid has been shown to reduce inflammation by interrupting the lipoxygenase pathway of arachidonic acid (AA) cascade, which serves as an inflammatory intermediate; however, synthetic low molecular weight humic substance fractions have also been associated with pro-inflammatory activity (Biopoylmers for Medical and Pharmaceutical Applications). In studies on participants with eczema and atopic dermatitis, sufferers found relief from inflammation and other symptoms with topical application of formulas with fulvic acid (Drug Development Research; Clinical, Cosmetic and Investigational Dermatology).
Fulvic Acid Causes Cell Regeneration
Cell regeneration is a tricky thing. Phylia de M. claims fulvic acid delivers keratin, but I wasn’t able to find any research on that. I was able to find in vitro research on its impact on the production of another important protein.
An in vitro study on fulvic acid’s effects on mitochondrial respiration in rat liver cells found that the polymer improved the production of adenosine triphosphate, essentially the “energy of life” protein that transports energy to cells (Science of the Total Environment). But these results don’t seem as strong as those for humic acid.
And since there’s little research on this topic, it would be premature to say that fulvic acid makes cells work at optimal levels.
Fulvic Acid Increases Nutrients to the Scalp
It’s true that certain fractions of fulvic acid are able to permeate human skin, which means they can be used for pharmacological purposes (International Journal of Pharmacology). In fact, fulvic acid is a natural penetration enhancer, so it will help other beneficial ingredients absorb in the the skin (Journal of Biochemical and Pharmaceutical Research).
Fulvic acid doesn’t so much provide nutrients as it does benefit them as an antioxidant activity, chelating activity, and effects on energy-supplier APT. As an antioxidant, it can help mitigate free radicals to prevent oxidation in hair and formulations. As a chelating agent, it could, in theory, prevent the adherence of certain metals to your skin that might limit the bioavailability of some nutrients. And if it increased APT, it would increase cell energy.
Remember, though, that this is all in theory. While it might do these things, there’s simply not enough research on it. I was only able to look at one study that focused on fulvic acid — humifulvate, actually — and hair growth, and it involved supplemental, not topical, application. In a study where 29 participants suffering from hair loss attributed to mineral deficiency were given humifulvate daily, those whose serum iron levels increased saw hair loss stop. Some even saw an increase in hair growth (FDA).
But this study demonstrates the effects of oral ingestion and suggests only that fulvic acid would be helpful for those with low iron serum levels.
Fulvic acid doesn’t have an exceptional amount of research behind it for improving hair. Studies have demonstrated that it has qualities that could be beneficial to hair and scalp health, but there are still a lot more studies to be done to back companies like Phylia de M.’s claims.
It’s a chelating agent, which theoretically should remove metals from hard water; but if metals are your concern, you’re better off investing in a shower filter. I couldn’t find studies about fulvic acid transporting keratin, but preliminary research shows that it might impact energy-transporting protein ATP. While this is promising, it’s not well researched. As for providing nutrients: Fulvic acid is an antioxidant, penetration-enhancer, and chelating agent. So, it’s possible that it could improve nutrient absorption, delivery, and use; but, once again, there’s little specifically tailored research. And aside from these, claims, fulvic acid’s anti-inflammatory could prove beneficial for hair health in certain types of hair loss if further research shows that inflammation is a factor in alopecia.
So, while fulvic acid is a promising hair care ingredient, it’s not well studied, so don’t get too excited just yet. We’ll keep you posted on future studies.
- 73Photo source: Maite Perroni Hair Style, a photo by Jean Nieves on Flickr. About the author: FutureDerm.com is proud to introduce Dr. Hanan Taha, M.D., on our staff as a Contributing Writer. Dr. Taha received her MD from Kuwait University in 2002, and a master’s degree in Dermatology from the University of Alexandria in 2010. …
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