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If you’re friends with anyone caught up in the world of essential oils, you know it. Like Crossfit and veganism, they’ll tell you all about it, whether you ask or not.
When you’re losing your hair, you’re willing to give just about anything a try. And essential oils have a pretty low barrier to entry: They’re relatively inexpensive, smell good and are natural.
But are they effective at treating hair loss? Right now, there’s only a small amount of scientific research available on essential oils and their effects on hair growth, with most studies small in scale and far from comprehensive.
However, despite their limitations, some of these studies suggest that a few essential oils may offer benefits for blood circulation, healthy hair growth and improvements in common problems such as a rough hair texture.
Below, we’ve covered what essential oils are and dug into the latest research on essential oils and healthy hair follicles.
We’ve also discussed how essential oils and products that contain them could fit into your hair loss prevention routine, either on their own or alongside proven, evidence-based treatments for hair loss.
First, some background. Essential oils are plant extracts obtained through pressing or distillation (similar to steaming).
Essential oils both smell and taste like the plants they were extracted from, and have a specific chemical makeup that not only affects these characteristics, but also how the oils work in or on your body.
A plant’s essential oil can come from its flowers, leaves, bark or roots, and the different sources of an oil may affect its properties.
Many essential oils are highly concentrated, meaning a large amount of plant material is used to produce a small amount of oil. For example, hundreds of pounds of some plants may be needed to produce a single pound of oil.
Essential oils are often used in aromatherapy -- the practice of inhaling essential oils to access their supposed therapeutic benefits. Aromatherapy has been in use for thousands of years and has its background in ancient Chinese and Indian medicine.
Products used in aromatherapy include essential oil diffusers, bathing salts, steamers, aromatic spritzers and topical treatments, such as creams, lotions and body oils.
People who practice aromatherapy claim it can be effective at treating everything from an upset stomach to depression.
It’s important to keep in mind that essential oils aren’t considered medications, and as such are not regulated by the FDA.
This means that they’re not put through the same rigorous testing and safety review process as medications, which are typically subject to clinical trials that check for efficacy and potential side effects.
As such, there’s a lot that we don’t know about essential oils, from their actual effectiveness and medicinal value to how safe they are when used over the long term.
Only a few scientific studies have been published on the use of essential oils in the treatment of hair loss. Many of these studies are small in scale, with few participants, and the quality of each study can vary dramatically.
We’ve reviewed some of these studies below to learn more about how certain essential oils may play a role in promoting a healthy scalp and faster hair growth.
First, a study published in the Archives of Dermatology in 1998 looked at the use of a blend of essential oils in the treatment of alopecia areata, a form of hair loss that’s characterized by the development of patchy bald spots across the scalp and/or face.
This randomized, double-blind, controlled study involving 86 patients lasted 7 months. Half of the group massaged a blend of thyme, rosemary, cedarwood and lavender essential oils with carrier oils into their scalp daily, where the control group used only carrier oils.
According to the researchers, 44 percent of the participants who used essential oil treatments saw improvement over the study period, compared with just 15 percent of those in the control group.
The researchers behind the study concluded that the results ”show aromatherapy to be a safe and effective treatment for alopecia areata.”
The researchers put the essential oil head-to-head with minoxidil, one of the only two medical treatments approved for male pattern hair loss by the FDA.
50 study participants used rosemary oil and 50 used minoxidil for a period of 6 months. At the 6-month mark, both groups experienced “significant increase in hair count,” when compared to the beginning of the trial.
What these studies tell us is that there might be benefits of using essential oils to treat certain forms of hair loss. However, two studies on two different types of hair loss shouldn’t be viewed as rock-solid proof of efficacy.
In other words, the research that’s available right now suggests that essential oils may provide some therapeutic benefits if you’re starting to develop hair thinning.
However, we don’t have enough information to know how much of an effect essential oils have, or which oils are specifically effective. We also don’t know how essential oils compare to other, more proven treatments for hair loss, such as FDA-approved medications.
As such, it’s best to think of essential oils as a “maybe” when it comes to treating hair loss. We have some evidence that suggests they may have benefits, but we’re still a very long way from knowing specifically what their true effects are as hair care products.
While research into essential oils for treating and preventing hair loss is far from conclusive, we do know that some essential oils can offer real benefits for general hair health.
For example, over the years, studies have found that some essential oils may offer benefits for repairing damaged hair, preventing hair breakage and improving other common hair and scalp issues.
If you’re interested in trying essential oils for your hair health and appearance, consider getting started with the following oils:
Lavender oil. One of the most popular essential oils, lavender oil is linked to a range of hair-related benefits. For example, one study on mice found that use of lavender oil may promote the growth of new hair follicles and increase follicular depth.
While this study is definitely interesting, it’s important to keep in mind that findings from animal studies don’t always lead to the same results when an essential oil or other type of treatment is used by humans.
Peppermint oil. Like lavender oil, peppermint oil has been associated with increases in hair growth in animals. For example, one 2014 study published in the journal Toxicology Research found that it promotes greater dermal thickness and follicle growth in mice.
As always, it’s important to keep in mind that findings from animal studies, including this study on mice, don’t always mean that a substance is equally effective when it’s used by humans.
Rosemary essential oil. Another popular essential oil for treating hair loss is rosemary oil. As we mentioned above, a study published in the journal Skinmed found that people with hair loss showed an increase in hair count after using rosemary oil for six months.
You can easily add rosemary oil to your hair care routine by adding one or two drops of rosemary oil to your preferred hair products.
Tea tree oil. Tea tree oil is a popular ingredient in anti-dandruff shampoos, and there’s a small amount of evidence to suggest that it may help with hair growth. For example, one study found that it may improve the effects of minoxidil, a common hair loss treatment.
Other research suggests that tea tree oil has beneficial effects for skin blood flow, which may be helpful for supplying your hair follicles with nutrients.
Coconut oil. A popular ingredient in hair masks, coconut oil generally isn’t linked to any improvements in hair growth. However, some research suggests that it may limit protein loss -- a common issue that can cause hair damage.
This may help to promote hair thickness and strength. Like rosemary oil, you can easily add coconut oil to your hair care routine by putting a few drops in your favorite shampoo or conditioner.
Geranium oil. Like lavender oil and peppermint oil, geranium oil has been linked to hair growth in animal studies. For example, one study found that geranium oil produced more hair growth in mice than minoxidil, a popular hair loss medication.
As always, it’s important to keep in mind that research findings from animal studies don’t always mean that a substance will demonstrate the same effect in humans, meaning it’s best not to view them as totally “proven.”
Cedarwood oil. Cedarwood oil has been studied in combination with other oils, such as lavender and rosemary oil, with research finding that these oils produce improvements in hair growth when used together.
However, there’s currently no high quality scientific evidence to suggest that cedarwood oil is effective as a treatment for hair loss on its own.
You can find many of these oils online and in local health food and personal care stores. Prices for essential oils can vary significantly by brand and product, so it usually helps to check pricing from several merchants to make sure you’re getting a fair deal.
It’s important to stick to essential oils, not synthetic oils or fragrance oils, which often contain a mishmash of different ingredients. Make sure to check that any oil you consider buying is only made from pure plant extracts.
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Most essential oils appear to be safe when used normally, such as in hair masks and as active ingredients in products for weak or thinning hair. However, there have been reports of adverse effects from essential oils, including some used as hair treatments.
In one systematic review, researchers identified dermatitis as the most common adverse effect of essential oils.
If you’re sensitive to essential oils or other ingredients used in essential oil products for treating hair loss, you may develop itchy skin, irritation, flaking and other common dermatitis symptoms during treatment.
It’s important to talk to your healthcare provider if you notice any of these issues, particularly if they become more serious over time.
Some essential oils have also been linked to the disruption of the endocrine system -- your body’s system for producing hormones. This disruption could cause issues such as gynecomastia -- a form of breast tissue growth in men.
To keep yourself safe while using essential oils or other hair care products, it’s best to talk with your healthcare provider before starting any form of treatment.
They’ll be able to inform you about the potential health risks and advise you about how to keep yourself safe while treating issues such as hair loss.
Currently, research findings on essential oils are mixed, both in terms of study outcomes and the general quality of research that’s available. Some oils show promise, but most studies are small in size and their conclusions are far from set in stone.
However, the good news is that there are several evidence-based, FDA-approved treatments for hair loss that are backed up by a large amount of high quality evidence.
These include finasteride, an oral medication, and minoxidil, a topical treatment that’s applied to your scalp in areas with reduced hair density.
Finasteride is a prescription medicine for hair loss. It works by stopping the production of a male sex hormone called dihydrotestosterone (DHT), which can damage your hair follicles and cause male pattern baldness symptoms such as a receding hairline or diffuse thinning.
Research shows that finasteride works well as a treatment for hair loss. For example, one study published in the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology found that men with hair loss who used finasteride showed an increase in hair growth over the course of two years.
Another study found that more than 80 percent of men with hair loss who used finasteride over one year saw improvements.
We offer finasteride online, following a consultation with a licensed healthcare provider who will determine if a prescription is appropriate.
Minoxidil is a topical hair loss medication. It works by moving hair follicles into a state of active growth and improving the function of blood vessels in your scalp, which promotes thicker hair and an improvement in hair density.
Research shows that minoxidil is effective, particularly when it’s used with finasteride, with the vast majority of balding men showing improvements.
Generic for Rogaine®, this FDA-approved over-the-counter version of topical minoxidil is used for regrowth on the crown of the head.
This is the FDA-approved dynamic duo. When used together, men saw better results in clinical trials compared to using either alone.
If you’re looking for something effective but don’t want too many steps in your routine, this once-a-day pill could be right for you.
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Essential oils are incredibly popular. However, while some appear promising, there isn’t yet any conclusive scientific evidence to show that any essential oils can treat male pattern baldness or stimulate a significant level of hair growth.
Despite this, some essential oils appear to provide benefits for general hair health and may play a role in promoting a healthy scalp and hair follicles.
Trying essential oils on your scalp carries relatively few risks, so it may be an option that’s worth considering if you’re genuinely curious. However, there’s no proof it will render the results you’re after.
If you’re starting to lose your hair, you’ll likely get better results from evidence-based hair growth medications, such as finasteride and minoxidil. We offer both of these medications as part of our range of men’s hair loss treatments.
You can also find out more about your options, from medication to healthy habits, in our detailed guide to the best treatments for thinning hair.