Acupuncture is an alternative medical therapy. Popularized thousands of years ago in China, acupuncture has been used for centuries to treat a variety of ailments and ills, from back pain to headaches.

In traditional acupuncture, your health depends on a good qi, an energy-giving life force that flows through your body. When your qi is blocked, you may become sick. Acupuncture helps restore a healthy energy flow by releasing those roadblocks. During an acupuncture session, a practitioner stimulates specific points on your body with very fine needles. These spots correspond to the symptoms you’re trying to treat.

Acupuncture sometimes gets credit as a treatment for a wide variety of ills — some warranted, some not. Research does back up acupuncture proponents’ claims in a few treatment areas, specifically relieving low-back pain and neck pain.

In other areas, such as hair loss, the research is less conclusive. Still, there’s some evidence to suggest acupuncture might be useful for at least one type of hair loss.

Acupuncture for male pattern baldness

No research supports the use of acupuncture to treat male pattern baldness. Male pattern baldness is often the result of genetic factors and hormonal changes. Acupuncture is unlikely to affect these conditions.

In one study, however, researchers did find that acupuncture is sometimes better than medicine for the treatment of another type of hair loss: Alopecia areata. Alopecia areata occurs when your body’s immune system attacks your hair follicles. The follicle attacks lead to hair loss, often in small patches all over your scalp.

It’s unclear why acupuncture is effective at treating this condition. It may be related to increased blood flow and improved circulation in the skin, a common benefit of acupuncture. That could help stimulate hair follicles, nerves, and blood vessels so the hair loss will stop. Then, regrowth may begin again with additional treatment.

Acupuncture for hair loss in females

Female pattern hair loss, a common type of hair loss in women, is also the result of genetic factors and changes in hormones. Here again, research does not support the use of acupuncture to treat hair loss in women.

However, women experiencing alopecia areata may see improvement in hair loss and regrowth with the use of acupuncture. The tiny needles may help stimulate the scalp and improve the chances of hair returning.

During an acupuncture session, a practitioner will insert thin needles in specific points of your body. These points are aligned to ailments, symptoms, or conditions you’re experiencing. While you may be looking for relief from back pain, for example, it’s possible the practitioner will put needles in your arms, feet, neck, and elsewhere.

The needles are intended to stimulate nerve-rich areas of your body. This includes the skin, tissues, and glands. The needles can also improve blood circulation. For hair growth, the needles may also stimulate hair follicles, which could encourage hair growth.

In general, acupuncture is a well-tolerated alternative medical therapy. Some individuals may experience allergic reactions to the needles or any products used during the acupuncture session. This may include oils, lotions, or aromatherapy products.

Traditional hair loss treatment includes hormone therapy, prescription medicine, laser therapy, even surgery. Compared to some of these, acupuncture has very few possible side effects or complications and may be a way to treat hair loss along with medication.

Side effects of acupuncture on the head may include:

  • headache
  • soreness
  • bruising
  • muscle twitching
  • minor bleeding

Side effects of acupuncture may be worse if you’re not working with a licensed professional. You put yourself at risk for infection and injury if the person administering your acupuncture is not licensed and experienced. If using a trained and qualified practitioner, there are few risks.

Can acupuncture cause hair loss?

No research has found evidence that acupuncture can cause hair loss. However, there are no case studies of people who have lost hair related to acupuncture to prove or disprove this possibility.

If you’re interested in working with an acupuncture practitioner to treat hair loss or another condition, keep these three recommendations in mind:

  1. Check for credentials. A professional and experienced acupuncturist will have a license and certification from the National Certification Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine (NCCAOM). If they’re licensed, they’ll likely use the abbreviation LAc after their name.
  2. Understand your state’s requirements. Training and education standards vary by state. Some are strict about requirements and certifications, some are not. Make sure your state complies with the highest standards.
  3. Ask for a personal referral. If you’re unsure where to start looking for an acupuncturist, ask a friend for a referral. Some doctors are even able to make referrals to these practitioners. Health insurance is unlikely to cover this therapy. Check with your insurance company before you make an appointment to understand your options.

If you’re experiencing hair loss, you have a variety of treatment options available to you depending on the reason for your hair loss. These options range from traditional medication to alternative therapy, such as acupuncture. While research has not found that acupuncture is effective for the treatment of hair loss, there are few side effects associated with this form of therapy.

Before you decide to use acupuncture to stop your hair loss or to regrow hair, weigh your options with a doctor and a licensed acupuncturist. For many people, acupuncture is a long-term, ongoing treatment plan. You shouldn’t expect results overnight. However, if you feel comfortable with this option, you may see some success for alopecia areata.