Does it really work?
Hair loss is a common concern for many men and women. There are many reasons your hair may fall out, from genetics and vitamin deficiencies, to hormone changes. Some medical conditions, such as thyroid disease, may also cause hair to thin or fall out.
There’s no magic bullet for growing hair, but research has shown some herbs may slow hair loss or help promote new growth. It’s important to note however, that much of the research has been done on animals. Additional studies are needed to prove their effectiveness on humans.
Keep reading to learn how herbal remedies may be used to help improve your hair growth. Be sure to talk to your doctor before adding herbs to your daily routine, especially if your hair loss is caused by a medical condition.
Herbal hair oils
Hair oils, also called hair tonics, are herbal extracts mixed in a carrier oil base. Some hair oils include multiple herbs and carrier oils.
Popular carrier oils used to make herbal oils are:
- coconut oil
- sweet almond oil
- walnut oil
- olive oil
- mineral oil
- jojoba oil
- wheat germ oil
Some herbs used in herbal hair oils are:
- Chinese hibiscus (Hibiscus rosa sinensis): Chinese hibiscus is an evergreen shrub. Its edible, vibrant flowers are often used to make herbal tea. Hibiscus is thought to help stimulate hair follicles, increase follicle size, and increase hair growth.
- Brahmi (Bacopa monnieri): Brahmi, also called bacopa, is a creeping herb used in Ayurveda medicine. It contains alkaloids thought to activate proteins responsible for hair growth.
- Coat buttons (Tridax procumbent): Coat buttons is a creeping Ayurvedic herb and member of the daisy family. It contains antioxidants and promotes hair growth on its own and in synergy with other herbs.
- Jatamansi (Nardostachys jatamansi): Jatamansi is a small shrub whose rhizomes may speed hair growth. It’s been shown to increase hair growth in alopecia caused by chemotherapy.
- Ginseng (Panax ginseng): Ginseng is an age-old natural remedy for many conditions, including hair loss. It contains saponins, which are believed to encourage hair growth by inhibiting 5a reductase. This is an enzyme related to hair loss in men.
How to use
Some hair oils are formulated to use as a shampoo or a leave-in hair treatment, so take note of the manufacturer’s instructions. The label will advise you on whether to apply to damp or dry hair.
Using clean hands, massage the hair oil directly to your scalp and rinse as directed.
Herbal ointments, sometimes called herbal salves, are usually made by combining herbs with an oil like lanolin or petroleum jelly and water. Other ingredients may include beeswax or cocoa butter. Polyherbal ointments typically contain multiple herbal extracts.
Some herbs used in polyherbal ointments are:
- Gooseberry (Emblica officinalis): Gooseberry is an Ayurvedic herb. It’s used to strengthen hair and promote hair growth. It’s also known to contain several antioxidants.
- Gotu kola (Centella asiatica): Gotu kola is one of the most popular Ayurvedic herbs. It’s thought to increase hair length and stimulate hair growth, possibly by increasing blood circulation to the scalp.
- Aloe vera (A. Barbadensis Mill.): Aloe vera is a tropical plant and a popular folk remedy for burns and digestive problems. It may be also used to keep the scalp conditioned and healthy which can support healthy hair growth.
- Holy basil (Ocimum sanctum): Holy basil is a fragrant, adaptogenic herb known for its healing properties. It may help prevent hair loss caused by dandruff and itching or changes in hormonal levels.
How to use
Polyherbal ointments are usually applied directly to your scalp. With clean hands, massage the ointment into your scalp until absorbed as per manufacturer’s instructions.
Herbal creams are also made from herb-infused oils and water. They contain less oil and more water than herbal ointments and are easily absorbed by your skin.
Some herbs used to make herbal creams are:
- Giant dodder (Cuscuta reflexa Roxb): According to a 2008 study, giant dodder — a sprawling, Ayurvedic plant — helps treat alopecia caused by steroid hormones by inhibiting the 5a reductase enzyme.
- Bitter apple (Citrullus colocynthis): Bitter apple is a desert, fruit-bearing plant used in Ayurveda. Its dried fruit pulp is used to treat hair loss. Bitter apple contains glycosides, which are compounds thought to initiate hair growth.
- False daisy (Eclipta alba): False daisy is an herb used in Ayurveda to increase hair growth. According to a study from 2014, false daisy helps stimulate hair follicles and provokes a faster hair growth stage in nude mice.
- Night-flowering jasmine (Nyctanthes arbortristis): This small, flowering shrub is native to South Asia. According to 2016 research, night-flowering jasmine initiated hair growth in rats and may be effective against alopecia.
How to use
With clean hands, massage the hair cream into your scalp or apply to hair from roots to tips as per manufacturer’s instructions.
Herbal gels contain herbal extracts in a gel base. They typically don’t contain oil.
Herbs used in herbal gels to support healthy hair may include:
- Fenugreek (Trigonella foenum-graecum): Fenugreek is a member of the pea family. It’s a popular cooking spice with potential hair-growing benefits. According to research from 2006, fenugreek seed extract improved hair volume and hair thickness in men and women with moderate hair loss.
- Marking nut (Semecarpus anacardium): This plant is found in the sub-Himalayan area and used in Ayurvedic and Siddha medicine to help hair grow. More research is needed on marking nut to determine its effectiveness and safety.
How to use
Using clean hands, massage the gel into your scalp or apply to your hair from roots to tips as per manufacturer’s instructions.
Cubosomes are liquid, crystalline nanoparticles. Cubosomal suspensions are used to target the delivery of drugs and, in some cases, herbal remedies.
Some herbs used in cubosomal suspensions for hair growth are:
- Oriental arborvitae (Thuja orientalis): Oriental arborvitae is an evergreen tree and member of the cypress family. It’s a traditional remedy for baldness. According to a 2013 study, the herb helps hair grow by stimulating the growth stage in resting hair follicles.
- Espinosilla (Loeselia mexicana): Espinosilla is grown in Mexico. It’s used to strengthen hair follicles and help maintain a healthy scalp. According to a 2014 study, espinosilla showed some hair growth in male mice.
- Goji berry (Lycium chinense Mill): This fruit-bearing shrub is used in traditional Chinese medicine to promote hair growth. Goji berry contains zinc, a mineral thought to infuse the scalp with oil to help prevent dandruff which can lead to hair loss.
- Tuber fleeceflower (Polygonum multiflorum): This tuber is a traditional Chinese medicine remedy for hair loss. It contains compounds that inhibit 5a reductase enzymes. It also helps stimulate the growth stage in hair follicles.
How to use
Using clean hands, comb in or apply to your hair from root to tip, or as otherwise instructed. Use herbal cubosomal suspensions as directed by your doctor.
effects and risks
The main risk of herbal hair growth products is allergic reaction. You should always do a patch test to check for an allergic reaction before using any herbs.
To do this:
- Apply a small amount of product to the inside of your wrist.
- Leave on for at least 24 hours.
- If you haven’t experienced any irritation within a day, it should be safe to apply elsewhere.
If you do develop an allergic reaction, you may experience:
- difficulty breathing
Potential side effects of topical herbal hair growth products include:
- thinning hair
- increased hair loss
- dry scalp
- scalp redness or irritation
The side effects of most herbs for hair growth aren’t well-studied in humans. There’s not enough information to standardize dosing recommendations.
Women who are pregnant or breastfeeding shouldn’t use herbs to grow hair unless under the supervision of a doctor or a qualified natural health practitioner.
The bottom line
No herbal remedy can regrow a full head of hair. You should be wary of herbal products that claim to be a hair growth sensation.
Research has shown that some herbs may help strengthen hair, support scalp health, improve hair thickness, or stimulate the hair growth cycle. Still, more clinical trials on humans are needed before herbal remedies become a mainstream hair growth treatment.
Any herb may be used in all types of herbal hair product preparations. But it may be difficult to find over-the-counter hair growth products that include the herbs used in research. Your doctor or natural health practitioner may be able to help you find a remedy that best suits your needs.
Be sure to talk with your doctor before use. They can walk you through your treatment options and advise you on any next steps.