Essential oils are more popular than ever, being used to aid sleep, relieve stress, treat acne and athlete’s foot, and a myriad of other uses. Essential oils have long been used alongside or as a replacement for beauty products – your favorite hair-care brands are probably already using essential oils in their products.
It’s been claimed that essential oils can help keep your scalp and hair healthy and clean and even promote hair growth. People worldwide suffer from thin and thinning hair due to stress, hormonal changes, environmental factors, and genetics. So, how can adding essential oils to your hair-care routine promote hair growth?
Let’s explore different essential oils and how each can support healthy hair!
How to use essential oils
Essential oils are typically used in aromatherapy, where oils are diffused in water and the steam is inhaled. When using essential oils for hair growth, they are used topically. The oils are applied either to the scalp directly or to the hair itself. Some essential oils can cause irritation, so it’s recommended that you apply a small amount of oil to a patch of skin first to test for any irritation.
Many essential oils are diluted with carrier oils, like coconut oil, sweet almond oil, avocado oil, and argan oil. These carrier oils are used as a skin protectant so the essences – which are potent concentrations – don’t irritate the skin.
1. Jojoba oil
Jojoba oil is extracted from the jojoba plant, a shrub native to the deserts of southern California, Arizona, and Mexico. Jojoba oil is an incredibly popular addition due to its moisturizing properties and can be found in many skin and hair-care products.
Jojoba oil is rich in vitamin E and vitamin C, B vitamins, zinc, and copper – all nutrients that keep hair nourished and hydrated. Jojoba oil is often an ingredient in conditioners and hair moisturizers as it protects against hair breakage, split ends, and overall dryness. It’s also noncomedogenic, meaning it won’t clog pores, which makes jojoba oil a great resource if you have a dry, dandruff-prone scalp.
2. Cedarwood oil
Cedarwood essential oil, also called cedar essential oil, comes from the wood of the cedar tree and is native to the western Himalayas and Mediterranean. Cedarwood oil is less common than other essential oils, so you probably won’t find it on the grocery store shelves in the same way you would find lavender or tea tree essential oils.
Cedarwood oil has been shown to help treat alopecia areata, an autoimmune disorder that causes unpredictable hair loss. More studies are needed, but one showed a daily scalp massage of essential oils – including cedarwood – resulted in improved hair growth.
As a powerful antiseptic, anti-inflammatory, and antifungal agent, cedarwood oil fights bacterial buildup on your scalp, resulting in stronger hair follicles and a healthier head of hair.
3. Peppermint oil
A cross between spearmint and watermint, the peppermint plant is found naturally in Europe and North America. Peppermint is most commonly associated with aromatherapy, where it provides a cooling and refreshing effect, promotes clarity, and works as a decongestant.
Peppermint essential oil isn’t just good for aromatherapy, though – it’s also beneficial for your hair. The scent and cooling sensation that many people associate with peppermint is a compound called menthol. For people experiencing male and female pattern baldness, decreased circulation cuts off blood flow to the hair follicles, causing hair loss. Menthol is a vasodilator, which improves blood flow. Peppermint oil can be irritating, so it’s important to test on skin before including in your hair-care regimen.
4. Tea tree oil
Tea tree oil is extracted from the tea tree, which is found in Australia. It's been used as a medicinal treatment for years, specifically to treat infections and clean wounds. If you suffer from dandruff, you may already be using tea tree oil without realizing it. Tea tree oil is one of the most common essential oils used in hair-care products because of its antifungal and antibacterial properties.
There are several causes of dandruff, including fungal infections, eczema, contact dermatitis, and even some nervous system disorders. Tea tree oil is most effective against dandruff caused by fungal infections, with studies showing marked improvement in both men and women suffering from dandruff.
Tea tree oil prevents the buildup of product on your scalp and hair shaft, both of which can suffocate the scalp, preventing your hair from growing properly and potentially causing hair loss. Tea tree oil won’t cure hair loss, but it will support the scalp to allow hair to grow more healthily, which could lead to a fuller head of hair.
5. Ylang-ylang oil
Ylang-ylang is typically used as a scent for perfumes. Ylang-ylang comes from a flower of the same name and is native to India, the Philippines, Malaysia, and Indonesia. It contains a compound called linalool, which is antibacterial, antifungal, and anti-inflammatory.
Ylang-ylang is said to promote sebum production (the oily substance that protects your scalp) and helps keep hair shiny and hydrated. A 2017 study investigated the effects of essential oils – including ylang-ylang – on fungal infections that cause a number of symptoms, including dandruff. The study found that the linalool compound in ylang-ylang was effective in treating Candida albicans, a common type of fungal infection.
6. Rosemary oil
Rosemary is useful in the kitchen as an aromatic spice and in the bathroom as an addition to your hair-care routine. It grows as a woody shrub and has been used in culinary and medicinal preparations for a long time. Rosemary is a popular essential oil for aromatherapy, where its benefits include pain and stress relief, improved brain function, and increased circulation.
More recently, rosemary essential oil has been used to relieve dandruff and itchy scalp symptoms and as a preventive for graying hair and hair loss. An active ingredient in rosemary essential oil, carnosic acid, has been shown to heal nerve damage, one cause of hair loss. In a study, rosemary essential oil was compared to Rogaine (a commercially popular treatment for hair loss); the results showed the oil was just as effective as Rogaine regarding hair loss and more effective at treating itchy scalp.
7. Lavender oil
Possibly the most popular essential oil, lavender can also be useful when added to hair-care products. Lavender essential oil has antimicrobial properties similar to those found in tea tree essential oil, although it is much gentler. Bacterial growth can impact hair growth, and lavender oil ensures your hair stays squeaky clean. One animal study found lavender oil accelerates hair growth.
Stress also plays a role in hair loss. Telogen effluvium is a common type of hair loss caused by physical and emotional stress. This kind of hair loss is temporary, and hair grows back within six to nine months. Lavender’s soothing effect on the nervous system can help mitigate stress from a traumatic event or help regulate your day-to-day stress levels.
8. Lemongrass oil
Another ingredient typically found in the kitchen rather than the bathroom is lemongrass essential oil, which is used for a variety of reasons from relieving indigestion to preventing dandruff. This citrusy oil has antifungal properties that can help prevent and relieve common, dandruff-inducing fungal infections, much like tea tree oil. A small study found one week of lemongrass essential oil treatment significantly reduced the amount of dandruff participants had.
The bottom line
If you’re suffering from hair loss or thinning, there could be any number of reasons for your troubles, such as dandruff, stress, a yeast or fungal infection, or an underlying autoimmune issue, like alopecia. Essential oils have been shown to help prevent hair loss by eliminating some of the direct causes, and some oils, like lavender, have been shown to promote new hair growth.
Before adding any of these essential oils to your hair-care routine, be sure to test them on your skin for irritation. And speak with your medical provider or dermatologist to make sure there’s not a more serious condition at play.