People searching for natural methods to promote hair growth and to add strength and moisture to their locks often turn to essential oils.
Essential oils are extracted from flowers, leaves, fruits, barks or roots of plants, and are primarily used in lotions, perfumes and aromatherapy. Their use can be traced back to the ancient Egyptians and later Greeks who would use these oils for their healing and mood-enhancing qualities.
Growing research supports their medicinal use due to their therapeutic properties, as well as their ability to improve hair health.
Several different techniques are used for the extraction of essential oils, including steam distillation, solvent extraction and mechanical expression, which is only used for extracting essential oils from the rinds of citrus fruits.
While some evidence suggests that essential oils can benefit hair, much more research is needed.
1 Essential oil may speed hair growth. Although generally thought to be linked to aging, hair loss has many direct and indirect causes, such as increased stress, nutritional imbalances due to westernized diets and genetic factors.
The principle components in lavender essential oil — linalyl acetate, linalool and geraniol — have been known to be effective for the recovery of fatigue, the relaxation of stress, the growth of cells, the reproduction of skin and alopecia areata (hair loss, most often in patches, on the scalp) 1.
In a small animal study, researchers evaluated the use of lavender oil as a hair growth stimulant compared to treatment with 3 percent Minoxidil, which has been approved by the FDA.
The results showed that by week 4, mice receiving topical treatment of 3 percent lavender oil and 5 percent lavender oil showed 90 percent and 95 percent of hair growth, respectively.
The group treated with 3 percent Minoxidil, showed 99.8 percent hair growth (2).
Lavender oil also has antimicrobial and antibacterial properties which may be beneficial to scalp health.
2 Essential oil may increase the number of hair follicles. Hair grows out of little pockets in the skin, called follicles.
In a 2014 study, researchers investigated the effect of peppermint oil on hair growth in mice, using one of four topical applications, saline, jojoba oil, 3 percent Minoxidil and 3 percent peppermint oil.
Of the 4 experimental groups, the peppermint oil group showed the most prominent hair growth effects, with a significant increase in dermal thickness, follicle number and follicle depth (3).
It is believed that the menthol in peppermint essential oil is a vasodilator, which improves blood flow. Increasing circulation with a vasodilator like peppermint could potentially improve hair growth and prevent some hair loss.
3 Essential oil may improve hair growth with less side effects than conventional treatment. A 2015 human study published in SKINmed found that rosemary essential oil was as effective as Minoxidil in significantly increasing hair count in people with androgenetic alopecia.
Androgenetic alopecia is the most common type of hair loss and it affects both women and men.
In men, hair loss usually begins above the temples, and the receding hairline eventually forms a characteristic “M” shape.
In women, androgenetic alopecia begins with gradual thinning at the part line, followed by increasing hair loss radiating from the top of the head (4).
In addition to having an increase in hair count, the group treated with rosemary oil reported less scalp itching than the Minoxidil group (5).
4 Essential oil helps control dandruff. There are several potential causes of dandruff, including irritated, oily skin (seborrheic dermatitis), skin cells that begin to divide too rapidly, genetic predisposition and a yeast-like fungus (malassezia). While this yeast normally lives on the scalps of most adults, for some, it irritates the scalp and can cause more skin cells to grow and flake off.
In a study of 126 volunteers with mild to moderate dandruff, treatment with 5 percent tea tree oil shampoo showed a 41 percent improvement.
Statistically significant improvements were also observed in the itchiness and greasiness components of the patients’ self-assessments (6).
Researchers attribute tea tree oil’s antifungal properties in its ability to improve dandruff.
Lemongrass essential oil is another natural dandruff treatment.
A 2015 study published in Complementary Medicine Research, found that a hair tonic formulation with 10 percent lemongrass oil was an effective preparation in reducing dandruff (7).
5 Essential oil may help treat seborrheic dermatitis. Seborrheic dermatitis is a common skin condition that primarily affects the scalp. Symptoms include scaly patches, red skin, itching and stubborn dandruff (8).
Doctors believe this condition may be caused by the yeast (fungus) malassezia that is in the oil secretion on the skin, or an irregular response of the immune system.
Several alternative therapies, including the use of topical essential oils, have helped some people manage their seborrheic dermatitis.
According to the Mayo Clinic, tea tree oil, either alone or in a shampoo, may be used on the affected area. However, some studies suggest that tea tree oil may trigger an allergic reaction.
6 Essential oil can add moisture to dry hair. Almond oil has impressive emollient properties and, therefore, has been used historically in Ancient Chinese and Ayurvedic medicine to treat dry skin conditions such as psoriasis and eczema (9).
As an emollient, almond oil can also make hair feel smoother to the touch.
Almonds also have high levels of protein, omega-9 fatty acids and vitamin E. These properties suggest that almond oil can improve the shine and strength of hair.
Argan oil — made from the fresh kernels of the fruit of the argan tree in Morocco — is another hair moisturizer. This oil is full of fatty acids which have been shown to lubricate the hair shaft and help hair maintain moisture.
7 Essential oil can help treat lice. Head lice are tiny, wingless insects that feed on blood from the human scalp. According to the CDC, an estimated 6 million to 12 million lice infestations occur each year in the U.S. (10).
Although effective treatments are available, public concern over the safety of the insecticides used in these products has led to an increase in alternative treatments.
Small clinical studies have suggested that some natural plant oils may have a toxic effect on lice and eggs.
An Australian study found that the percentage of volunteers who were free of lice after their last treatment of tea tree oil and lavender oil treatment was significantly higher than the percentage of volunteers treated with the standard insecticide product (11).
8 Essential oil can help control oily hair. Although it sounds counterintuitive, fighting oil with some types of oil helps. In addition to helping control mild to moderate dandruff, 5 percent tea tree oil can also help to significantly control itchiness and greasiness (12).
While there are many shampoos and hair treatments on the market that advertise tea tree oil as an ingredient, research finds that the most effective products contain 5 percent tea tree oil.
9 Essential oil can help soothe an itchy scalp. Medically known as scalp pruritus, an itchy scalp can be a caused by several factors, ranging from dandruff and seborrheic dermatitis, to autoimmune disorders (such as psoriasis), fungal infections (such as tinea capitis) and head lice.
Getting relief requires treating the underlying cause. For itchy scalp caused by dandruff, seborrheic dermatitis and lice, there are several essential oils that can help. Tea tree oil, for example, can help tackle all three conditions.
Peppermint oil may also be effective in reducing dandruff, soothing the scalp and calming itch.
10 Essential oils can help prevent stress-related hair loss. Research shows that there is a link between high stress and certain types of hair loss.
According to the Mayo Clinic, stress and hair loss do not have to be permanent (13).
Finding ways to get stress under control, can help hair grow back. Although it may be easier said than done, finding stress relief can be achieved with the help of certain essential oils.
Lavender essential oil is one of the most studied essential oils in terms of its relaxing effects. Other helpful oils include clary sage oil, ylang ylang and citrus bergamot.
Diffusing essential oils such as lavender and clary sage can help minimize stress, which can indirectly help reverse hair loss.
According to Psychology Today, while most essential oil aromatherapies have not yet been rigorously studied, many can still have calming effects (14).
11 Essential oil can help prevent damage from heat styling. In addition to being rich in vitamin E, argan oil is rich in linoleic acid, oleic acid and palmitic acid. Research shows that these fatty acids can add a protective layer to the hair to protect it from breakage during heat styling.
Oil treatment containing these fatty acids also reduces the formation of split ends, resulting in healthier-looking hair (15).
In a 2013 study, researchers analyzed the protective effect of argan oil in hair that has been colored with hair dye.
Although hair color is widely used to either change the natural color of hair, or to cover grey hair, the damaging and drying effects of these chemicals and dyes are a major drawback.
Based on the results of the study, the use of conditioners infused with argan oil post-treatment decreased the damage caused to hair by the coloring process (16).
Essential oils, when properly used, are typically safe and effective for many common hair issues.
The main concern with using essential oils is skin or scalp irritation or allergic reactions.
One of the ways to help minimize irritation is to dilute the concentrated essential oils with a carrier oil so they can be applied to the skin without side effects.
Examples of carrier oils include jojoba oil, coconut oil, olive oil and grapeseed oil.
Allergic reactions typically occur in those with sensitive skin or those who have allergies to the essential oil.
1 Essential oils can cause you to contact dermatitis, characterized by a red, itchy rash that can be very uncomfortable. It is caused by direct contact with an ingredient in the essential oil or an allergic reaction to it.
2 Essential oils can cause other skin conditions, such as burning, discomfort or painful tingling
3 Photosensitive essential oils can cause burns to the skin. Certain types of essential oils, known as photosensitive or phototoxic essential oils, contain furocoumarins, which can cause severe burns, severe blistering and permanent loss of skin pigmentation when the skin is exposed to UV light or sunlight.
While this is more of a concern when these photosensitive oils are applied to the skin, they may also be troublesome when applied to the scalp.
Examples of photosensitive essential oils include bergamot peel, lemon peel and grapefruit peel. Be alert to all of the ingredients used in essential oil products marketed for hair health.
4 Essential oils can cause breathing problems and swelling of the tongue or narrowing of the throat in those with a severe reaction to an essential oil.
It is always recommended to test a small amount of the mixture on a small patch of skin before full use.
There are three important factors when considering essential oil applications: dilution ratio, recommended daily dosage and duration guidelines (17).
The following are general guidelines for hair growth:
Lavender oil: mix 3 to 4 drops into 3 tablespoons of carrier oil (olive oil or melted coconut oil), and apply it directly to the scalp. Leave on for 10 to 15 minutes and wash it out with shampoo. This routine can be used several times a week.
Peppermint essential oil: mix 2 drops to about 1 tablespoon of carrier oil and gently massage into the scalp. Leave on for 5 to 10 minutes. Wash out with shampoo and hydrate with conditioner.
Rosemary oil: mix 3 to 4 drops with a carrier oil before applying to the scalp. Leave on for 10 minutes and wash it out with shampoo. This routine can be followed twice a week.
To help control dandruff:
Lemongrass essential oil: Mix 3 to 4 drops into shampoo and gently massage into the scalp. Can be used daily or each time hair is washed.
Tea tree oil: Mix 5 to 10 drops into a full shampoo bottle and shake vigorously. Massage into the scalp gently and rinse thoroughly. This can be repeated daily or with each wash.
Using shampoo that contains 5 percent tea tree oil can also be helpful.
For specific guidelines on dilution ratios and duration of use for other essential oils, consult with a dermatologist or other medical expert.
What are essential oils? Essential oils are natural compounds extracted from various parts of plants via distillation or mechanical expression.
What essential oils are good for your hair? It depends on what hair or scalp condition you are looking to treat. Although scientific evidence is lacking, some research shows the ability of lavender oil, peppermint oil and rosemary essential oil to grow hair.
To help control dandruff, tea tree oil and lemongrass oil are typically recommended.
Tea tree oil is also a natural treatment for head lice.
How do you mix essential oils for hair growth? Although human trials are lacking, there is some evidence that mixing a few drops of lavender oil into 3 tablespoons of carrier oil (like olive oil or melted coconut oil) and applying it directly to the scalp can help.
Peppermint oil and rosemary essential oil may also help with hair growth. Mix 2 drops of peppermint oil or a few drops of rosemary oil with a carrier oil and gently massage into the scalp.
Mixtures should be left on the scalp for about 5 to 10 minutes and washed out with shampoo.
How do you use essential oils for hair? Essential oils should be diluted with a carrier oil and applied directly to the scalp, especially for the treatment of dandruff, lice, seborrheic dermatitis and hair growth.
For hydration, apply moisturizing oils to the hair.
How long does it take for essential oils to work for hair regrowth? Essential oils are not a quick-fix for hair growth. Some people may need repeated or frequent applications to see results from the essential oils.
In one study comparing rosemary essential oil versus the standard treatment of Minoxidil, both groups experienced an increase in hair count after 6 months.
Where can essential oils for the hair be bought? Essential oils are available at health food and natural food stores, vitamin shops and other stores.
Medical experts warn, however, that not all essential oil companies test their oils for quality. Only purchase essential oils from reputable manufacturers.
What is a carrier oil? Essential oils are highly concentrated and should never be applied directly to the skin or scalp. Doing so can cause troublesome skin irritations, burns and reactions.
Carrier oils are oils with little to no scent that are used to dilute essential oils prior to application. Examples of carrier oils include: jojoba oil, olive oil, coconut oil, grapeseed oil and avocado oil.
How do you dilute essential oils for the hair? It is generally recommended starting with 5 drops per ounce of carrier oil and increasing the ratio to no more than 15 drops per ounce.
How do you choose the best essential oil? It is important to do your research and to carefully read labels, especially the list of ingredients. Is it a concentrate? Is it diluted? Look for high quality options that are free of additives and solvents, and buy organic whenever you can.
What essential oils are good for the scalp? There are several different essential oils that treat various scalp conditions. Lemongrass essential oil and tea tree oil are often used for dandruff, while rosemary oil stimulates the roots, improves hair growth and increases circulation in the scalp.
How do you use essential oils for dandruff? Mix 3 to 4 drops of lemongrass essential oil into shampoo and gently massage into the scalp. Use daily or each time hair is washed.
Tea tree oil is another option; mix 5 to 10 drops into a full shampoo bottle and shake vigorously. Massage into the scalp gently and rinse thoroughly. Use daily or each time hair is washed.
Using a dandruff shampoo that contains 5 percent tea tree oil can also be helpful.
Where can carrier oils be bought? They can be bought at health food and natural food stores and vitamin shops.
Are essential oils safe? When used properly, essential oils are typically safe.
The most common side effect is skin or scalp irritation or allergic reactions. Risks vary depending on several factors, including how the oils are used, whether or not they are properly diluted and personal body chemistry.
Essential oils should never be applied directly to the skin without a carrier oil. Using undiluted essential oils on the skin can lead to reactions ranging from mild contact dermatitis to blistering rashes and burns.
How long do essential oils last? This varies, depending on the essential oil, temperature they are stored and their exposure to light and oxygen.
In general, essential oils last 2 to 3 years.
To recognize if oils have broken down, look for changes in color, scent and appearance.
How should you store essential oils? They should be stored in a cool, dark place (ideally in the refrigerator) in a dark glass bottle with a tight-fitting lid.
Also follow storage recommendations on the manufacturer’s label.
Essential oils are extracted from flowers, leaves, fruits, barks or roots of plants and are used in several ways to improve the health and condition of the hair and scalp.
While more research is needed, some evidence does exist to suggest that essential oils can help hair to grow.
Other benefits include treating lice, seborrheic dermatitis, dandruff, soothing an itchy scalp and preventing damage from heat and styling products.
Essential oils are generally safe when used as directed. Some side effects may include red, itchy rash, tingling and burning.
Essential oils must be diluted with a carrier oil before applying to the skin or scalp to prevent irritating side effects.
Consulting with a dermatologist or other medical professional prior to use is recommended to discuss which essential oil is best for the specific condition as well as the proper dosage.