Acupuncture for Hair Loss: What to Know Before Going Under the Needles

Acupuncture needles


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So many different factors can contribute to hair loss, which might explain why you'll find just as many rumored remedies and treatments for it online (whether they've been proven to be effective or not). One of those remedies you might come across as you search for treatment options? Acupuncture.

This ancient Chinese system of medicine studies how energy flows in the body, is obstructed, and then can cause disease or injury, as explained by leading expert in integrative and precision-based medicine and the founder of Firshein Center, Richard Firshein, DO. "Ultimately, the goal of acupuncture is to unblock energy or improve the flow of chi (energy) by using specific acupuncture points or meridians to promote health and wellness."

You might have heard of using the ancient Chinese practice to treat acne, premature aging, and other skin concerns, but how much do you know about its use for hair? To learn more about acupuncture for hair loss, and hair loss remedies in general, we turned to Firshein as well as trichologist and founder of Alodia Hair Care, Isfahan Chambers-Harris, Ph.D., and trichologist and co-founder of Fouteenjay Salon, David Adams. Keep reading to learn more about this approach, as well as other methods worth trying.

Meet the Expert

  • Richard Firshein, DO is an expert in integrative and precision-based medicine, and founder of the Firshein Center in New York City.
  • Isfahan Chambers-Harris, Ph.D., is a trichologist and founder of Alodia Hair Care.
  • David Adams is a trichologist and co-founder of Fouteenjay Salon.

How It Works

According to Firshein, who is a certified medical acupuncturist, there are many theories as to how acupuncture might work. "Some scientists believe that the needles used in acupuncture cause tiny injuries, which trigger the body’s natural healing processes," Firshein explains. "Others believe that acupuncture needles traverse fascia where electrolyte-rich tissue can speed messaging and aid in recovery. Still, others believe that the immune system sensing a foreign invader initiates the body’s natural defenses." Ultimately, the benefits of each of these mechanisms is to speed the healing process, reduce pain, and unlock the body’s natural recovery potential.

Does Acupuncture Help Prevent Hair Loss?

Before you can tackle treating hair loss, you first need to determine what kind of hair loss you're experiencing and what's causing it. One important distinction to make is whether the issue is at the root or on the strands, because sometimes the concern isn't with hair growth, per se, but with length retention. When experiencing the latter kind of "hair loss," the goal is to moisturize and strengthen the strands to stop breakage. But if you are experiencing the former, Chambers-Harris points to a few main factors that might be causing it: haircare practices, a traumatic event, a vitamin or nutrient deficiency, and genetics.

Although acupuncture would do little to help breakage, it could potentially address an issue at the hair follicle. As previously mentioned, acupuncture has been used for a variety of concerns, and sometimes it's even used to address medical conditions like asthma, chronic joint pain, PMS, hypertension, and in the interest of this article, hair loss. So does it work? Firshein explains: "In some cases, poor blood flow or localized hyper immune responses can cause hair loss. In these cases, acupuncture might be useful where the needles stimulate hair follicles."

If there is a serious underlying condition or autoimmune disorder, such as alopecia, Firshein notes that acupuncture, unfortunately, won't help. According to Chambers-Harris, a scarring alopecia is something you would need to see a dermatologist to treat. "Unless it’s early-stage traction alopecia or early-stage genetic thinning, I always recommend seeing a board-certified dermatologist," Chambers-Harris says. Adams also always suggests seeing a doctor for a blood test to find out if something more serious is going on or if there's a medical condition.

Treatment Process

The process of acupuncture is fairly simple: The acupuncturist will gently place very thin needles either directly in the scalp or at different points aligned with specific issues, such as hormone imbalances or conditions related to hair loss, like thyroid disorders, according to Firshein. Acupuncture might be relatively painless, but the process isn't exactly quick. The needles will be left in place for a number of minutes before being removed by the practitioner.

Side Effects

Turns out, poking needles into your scalp sounds much worse than it is. Firshein says the side effects of acupuncture are generally minimal. Even still, the treatment should be used with caution in individuals with a history of migraines, headaches, or sensitivities to nickel (which is present in stainless steel, the most common form of acupuncture needles), Firshein notes.

Other Hair Loss Remedies

Whether you choose to try acupuncture or another hair loss treatment, the most important piece of advice is to address your hair loss sooner rather than later. Chambers-Harris says you're more likely to be able to reverse hair loss if you seek help from a professional right away versus trying to treat it for a while on your own, and if you're experiencing severe alopecia, consult a board-certified dermatologist.

As for addressing breakage or a non-scarring alopecia, like traction alopecia, or diffuse thinning, seeing a trichologist or using one of the below remedies could be beneficial. Here are a few other hair loss methods Chambers-Harris and Adams suggest trying:

Apply a moisturizing DIY hair mask:

If you’re looking to treat breakage that's preventing you from growing your hair to the length you want, Chambers-Harris suggests treating it at home with a moisturizing hair mask.

Ingredients:

  • An avocado
  • 1 tablespoon honey (Chambers-Harris prefers manuka honey for its antimicrobial properties but says either raw honey or regular honey works too.)
  • 1 tablespoon oil, like safflower oil

Directions:

  1. Blend the avocado, honey, and oil together until smooth.
  2. Apply the mixture to your scalp and through the length of your strands.
  3. Use a steamer to amplify the benefits. The heat from the steam will open up your cuticles and allow moisture in. Additionally, honey is an excellent humectant that draws water to the strand.
  4. After 20 or 30 minutes, rinse the mask from your hair with cool or warm water to seal the cuticle back.

Treat your scalp:

If you want healthy hair, you have to have a healthy scalp, and the first step is to cleanse it properly. "Cleansing the scalp is just as important as cleansing the face, and I would recommend everybody, whether they do a scrub at home or whether they come into a trichologist, have a scalp treatment," Adams says.

At least once a month, take the time to look after your scalp. Adams suggests starting with a scalp brush before you shampoo to loosen everything off. Then, use a shampoo targeted for the scalp, followed by a shampoo and conditioner for your hair type.

Be mindful of ingredients:

According to Adams, the quality of products is of upmost importance. "Good shampoos don’t have to be expensive shampoos, but it’s good to really look at the ingredients and see what’s in there," Adams says. Chambers-Harris suggests not only steering clear of sulfates in your hair care, but also silicones, petroleum, and mineral oil, which block out moisture. For people with eczema, psoriasis, or even those with a healthy scalp looking for a deep cleanse that's not over-drying, Chambers-Harris recommends the Alodia Scalp Therapy Kit, which uses ingredients for healthy hair and scalp like avocado oil, aloe vera, grapeseed oil, and tea tree oil.

alodia scalp therapy kit
Alodia Scalp Therapy Kit $68
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Practice better hair care:

Chambers-Harris explains that wearing wigs or tight styles that pull on the delicate follicles can cause a non-scarring alopecia, like traction alopecia. In addition to incorporating masks and clean products to add moisture and stop breakage, you'll also want to be more conscious of everyday styling choices. For instance, opt for styles that put less stress on your follicle and don't require the use of heat from blow dryers and flat irons.

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