While seaweed, which is considered macroalgae, has received a great deal of acclaim in the beauty and wellness space (think: detoxifying seaweed body wraps or healthy seaweed salads), its lesser-known "cousin," microalgae, is starting to gain attention in the form of algae oil. You may have heard—or even used—beauty products formulated with algae oil to calm skin, but what about your scalp? In fact, algae oil is believed to wield a number of benefits for both scalp and hair. To find out more, we turned to dermatologists Marisa Garshick and Macrene Alexiades, and trichologist, Gretchen Friese.
Meet the Expert
- Marisa Garshick, MD, FAAD, is a board-certified dermatologist. She is also a Clinical Assistant Professor at Cornell.
- Macrene Alexiades, MD, Ph.D., FAAD, is a double board-certified dermatologist in the US and EU. She is the founder and director of NY Derm, her dermatology, laser surgery, and research center in NYC.
- Gretchen Friese is BosleyMD's trichologist. She is also a hairstylist and salon director at Foushee SalonSpa in Denver.
Keep on reading to see what they had to say about the benefits of algae oil and how to incorporate it into your hair care routine.
What Is Algae Oil?
Algae oil is produced from certain species of microalgae, which are usually raised in a laboratory for their high content of omega-3 fatty acids and antioxidants. It is an ingredient that can be found in a number of beauty products ranging from skincare to haircare.
Algae Oil for Hair
- Type of ingredient: Anti-inflammatory
- Main benefits: Promotes a healthy scalp, regulates oil production, and smooths hair
- Who should use it: In general, anyone can benefit from algae oil for their hair, but especially those with dandruff, inflammation, or oily scalps. It may also have the potential to increase hair thickness, so it may provide additional benefits to those with thinning hair.
- How often can you use it: If applying topically, algae oil can be used up to twice daily. Oral supplements are typically taken daily, but a doctor should be consulted before beginning any new supplements.
- Works well with: Moringa and mint oils
- Don’t use with: There are no known ingredients that negatively interfere with algae oil.
Benefits of Algae Oil for Hair
The benefits of algae oil are due largely to its strong concentration of omega-3 fatty acids, which are essential to the function of the cells in the human body. Additionally, algae oil is believed to contain many nutrients, including calcium, iron, potassium, and vitamins A, B, and C. And given its antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, algae oil is considered beneficial to the hair because of its perceived benefits to the scalp.
- Reduces scalp inflammation and irritation: Garshick explains that because algae oil is rich in DHA and EPA, it has the ability to calm the scalp and helps reduce inflammation. Friese agrees, adding that it may be beneficial for people with dandruff, as well.
- Regulates oil production: Despite being an oil itself, Alexiades says paradoxically, algae oil supposedly helps with oily scalps. But keep in mind: An overproduction of oil in the scalp may be indicative of other issues, so a dermatologist visit is always recommended to establish a cause.
- Rebalances the microbiome of the scalp: Probiotic skincare has been rising in popularity, and the microbiome of your scalp is equally important. Alexiades shares that "there is also some suggestion that it works by rebalancing the microbiome, thereby decreasing scalp seborrheic dermatitis, which is due to the overgrowth of fungal organisms."
- May increase hair thickness and growth: The effect of algae oil on hair growth has not been sufficiently researched, but experts say there is science to suggest further exploration. "In my research, I have seen several published reports indicating and suggesting that algae oil boosts hair thickness and growth. The mechanism of action is being debated, but the evidence seems to point to omega oils playing a critical role," shares Alexiades. Garshick points to a study that showed that a supplement rich in omega-3 and -6 fatty acids as well as antioxidants, while not specific to algae oil, did improve hair density and reduced the number of hairs in the resting state while increasing the amount in the growing state. In addition, the collagen found in algae oil may aid in hair regrowth and prevent hair thinning, comments Friese.
- Smooths and softens: As with other oils, algae oil hydrates the hair and scalp. Garshick says that it may leave the hair silky and smooth, while also providing necessary nutrients.
- Strengthens and protects: Algae oil can promote healthy hair and reverse signs of damage. "It has been known to help strengthen hair strands as well as somewhat repair split ends, says Friese"
Hair Type Considerations
Our experts agree that algae oil is safe for all hair types but likely stands to benefit those with scalp conditions the most; specifically, those with fungal issues like dandruff or who experience scalp inflammation and irritation. Due to algae oil's ability to balance oil production, it may also be helpful for anyone with oily scalp or hair.
While the verdict on its ability to promote hair growth is still uncertain, Alexiades is optimistic: "As a dermatologist, I recommend that for those of you who have noted a slight thinning or decrease in the length of your hair, the application of algae oil may improve and boost hair abundance. However, those with more progressed hair loss should seek professional care."
How to Use Algae Oil for Hair
To make the most of algae oil's benefits, you need to do more than just take a dip in the ocean (although that does sound appealing). Friese recommends using it topically. But rather than apply pure algae oil to the hair and scalp, our experts suggest finding formulations that already include it. "You may see it in [products] containing seaweed extract and spirulina extract or olive oil, coconut oil, and argan oil," notes Friese. "A few of the products in my skincare line, MACRENE actives, contain [microalgae and algae extract] to help restore and revitalize the skin while reversing signs of skin damage and aging resulting from environmental stressors and UV exposure," says Alexiades. It's worth noting that if have sensitive skin you should always be cautious when trying new ingredients and perform a patch test before applying liberally.
While most of the scalp-improving benefits would come from a topical application, an oral supplement has benefits as well. It can make a great complement to a well-balanced diet, especially for those who are unable to take fish-source omega-3 supplements. "If you so choose to take an oral supplement, I recommend talking to a doctor before you start that routine," advises Friese.
The Best Products With Algae Oil
Garshick says this algae-extract-containing shampoo is particularly good for those with an oily or irritated scalp, as it uses algae extract and licorice to soothe the skin and reduce oil. It also incorporates collagen, olive oil, and eucalyptus to hydrate and condition.
Forget lip kits (okay, maybe not entirely); this hair kit is what we're after. Complete with a mask and oil, it's chock full of ingredients like algae extract and ceramides that hydrate, strengthen, and protect an undernourished mane and scalp. And in case you're not ready to commit to a new hair repair ritual, you'll rejoice in its travel-friendly size.
For those of you with non-color-treated tresses, Friese recommends this nourishing shampoo. Thanks to algae extract and DHT-blocking pumpkin seed extract and saw palmetto, it's the cleansing solution looking to bring you a full head of healthy hair.
Garshick also recommends this daily conditioner, which she says provides lightweight moisture. In addition to algae extract, it also contains seaweed extract and spirulina extract. Consider it your daily dose of supergreens.
This deep conditioning mask by natural hair care brand Camille Rose is a feast for the senses. Formulated with blue algae, cocoa, and mango butter, it aims to revitalize undernourished locks. Hair will look healthier, feel softer, and smell like a dream.
Is algae oil sustainable?
Some species of microalgae produce a level of omega-3 fatty acids that is similar to that of fish oil, potentially making it a more sustainable source of omega-3 than fishing.
Does algae oil pose any side effects?
Generally speaking, no. But if you are applying topically, you should always perform a patch test first. Before taking orally, always consult a medical professional.
Can I make a DIY hair mask using algae oil?
Our experts recommend looking for products with algae oil as a listed ingredient versus applying it directly to your hair and scalp.
J Appl Phycol. “Algae as Nutritional and Functional Food Sources: Revisiting Our Understanding.” 2017.
J Cosmet Dermatol. “Effect of a Nutritional Supplement on Hair Loss in Women.” 2015.