Waiting for your hair to grow is like watching paint dry—except worse. With paint you know for certain it'll dry in, well, approximately a few hours. Hair on the other hand—depending on the damage and length—could take months (if not years) to grow to your desired length. Of course, there are products you can apply to speed up the process (think hair masks, treatments, serums, and the like), but how quickly those work is up for debate. Not to mention some hair products can actually coat the hair and cause more damage than assist with growing out your locks. Don't freak out just yet—turns out essentials oils (yes, the ones you put on your skin) can get the job done...much quicker.
To find out more about using essentials oil for hair, we reached out to two experts in their respective fields: Sara Panton, essential oil guru and founder of Vitruvi, hair stylist Annagjid "Kee" Taylor of Deeper Than Hair Salon, and Marie Hayag, board-certified dermatologist and founder of Fifth Avenue Aesthetics. Below, check out exactly how to use essential oils for hair growth.
When it comes to cedarwood, it's all about the scalp. "The way that cedarwood essential oil contributes to hair growth is by keeping your scalp healthy and happy," explains Panton. "It stimulates the scalp and increases circulation, thus reducing a dry or flaky scalp and brittle hair." It also helps in balancing the oil-producing glands in the scalp, which can lead to healthier strands, and according to Hayag, it also has antifungal and antibacterial properties, which can treat different conditions that may contribute to dandruff or hair loss.
To use cedarwood essential oil on the hair, Panton recommends adding two drops into a teaspoon of coconut oil to create a hydrating, stimulating hair mask. Apply the mixture and use your fingers to really massage it in. For the best results, let it sit on your scalp for 30 minutes before washing it out. Hayag recommends doing a patch test before using the oil to ensure it doesn’t irritate your skin.
When using essential oils, Taylor advises to always dilute it with a carrier oil (like jojoba oil, coconut oil, or even your shampoo or conditioner) before applying topically.
"Rosemary essential oil is the first essential oil that comes to mind when thinking about ways to improve hair growth and strength," Panton says. It stimulates hair growth by dilating the blood vessels and promoting cell division in the scalp, thus delivering the nutrients and oxygen needed for follicles to grow. And if you have dry scalp, Hayag notes that rosemary's anti-inflammatory properties help to keep hair follicles healthy and dandruff at bay.
For a hair-thickening elixir, Panton suggests putting five drops of rosemary oil on your scalp and massaging it in after a shower—or you can add it to your existing shampoo and conditioner. If brow regrowth is your goal, rosemary essential oil works on that front as well. Try adding one drop of rosemary oil to your freshly washed brows before bed for fuller, healthier hair.
For a true DYI, Hayag says to boil a handful of dry rosemary leaves with distilled water and let it steep for five hours. You can use this concentration on your scalp or add to your shampoo.
A gorgeous sight to see (seriously, the star shape is magical), the ylang-ylang flower is more than just a base for perfumes. "Ylang-ylang oil balances oil on the scalp, strengthens the hair follicles, and conditions the scalp," says Taylor. "It works well for a dry scalp as it’s a natural conditioner, and also helps to stimulate the sebaceous glands, which keeps the hair naturally moisturized." And because it has antiseptic properties, it can be used as a hair treatment for other hair conditioners, namely lice. "Because it's antiseptic, it can help get rid of lice—as well as other fungal infections—when mixed with a carrier oil," says Hayag.
Bergamot is touted in the essential oil world for its aromatherapy benefits, but it's also seriously helpful in getting rid of microbes in the hair. Hayag explains: "All those nasty chemicals from your haircare and styling products along with dandruff, dirt, and excess sebum cause build-up and irritation on the scalp as well as clog the follicles. It causes extreme damage to the hair follicles and prevents the natural growth of hair by resulting in a number of scalp issues like infections, acne, and eczema.
"However, being a great natural antimicrobial agent, bergamot essential oil inhibits the growth of bacteria—thus, the scalp remains clean, healthy, and absolutely perfect for hair growth." Apart from eradicating microbes and averting the possibilities of developing scalp infections, the beauty of bergamot is that it works on already-infected scalps and actually stops the contagion from getting worse. "This is very much important for the health and growth of the locks, as this accelerates the growth of hair, makes it stronger and keeps split ends away," says Hayag. Heads up: Bergamot may make the skin more sensitive to the sun, so be sure to avoid sunlight for 12 hours after using it on your skin.
"Lavender essential oil has antimicrobial properties similar to those found in tea tree, but with a more gentle effect on the skin when applied topically," explains Panton. "Beyond keeping hair shafts and follicles clear of bacteria (that could prevent hair growth), another added benefit of using lavender essential oil is its ability to soothe your scalp (and your mind) courtesy of its natural sedative properties. People say your hair thins when you're stressed—so prevent the feeling of stress by adding a few drops to your dry shampoo or conditioner."
Hayag notes that lavender can also be helpful for other hair issues like hair loss, thinning, breakage, dryness, and dandruff, but that it isn't usually recommended if you take nervous system sedatives or depressants "because the interaction with these medications may exaggerate sleepiness or drowsiness."
We know and love tea tree oil for its ability to heal breakouts, but it can also work wonders for the health of our hair, too. According to Hayag, tea tree essential oil has powerful cleansing, antibacterial, and antimicrobial properties, which is why it's commonly found in scalp-healthy hair products to fend off dandruff. If left untreated, "dandruff can absolutely lead to hair loss," says Hayag. "As the flakes build up on the scalp and mix with the natural oils produced by our skin, the thick, waxy substance can irritate the scalp and even clog hair follicles. While there are reports that tea tree oil can help regulate overactive sebaceous glands, there is no definitive data that shows tea tree oil can actually penetrate into the follicle and dissolve the debris inside."
Still, Taylor notes that applying tea tree oil helps to fight many types of bacteria, viruses, and fungi. Mix 10 drops of tea tree essential oil into your shampoo or mix three drops with two tablespoons of a carrier oil and massage into the scalp for a relaxing 15-minute treatment.
Clary sage oil, different from regular sage oil, is thought to be a superstar for improving overall hair health. "It contains linalool, linalyl acetate, alpha-terpineol, germacrene D, and geranyl, and has been used for years in the management of hormonal disturbances in women," says Hayag. "Recently, it is also being praised for its ability to regulate cortisol levels (a stress hormone that is produced by the body in excess during times of physical and emotional stress), which can be an underlying cause of hair loss." Taylor recommends mixing a few drops with an ounce of coconut oil and massaging into your scalp. While the research is ongoing and currently not sufficient to draw any definite conclusions, clary sage is found in a ton of natural hair growth products.
Here's an oil that's ideal for those with oilier hair types (dry scalp and brittle hair should steer clear). "Peppermint oil helps to stimulate your scalp and hair follicles, and also stimulates blood circulation to the skin, which can help with increasing dermal thickness, follicle number, and follicle depth," says Panton. As for that peppermint cooling sensation we're all too familiar with come holiday season, Hayag notes that it's due to its high concentration of menthol. "Research has shown that menthol has the potential to dilate the blood vessels beneath the skin where it is applied, increasing blood flow to the area," she explains. "Increased blood flow to the scalp is good because blood carries oxygen and nutrients, which at the very least can improve the health of the hair follicles, and ultimately help in terms of hair growth." Not to mention, it can be insanely relaxing to experience the cooling, calming benefits of peppermint oil on a stressful day.
You should avoid applying diluted peppermint oil to sensitive skin, or places where skin is generally thinner (like the neck and around the eyes). Hayag says this can cause discomfort in the form of burning or irritation.
"Thyme oil is a nutrient-rich oil containing bioflavonoids and antioxidants, and it also has anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial properties," says Hayag. "However, it’s the bioflavonoids, specifically, that have brought much recent attention to thyme oil and its ability to promote hair growth, as they have been shown to play an important role in the formation of new hair strands." Generally speaking, reducing inflammation on the scalp and hair follicles makes for an overall healthier scalp and ultimately a healthier environment for hair to grow.
Turns out lemongrass isn't just a hero ingredient in your favorite Thai soup, it boasts a slew of hair-loving properties that induce growth. "Lemongrass oil can strengthen your hair follicles, and it's great for those with dandruff," notes Panton. And if you're keen on not over-shampooing your hair, lemongrass oil has astringent properties that can help keep the hair squeaky clean in between washes. To use, Panton recommends massaging a few drops (approximately three to five) into your scalp during your shower. Then let it sit and soak in for two minutes and rinse out with cold water.
Panahi Y, Taghizadeh M, Marzony ET, Sahebkar A. Rosemary oil vs minoxidil 2% for the treatment of androgenetic alopecia: a randomized comparative trial. Skinmed. 2015;13(1):15-21.