There is no shortage of treatments promising to help with hair growth, including both topical options and oral supplements. And among this growing category of products, there's a sub-category that's also experiencing a popularity boom. We're talking about natural herbs for hair growth, which appear in all kinds of formulas ranging from scalp oils to daily pills.
It's an enticing idea, for sure, but not all herbs are created equal, and as such not all of the effects they'll have on your hair are equal—or legit. We spoke to Kerry E. Yates, trichologist and founder of Colour Collective, and William Gaunitz, WTS, certified trichologist and founder of Advanced Trichology, about five natural herbs commonly used for hair growth. Read on for what they had to say.
What it is: Rosemary oil is an oil derived from a natural herb.
Benefits for hair: "Rosemary oil is anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial, making it a good choice for those dealing with scalp issues such as itching and flaking," explains Gaunitz. Its anti-inflammatory effects are also what makes it beneficial for potential hair growth purposes, as it helps keep the follicle healthy to support hair growth, notes Yates.
How to use: Apply a few drops of the oil (it's potent, so a little goes a long way) and massage it directly into the scalp for five to 10 minutes, then shampoo immediately afterward, suggests Yates. Massaging it into the scalp helps stimulate blood circulation and, coupled with the oil's anti-inflammatory properties, is a great way to bolster the anagen, or growing, phase of the hair cycle, she says.
How long it takes to work: According to Gaunitz you should start to see some of the effects—at least as they pertain to scalp benefits—after about four weeks. That being said, Yates says you'll need to wait a solid four months in order to see any type of impact on the health of the follicle and possible improved growth.
What it is: Saw palmetto is a palm plant native to the southeastern region of the U.S. with nutrient-rich berries. You can find it as a stand-alone supplement, though it's a staple component in many hair supplements that combine a variety of ingredients.
Benefits for hair: "When concentrated in an herbal form and taken internally it does seem to have a positive impact. The nutrients from the berries can diminish the impact of DHT on the hair follicles," explains Gaunitz. (As a quick reminder, DHT is a hormone that plays a key role in the hair loss puzzle, as it can shrink the hair follicle and shorten the growth phase.) For this reason, it can be beneficial for those suffering from male and female pattern hair loss, he adds.
How to use it: It should be taken orally.
How long it takes to work: You'll likely start to see the beginnings of some improvement around the eight-week mark.
Side effects: Saw palmetto shouldn't be taken in concentrations higher than 400 milligrams because it can disrupt the digestive system, says Gaunitz.
What it is: Also known as Indian gooseberry, the Alma tree is native to India and bears a fruit of the same name that is a common ingredient in many Ayurvedic practices, says Yates.
Benefits for hair: "Amla is rich in antioxidants, specifically vitamins C and E," says Yates. Given that oxidative stress can contribute both to hair loss and a lackluster appearance to the hair, any type of antioxidants are always a good thing. Also worth noting: A 2011 study in the Research Journal of Medicinal Plants also found that amla extract had a positive effect on particular cells within the hair follicles that could help promote growth by prolonging the anagen, or growth phase, of the hair cycle.
How to use it: Massaging amla oil into the scalp is beneficial for the skin, but can also help more immediately improve the look of the hair as well, notes Yates. The same directions apply as for rosemary oil—massage onto the scalp for five to 10 minutes before shampooing thoroughly. Yates adds that amla can also be taken as an oral supplement; it's available in both pills and powders.
How long it takes to work: According to Yates, about four months. Pro tip: When searching for new hair growth, keep an eye out along your part and hairline, where it will be the most obvious. "It may look like small, broken strands at first, but this is actually new hair," she says.
Side effects: Yates says she's unaware of any negative side effects associated with amla, though any natural ingredient always comes with the potential of an allergy.
What it is: Aloe vera is a plant that contains a gel-like substance inside its leaves.
Benefits for hair: To be fair, aloe vera has more proven benefits for skin and scalp than it does directly for hair, but given that healthy hair can only come from a healthy scalp, it's worthy of a spot on this list. "Taking care of the scalp benefits overall hair growth," says Yates. As far as aloe goes, it's loaded with vitamins (more specifically A, C, and E, all great protective antioxidants) and is deeply moisturizing and soothing with anti-inflammatory benefits. One study found it to be particularly beneficial for those dealing with seborrheic dermatitis, a common scalp condition that results in dryness, flaking, and itching.
How to use it: For the best results, look for products that contain pure aloe vera juice or gel, suggests Yates, and massage onto the scalp before shampooing.
How long it takes to work: Yates says you'll see the benefits of aloe vera immediately on the scalp, noticing an improvement in how it feels and looks after just one use. As with the other herbs, it will take a few months for any growth-related effects to kick in.
Side effects: Again, this is fairly well-tolerated, but any natural ingredient does carry the risk of allergic reaction.
What it is: The root of the dandelion plant, which is often used in teas and as an oral supplement.
Benefits for hair: "Dandelion root is excellent for detoxification of the liver and kidneys, but also has a positive benefit on decreasing inflammation in the scalp," explains Gaunitz. He adds that this makes it ideal for those dealing with inflammatory scalp conditions such as seborrheic dermatitis and dandruff. Indirectly, this can also have a subsequently beneficial effect on hair growth, given that inflammation on the scalp and in the follicle can impede healthy hair growth.
How to use it: Gaunitz suggests consuming it as a tea, and notes that it also works well when paired with burdock root, another good detoxifier. (Many teas combine the two.)
How long it takes to work: According to Gaunitz, you should start to see some improvement in 10 to 14 days.
Side effects: Dandelion root can have some potentially negative interactions with other herbs, so be sure to discuss with your doctor if you're taking other herbal supplements.
There are a few important universal caveats to remember when it comes to herbs and hair growth. One, remember that the causes behind hair loss and scalp issues are usually multi-factorial and can be tricky to pinpoint. Generally speaking, taking a holistic approach that addresses the problem both internally and topically is the best approach, says Yates. Two, natural doesn't always mean harmless, she cautions. Before taking any of the aforementioned herbs orally, be sure to discuss with your doctor. And if you notice any type of itching, stinging, or rash when using any of them topically, discontinue use.
At the end of the day, hair loss is a complicated issue. The right natural herbs can have a positive effect when it comes to promoting healthy hair growth, but do your research and seek professional advice to maximize the best end results.