Hibiscus is perhaps best known for its aesthetic appeal (and as a flavorful addition to teas). But the beautiful plant has long been touted for its hair care benefits for a variety of issues, ranging from dandruff to dry, damaged hair, and, most famously, hair loss.
But is it legit or too good to be true? Should we all be splashing our Starbucks refreshers on our heads? We spoke to trichologist Isfahan Chambers-Harris, Ph.D., and dermatologists Purvisha Patel, MD, and Anna Chacon, MD, to find out everything there is to know about using hibiscus on your hair and scalp.
Meet the Expert
While there hasn't been much research examining the benefits of hibiscus for hair, experts say it could be worth a try if you're looking to soothe your scalp and grow fuller, thicker hair—just make sure to go the store-bought route. Keep reading to learn more.
Hibiscus for Hair
Type of ingredient: Conditioner, hydrator
Main benefits: Keeps hair healthy and conditioned, thickens and volumizes hair, treats dandruff, prevents split ends, and decreases hair loss.
Who should use it: In general, anyone without allergies to plants or pollen and without sensitive skin such as eczema or psoriasis who is looking for a more natural way to regrow hair, decrease frizz, and thicken and/or volumize their hair. Patel recommends patch testing a small amount before slathering your whole scalp.
How often can you use it: Chambers-Harris and Chacon recommend once a week; Patel says it is recommended in India to use it twice a week.
Works well with: Carrier and botanical oils such as coconut oil, avocado oil, and olive oil. It’s also commonly mixed with yogurt. But be aware, Patel notes, that “there is no data as to if these work in conjunction either.”
Don’t use it with: Other flowers or alcohol-based products. Patel says you never want to mix flowers with flowers. “Plants, when crushed, can create an irritation to the skin in themselves. When mixed together they can also make an allergic reaction, even a reaction that is made worse with sun exposure.”
Chambers-Harris notes that while a 2003 study found that hibiscus positively affected hair growth and hair fall in lab animals, additional studies are needed to see if it helps with human hair. “Although there is no scientific evidence, hibiscus is widely accepted in India and other countries to be an herb that helps with hair growth,” she explains. One thing to keep in mind, notes Patel, is that this study did find that the leaf extract was more effective than the flower extract. Chacon adds that ground hibiscus can be combined with an oil like coconut oil to help hair grow from follicles that are dormant on the scalp, combating dryness and dandruff.
While there’s no scientific consensus that hibiscus helps grow human hair, the logic behind how it could potentially work is that “both the flowers and leaves contain flavonoids, amino acids, and antioxidants,” Patel explains. Additionally, “the act of massaging [the product] itself helps with circulation, and this generally helps with blood flow to the hair follicles” leading to hair growth, she adds.
Hair Type Considerations
Barring any allergies, both Chacon and Chambers-Harris say that anyone looking for healthier hair and scalp can use hibiscus.
Because hibiscus is most commonly used as a scalp treatment, there are some considerations to keep in mind for skin types as opposed to hair types with this ingredient. Patel cautions that anyone with allergies to plants or pollen, or with dry or sensitive skin, eczema, or psoriasis should stay away from hibiscus as a hair or scalp treatment. Always patch test before you try a new treatment, and as Patel warns, “any skin product should be discontinued if there is skin tingling or irritation when applied to the skin.”
How to Use
While the flower itself is not known for having any dangerous side effects on its own, you should use an already-formulated hibiscus product as opposed to trying to DIY an option at home. The reason (and this is very important) is that “use of any plant products for at-home use and home remedies are riddled with risks of cross-contamination, allergic reactions, burning, and even skin damage,” Patel says.
It makes sense when you think about it—grabbing flowers from your backyard isn’t exactly quality control. “There is no science as to how much of what active ingredient is in each flower and preparations vary,” Patel cautions. It’s for this reason that she recommends anyone looking to try this ingredient buy it in an already-made formulation specifically for hair use. Chambers-Harris’s own line, Alodia, has hibiscus in its Flourish Hair and Scalp Oil—and the formulation uses hibiscus leaves, too, and not just the flowers.
If you buy a product with hibiscus specifically made for hair, you can use it as a hair and scalp mask. Patel says to use the product as a hair and scalp massage (emphasis on the massage; remember, that’s what also helps the circulation of hair follicles) applied 30 minutes before showering and washing the product out.
Adhirajan N, Ravi Kumar T, Shanmugasundaram N, Babu M. In vivo and in vitro evaluation of hair growth potential of Hibiscus rosa-sinensis Linn. J Ethnopharmacol. 2003;88(2-3):235-239.
Koyama T, Kobayashi K, Hama T, Murakami K, Ogawa R. Standardized scalp massage results in increased hair thickness by inducing stretching forces to dermal papilla cells in the subcutaneous tissue. Eplasty. 2016;16:e8.