Originally discovered and sought after by the Native Americans of the Seminole tribe, saw palmetto has been used to treat a myriad of issues for generations. It is popularly used as a form of alternative medicine for urinary and reproductive issues, but it is also believed to influence hormone levels in both men and women. Many popular hair growth supplements and products contain saw palmetto.
What is Saw Palmetto
Saw palmetto is a shrub-sized member of the palm family that originated in the southeast United States. When people reference saw palmetto as a supplement, they are typically referring to the powder that is made from its berries.
The powder from saw palmetto is often found in capsule and liquid form, as well as in many teas and products designed to help with hair loss. We turned to board certified dermatologist Joshua Zeichner, MD, and certified trichologist Gretchen Friese for their takes on using saw palmetto to treat hair loss.
Meet the Expert
Testosterone levels are a leading contributor to hair loss in both men and women. Specifically, testosterone can be broken down into a hormone called dihydrotestosterone, or DHT, which has been linked to hair loss. It is believed that saw palmetto may prevent block the absorption of DHT, thereby reducing hair loss. Is saw palmetto the answer to your thinning hair?
Saw Palmetto For Hair
Type of ingredient: Supplement (available orally or topically)
Main benefits: It may potentially prevent hair loss, promote hair growth, and reduce inflammation.
Who should use it: In general, anyone experiencing thinning hair. Saw palmetto can provide benefits across all hair types, as it promotes scalp health. Pregnant and breastfeeding women should stay away from saw palmetto.
How often can you use it: If taking an oral supplement, consult your doctor for appropriate dosing information. The standard dose is 320 mg taken with food to avoid digestive discomfort. If applying topically, it can be used twice weekly as a part of your haircare routine.
Works well with: Pumpkin seed oil and Niacin.
Don’t use with: It may interfere with medications like birth control and anticoagulants. Consult your doctor before beginning any new supplements.
Benefits of Saw Palmetto for Hair
The main motivator for many who seek out saw palmetto is hair loss. Friese explains that saw palmetto affects the 5-alpha reductase enzyme. This is the enzyme that is responsible for converting testosterone into DHT, the hormone responsible for male and female pattern hair loss. Dr. Zeichner agrees, adding "saw palmetto is a botanical extract that has been shown to block the effect of androgen hormones. We know that high levels of these hormones are associated with hair thinning, so blocking them may theoretically improve hair growth." Researchers believe that saw palmetto may reduce hair loss by preventing the conversion of testosterone into DHT and preventing the binding of DHT in the body.
It's important to note that most studies on saw palmetto have been focused on its effects on men. More large-scale research is needed on humans to conclusively understand the impact on women. Women who are nursing or pregnant should not take saw palmetto.
- Prevents Hair Loss: By potentially preventing the body from converting testosterone into DHT, saw palmetto may prevent hair loss. DHT is believed to be one of the leading causes of male and female pattern baldness.
- Fights Inflammation: Friese shares that saw palmetto has anti-inflammatory properties on the scalp. Inflammation is the cause of many scalp related issues and hair growth problems. By reducing inflammation, the idea is that saw palmetto may improve the overall health of the scalp.
- Promotes Hair Growth: A reduction of inflammation in the scalp may also contribute to new hair growth. A healthy scalp is the key to new growth and Friese shares that less inflammation can result in improvement of hair growth and prevention of hair loss in both men and women.
- Strengthens the Hair Follicle: Most studies on saw palmetto have been focused on its ability to treat hair from its source. But, there could be further benefits to the actual hair follicles. "There have been few studies on what it actually does to the hair itself. However, anything that strengthens the hair follicle will help the hair become stronger and thicker," Friese adds.
Hair Type Considerations
Saw Palmetto can be used across all different hair types and textures. Its benefits will be most appreciated by those experiencing hair loss or thinning, as it is primarily used to prevent hair loss. Friese concurs, adding that any hair type and texture can benefit from improved scalp health. It is important to consult a doctor if you are experiencing hair loss, as it can be caused by a number of hormonal imbalances and health concerns. Saw palmetto is typically used for the treatment of male and female pattern hair loss due to DHT. Hair loss can be associated with pregnancy and the postpartum period in women, but saw palmetto is not recommended for women who are pregnant or breastfeeding.
How to Use Saw Palmetto for Hair
Saw palmetto supplements can be taken in capsule, liquid, or tea form. It is typically found combined with other natural hair growth supplements, like pumpkin seed oil. You can also find saw palmetto powder, which can be applied topically to the scalp and hair. It is possible to find haircare products that contain saw palmetto already. Dr. Zeichner points out that it is an ingredient that you may find in shampoos targeting thin hair.
- Take a saw palmetto supplement: Saw palmetto can be taken orally as a capsule. Friese explains that "Capsules may provide better results than a topical treatment because unless you are using a leave in treatment a lot of the ingredient can be washed away." There are several medications, like birth control and anticoagulants, that can be affected by saw palmetto, so a doctor should always be consulted before starting use. It is typically recommended that you take this supplement with food, as saw palmetto can cause gastrointestinal discomfort.
- Use a shampoo for thinning hair: Many shampoos designed to treat thinning hair contain saw palmetto. Friese recommends BosleyMD’s nourishing shampoo and conditioners (both the Defense and Revive), as they contain saw palmetto. She adds, "Use a normal amount of each product and follow the instructions of the packaging. They will both be rinsed out before styling the hair. The BosleyMD Thickening Treatment is a great leave in scalp treatment that contains Saw Palmetto as well."
- Create a treatment: You can create your own hair thinning prevention treatment by adding saw palmetto powder to your shampoo. Dr. Zeichner recommends changing up your shampoo routine when doing so. "In order for them to be used as a scalp treatment, it is important to rub the product into the scalp and let it sit there for five minutes before rinsing out. This ensures enough contact time. In fact, if the goal is just to treat the scalp, then the treatment “shampoo“ does not necessarily need to be applied to the length of the hair. When it comes to improving hair growth, it is important to treat the scalp, rather than the hair. However, you do want to keep the hair that you have as strong and hydrated as possible," he explains.
Murugusundram S. Serenoa Repens: Does It Have Any Role in the Management of Androgenetic Alopecia? J Cutan Aesthet Surg. 2009;2(1):31-32. doi:10.4103/0974-2077.53097
Michigan Medicine. Saw Palmetto. Updated August 15, 2015.
Wessagowit V, Tangjaturonrusamee C, Kootiratrakarn T, et al. Treatment of Male Androgenetic Alopecia with Topical Products Containing Serenoa Repens Extract. Australas J Dermatol. 2016;57(3):e76-82.
Urysiak-Czubatka I, Kmieć ML, Broniarczyk-Dyła G. Assessment of the Usefulness of Dihydrotestosterone in the Diagnostics of Patients with Androgenetic Alopecia. Postepy Dermatol Alergol. 2014;31(4):207-215. doi:10.5114/pdia.2014.40925
Trüeb RM, Henry JP, Davis MG, Schwartz JR. Scalp Condition Impacts Hair gGowth and Retention Via Oxidative Stress. Int J Trichology. 2018;10(6):262-270. doi:10.4103/ijt.ijt_57_18
Cho YH, Lee SY, Jeong DW, et al. Effect of Pumpkin Seed Oil on Hair Growth in Men with Androgenetic Alopecia: A Randomized, Double-blind, Placebo-controlled Trial. Evid Based Complement Alternat Med. 2014;2014:549721. doi:10.1155/2014/549721