Medically reviewed by Kristin Hall, FNP
Written by Our Editorial Team
Last updated 11/25/2020
Essential oils are extremely popular right now. They’re everywhere and being used for just about everything. Got a cold? Put some tea tree oil in a diffuser. Athlete’s foot making you itch? Dab on some lavender oil. Left arm falling off? Try peppermint oil!
While it may be possible that essential oils can provide a variety of potential health benefits — and make you and your home smell amazing — they aren’t likely to save you from a gunshot wound.
But what about essential oils and hair health? Can the use of essential oils help slow your hair thinning or even help you grow back your hair?
Getting to a straight (and scientific) answer for this question isn’t easy online. So we’ve rounded up some of the research to make it simpler.
The use of essential oils for health and well-being is known as aromatherapy, and while people have been using oils for ages, the modern practice of aromatherapy is a relatively new one.
There is some scientific evidence that aromatherapy may have positive benefits for mental health, sleep, pain management and more.
A few studies have indicated essential oils may improve hair growth.
While not enough has been done to name any oils the best essential oils for hair growth, some of the research has lavender and rosemary oils in common.
While the use of essential oils generally comes without major risks, skin irritation can occur when it’s applied topically.
Aromatherapy is the therapeutic use of essential oils for well-being.
Modern aromatherapy arose in the early 20th century, despite similarities to practices using aromatic oils in ancient times and throughout history.
A French chemist and perfumer coined the term and early practices in a book named Aromatherapy, where he proposed essential oil treatments for diseases throughout the body.
In 1982 another book, The Practice of Aromatherapy, sparked a resurgence of interest in the practice and the use of essential oils has continued to grow to this day.
Essential oils are extracted from plants via distillation or mechanical expression. They are highly concentrated oils and are very aromatic.
It’s alleged these oils affect the mind and body by stimulating receptors in the nose, which send messages throughout the nervous and limbic systems.
The oils may be directly inhaled through a diffuser or drops, or applied topically to the skin. In some cases, essential oils may be taken orally.
Because essential oils come from different plants, they have different properties. That said, some have antibacterial, antimicrobial, antiviral and antifungal properties.
Research on the health benefits of aromatherapy really took off in the 1990s, and much of it can now be found published in the International Journal of Essential Oil Therapeutics, a journal wholly dedicated to essential oils and aromatherapy.
Studies published here and elsewhere have focused on the use of essential oils in: pain relief, wound care, sedation, mood, anxiety, depression, and more. Here is a brief overview of some of the more high-quality research on essential oil health benefits:
Several human studies have found essential oils to possibly have positive effects on mood, quality of life and the treatment of anxiety and depression.
A large analysis of multiple studies found that while aromatherapy massage had the most significant effects on depression, inhalation aromatherapy also eased symptoms. The most common oils used in these studies were bergamot and lavender.
Some studies have linked the use of lavender oil with reduced pain in people with kidney stones and arthritis of the knee, according to The Mayo Clinic.
An analysis in the journal Pain and Research Treatment looked at 12 well-designed studies researching the effects of aromatherapy in pain reduction, when combined with conventional treatments.. The researchers concluded essential oils to be particularly effective in post-operative pain and gynecological pain, but also other types of pain.
Aromatherapy may help cancer patients achieve better sleep, according to multiple studies with lavender oil in common. A 2015 meta-analysis of 12 studies determined both inhalation and massage with essential oils could aid sleep, though the benefits were most pronounced with inhalation of the oils.
So we know the use of essential oils may aid in a few different health conditions, but what (if anything) can it do for your hair?
Google “essential oils and hair growth” and you’ll wind up with thousands of results that suggest the oils can be an effective treatment for hair loss and help you achieve the thick, full hair you’ve always wanted.
However, very few of these optimistic articles will provide scientific evidence to back these claims.
There have only been a few, small studies looking at the effects of essential oils for aromatherapy on hair growth.
And while the results seem to suggest some level of effectiveness, the studies were very small, not completed on humans, or could otherwise use some improvement. In other words — more research is needed.
That said, here’s what the science says about essential oils for hair growth:
A 2016 study compared the effects of topical lavender oil to that of a carrier oil, minoxidil, and saline on female rats with hair loss.
The oil was applied five times a week for four weeks.
Both the lavender oil and minoxidil group had increased hair follicles, and deepened hair follicle depth at the end of the study period, leading researchers to conclude that lavender oil “could be practically applied as a hair growth-promoting agent.”
But, it’s worth noting that the research was done on rats.
In 2015, researchers compared the effects of rosemary oil and minoxidil on patients with androgenetic alopecia or pattern baldness. Fifty participants received rosemary oil and 50 received minoxidil for six months. At the conclusion of the study period, both groups experienced a “significant increase in hair count.”
A slightly older study (1998) split a group of 86 men with alopecia into two groups — one who would receive a blend of essential oils and the other only carrier oils (jojoba and grapeseed) to massage into their scalp every day.
At the end of the seven-month study period, 44 percent of the essential oil group showed improvements compared to 15 percent of the carrier oil group. The oils used included thyme, rosemary, lavender, and cedarwood, making it difficult to pinpoint which oil or combination of oils was responsible for the results.
A side note on this research: You’ll notice in two of the studies, the effects of essential oils were compared to the effects of minoxidil. This is because minoxidil is widely recognized as a proven solution for hair loss.
The bottomline: There is some evidence that topically applied essential oils could have positive effects on hair growth. However, the evidence isn’t rock-solid and more research is needed.
The risk of side effects with essential oils is pretty slim, however, you may experience irritation when it’s applied topically. Contact dermatitis and allergic reactions are possible, so you may want to test a small patch of skin before applying liberally.
Also worth noting: essential oils are often blended with “carrier oils” when used topically. These oils allow easier application and less irritation. Sweet almond oil, jojoba oil, coconut oil and grapeseed oil are just a few common carrier oils. It isn’t clear how these oils may impact the effectiveness of essential oils on hair growth, however.
Essential oils have been used for for medicinal purposes for millennia. Their rising popularity in the homeopathic medicine scene has made them ripe for dissection on health and lifestyle blogs across the Internet.
There’s some scientific evidence to suggest they can help soothe some of the symptoms of depression, improve sleep and even possibly ease the pain of things like arthritis and kidney stones.
When it comes to whether they can help with hair growth, the evidence is sparse — but appears promising.
With the low side effect profile of essential oils, it appears that trying to use them may not help, but it also likely won’t hurt.