Medically reviewed by Mary Lucas, RN
Written by Our Editorial Team
Last updated 2/04/2021
Dealing with hair shedding and thin hair can be both a frustrating experience and an emotional rollercoaster.
Whether you’ve noticed extra hairs on your brush or in your shower drain hair catcher, it’s easy to panic when you find out that you’re shedding more hair than normal.
If you’ve looked for natural treatments for thinning hair, you may have seen recommendations for fish oil.
Fish oil is a common over-the-counter supplement that’s usually marketed for its heart health benefits. It’s also advertised as a natural treatment for hair loss that can improve blood circulation for your scalp and help you to grow thicker, healthier hair.
While the scientific research on fish oil’s hair-related benefits is mixed, there’s some evidence that it may be effective.
Below, we’ve explained more about what fish oil is and how it may help to improve hair growth, health and thickness. We’ve also discussed how you can use fish oil and other science-based treatments to grow thicker, smoother and healthier hair.
Fish oil is a type of oil that’s produced using the natural tissue of fish. It’s rich in omega-3 fatty acids and is sold as a popular over-the-counter health supplement.
In fact, fish oil is one of the most popular, widely-used natural health supplements available on the market. According to the Harvard University health blog, American consumers spend upwards of $1 billion per year on fish oil supplements.
Scientists have long contended that the naturally-occurring fats in certain types of fish are important for optimal health and wellbeing.
Oily fish, such as sardines, anchovies, salmon and others, are rich in a type of polyunsaturated fats called omega-3 fatty acids (also referred to as omega-3s).
Omega-3s have been linked to reduced levels of triglycerides and a lower risk of cardiovascular disease. They may also have positive effects for high blood pressure (hypertension) and issues such as rheumatoid arthritis.
It’s worth noting that there’s some debate within the scientific community over the full effects of omega-3s. For example, some research shows that while seafood is linked to a reduced risk of heart disease, many omega-3 supplements may not be fully effective.
Beyond their possible ability to reduce your risk of certain diseases, omega-3s might also help you to preserve muscle mass and maintain healthy bones as you grow older.
Many fish oil supplements are designed to help people receive these potential benefits without adding fish to their diets.
If you’ve searched for information on natural treatments for hair loss, you’ve likely seen fish oil recommended alongside iron, niacin and other hair growth-promoting foods.
Before we get into the specifics of fish oil for hair growth, it’s important to go over the basics of how your hair grows and sheds.
It’s common and normal to lose hair every day. In fact, a typical person sheds between 50 and 100 hairs every day, even if they’re perfectly healthy.
This occurs as part of your hair’s natural growth cycle. Over the course of several years, your hairs grow to their full length, finish their growth cycle and prepare to shed, then finally detach from the follicle and fall out.
Most types of female hair loss involve interruptions to this process, either by causing hair to exit the growth cycle early or by preventing it from growing in the first place.
For example, one common cause of hair loss in women is androgenetic alopecia. This type of hair loss results from a combination of your genetics and androgen hormones. Over time, you might notice shedding and hair loss on the top of your head or around your hairline.
Other causes of hair loss include inflammation, stress, use of medication and even styling tools that cause damage to your hair shaft or follicles. We’ve talked more about these in our guide to female hair loss.
Most articles on fish oil and hair growth focus on the potential benefits of omega-3 fatty acids for hair health.
For example, you may have seen claims that fish oil and other products that contain omega-3s can stimulate your hair follicles, increase blood circulation to your scalp tissue and provide your hair with the nutrients it needs to grow.
While some findings have been promising, right now, there just isn’t enough scientific evidence to completely back up these claims.
However, there is some research to show that the omega-3 fatty acids in fish oil and other foods may help to stimulate hair growth and prevent hair loss in certain situations.
For example, a study published in 2015 looked at the effects of an omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acid and antioxidant supplement on hair growth in women.
After six months, a majority of the women who used the supplement reported reductions in hair loss, as well as improvements in hair density and diameter. Analysis showed that the women who used the supplement had a lower percentage of hairs in the telogen (resting) phase of the growth cycle.
A study from 2018 also found that topical use of fish oil stimulates hair growth and increases the length of hair fibers. However, this study was carried out entirely using mice and not humans with hair loss.
Finally, research published in the Journal of Cosmetology & Trichology found that a supplement combining omega 3, 6 and 9 fatty acids, antioxidants, anti-inflammatory molecules and a natural 5α-reductase inhibitor reduced some aspects of androgenetic hair loss in men and women.
Although this study doesn’t involve fish oil specifically, fish oil is a source of omega-3 fatty acids like those in the supplement used in the study.
In short, while the research on fish oil and hair growth is interesting, right now there isn’t enough scientific evidence to confidently state that fish oil can prevent hair loss or improve hair growth.
While research on the effects of fish oil for hair is mixed, several medications and supplements are available now that are proven to improve hair growth.
Minoxidil is a topical, over-the-counter medication that’s used to treat hair loss in women and men. It’s available as a liquid or a foam and is designed for daily application to areas of your scalp with thinning hair.
Researchers believe that minoxidil works by causing your hairs to prematurely move into the anagen (growth) phase of the hair growth cycle.
Although most research on minoxidil looks at its effects on male hair loss, several studies have found that it’s also effective for treating hair loss in women.
For example, a study published in the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology found that both 2% and 5% versions of topical minoxidil increased hair count and scalp coverage over the course of 48 weeks of treatment in women with hair loss.
A more recent study found that women with female pattern hair loss who used topical minoxidil saw a 7.2 percent increase in total hair density after 24 weeks of treatment.
From shampoos to vitamins and more, numerous over-the-counter products can play a role in keeping your hair healthy and stimulating growth:
Biotin. Biotin, or vitamin B7, is an important nutrient for healthy hair. Although it won’t prevent hormonal hair loss and evidence is mixed on its effects, many dermatologists recommend it as a supplement for improving hair growth.
Hair loss prevention shampoo. Many shampoos help to reduce the severity of hair loss by cleansing away sebum — a natural oil produced by your skin that can shrink hair follicles and lead to shedding.
Conditioner. While conditioning your hair won’t prevent it from falling out, a good quality conditioner will lock in moisture to soften your hair, improve its appearance and keep it in optimal shape.
Hair-friendly foods. Hair loss sometimes occurs as the result of a nutritional deficiency. Our list of hair-friendly foods lists nutrients and minerals worth prioritizing to keep your hair strong, thick and healthy.
We offer many of these products, including minoxidil, biotin and hair loss prevention shampoo and conditioner, as part of our range of hair loss treatments.
Although fish oil offers several benefits as a health supplement, research into its effects on hair loss is limited, with only a few small studies available.
As such, it isn’t yet possible to say whether or not fish oil has definite benefits for improving hair growth or preventing hair loss. While it may work for you, there’s no scientific evidence to suggest that it’s more effective than proven medications like minoxidil.
Our guide to female hair loss goes into more detail on how and why thinning occurs, as well as the science-based steps that you can take to maintain, strengthen and protect your hair.