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Remember when your mom used to make you eat your greens and other healthy foods as a kid? Yeaaa, she was onto something. As much as we would love Oreos® to be a main food group, we also now know that a balanced diet and whole foods are key to your best health…and with that, your best hair.
If you’ve watched anything from the wellness girlies on social media, you’ve probably heard of fish oil supplements (and yes, they were buzzy even before probiotic supplements hit the scene). Fish oil supplements have various benefits, but is fish oil good for hair growth specifically?
We’ll dive into fish oil benefits, how to use it and how to grow healthy hair. P.S. — if you’re trying to figure out which supplements to take for hair growth, read our guide on hair vitamins for more deets.
Hair loss can happen to the best of us, and it can happen for a multitude of reasons, including stress, genetics, hormones and nutritional deficiencies. Typically, ways to treat hair loss in females include popular treatments like minoxidil and finasteride or, in more drastic situations, hair transplants.
While there isn’t a high volume of studies on the effects of specific supplements for hair growth, research indicates that a lack of proper nutrients can impact hair growth and structure. And though supplements can help, getting these nutrients straight from the source (AKA eating your fruits and vegetables, along with other healthy foods) is always a good bet. Read our guide on the foods for healthy hair to learn which delicious foods need to be added to your grocery list, stat.
The federal government’s dietary guidelines suggest that adults should try to get in eight or more ounces of various forms of seafood (fish or shellfish) per week. Do we hear a sushi night coming up? But if you can’t manage that or you’re just not a seafood kinda gal, a fish oil supplement can be super helpful.
Fish oil supplements, available over-the-counter, are particularly known for their omega-3 fatty acids. The specific types of omega-3s you’ll find in fish are known as eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). Say that five times fast — just kidding.
In 2018, a study discovered that a topical application of mackerel-derived fermented fish oil to the scalp can encourage hair growth during the anagen phase (or growth phase). It also showed signs of decreasing the telogen (resting) phase. And last but not least, the extract's primary omega-3 fatty acid, DHA, was found to boost the production of dermal papilla cells (DPC), which play a key role in promoting hair growth.
It’s worth noting that this study was conducted on rats and more research on humans will need to be carried out. That said, it definitely sounds promising.
In another study, 120 female subjects with female pattern hair loss took supplements with omega-3 & 6 and antioxidants. Their hair showed major improvements at the end of the study — 89.9 percent experienced a reduction in hair loss at six months, while 86.1 percent experienced an increase in hair diameter and 87.3 percent reported increased hair density.
Additionally, the number of telogen (resting) hair significantly decreased in the supplemented group. While this study wasn’t done specifically on fish oil and included other added supplementation, the findings are still positive and confirm the possible benefits of omega-3.
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 capsules can prevent hair loss or improve hair growth. For example, some recent research showed that mice consuming a fish oil high-fat diet had a hair loss phenotype — so yes, more research is needed
As the studies above have demonstrated, fish oil benefits for hair health may include:
Decreased hair loss
Thicker hair diameter
Increase in hair density
But as we said, these aren’t exactly proven, there’s not a ton of evidence for these benefits yet and some recent research actually suggests there may be some downside.
One other piece of research that showed potential benefit looked at the effects of a nutritional complex that contained omega 3-6-9, antioxidant, natural inhibitors of 5α-reductase and anti-inflammatory molecules —so more than just fish oil — on hair loss and hair health. It found positive effects on overall scalp coverage and a visible improvement in vascularization, hair diameter and the reduction of hair loss perception.
We also need to note that having a healthy diet overall is the best way to ensure you’re getting the nutrients you need for healthy hair growth. Your doctor can run lab tests to see if you have appropriate levels and suggest how to supplement accordingly if necessary.
The National Institute of Health (NIH) reports that fish oil is one of the nonmineral and nonvitamin dietary supplements most used by U.S. adults and children. But not all supplements are created equal.
The average fish oil supplement contains approximately 1,000 mg fish oil, including 120mg DHA and 180mg EPA. But the exact amounts will really vary from brand to brand.
The amount of omega-3 content you get in a supplement also really depends on the fish that’s being used as the source. For example, cold-water fatty fish like sardines, herring, salmon, mackerel and tuna have higher amounts of omega-3 content, whereas fish with a lower fat content, like cod, tilapia and bass, have lower levels of omega-3. Take a look at the ingredient label to determine if a particular supplement is going to give you the omega-3s you need.
More importantly, supplements are not regulated by the Food & Drug Administration, so you’ll need to do a little research to make sure you get the nutrients you’re looking for. Always speak with a healthcare professional to determine how much fish oil you need for your specific conditions and diet.
But beyond side effects like bad breath or a fishy burp, these supplements are generally safe to use.
The jury may be out on fish oil for hair growth, but don’t sweat it. There are several medications and supplements readily available that are proven to regrow hair and reduce hair loss.
Knowing the root cause of hair loss will help you determine which treatment will speak your love language (or at least address your thinning), so check out our guide to learn more about hair loss in women.
Typically the first line of defense for dermatologists to combat thinning hair, topical minoxidil is easily available over-the-counter. Commonly sold under the brand name Rogaine®, minoxidil is FDA-approved for treating female pattern hair loss (also known as androgenetic alopecia).
While it has reigned supreme, the science behind how it works isn’t completely understood. It’s believed minoxidil can increase microcirculation by the hair follicle and extend the period your hair follicles are in the growth phase. This, in turn, leads to hair growth.
If you’re the sensitive type, minoxidil drops might be your best bet. This 2% concentration has an easy-to-use dropper that easily targets a wide part and is likely less irritating for sensitive scalps.
If you’re looking for big results, try 5% strength minoxidil foam. It’s easy to distribute onto your scalp and has multiple studies demonstrating its efficacy.
If you’d rather not change up your styling routine, try oral minoxidil. In low doses, oral minoxidil can be an effective and safe treatment. It’s used off-label (meaning it’s not approved by the FDA for hair loss in women, but some doctors will prescribe it anyway) to treat various causes of hair loss, including alopecia areata, telogen effluvium, loose anagen syndrome, traction alopecia, chemotherapy-induced hair loss and scarring alopecia.
Spironolactone may be the right treatment for you if you’re dealing with hormonal hair loss. This once-daily pill helps hair growth by reducing the effects of a hormone called dihydrotestosterone (DHT). Your dermatologist or healthcare professional may also prescribe this anti-androgen medication to help with conditions like androgenic alopecia, hirsutism and acne.
Keep in mind that you should be on a reliable form of birth control if you choose this option. Spironolactone comes with a Category C pregnancy rating from the FDA, which means it could potentially cause birth defects.
Topical finasteride and minoxidil spray is a great pick for postmenopausal hair loss. This two-in-one spray utilizes both finasteride and minoxidil to attack hair loss through different pathways. And because this easy-to-apply solution helps reduce DHT, it’s a good option for hormonal hair loss.
Alongside hair loss treatments, having healthy hair habits also goes a long way (see what we did there!). But seriously, you can help promote healthy hair growth by giving those strands a little TLC. Some tips you can consider:
Wash regularly. if you are spritzing on day after day of dry shampoo, your hair is likely full of oil and hair care product residue. Studies have shown that not washing hair frequently enough allows sebum to build up, which can cause scalp-related issues like itching or dandruff. Suds up with a volumizing shampoo and conditioner every couple of days for a clean scalp and extra body.
Get loose. Tightly pulled buns, ponytails and braids can lead to a type of hair loss called traction alopecia. This occurs when there’s constant pulling force on the hair follicle which leads to hair loss over time. Avoid ponytail hair loss by opting for looser, less restrictive styles.
Eat a balanced diet. You now know including omega-3 supplements or fish oil supplements are important, but make sure your meal prep is well-rounded — getting essential nutrients and protein from your food will give you the biggest health benefits. If you have any nutritional deficiencies, make sure to supplement as needed.
And if you need a bigger boost than these changes, read our guide on the best hair loss treatments for more intel.
So if you were wondering, “does fish oil help with hair growth?” we think you now have the scoop. While fish oil may have some benefits for overall health, a lot more research is still needed to definitively connect fish oil to hair growth. Here’s what you need to keep in mind:
Consider your source. Make sure to get a high-quality fish oil supplement that includes cold-water fatty fish like sardines, herring, salmon, mackerel and tuna. These types of fish tend to have higher amounts of omega-3.
Hair loss is usually treatable. Try a science-backed hair loss treatment like minoxidil or spironolactone, which provide more promising results than unproven treatments like fish oil.
Be gentle on strands. A little TLC will go a long way for your hair health. Whether you try shampooing regularly or keeping hot tools dialed down, healthy hair will look shinier and thicker than damaged hair.
If you’re up for a little more reading, learn more about female pattern baldness in our guide, which covers hair loss in females more extensively. If you’re ready for a healthcare provider-recommended treatment, start a free hair loss consultation today.
Sara Harcharik Perkins, MD, FAAD is a board-certified dermatologist and Assistant Professor in the Department of Dermatology at the Yale School of Medicine. She is the director of the Teledermatology Program, as well as the Associate Program Director of the Yale Dermatology Residency Training Program. Her research focuses on telemedicine and medical education. Her practice includes general medical dermatology, high-risk skin cancer, and procedural dermatology.
Dr. Perkins completed her undergraduate education at the University of Pennsylvania and obtained her medical degree at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai. She completed her medical internship at the Massachusetts General Hospital, followed by residency training in dermatology at Yale University, after which she joined the faculty.
Ahmad, M., Christensen, S. R., & Perkins, S. H. (2023). The impact of COVID-19 on the dermatologic care of nonmelanoma skin cancers among solid organ transplant recipients. JAAD international, 13, 98–99. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC10518328/
Ahmad, M., & Perkins, S. H. (2023). Learning dermatology in medical school: analysis of dermatology topics tested in popular question banks. Clinical and experimental dermatology, 48(4), 361–363. https://academic.oup.com/ced/article-abstract/48/4/361/6869515?redirectedFrom=fulltext&login=false
Belzer, A., Leasure, A. C., Cohen, J. M., & Perkins, S. H. (2023). The association of cutaneous squamous cell carcinoma and basal cell carcinoma with solid organ transplantation: a cross-sectional study of the All Of Us Research Program. International journal of dermatology, 62(10), e564–e566. https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/ijd.16700
Ahmad, M., Marson, J. W., Litchman, G. H., Perkins, S. H., & Rigel, D. S. (2022). Usage and perceptions of teledermatology in 2021: a survey of dermatologists. International journal of dermatology, 61(7), e235–e237. https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/ijd.16209
Asabor, E. N., Bunick, C. G., Cohen, J. M., & Perkins, S. H. (2021). Patient and physician perspectives on teledermatology at an academic dermatology department amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology, 84(1), 158–161. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7491373/
Belzer, A., Olamiju, B., Antaya, R. J., Odell, I. D., Bia, M., Perkins, S. H., & Cohen, J. M. (2021). A novel medical student initiative to enhance provision of teledermatology in a resident continuity clinic during the COVID-19 pandemic: a pilot study. International journal of dermatology, 60(1), 128–129. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7753449/
Cohen, J. M., Bunick, C. G., & Perkins, S. H. (2020). The new normal: An approach to optimizing and combining in-person and telemedicine visits to maximize patient care. Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology, 83(5), e361–e362. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7316470/
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