Rosemary oil added to shampoos, hair care products, or just on its own, has gained popularity in the world of hair loss. We are often asked if rosemary oil alone would be enough to treat hair loss conditions and the simple answer is ‘unlikely’ however, that doesn’t mean that it comes without benefits. There is a good reason why there is such hype about it so we thought we would lay out the facts.
Rosemary (Salvia Rosmarinus or Rosmarinus officinalis) is an evergreen shrub, often producing small white, pink, purple, or blue flowers, and is native to the Mediterranean region and Asia. It is fragrant, able to withstand harsh weather conditions, and easy to grow in the garden.
The rosemary plant has a long history and the earliest mention of rosemary that we are aware of originates from 5000 BCE. It has been used as a decorative shrub, and as a herb due to its medicinal and culinary purposes, and the oil from the plant has been used in perfumes. Additionally, the plant has been a symbol of remembrance during war and funerals, and even Shakespeare has referred to rosemary as a remembrance symbol in several plays.
Apart from its popular culinary use these days, the oil of the rosemary plant has been used in hair products. The rosemary plant contains several chemical compounds:
The rosemary essential oil contains approximately 10-20% camphor. Camphor is a substance that is sometimes added to topical creams, ointments, and shampoos to relieve skin irritations such as itching or pain. It is also one of the ingredients in our B4 shampoo used for scaly scalp conditions, such as seborrhoeic dermatitis, eczema, persistent dandruff, and psoriasis.
Rosmarinic acid has several pharmacological effects but it is mostly known for its anti-inflammatory effect. In clinical studies, topical application of rosmarinic acid 0.3% twice daily relieved symptoms of atopic dermatitis, also known as atopic eczema. This is a chronic inflammatory skin condition that can also affect the scalp leading to itchy, flaky, and red or sore scalp.
The rosemary plant is a source of other chemical compounds such as caffeic acid, ursolic acid, betulinic acid, carnosic acid, and carnosol. These are known for their antioxidative properties which means they can help protect cells from damage. Antioxidants are found in many other plants, especially fresh fruits and vegetables, and are used in many cosmetic products such as antiaging and UV-protecting products. Additionally, some of these phytochemicals have antimicrobial properties and therefore rosemary oil has been used as a treatment for skin conditions such as acne, folliculitis, and some fungal infections.
Minoxidil is a very well-known, generally well-tolerated, and effective medication for hair loss that has been used for many years. Topical minoxidil is the only medically proven treatment for female pattern hair loss, and one of the two medically proven treatments for male pattern hair loss. But how does this compare to the use of rosemary oil?
Male and female pattern hair loss are also known as androgenic alopecia. This is a genetic type of hair loss caused by a hormone called dihydrotestosterone (DHT). Testosterone is our main circulating male sex hormone which can convert into DHT in the presence of an enzyme called 5-alpha reductase. This enzyme is present in the scalp in those who are genetically predisposed to hair loss. As a result, DHT can easily bind to genetically predisposed follicles, causing gradual and progressive hair thinning, and eventually hair loss on the hairline, top, and crown of the scalp.
Minoxidil’s mechanism of action is not fully understood however, it is known to increase blood circulation, allowing more oxygen and nutrients to reach the hair follicles. There is more - minoxidil also stimulates the hair follicle to remain in its growing phase for longer and to keep growing in size. As a result, patients usually see improvement in hair density and thickness. As minoxidil is usually well tolerated and safe to use long term, many people use it ongoingly to help them maintain their hair density. Side effects are rare but can include scalp irritations such as itching, scaling, redness, and less likely – headache, dizziness, palpitations, or allergic reactions. Some people notice slightly increased facial hair growth but this is usually manageable by reducing the dose or using hair removal treatments.
Many hair and scalp oils contain rosemary essential oil. When applied to the scalp, rosemary oil also increases blood circulation, bringing more oxygenated blood to the hair follicles. This is where its reputation comes from as a hair loss remedy. Rosemary oil is generally well tolerated when applied to the skin. However, skin sensitivities, contact dermatitis, and allergies are possible in rare cases and this can include red and itchy skin.
Some people use rosemary by mouth. After all, it is a commonly used herb and sometimes people use it to treat fatigue. However, taking rosemary oil in large amounts by mouth can be harmful as it can trigger vomiting, it can be unsafe if used during pregnancy, and it can also interact with other medications such as Aspirin, blood thinners, and anti-diabetes drugs.
A study published in 2013 suggested that rosemary leaf extract inhibited 5-alpha reductase enzyme and reduced the binding of DHT to androgen receptors in the hair follicles of mice, thus leading to increased hair growth. They proposed that rosemary oil’s effects should be therefore studied further as a potential treatment for androgenic alopecia.
Two years later an Iranian study compared the effects of topical minoxidil (concentration of 2%) and topical rosemary oil (concentration of 3.7mg 1,8-cineole per ml) on men with male pattern hair loss. They were randomly allocated to two groups applying either minoxidil or rosemary oil – each group applied the allocated solution 1ml twice daily (2ml total daily dose). Both groups demonstrated increased hair count after 6 months. The authors concluded that both seem to be as effective. However, they did not use a control group (a group of people who did not use any treatment) to compare if the hair count change was similar to that of the natural changes in the hair cycle. Additionally, androgenic alopecia would normally require ongoing treatment, often with higher strength minoxidil than 2%, whilst this study only monitored the hair over 6 months.
Overall, it seems that rosemary oil has some benefits on the skin and hair. It can help relieve itching, redness, and other symptoms of scalp dermatitis. After all, a healthy scalp is important for healthy hair growth. It can possibly even have a mild effect on blood circulation and hair growth. However, there is simply not enough evidence that the use of rosemary oil alone can treat androgenic alopecia, or maintain hair density in the long term. There are no long-term studies and it is not a medically proven treatment for any hair loss condition. It is also important to note that just because a remedy is natural, or plant-derived, this does not automatically make it safe. It is still possible to experience skin irritations and allergies in rare cases.
If you are concerned that you have androgenic alopecia or any other type of hair loss, it is always best to consult with a specialist who can advise you on suitable treatments for your specific case. Treating a hair loss condition early usually leads to better outcomes. Delaying appropriate treatment can lead to more hair loss and results can then be very limited.
The Belgravia Centre’s pharmacy prepares special formulations of minoxidil at different strengths and preparations, and with various additives to maximise effectiveness. Additionally, there are other medications that we may be able to offer to men such as oral or topical finasteride, depending on their medical history. We also offer natural and technological solutions that are combined to provide the optimum solution to prevent hair loss. Our qualified hair loss specialists have extensive experience in treating hair loss conditions, and they are available 7 days a week to support our patients with their high level of expertise.
If you are worried about hair loss you can arrange a free consultation in our Central London clinic with a hair loss expert or complete our Online Consultation Form from anywhere in the world and we will talk to you on Zoom. Take a look through our hair regrowth photo gallery – which is the largest gallery of its kind in the world and contains over 1,000 sets of hair growth photos and verified reviews from patients of The Belgravia Centre.
The Belgravia Centre is a world-renowned group of a hair loss clinic in Central London, UK. If you are worried about hair loss you can arrange a free consultation with a hair loss expert or complete our Online Consultation from anywhere in the world for home-use treatment.
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