If you’re experiencing hair loss, you may be feeling a lot of shame, anxiety, and embarrassment. But perhaps the thought of seeking treatment may make you feel self-conscious or vain. You may be tempted to avoid medications and reach for a product you already have in your cabinet.
Maybe the idea of a “natural” remedy is a little less intimidating. Or maybe you’re very conscious of what you put in your body and don’t want to reach for a prescription.
Before you make a decision, read on about a few well-known natural remedies for hair loss. You might be surprised to learn what really works — and what could be dangerous.
1. Essential Oils
Essential oils — including thyme, lavender, cedarwood, and rosemary oil — can be somewhat effective at stimulating healthy hair growth. Rosemary is considered especially effective because it contains a chemical called carnosic acid, which has antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties.
To treat hair loss with essential oils, you massage them into your scalp and leave them on for a few hours or overnight. This will increase blood flow to the scalp and help encourage hair growth, as well as preventing dandruff and graying.
Studies have shown that essential oils can make a small difference in hair growth. But they don’t work as well as medicated treatments like minoxidil. Studies have shown that rosemary oil is only about as effective as minoxidil 2%. Most minoxidil treatments contain more — usually 5% — because that’s what it takes to show real results in male pattern baldness.
2. Onion Juice
Another frequently mentioned natural remedy for hair loss is raw onion juice. Proponents say that sulfur, antioxidants, and other natural components in onion juice can help strengthen hair and promote regrowth.
To use onion juice as a hair loss remedy, you grind up raw onions and then strain out any solids. Or, there are some pre-made onion-juice products you can buy on web stores like Etsy. Onion juice is usually applied by rubbing into the scalp twice a day. It can also be mixed with other natural products, like lemon, to control the smell.
One oft-cited study from 2002 showed that onion juice was effective in treating patients with hair loss from alopecia areata. This condition causes patchy hair loss in all genders, and is thought to be caused by an autoimmune response. But the sample size was small — under 40 patients — and did not demonstrate effectiveness against male pattern baldness.
It is theoretically possible that onion juice could have some benefits for all hair loss sufferers. But those looking to improve their appearance might find that the onion-y smell repels more suitors than their baldness. A better bet is a product, like minoxidil or finasteride, that’s been tested and proven to treat male pattern baldness.
3. Saw Palmetto
Saw palmetto is a tree whose berries have been used for centuries in indigenous medicine-making. Saw palmetto may help prevent hair loss or encourage regrowth. It’s usually taken orally, in the form of whole dried berries, pills, or liquid extract. However, it’s sometimes added to shampoos as well.
Saw palmetto is believed to work by blocking the absorption of DHT, the hormone that causes male pattern baldness. One 2012 study did show promising results for saw palmetto in treating hair loss. But that same study found saw palmetto to be about 30% less effective than finasteride at treating male pattern baldness.
Administered orally, saw palmetto, is also somewhat riskier than topical natural remedies for hair loss. In some cases, it can cause symptoms like headaches, nausea, and dizziness. There have also been reports of liver and pancreas damage and excess bleeding during surgery associated with saw palmetto.
If you take other medications, like birth control or anticoagulants (blood thinners), saw palmetto could be dangerous. Because of its influence on hormones, it can make contraceptive pills less effective. And because it slows blood clotting, it can amplify the effects of anticoagulant and antiplatelet drugs like warfarin and aspirin.
4. Coconut Oil
Coconut oil is great for your hair and scalp. Using it topically can help prevent heat and water damage and stop split ends. It moisturizes the skin of your scalp and may help control dandruff. It might also provide some protection against certain fungal infections.
Technically speaking, coconut oil can stop hair from falling out in some cases. By keeping hair healthy and preventing breakage, it does prevent certain kinds of hair loss. But there’s no evidence yet to demonstrate that coconut oil has any benefits for male or female pattern baldness. Nor does coconut oil seem to prevent baldness due to other types of alopecia or hair loss.
To use coconut oil on your hair and scalp, warm a small amount of it in the microwave — not too hot. Rub it into your scalp and hair and then leave it in for about half an hour before washing out. Be careful not to use too much, or it can leave your hair greasy or clog your pores. Eating food-grade coconut oil as part of a healthy diet can also make hair stronger and healthier.
Coconut oil is a great remedy if you have very mild hair loss from too much sun or styling. But if you’re losing hair for other reasons, you’ll need a treatment plan that addresses hair loss from the root. If you have male or female pattern baldness, FDA-approved medications are usually the first line of defense.
What Really Prevents Hair Loss
While no natural remedy can truly stop hair loss, some can make a difference — especially as part of a healthy lifestyle. Alcohol, tobacco use, and other types of substance abuse can all cause or aggravate hair loss. But a nutritious diet, plenty of exercise and sleep, and a low-stress lifestyle can help you keep your hair for longer.
Still, there’s no natural remedy or lifestyle change that can truly prevent male and female pattern baldness. If you need a more effective treatment plan, there are plenty of options available. If topical treatments don’t work for you, oral medication may be an option. In more advanced cases, it may be time to consider platelet-rich plasma (PRP) injections or hair restoration surgery. Whatever you choose, know there are options. It just may take time to find the right treatment.