In Aromatherapy: An A-Z, frequently referred to as the “aromatherapy bible,” author Patricia Davis states unequivocally that Rosemary Oil’s usefulness for hair growth is nothing but a myth (1).
Davis is a certified aromatherapist and instructor at the London School of Aromatherapy with two other bestselling books on the subject under her belt, thus she presumably knows what she is talking about.
We also have Valerie Ann Worwood, noted aromatherapist, reflexologist, and physiologist, and author of her own encyclopedic tome, The Complete Book of Essential Oils & Aromatherapy.
According to Worwood, who also presumably knows a thing or two about it;
“Rosemary Oil is an excellent treatment for hair loss. It stimulates cell division and dilates blood vessels, thereby stimulating the hair follicles into producing new hair growth” (2).
The point is that the line between alternative medicine and quackery is frequently a contentious one, even among practitioners.
This is not unique to the field of alternative medicine, however. After all, few if any fields exist where all the experts agree.
Moreover, lack of universal agreement need not be off-putting or suggestive that there are no answers to be found.
The intent of this article is not to declare who is right and who is wrong about the effectiveness of Rosemary Oil for hair growth.
Instead, the aim is to present a concise review of the information that is available to answer the following questions:
- What is Rosemary Oil?
- What are its claimed benefits?
- What type of hair loss is it supposed to be able to treat?
- Is there evidence to support these claims?
- What are the side effects?
- How should it be used?
BONUS: Try the quiz found at the end of this article that calculates how easily you will be able to re-grow your hair using rosemary oil and other natural methods.
What is Rosemary Oil?
Rosemary Oil is an essential oil that has been extracted from the pine-like leaves of the rosemary plant (rosmarinus officinalis, to be precise) through a process of steam distillation.
It has been widely used for centuries as a folk remedy for numerous health conditions.
In modern times it has come into widespread use in food, cosmetics, and pharmaceuticals.
Rosemary, like most medicinal plants, has an interesting history.
The ancient Greeks and Romans referred to it as the herb of remembrance and fidelity, most likely based on their belief that it strengthened the memory.
The Romans used it to decorate statues of their household gods and as a sacred incense in religious ceremonies.
Egyptians also considered rosemary to be sacred, using it to prepare the dead for mummification. Traces of the herb have been discovered in the tombs of the Egyptian First Dynasty.
It was also used in the Middle Ages to ward off evil spirits and protect against the plague.
It has been said the in 1235 Queen Elizabeth of Hungary was cured of her paralysis after a hermit soaked a pound of rosemary in a gallon of wine for several days and then rubbed it on her limbs.
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The combination of rosemary and wine thus became known in Europe as the Queen of Hungary’s Water.
What Are Rosemary Oil’s Claimed Benefits?
Rosemary Oil is considered to be one of the most versatile oils used in alternative medicine.
It has been described as containing a various of therapeutic healing properties including analgesic, antibacterial, anticancer, antifungal, anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties.
Due to these properties, practitioners use it to treat problems involving the central nervous system, cardiovascular system, reproductive system, respiratory system, digestive system, memory and brain function, genito urinary conditions and liver problems.
It is also used in many topical lotions and ointments for the treatment of ailments such as arthritis, gout, muscular pain, neuralgia, wounds, and stimulation of hair follicles for hair growth.
Davis’ Aromatherapy: An A-Z covers the following uses and many more:
- To treat cough, massage one to two drops over your chest and throat every few hours
- To treat headaches, add a drop to your hands and use them to cover your mouth and nose for up to a minutes. This is also said to improve clarity of brain function.
- To improve learning and memory, diffuse the oil around the room, inhale from the bottle, rub over your temples, or apply to the toes regularly.
- For genital infections and sores, massage one to two drops around the area
- As a mouthwash and to remove oral bacteria, mix with water and swish around in your mouth for thirty seconds a few times a day.
- To nourish the scalp and remove dandruff, add it to your shampoo or massage it into the scalp.
What Type of Hair Loss Is Rosemary Oil Supposed to be Able to Treat?
Rosemary Oil is said to treat hair loss associated with alopecia areata, androgenetic alopecia, and other types of hair loss associated with scalp conditions.
Alopecia areata (AA)
AA is an autoimmune disorder also referred to as spot baldness where the immune system mistakenly attacked hair follicles, causing the hair to fall out in patches.
Doctors do not know what causes AA and it is not curable.
Most people with AA will regrow their hair after a few months.
Topical application of Rosemary Oil is said to treat AA by stimulating the hair follicles to support hair regrowth.
Androgenetic Alopecia (AGA)
AGA is a genetic condition also referred to as male pattern baldness, though it can affect both men and women. Find out about the 9 biggest causes of hair loss in women here.
AGA is estimated to affect over 50 million adults in the US. It generally begins with hair loss at the temples, continues on around the crown, and eventually leads to total baldness.
AGA is caused by a genetic predisposition. The main androgen believed to be associated with it is dihydrotestosterone (DHT).
It is believed that when DHT levels increase in hair follicles, the hair’s growth cycle is shortened and new hair growth is delayed. Over time, the hair follicles completely stop growing new hair.
The pharmaceutical treatment options for AGA are Minoxidil and Finasteride.
Finasteride, marketed as Propecia and Proscar, is a pill that works by binding to the enzyme (5-alpha-reductase) that would otherwise convert free testosterone to DHT.
Other Hair Loss Problems
Hair loss can also be caused by clogged hair follicles, dead skin build up and some scalp conditions that prevent hair regrowth. All of these types of hair loss are considered to be curable and treatable.
Rosemary Oil is known to have natural antifungal and antibacterial properties that help in maintaining a clean, healthy scalp and strong, healthy hair follicles.
As such, Rosemary Oil could have a direct benefit in treating these types of hair loss.
Is There Evidence to Support These Claims?
The chemical constituents of Rosemary Oil include bitter principle, resin, tannic acid, volatile oils and flavonoids. The volatile oils consists of borneol, bornyl acetate, camphene, cineol, pinene, and camphor.
All of these phytochemicals have scientifically proven health benefits.
Scientific studies have also demonstrated that as a result of the presence of these phytochemicals in the rosemary plant, Rosemary Oil possesses anti-inflammatory, anti-microbial, anti-tumor, anti-ulcer, immune stimulant, and enzyme induction effects in vitro and in animals.
There have also been scientific studies that prove that the aroma of Rosemary Oil does the following in humans:
- Treats anxiety by reducing cortisol levels (3)
- Increases cognitive performance (4)
- Improves moods
- Helps enhance cognitive function in Alzheimer’s patients
The most relevant research related to Rosemary Oil as a hair loss treatment involves two key studies, one in the UK in 1998 and the second in Japan in 2012.
Department of Dermatology, Aberdeen (5)
In 1998 researchers at the Department of Dermatology, Aberdeen in the United Kingdom conducted a randomized, double-blind, controlled study lasting seven months to investigate the efficacy of topical application of essential oils as a treatment for alopecia areata.
The essential oils used in the trials were thyme, rosemary, lavender, and cedarwood blended in a base of jojoba and grapeseed carrier oil (grape seed can also used for hair loss.)
For the study, eighty-six subjects diagnosed with alopecia areata were randomized into two groups. THe treatment group received daily scalp massages with the essential oil blend.
The placebo group received massages using only the carrier oils.
At the end of the trial, 44% of the subjects in the treatment group showed improvement, as compared to 15% in the placebo group.
As a result, the researchers concluded that the essential blend used in the study was a safe and effective treatment for alopecia areata.
Kinki University, Osaka, Japan (6)
In 2012, researchers at Kinki University in Osaka, Japan showed that topical administration of Rosmarinus officinalis leaf extract (RO-ext) resulted in improved hair regrowth in mice that had experience hair growth interruption induced by testosterone treatment.
The same researchers also looked into the antiandrogenetic activity mechanism of RO-ext to evaluate its efficacy for the treatment of androgenic alopecia. One of the effective strategies for treating androgenetic alopecia is through inhibiting the binding of dihydrotestosterone to androgen receptors.
Thus, the researchers concluded that RO-ext was a promising treatment for hair growth in mice with Androgenetic Alopecia (AGA).
This study is in contrast to another, more recent study published in Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine in 2014 that investigated the efficacy of a different oil as a treatment for AGA (7).
Three chief differences between the studies are:
1) the object of the 2014 research was Pumpkin Seed Oil, not Rosemary Oil;
2) the 2014 study involved human males rather than mice; and
3) the 2014 study involved ingestion of the oil as a supplement, not as a topical application.
We mention this here to point out that the Kinki University study on Rosemary Oil is inconclusive in regards to its use on humans, and more research is needed.
What are Rosemary Oil’s Side Effects?
According to the University of Michigan Health System (8) there are no well-known supplement or food interactions with this supplement.
However, it is always possible that unknown interactions exist. If you take medication, always discuss the potential risks and benefits of adding a new supplement with your doctor or pharmacist.
The Drug-Nutrient Interactions table may not include every possible interaction. Taking medicines with meals, on an empty stomach, or with alcohol may influence their effects.
For details, refer to the manufacturers’ package information as these are not covered in this table.
If you take medications, always discuss the potential risks and benefits of adding a supplement with your doctor or pharmacist.
How Should Rosemary Oil Be Used?
For treating hair loss, Rosemary Oil should be blended with carrier oils and massaged into the scalp daily. It can also be added to shampoos and conditioners for maintaining general hair and scalp health.
Rosemary Oil is available online and anywhere essential oils are sold. The price of pure, organic Rosemary Oil ranges from $.10 to $1.50 per milliliter depending on the brand.
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