Garlic, massages and turmeric won’t help your hair regrow, according to scientists, but rosemary oil and caffeine might do the trick.
Researchers in the US have sorted the good from the bad in a study of alternative and complementary treatments for hair loss.
Experts say there are tried and tested medications which may help to slow hair loss or strengthen hair, but evidence is thin on the ground for alternative remedies.
And people and doctors should be wary of how natural supplements are marketed and make sure people understand they may not work.
Research by the University of California, Irvine, found there was little or no evidence to suggest massage, garlic oil, turmeric or vitamin D could slow down hair loss. But there was promise for rosemary oil and caffeine, they said
Scientists from the University of California, Irvine, gathered up past research into the effectiveness of more than 20 alternative hair loss remedies.
It found many had little evidence to suggest they worked or had been found to not work at all.
Garlic gel, vitamins D, E and B7, massage, aromatherapy, acupuncture, procyanidin, various amino acids and curcumin – the main ingredient of turmeric allhad the science stacked against them, the researchers found.
While not all were ruled out, they at least needed more work done to find out whether they could be successful or not.
‘Further investigation is needed to define the effect of topical garlic for hair loss,’ they wrote in the study.
And commenting on the effects of curcumin they said: ‘After six months, no significant improvement in total area hair count was noted in any group’.
Although early results suggested vitamin D could work, the authors said: ‘Studies using topical vitamin D in alopecia are inconsistent and limited by small sample size or lack of appropriate controls.’
Hair loss treatments are usually targeted at men beginning to experience pattern baldness, in which they lose hair from the temples or the back of their head.
Although some of the remedies mentioned in the study are more obscure, all can be bought online at relatively cheap prices.
A 200ml bottle of Vatika garlic oil for hair, for example, costs just £3.99 on Amazon.
About half of men over the age of 50 get male pattern hair loss, also known as androgenetic alopecia, according to the British Association of Dermatologists.
WHAT ARE THE CAUSES OF HAIR LOSS?
It is perfectly normal for people to lose small amounts of hair as it replenishes itself and, on average, people can shed between 50 and 100 hairs per day.
However, if people start to lose entire patches of hair or large amounts of it it can be more distressing and potentially a sign of something serious.
Pattern baldness is a common cause of hair loss as people grow older. At least half of men over the age of 50 will lose some of their hair just through the ageing process, according to the British Association of Dermatologists.
Women may lose their hair as they grow older, too.
Other, more concerning causes of hair loss include stress, cancer treatment such as chemotherapy or radiotherapy, weight loss or an iron deficiency.
Most hair loss is temporary, however, and can be expected to grow back.
Specific medical conditions which cause the hair to fall out include alopecia, a disorder of the immune system; an underactive or overactive thyroid; the skin condition lichen planus or Hodgkin’s lymphoma, a type of cancer.
People should visit their doctor if their hair starts to fall out in lumps, falls out suddenly, if their scalp itches or burns, and if hair loss is causing them severe stress.
Some alternative therapies in the test were looked on more favourably by the researchers.
As well as rosemary oil and caffeine, zinc, onion juice, the hormone melatonin, plant extract saw palmetto, pumpkin seed oil and marine proteins – supplements made from sharks and molluscs – were all found to have promise.
The scientists wrote: ‘Rosemary oil appeared to be a safe nonprescription alternative for [androgenetic alopecia], and the results of this study merit further investigation.’
They added: ‘Topical caffeine shows potential as a CAM for hair loss’ and said more studies were needed.
Marine proteins led to ‘significant improvements’ in a trial, onion juice led to ‘full hair regrowth’ in some places and pumpkin seed oil ‘is a promising treatment’ for the top of the head, the study said.
The study’s lead author Anna-Marie Hosking said: ‘There are a variety of complementary and alternative medicines (CAMs) on the market for alopecia; however, only a few are backed by strong clinical evidence.
‘Clinicians should be aware of these products, the marketing strategies used to promote said products, expected clinical outcomes, and side effect profiles to ensure accurate patient counselling.
‘In addition, CAMs may cause further scalp inflammation, such as irritant or contact dermatitis, leading to more hair loss.
‘Given the growing interest in CAMs for multiple dermatologic conditions including alopecia, it is important for clinicians to stay up to date and practice evidence-based medicine when recommending CAMs.’
The main medical treatments for hair loss are finasteride and minoxidil, but they are only available privately and don’t work for everyone.
And if someone starts using either of those medications they have to carry on, because they only work for as long as they’re used.
Hair restoration specialist and founder of the Farjo Hair Institute clinics in London and Manchester, Dr Bessam Farjo, welcomed the California team’s findings.
He said: ‘This study proves there are no simple shortcuts or hacks when it comes to reversing hair loss.
‘There are, however, some well-established non-surgical options, primarily designed to strengthen existing hair and arresting further loss.
‘A drug called minoxidil can stimulate and prolong the growth phase of the hair cycle, significantly slowing down hair shedding and keeping the hair from continuing to this out.
‘Meanwhile other medications work by blocking the production of a chemical called dihydrotestosterone, or ‘DHT’.
‘DHT will attach itself to a person’s hair receptor cells, causing the follicle to shrink and die.
‘And the well-known drug finasteride – sold as the brand Propecia – can lower DHT levels in the scalp by up to 70 per cent, reducing hair loss and sometimes increasing the thickness of the hairs
‘While these drugs have a proven track record gained over many years, some “complementary” therapies simply do not and urge people to proceed with caution.’
The research was published in the journal Skin Appendage Disorders.