Do Electric Scalp Massagers Really Stimulate Hair Growth?
We asked experts if the trendy beauty tool can actually help you get longer, thicker hair.
If you've ever noticed a bigger clump than usual in your brush or shower drain, then you understand the panic and desperation that can set in around shedding strands. Even if you aren't dealing with hair loss, many women are willing to give pretty much anything a try in the name of thicker, longer hair. (See: Do Hair Gummy Vitamins Really Work?)
Enter: Electric scalp massagers, the new, at-home beauty tech gadget that's promising to clear your scalp of dead skin and product build-up, relax your scalp muscles (yes, your scalp has muscles), and even re-invigorate hair growth and thickness. Most of these vibrating massage tools are fairly affordable (you can also find manual versions, sometimes called 'shampoo brushes'), and are powered simply by pointy rubber bristles and a battery.
Brands like VitaGoods (Buy It, $12, amazon.com), Breo (Buy It, $72, bloomingdales.com) and Vanity Planet (Buy It, $20, bedbathandbeyond.com) have all released different versions of vibrating scalp massagers and chances are you've seen them popping up in stores like Sephora and Urban Outfitters.
So how do they work? While the claims of removing scalp gunk are pretty self-explanatory, you may be wondering how they purportedly help with hair growth. "Circulation is promoted by massaging the scalp, thereby increasing the delivery of oxygen to tissue and enhancing hair growth," says Meghan Feely, M.D., board-certified dermatologist in New Jersey and New York City. "Some argue it extends the duration of the hair's growth cycle and potentially promotes lymphatic drainage."
What the research says about scalp massage for hair growth
First, you should know that while research does exist on these massagers, it's still pretty slim. In one study, a total of nine Japanese men used a device for four minutes a day for six months. At the end of that time, they did not see any increase in the rate of hair growth, although they did see an increase in hair thickness.
"The researchers hypothesized that this occurred because the device caused stretching forces on the skin that then activated certain genes related to hair growth and down-regulated other genes related to hair loss," says Rajani Katta, M.D., board-certified dermatologist and author of GLOW: The Dermatologist's Guide to a Whole Foods, Younger Skin Diet. "This is interesting, but it's hard to draw any wide-ranging conclusions from nine patients."
And a 2019 study published in the journal Dermatology and Therapy found that 69 percent of men with alopecia (hair loss) reported scalp massages improved thickness and hair growth or at least that their hair loss plateaued, says Dr. Feely. Researchers instructed the men to do 20-minute massages twice a day and tracked them for a year. The massages included pressing, stretching, and pinching the scalp, with the idea being that soft tissue manipulation may activate wound-healing and skin stem cells to promote growth.
But there aren't any studies that include women, most likely because female hair loss is more complicated and difficult than male hair loss. Womp-womp.
According to Harvard Women's Health Watch, the most common type of female pattern hair loss is androgenic alopecia. "Androgenetic alopecia involves the action of the hormones called androgens, which are essential for normal male sexual development and have other important functions in both sexes, including sex drive and regulation of hair growth. The condition may be inherited and involve several different genes." The problem is that the role of androgens in women is harder to determine than men, making it more difficult to study...and therefore treat. (FYI: This is all different from traction alopecia, which occurs from pulling or trauma to your hair and scalp.)
Bottom line? "More research is needed to validate claims that scalp massage promotes hair growth, and to delineate what types of hair loss are responsive to this type of therapy," says Dr. Feely.
So, is there any benefit to using a scalp massager?
While there (sadly) isn't strong data to suggest that electric scalp massagers can help with hair loss specifically, Dr. Katta says, they're likely not going to cause much damage either. So if you enjoy the feeling, go for it. (Just be sure to you aren't causing any trauma to the skin, or over-massaging, which can cause scalp irritation and even more shedding.)
Plus, there may be some mental health perks. "In one study with about 50 volunteers, researchers did see significant differences in certain measurements of stress, such as heart rate, after just minutes of device use," says Dr. Katta. And a second study found that women who used a scalp massager for only five minutes also experienced the same stress-reducing effects.
Plus, as we've learned recently from the boom of new scalp-specific products on the market, keeping your scalp healthy by treating it to a good exfoliation (after all, it *is* an extension of the skin on your face) is important for the health of your hair. That's because product buildup blocks the opening of hair follicles, which can reduce the number of strands that can grow from a follicle, experts say. Plus, scalp skin can become irritated if you let too much product build up (hello, dry shampoo), and can even lead to flareups in conditions like psoriasis, eczema, and dandruff, all of which can impede hair growth. (Related: 10 Scalp-Saving Products for Healthier Hair)
When you should go see your derm
While scalp massage might help you reduce stress, if you're losing hair, you should really go ahead and book an appointment with a dermatologist ASAP. "Hair loss does not have a one-size-fits-all solution," says Dr. Feely. That's because the root (no pun intended) cause of hair loss is different for each person.
"Hair loss may be due to hormonal causes, but it may also be a sign of an underlying medical disorder, including (but not limited to) thyroid disease, anemia, lupus, or syphilis," says Dr. Feely. "It can also be secondary to particular medications that you take for other medical issues. And it may be due to certain hair styling practices, or related to a recent pregnancy, illness, or a life stressor." (Related: 10 Weird Ways Your Body Reacts to Stress)
Basically, not all hair loss is the same, so it's important to figure out what's causing yours, since attempting to 'treat it' with an electric scalp massager at home may delay you from getting an accurate diagnosis, testing, and treatment, says Dr. Katta. "While some types of hair loss are related to aging and genetics (meaning they can't be treated as easily), others may be related to hormone imbalances, nutrient deficiencies, or inflammatory conditions of the scalp. These causes of hair loss do have effective treatments, so it's really important to see your dermatologist for an evaluation."