Does Using a Scalp Massager Really Promote Hair Growth?

These oh-so-relaxing tools are designed to provide a scalp massage for hair growth. Find out whether they deliver.

Hair Health Hotline: Scalp Massagers
Photo: Courtesy of Vegamour

Hair Health Hotline is your direct access to dermatologists, trichologists, hairstylists, and other beauty pros. Each story in this series tackles a common hair or scalp concern and offers science-backed solutions to care for your strands.

One top-tier part of life is undeniably the scalp massage your hairstylist gives you while shampooing your hair before a cut or blowout. Besides the fact that it feels heavenly, getting a scalp massage is associated with hair growth benefits.

Since most people aren't visiting a hairstylist or massage therapist every day, it's not too surprising that scalp massagers — self-massage tools designed for your scalp — have become popular in recent years. The tools, which typically feature a handle and small plastic nubs and fit in the palm of your hand, are pretty inexpensive and promise healthier hair and a means for relaxation. Still, you could be hesitant to spend money on the relatively new product category when people have made use of their fingertips for scalp massages for years. To get straight to the point, Jennifer McCowan, certified clinical trichologist and partner to Luna Nectar, is sharing the details on scalp massagers below.

Q: I've seen a lot of posts on social media about using a scalp massager for hair growth. Are they actually effective?

A: Research suggests that scalp massagers can in fact boost hair growth, thanks to their effect on hair follicles, according to McCowan.

To expand, "the benefit of using a scalp massager is increased circulation, which helps to promote healthy blood flow throughout the scalp," says McCowan. "This healthy blood flow supplies the hair and scalp with oxygen and nutrition," And research suggests that this boosted delivery of oxygen and nutrients is beneficial to scalp health and can improve hair growth, resulting in thicker, stronger strands, she says.

Key word: thicker. In a small study published in the journal Eplasty that investigated the effects of scalp massage on hair growth, participants who used a scalp massage device on one side of their head had a significant increase in hair thickness but not in the total number of hairs over the course of 24 weeks on the experimental side. The study's authors suggested that in addition to their ability to boost circulation, scalp massagers' ability to stimulate dermal papilla cells — cells in your hair follicles that play a role in hair growth — may be responsible for the increase in thickness. The researchers found that stimulating the dermal papilla cells altered the cells' gene expression, increasing the expression of certain genes related to hair growth.

Hair Health Hotline: Scalp Massagers
Courtesy of Jennifer McCowan

How to Use a Scalp Massager

Icing on the cake: "Everyone can benefit from the use of scalp massagers," regardless of their hair type, according to McCowan. If you'd like to give it a go, choose a massager that gives you control over how much pressure you apply, suggests McCowan. Translation: Do not go with one of those wire egg whisk-looking gadgets. Sure, Harry Styles once deemed them "possibly the greatest ever man-made creation," and they promote relaxation, however, they apply very minimal pressure, which doesn't have much of an effect on circulation, according to McCowan.

Once you've copped a scalp massager, you can use the tool daily, according to McCowan. Applying gentle pressure, use circular motions with the massager to boost circulation, she says. You can use the massager in conjunction with scalp products to maximize the treatments' absorption, and it's the safest to use your massager on dry hair since hair is more fragile when wet, as Shape previously reported. Bear in mind that it can take three to four months of use to notice an improvement in hair growth, notes McCowan.

So, short answer, yes, scalp massagers are worth trying if you want to promote thicker hair, in McCowan's eyes. While they're certainly not essential, they could be a useful addition to your routine if you're looking for low-stakes ways to restore thinning hair.

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