Does Rosemary Oil for Hair Growth Really Work?

Achieving hair growth with rosemary oil may sound too good to be true — but, according to a dermatologist, it could actually pay off.

three dropper bottles of oil with a sprig of rosemary
Photo: Getty Images

Thinning hair can sneak up on you, but once you've noticed it, it can be hard to pay attention to anything else. If you've become consumed with trying to restore your hair growth, there's no need to run to the heavy-duty formulas. In fact, some plant-based ingredients might just be your best bet.

According to both internet folklore and legit research, rosemary oil may play a role in encouraging hair growth and can be a worthwhile first step for mild hair thinning. Here are the details, plus how to start incorporating it into your everyday routine.

Does Rosemary Oil Grow Hair?

Rosemary oil is an essential oil known for its anti-inflammatory properties. Although little research exists on rosemary oil for hair growth, a 2015 study published in the journal SkinMED revealed some interesting findings. For the study, 100 people with androgenetic alopecia (a genetic hair loss condition) were split into two groups. One group applied rosemary oil to their scalps over six months, the other applied a 2 percent minoxidil treatment during the same timeframe. (Minoxidil is a common ingredient in products for hair loss, which is said to send hairs from their "resting" phase into their "growing" phase faster. It's available topically over the counter or orally by prescription.)

At the six-month mark, the two treatments seemed to work equally well: Both groups showed a significant increase in hair count, and there wasn't a sizeable difference in hair count between the two groups. What's more, rosemary oil may have an advantage compared to minoxidil treatments when it comes to side effects. While both groups reported increased scalp itching during the study, scalp itching was more common in the minoxidil group.

Although more research is warranted, the takeaway is that "rosemary oil can help promote hair growth in some individuals with age-related hair loss, such as androgenetic alopecia," says James Y. Wang, M.D. dermatologist and founder of Metropolis Dermatology.

How? Scientists aren't 100 percent sure yet, but they have theories. "It is not entirely clear what the mechanism is, but [rosemary oil] is thought to block DHT, a form of testosterone, from interacting with receptors on the hair follicles," explains Dr. Wang. "This prevents the shrinking of the hair follicles [provoked by DHT]." (High DHT levels can cause hair follicles to shrink and eventually stop sprouting hair altogether.)

Note: Even if you don't have androgenetic alopecia, you may still benefit from rosemary oil for hair growth. "Other forms of hair loss triggered by irritation, hormonal supplements, and overall weak hair follicles could potentially be helped by using rosemary oil due to the oil's purported ability to mildly improve circulation and decrease inflammation," says Dr. Wang. Boosting circulation increases the delivery of oxygen to the scalp, which in turn can encourage hair growth. Meanwhile, inflammation can cause hair to shed before it's reached the end of its growth cycle.

Are There Downsides to Using Rosemary Oil for Hair Growth?

If you have a temperamental scalp, you probably took note of that scalp itch detail of the study. Oils can present issues for some people, so if you're experiencing irritation of the scalp, such as dandruff, you should try to tackle that issue first before starting rosemary oil, says Dr. Wang. He recommends seeing a dermatologist, since "all oils can cause some level of irritation or worsen scalp dandruff."

When it comes to using rosemary oil vs. minoxidil for hair loss, Dr. Wang says it's a matter of personal preference. "Many people prefer a natural route to start their hair loss treatment," he says. "Minoxidil can be very effective, but not everyone likes the way it feels on the scalp. It can also induce irritation and an initial shedding phase, which may be undesirable for a lot of people," continues Dr. Wang.

How to Use Rosemary Oil for Hair Growth

If you do want to use rosemary oil for hair growth, Dr. Wang has a few pointers. First, you should use rosemary oil after you wash your hair. "For example, if you wash your hair twice per week, use it twice per week after the shower," he says. You don't have to rinse out the oil after applying it, but if you do choose to rinse it out, make sure you let it sit on your scalp for at least 10 minutes first, advises Dr. Wang.

You want to be pretty sparing with the oil since excess oil on the scalp can lead to "overall irritation and inflammation," adds Dr. Wang. To avoid overdoing it while still getting the effects, you only need to add about five drops of pure oil directly to your scalp, he says. Alternatively, you can add the drops to your regular shampoo or other hair products that you massage directly into your scalp.

If you want to try to encourage hair growth with rosemary oil, here are a few products with the essential oil that you can add to your hair routine.

01 of 07

Pacifica Rosemary Purify Shampoo

Pacifica Rosemary Purify Invigorating Shampoo product photo

To make life easier, you can infuse your scalp with rosemary oil as you shampoo. This formula is made for decongesting and stimulating your scalp if you're prone to buildup. Peppermint oil adds a refreshing scent for an aromatherapy moment during your shower.

02 of 07

John Masters Organics Scalp Follicle Treatment and Volumizer

John Masters Orgaincs Scalp Follicle Treatment and Volumizer product photo

This spray-on scalp treatment is designed to promote the optimal environment for healthy hair growth. Since it's a volumizer, your strands are less likely to be weighed down the way they would if you were applying straight-up rosemary oil.

03 of 07

Weleda Rosemary Conditioning Hair Oil

Weleda Rosemary Conditioning Hair Oil product photo

From the maker of the iconic Skin Food moisturizer, this conditioning hair oil incorporates wild-harvested rosemary oil sourced from Spain. You can massage the oil into your scalp and apply it to the lengths of your hair for smoothness and shine.

04 of 07

Mielle Organics Rosemary Mint Scalp & Hair Strengthening Oil

Mielle Rosemary Mint Scalp & Hair Oil product photo

This hair and scalp oil is loaded with 30 essential oils, including rosemary. It's also infused with biotin to help strengthen hair, which may lead to less breakage. You can use it as a leave-in scalp treatment and to smooth out split ends.

05 of 07

PURA D'OR Original Gold Label Anti-Thinning Biotin Shampoo

Pura D'Or Original Gold Label Anti-Thinning Biotin Shampoo product photo

If its 15,000+ positive ratings on Amazon are any indication, this might be the best shampoo for hair loss. Along with rosemary oil, it contains biotin and saw palmetto, another botanical ingredient that may block the production of DHT.

06 of 07

Captain Blankenship Mermaid Hair Oil

Captain Blankenship Mermaid Hair Oil product photo

First and foremost, Captain Blankenship Mermaid Hair Oil is a moisturizing treatment designed for frizz or brittle ends. But you can also massage it into your roots to nourish your scalp with argan and jojoba oils, which are rich in antioxidants.

07 of 07

Allpa Botanicals Rosemary Hair Oil

Allpa Botanicals Rosemary Hair Oil product photo
Allpa Botanicals

If you want to experiment with pure rosemary oil, this product is for you. The no-frills formula uses organic, cold-pressed rosemary oil from the mountains of Ecuador. Just massage a few drops onto the scalp or add some to the lengths of your hair to restore shine.

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