Distraught about how thin her hair was getting, my friend Carrie cried when she saw yet another clump of hair on her shower floor. If you, too, are concerned about the common problem of alopecia (hair loss), first see your doctor to find out whether there’s an underlying medical problem, such as a thyroid disorder, that needs treating.
But if no such problem is found, don’t be too quick to turn to conventional hair-loss treatments — because these can be problematic. For instance: Topical medications can cause itching and increased facial or body hair… there’s limited evidence for the effectiveness of laser therapy… and costly hair-replacement surgery isn’t appropriate for diffuse thinning throughout the scalp, the type of hair loss women often experience.
Fortunately, there are other options. David Hoffmann, a founding member and past president of the American Herbalists Guild, told me about the following natural therapies that have a long tradition of use. Safe and economical, they offer do-it-yourself alternatives to conventional hair-loss treatment. (All products mentioned below are sold at health-food stores and online.)
SCALP CIRCULATION BOOSTERS
For many women, Hoffmann said, the key to reversing hair loss is to increase blood flow in the scalp. Try any or all of the following for six weeks. If you notice improvement, continue indefinitely or for as long as needed.
Massage with rosemary oil. Rosemary oil works by widening tiny blood vessels in the scalp, thus stimulating hair follicles and helping promote hair growth. Massaging the scalp with your fingertips also promotes improved circulation.
Directions: Dilute rosemary oil with an equal amount of almond oil. This is important — rosemary oil by itself may be too strong and can irritate skin. Every evening (or every other evening, if you prefer), use your fingertips to massage a few drops of oil into your scalp, particularly where hair is thinning. Leave on overnight… wash off in the morning.
Rinse hair with nettle tea. Nettle promotes hair growth not only by improving circulation, but also by reducing inflammation, Hoffmann said.
To prepare: Mix one-half tablespoon of dried nettle with one cup of water. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, cover and simmer for 30 minutes. Remove from heat. Let sit, covered, for 15 minutes. Strain through cheesecloth. Cool before using. Apply to hair, massaging into scalp for several minutes. Leave on for 15 minutes, then shampoo.
Easier: Steep two nettle tea bags in very hot water for 10 minutes. Cool, then apply as described above. Good brand: Traditional Medicinals Organic Nettle Leaf tea bags (800-543-4372, www.TraditionalMedicinals.com).
Drink herbal tea. Consuming certain herbal teas can improve sluggish circulation from the inside out, which can stimulate hair growth, said Hoffmann. Choose either or both of the following teas and drink a total of three cups per day. Options…
- Hawthorn. Steep a heaping teaspoon of dried hawthorn berries in one cup of very hot water for five to 10 minutes, then strain. If you prefer, take hawthorn in supplement form as an extract of either dried berries or flowers and leaves at a dosage of 300 mg twice daily.
- Ginger. Add several slices of fresh ginger to one cup of water and boil for five minutes, then remove the ginger.
HAIR-SAVING STRESS BUSTERS
Emotional ordeals can provoke numerous physical reactions, including hair loss. To help manage stress, Hoffman suggested, practice a daily relaxation technique (such as deep breathing)… and follow a whole-foods—based diet that emphasizes fruits and vegetables and minimizes red meat and alcohol. Also…
Supplement with B vitamins. The various B vitamins are needed to convert food to energy and help cells grow — but physical or emotional stress can deplete these key nutrients. Take a daily supplement of a B-complex formulation. Follow the dosage guidelines on the label and continue indefinitely.
Try an herbal adaptogen. Adaptogenic herbs have been used for thousands of years to increase the body’s resistance to stress, trauma, anxiety and fatigue. Their mechanism is not well understood, but they are thought to work in part by balancing hormones, Hoffmann explained. Choose one of the following…
- Ashwagandha (also called withania).
- Siberian ginseng (not regular ginseng, which is too strong).
Select a product labeled “standardized” (indicating that the brand uses consistent amounts of the active ingredient), and follow the dosage instructions on the label. If you experience headaches, discontinue use. Otherwise, continue daily for one month. If you notice improvement, stay with it for another month, then give your body a two-week break. If you do not notice improvement after one month, try one of the other adaptogens listed above.