Oils, microneedles and new drugs: what does the latest science say about hair loss and regrowth?

Hair loss is something that many people will experience in their lives, and while some may be tempted to say, “it’s just hair,” it can have a profoundly negative effect on those affected by it. As a result, science has long been looking for a way to treat hair loss – so what’s the latest in this area of ​​research?

Hair loss, also called alopecia, can have a whole host of causes: genetics, hormones, age, stress, chemotherapy, and even wearing your hair a certain way.

Hair loss can have all kinds of consequences for a person – it is far from just a matter of aesthetics. A 2021 study found that people with hair loss may experience anxiety, depression and reduced self-confidence, along with social withdrawal and reduced work. It’s no surprise that people seek treatment in all kinds of places.

Home remedies

DIY ways to regrow hair aren’t exactly anything new, but the rise of social media platforms has brought all kinds of home remedies into the spotlight. But beyond the anecdotal evidence in a 60-second video, is there any scientific research to suggest they work?

Rosemary oil

It would be hard not to come across the “rosemary oil” side of TikTok (and the #ad in the captions) if you spend enough time doomscrolling. Many of these videos claim that the oil has helped them regrow lost hair, but there is currently not enough research to fully substantiate these claims.

A 2022 study concluded that a gel containing rosemary oil had a hair growth-promoting effect similar to that of minoxidil (better known as Rogaine), a drug used to treat androgenetic (pattern) hair loss. But here’s the catch: the study was conducted on rats and their fur was removed with depilatory cream.

Such studies help assess the safety of a potential treatment before it is used in humans, but that also means that scientists cannot draw solid conclusions about the effectiveness of rosemary oil in humans either.

A widely referenced 2015 article tried it on humans compared to minoxidil and claimed to have found regrowth, but the study only examined 100 people, all of whom suffered from androgenetic hair loss, so the results cannot be can rightly be applied to all types of hair loss. hair loss.

Like Dr. Michelle Wong of Lab Muffin Beauty Science notes, the summary of the 2015 study seems promising, but there are many problems with the study as a whole. These include apparent typos and calculation errors, the relatively short duration of the study in relation to hair growth cycles, the low percentage of minoxidil used, and a depression rating scale used to assess hair loss.


Something that is also often touted to help with hair loss, sometimes in addition to rosemary oil, is microneedling. Is it worth sticking a few tiny needles into your scalp? Recent review studies suggest that while there appear to be some promising results, more (and better quality) data are needed to support its use for stimulating hair growth.

For example, a 2021 review found that there was limited evidence for the effectiveness of microneedling on its own; most research trials have combined it with other therapies, such as minoxidil.

Another review, also published in 2021, concluded that while there were “generally favorable results” for using microneedling to treat pattern hair loss and alopecia areata (hair loss with an autoimmune cause), much of the data was of low quality .

If someone is still interested in microneedling, it is generally recommended for safety reasons to see a dermatologist if you want to use a medical-grade device; Piercing the skin without proper protocols can lead to damage or infection.

Clinical treatments

The first US approval for a hair growth treatment was in 1988 for Rogaine, also called minoxidil, although its recommended use is for hereditary pattern hair loss. Progress toward other treatments for all types of hair loss slowed in subsequent years; Hair transplants have also been used successfully, but they are invasive and can be expensive. However, there has recently been an increase in the number of complementary therapies being developed or approved.

The first treatment for severe alopecia areata

Ritlecitinib, also known as Litfulo, was first approved by the UK Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency in November 2023 and recently became the first treatment for severe alopecia areata to be recommended for use by the National Health Service (NHS). Last year it was also approved for use by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), although it was not the first treatment to be approved, with baricitinib (also known as Olumiant) taking that title.

The approvals came after clinical trial data showed the drug was more effective than a placebo at improving hair growth, with even sustained improved response for up to two years. The treatment is taken as a daily pill and, according to the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence, works “by reducing the enzymes that cause inflammation and subsequent hair loss at the follicle.”

MicroRNA could be promising

A study published last year identified a small molecule called microRNA-205 (miR-205) that appeared to promote hair growth in mice by “softening” stem cells in their hair follicles. This effect was observed relatively quickly and in both young and old mice.

However, it is again important to note that this study was not conducted in humans. Much more research is needed to assess both efficacy and safety and gather sufficient data for clinical approval.

“Because of the potential to deliver microRNA through nanoparticles directly into the skin, we will next test whether topically administered miR-205 can stimulate hair growth first in mice,” corresponding author Rui Yi, the Paul E. Steiner Research Professor of Pathology and professor of dermatology at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, said in a statement.

“If successful, we will design experiments to test whether this microRNA could potentially promote hair growth in humans.”

Cover cold

Many people who undergo chemotherapy experience some degree of hair loss. Some healthcare services offer scalp cooling, often in the form of cold capping, to potentially reduce that loss. It doesn’t necessarily work for everyone, but a new study has identified some factors that can make using a cold cap more or less successful.

The study found that cold capping may be more effective than previous literature indicated, with a success rate of 92.1 percent. The authors suggest that this may be related to wearing the cold cap correctly for the prescribed amount of time, and completing the cold cap process.

The researchers also found that the type of chemotherapy someone received could make a difference in the effectiveness of cold capping, while the patient’s race, ethnicity or hair characteristics did not appear to make a difference.

However, the study authors acknowledge some limitations of their results. In addition to not having a control group, the sample of patients was small; consisted mainly of women undergoing treatment for breast cancer; and the participants were mostly white. As such, the findings may not be generalizable to everyone.

The overall picture

While there are a host of clear home remedies – and hopefully more clinically approved treatments soon – it’s important to first identify the reasons for hair loss before embarking on any particular treatment.

“Hair loss is complex,” says dermatology specialist Dr. Taylor Bullock, speaking to the Cleveland Clinic as part of the Health Essentials series. “Your treatment will only work if the cause is addressed. That’s why your first step should be to get a medical diagnosis.”

All “explainer” articles are confirmed by fact checkers to be correct at the time of publication. Text, images and links can be edited, deleted or added at a later time to keep the information current.

The content of this article is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of qualified healthcare providers with any questions you may have regarding medical conditions.

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