Make way for the new empress of home haircare remedies! You only have to open your social media accounts to find video upon video of thick, luscious hair, patchy hairlines restored and bald spots disappearing, all courtesy a ‘miracle’ ingredient – the aromatic herb, rosemary, applied in oil, steeped water or tea form.
On TikTok, we’re talking a whopping 528 million views for #rosemary, as of the first week of October 2022, and a combined 183.6 million views for #rosemarywater and #rosemaryoil. It’s practically left every other remedy (sorry, ricewater) in the dust.
But how well-earned is the hype around rosemary? Should you add it to your routine? We speak to a Dubai-based trichologist and hair restoration consultant to find out.
A potent, traditional herb
There’s no denying that rosemary packs a potent punch – with a cocktail of antioxidant, antimicrobial, and even anti-inflammatory properties that made it a favourite in ancient folk medicine in Egypt, India, China and Mesopotamia.
Translating to ‘dew of the sea’ in latin, it’s use stretches back thousands of years ago, as per a 2015 study on rosemary by Portugal and Brazil-based researchers published in the journal, Trends in Food Science and technology. The incense-like herb was also linked to love and marriage, hung over a baby’s crib and in bridal bouquets in parts of Europe.
“This herb has been used for a lot of healing properties – people use it, everybody has it in their house. I have it and enjoy drinking it as a cup of tea,” says Dr Zahra Darwish, trichologist at Dubai-based Vivandi trichology clinic. She adds that it contains Vitamin C, A, B6, folate and acts as an antioxidant. It has certain ingredients (carnosic acid and carnosol) with anti-cancer properties, and also vasodilators that increased blood flow through dilating blood vessels.
Does rosemary oil or water really benefit your scalp and hair?
The hair doctors of the UAE have had many patients ask them about rosemary. Dr Wissam Addada, a consultant in hair restoration and aesthetic medicine and founder of Proto Clinic, Dubai says, “Basically, in my field, I’ve seen a lot of home remedies – some of them are effective for people, but there is no science behind it. Rosemary oil is one such remedy. There’s a few studies behind it – but not a lot of concrete or straightforward studies that show that it is effective. It’s more of tradition, where people have been speaking about it,”
Basically, in my field, I’ve seen a lot of home remedies – some of them are effective for people, but there is no science behind it. Rosemary oil is one such remedy. There’s a few studies behind it – but not a lot of concrete or straightforward studies that show that it is effective.
They did controlled clinical follow-ups for these patients. Dr Addada says, “In my patient practice, some of my patients are using rosemary oil, and we see that it is effective under trichoscopy and dermoscopy… that there is definitely an increase in hair growth and health of the scalp when using in diluted quantity.” However, he adds that they hadn’t taken into account factors like hormonal changes, season changes, the psychology of the patient and placebo effect, so there was no direct scientific evidence to prove this.
These are some benefits that may occur from using rosemary oil or water:
• Reduced hair loss from certain causes: The most cited study for rosemary oil – a 2015 study published in the journal SkinMed, a US-based peer-reviewed journal found that rosemary oil application was just as effective as a prescription treatment, minoxidil for one type of hair loss - androgenetic alopecia by reducing the effects of androgen hormones on hair.
• Improved scalp environment with less itching and inflammation: The anti-microbial properties and vasodilation by rosemary oil mean that your scalp may be healthier, with increased blood circulation. “People with dandruff, it will really support them. Many anti-dandruff shampoos have rosemary extract as one of the ingredients,” says Dr Darwish.
• It may also help with stress: Rosemary has proven aromatherapy benefits, and can help with stress relief when massaged onto your head as well. Dr Darwish says, “It really helps to stimulate their happy mood, stress relief, if they have a headache or migraine.”
“But it is not a medicine, it can be supportive to the therapy you are using,” adds Dr Addada. According to Dr Darwish, it works well for those who have a normal scalp and want to help and support their hair growth. “If you feel like you have been using it for a couple of weeks and your condition has not improved, then you have to go to a trichologist and find out the root cause of your hair loss.” For severe hair loss as well, consult a clinician for diagnosis and treatment.
People with dandruff, it will really support them. Many anti-dandruff shampoos have rosemary extract as one of the ingredients.
Do they recommend it as a home remedy?
“I would definitely say, yes. It does have a good effect on the scalp and hair as well,” says Dr Darwish.
Dr Addada adds, “I definitely recommend it in diluted quantity in oil or water, along with tea tree oil and castor oil.”
Oil or water?: How you can add rosemary to your routine
According to Dr Darwish, rosemary water is better for an oily scalp, and for dry scalp, oil can be used, and should be applied once to twice a week for at least three months. Leave on for 20 minutes to 2 hours – read more here for a full guide to oiling your scalp.
Dr Addada adds that the studies carried out so far have been done by diluting rosemary oils with carrier oils, and not rosemary water. Alternatively, you can also use products that already include rosemary water in them.
Rosemary oil for dry scalps…
Be warned! Rosemary essential oil needs to be diluted with a carrier oil like coconut, jojoba or castor before being applied, as otherwise it will irritate your scalp, and may even aggravate hair loss.
You can also mix a few drops into your shampoo just before applying as well. Dr Darwish recommends shampooing twice to remove all traces of oil on your scalp.
Rosemary water for oily scalp…
Rosemary tea or water is most potent (with highest polyphenol, flavonoid and antioxidant content) after being boiled for 15 minutes, as per a 2021 study by Saudi Arabia-based researchers published in the international, peer-reviewed journal Molecules.
So boil away for 15 minutes, let it cool down and store it in a spray bottle kept in the fridge.
And finally, if all this sounds like too much effort, Dr Darwish also recommends just drinking rosemary tea. “I would prefer people to drink rosemary tea, and the reason is it contains a lot of good effects for the body when you drink it,“
Is it safe for everyone?
Here’s a breakdown of who should avoid using rosemary, according to Dr Addada and Dr Darwish:
1. If you are pregnant or lactating: There hasn’t been research into the effects that rosemary has for pregnant or lactating women, so it is best to avoid it. It may also trigger an allergic reaction, adds Dr Darwish.
2. If you have a sensitive scalp: “Anything that you leave on for too long on your scalp, it can sometimes cause irritation,” says Dr Darwish.
3. Those with allergies to aspirin should avoid drinking it: “It contains salicylate – an ingredient in aspirin, so it might trigger their allergy, and I would say to avoid it,” says Dr Darwish.
4. If you have eczema or psoriasis on the scalp: “You can use them with dandruff, but avoid it with eczema or psoriasis as we have to be careful not to irritate it,” says Dr Addada.
“It is good, if once a week someone wants to use it, to support hair growth. It will not really help you 100 per cent, maybe it will help you 10 per cent,” says Dr Darwish.