If someone told you that you could regrow your hair through something as simple as scalp massage, you’d be right to be sceptical. Male pattern hair loss has been a problem for centuries. It’s an industry worth millions of dollars. Surely the answer is going to be a little more complicated than just scalp massage? Well, numerous anecdotal reports say otherwise. There’s even been a medical trial which has confirmed the effectiveness of scalp massage. So, with an open mind, we ask: can scalp massage really regrow hair?
The current scientific consensus
As you probably already know, androgenetic alopecia (male pattern hair loss) is believed to be caused by the male hormone dihydrotestosterone (DHT).
The simple explanation is that this hormone binds to the hair follicle and, over time, causes it to shrink. Eventually, it stops producing hair.
Nowhere in this theory is blood flow to the scalp mentioned. Pretty much any doctor will tell you that increasing blood flow to the scalp – whether through headstands, massage, or whatever – will not stop hair loss. DHT, they’ll say, is the cause. Not blood flow.
This is a blow to many of those who champion scalp massage as a hair loss treatment. For many, the argument is that scalp massage leads to increased blood flow, which leads to improved hair growth. Also, the relaxing and stress-busting effects of scalp massage are said to lead to improved hair growth.
The evidence for scalp massage
Whether improved blood flow is really the mechanism through which scalp massage improves hair growth is debatable. But there is evidence that – somehow – scalp massage really can regrow hair.
In this 2016 study, a standardised scalp massage was administered to nine men for 4 minutes per day. After 24 weeks of this treatment, the study found:
“Standardized scalp massage resulted in increased hair thickness 24 weeks after initiation of massage (0.085 ± 0.003 mm vs 0.092 ± 0.001 mm). […] Hair thickness was shown to increase with standardized scalp massage.”
What’s more, the trial also tested for increased expression of hair cycle related genes (NOGGIN, BMP4, SMAD4, and IL6ST) and decreased expression of the hair loss related gene IL6. The results showed:
“In vitro, DNA microarray showed gene expression change significantly compared with nonstretching human dermal papilla cells. A total of 2655 genes were upregulated and 2823 genes were downregulated. Real-time reverse transcription-polymerase chain reaction demonstrated increased expression of hair cycle–related genes such as NOGGIN, BMP4, SMAD4, and IL6ST and decrease in hair loss–related genes such as IL6. […] Stretching forces result in changes in gene expression in human dermal papilla cells.”
In short, it showed that massage has a positive effect on the expression of genes for hair growth and led to an increase in hair thickness.
Of course, it can be argued that nine participants is insufficient to draw firm conclusions about the effectiveness of scalp massage for hair loss.
However, these initial findings lend strong support to scalp massage as a hair loss treatment.
In any case, these findings justify further investigation into scalp massage. For a long time it has remained an alternative theory with only anecdotal support.
Anecdotal evidence that scalp massage can regrow hair
And there is plenty of anecdotal support for scalp massage as a hair loss treatment.
A quick Google search will throw up a great number of success stories from scalp massage (such as this one, this one and this one). This thread in particular is interesting; it collates numerous success stories, providing photographic evidence for the effectiveness of scalp massage.
If this level of regrowth is achievable from scalp massage alone, then it is a highly effective hair loss treatment. It is far easier to maintain hair than it is to regrow lost hair. Even the strongest hair loss drug, dutasteride, is unlikely to regrow hair. So if scalp massage can achieve these kinds of results it should be regarded as very effective.
Of course, anecdotal evidence like this is not conclusive. But it shouldn’t be dismissed either. With limited clinical trials of scalp massage, the jury is still out.
Perhaps the most comprehensive individual documentation of scalp massage for hair loss is JD Moyer’s blog post How I Thickened My Hair and Advanced My Hairline with a Simple Massage Technique (and no Drugs). It’s well worth a read if you’d like to find out more about scalp massage. Best of all, though, are his progress pictures.
Interestingly, as well, he mentions that his hair loss progression slowed around the same time he adopted a paleo diet. A recent Top Hair Loss Treatments article examined links between diet, insulin, DHT, and hair loss. Based on the research discussed in that article, it seems plausible that the low carb paleo diet would indeed have a positive effect on JD’s hair regrowth. Click here to read the article in full.
But back to scalp massage.
JD Moyer cites this research paper which observed that the scalps of bald men tend to be harder and more dome-shaped due to an excess of trapped sebum (scalp grease). I know, it sounds crazy. But following detumescence therapy (basically scalp massage to remove the excess sebum), the study found:
“The percentage difference between the bald and normal scalp thickness is used as a measure for the reduction in grease. Their hair for all people is found to be regrown naturally. From observation, over 90% hair recovery was also found to be regrown from the hair follicles for each bald person in this study. The hair density is observed to be the same as the non-bald region.”
90% hair regrowth! You’re right to feel sceptical.
But JD Moyer offers an explanation as to why so few people see such dramatic hair regrowth from scalp massage: it takes too much time.
In fact, the previously mentioned research paper noted that the first signs of hair regrowth were observed at month five. Given that the massage took 20 minutes a day, that’s a big commitment and a long time to go without seeing results.
But JD Moyer persisted with the massage for over a year, even posting an update article. In it, he posted two photos taken a year apart which show the results of this unconventional technique. Take a look for yourself.
Update: New trial of scalp massage for hair loss
A new 2019 study looked at whether scalp massage can reverse androgenetic alopecia. The study process was as follows:
- Between October 2016 and October 2017, 1899 people searching for hair loss treatments online were shown a video showing how to conduct scalp massage for hair loss (2 x 20 minute scalp massages per day)
- These people were contacted in December 2017 and asked to complete a survey
- 340 people responded to the survey, of whom 327 had attempted the scalp massage program
The results were as follows:
“[Scalp massage] participants reported a median daily massage effort of 11–20 min and mean adherence of 7.4 ± 6.6 months, with 68.9% reporting hair loss stabilization or regrowth. Estimated minutes daily, months, and total [scalp massage] effort (i.e., minutes daily × months) were positively associated with self-perceived hair changes. On average, perceived hair loss stabilization and regrowth occurred after 36.3 h of [scalp massage] effort. Results did not vary across age, gender, Norwood gradient, or concomitant supplement, topical, finasteride, minoxidil, or microneedling use. However, hair change improvements were marginally lower for participants reporting diffuse versus frontal/temporal or vertex thinning.”
The study includes the following photo of hair regrowth in one of the participants:
The researchers attempted to control for any bias in the participants’ self-assessments and so, assuming these self-assessments are accurate, the take away from this study is that hair regrowth from scalp massage takes a fair amount of time and effort. This may explain why it hasn’t caught on as a popular way to maintain or regrow hair lost from androgenetic alopecia.
Scalp massage method for hair loss
While there’s no single correct way to perform scalp massage, those who report hair regrowth tend to have the following in common:
- Perform the massage for at least 10 minutes a day, preferably more
- Be quite robust in the massage technique: apply a reasonable amount of pressure to stretch and loosen the scalp
- Use your fingertips, not your fingernails
- Keep it up regularly for at least five months
Some of those who’ve seen successful hair regrowth with massage advocate the use of various oils during the massage. These range from olive oil to rosemary oil to lavender oil. Indeed, this study on alopecia areata patients found massage with a blend of essential oils to produce superior results in comparison to massage with just carrier oils. Both groups – massage with oil and massage without – saw improvements, further supporting the hypothesis that scalp massage can help with hair loss.
So can scalp massage really regrow hair?
I am cautiously optimistic as to the effectiveness of scalp massage.
Whether it really can regrow 90% of hair on a bald scalp is highly dubious. But then, how many people have had the discipline to keep going with this time consuming treatment for the many months required to see results?
From my own limited experience of scalp massage, I have definitely noticed an initial increase of scalp grease and dandruff after starting scalp massage as described by JD Moyer. Unfortunately, I’ve not had the discipline to do the scalp massage daily. In fact, I’ve gone whole months without doing it, so I can’t really give a fair review.
But I will say that scalp massage feels very pleasant. Not only does it reduce stress levels, it reduces the itch which is often associated with androgenetic alopecia. Perhaps this is a sign that it’s tackling the root cause of hair loss as well as this symptom?
Either way, it’s worth considering as a hair loss treatment. While I wouldn’t dispense with established hair loss treatments like finasteride just yet, there’s no harm in adding scalp massage to your hair loss prevention routine. It’s natural, safe, costs nothing and feels good. Going forward, it would be positive to see more clinical research into this alternative hair loss treatment.
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