Medically reviewed by Angela Sheddan, DNP, FNP-BC
Written by Our Editorial Team
Last updated 4/19/2021
For much of human history, garlic has been considered an important herbal remedy for a variety of maladies. But could garlic’s millenia-old healing properties lend themselves to hair regrowth too? It turns out, the answer is potentially “yes.”
Much like its cinematic value in combating vampires, garlic may have some important properties in warding off another shared cultural nightmare: baldness.
Hair loss is a complicated problem with many potential causes, and with it come a lot of complicated solutions. So, we’re not telling you to hack a head of garlic in half and start rubbing it on your scalp (in fact please don’t do that).
Using garlic to treat hair loss is going to be more complicated than that.
Aside from being one of the most popular tools in the chef’s spice cabinet, garlic also has some reason to be in the medicine cabinet. Allium sativum, as it is officially known, originated in Asia more than 6,000 years ago. Over the course of human history, it spread across the mediterranean, to Europe and Africa, and eventually across nearly all human cultures.
But beyond its taste, garlic also brought to the table some alleged remedies — it’s been used for disease treatment alongside flavor for much of that time.
And yes, there’s science to back up. When administered in various medicinal forms (topicals, pills, etc.), garlic has antioxidative properties, has been associated with lowered cholesterol levels and reduced blood pressure, and has some important benefits to dermal microcirculation.
Part of garlic’s benefit? It contains a lot of important nutrients.
According to a 2020 review in the International Journal of Molecular Sciences, “Fresh garlic contains water, fiber, lipids, proteins, carbohydrates (such as fructose), vitamins (mainly C and A), minerals (such as potassium, phosphorus, magnesium, sodium, iron, and calcium), phytosterols, and phenolic derivatives, as well as organic sulfur compounds.”
In other words, it has a lot of stuff you’ve probably seen mentioned on vitamin labels, recommended treatment ingredient lists, and basic documents about healthy, well-balanced nutritional intake.
A 2011 review showed specific benefits of garlic to the skin, and highlighted the potential for garlic in everything from sunscreen to psoriasis treatment.
But a long list of accomplishments doesn’t exactly mean it’s Miracle-Gro® for follicles. The good news, however, is that the research seems very supportive.
Garlic’s specific claim to fame when it comes to hair health is actually a shared trait among its relatives, which include onions, scallions, shallots and leeks: organosulfur compounds. Organosulfur compounds are a powerful medical tool, with antimicrobial and immunomodulatory properties, and anti-inflammatory effects. These can be particularly important traits when dealing with an irritated, inflamed, or otherwise hobbled hair-producing scalp or skin surface.
So what about using it in treatments for hair loss? Well, there are more questions than answers at the moment. Limited trials have shown that garlic can be an effective element when combined with other treatments, but this part of the science is still in its infancy.
For instance, a trial of 40 alopecia areata patients observed the difference between a gel with betamethasone and garlic, and a placebo. Ninety-five percent of the recipients of the garlic gel observed “good to moderate” responses, as opposed to five percent with the placebo. What’s more, there were no adverse reactions observed.
But the limitations of this study are many. For one, its small size (40 people) isn’t statistically significant. For another, alopecia areata is a particular kind of hair loss, specifically caused by autoimmune issues. Its connection with male pattern balding (also known as androgenic alopecia) is distant, but still relevant.
The truth is, garlic may expose some serious hair growth powers in the next decade or two, and the answer may be quite simple once we find it. But in the meantime, there are some major questions we still have to answer.
For one, we don’t know the particular compound(s) or mechanisms by which garlic can actually promote regrowth. For another, numerous studies are still needed to target and refine that mechanism.
What this means for you is that, while rubbing a clove of garlic on your bald spot may only produce the negative effect of making you smell, you’re unlikely to reverse the course of hair loss by treating your scalp with garlic oil.
Instead, you’d be better served with one of the proven treatments for hair loss on the market today, like finasteride (brand name Propecia®), which is prescribed to help with hormone regulation, or minoxidil (brand name Rogaine®) which is prescribed to stimulate follicle regrowth.
There are hundreds of home and internet remedies for hair loss, but trust us and scientists when we say that only a few of them are proven with years (and in some cases decades) of studies.
You can learn more about hair loss and how to treat it with our guide to male pattern baldness.
If you’re starting to see more hair in the drain, on the pillowcase or the collar, it may be time to address the problem before it gets out of hand (and scalp).
A health care professional will be able to address these problems with you, and recommend a tailored course of action to help you set your scalp on the right path again.
A word of advice? Hair loss can be a sign of many other serious concerns, from hypertension and diabetes to malnutrition and other underlying issues. It can also be a signal you have an autoimmune disease. So if you’re starting to notice a difference, do yourself a favor and seek help.
And for now anyway, leave the garlic with the steak.