Medically reviewed by Katelyn Hagerty, FNP
Written by Our Editorial Team
Last updated 4/22/2023
You were probably told not to touch certain plants as a kid, like poison oak, poison ivy and stinging nettles. Your parents may have been trying to protect you, but the medical community has a different view on at least one of these plants.
Stinging nettle leaves and stinging nettle extract may offer various health benefits — and stinging nettle root for hair loss may be an effective natural treatment for people in danger of going bald.
But before you go foraging for nettles — and before you start slapping your scalp with their tiny, stinging prongs in an attempt to promote hair growth — you should probably ask how they can affect your hair loss.
The answer to this question could be the difference between standing in the woods in discomfort and standing in front of a mirror with a smile.
But before we walk you through how to use these herbal extracts, there are some things you should know about stinging nettles — like what they are and why they sting.
Stinging nettles are, themselves, hairy. These plants are covered in tiny little hairs, which, combined with serrated leaves, make them generally unapproachable for humans and animals alike.
Varieties of nettle plants grow all over the world. While many types feature hairs that have a “stinging” property when touched, some species don’t.
Though we joke about not taking a DIY approach to nettle use, the fact is that stinging nettles have been considered a medicinal herb for centuries, and their properties (if not fully understood) are at least well-known in traditional medicine.
Nettles have a variety of nutritional values to offer, from vitamins and minerals to fatty acids and amino acids. Certain compounds found in nettle root extract even have antibacterial properties.
But lest you forget, these plants also have a painful, stinging defense mechanism.
Stinging nettles got their name from somewhere, after all — the stinging hairs that cover the plant, like cactus spikes but too small to see. The hairs are a major irritant to the skin and break off, leaving a hollow tube full of the same chemical in ant and bee stings.
It’s painful, it’s itchy, and it can cause burning and rash. And you want to put it on your scalp?
There better be a good reason to do that.
So why would someone willingly slap themselves with a plant that stings like a bee and produces rashes? The health benefits, of course!
Real talk: stinging nettles are one of many potential “super ingredients” that many scientists appear to be researching. We’ve found some initial, promising studies suggesting that there could be many uses for stinging nettles — or at least nettle root extract.
One study found that a stinging nettle derivative could help reduce the growth of an enlarged prostate (aka prostatic hyperplasia) in cancerous ways, which could one day lead to a prostate cancer treatment or even a cure. Who knows?
A more recent 2021 research paper detailed the polyphenols found in stinging nettle plants at length. The paper outlined the numerous potential benefits found in the chemical makeup of a stinging nettle leaf, from antioxidants to vitamin-rich leaves. And many of these nutrients happen to be essential for hair health.
Unfortunately, that’s where the extent of research into stinging nettles ends. Anti-inflammatory properties and hair nutrients aside, there were no reliable studies or pieces of research available to back up any oddball claims about the long-term efficacy of stinging nettles you might’ve found on the internet.
It’s a tough sell to get someone to head outside and forage their way to bee stings just to try and fight baldness — especially when there’s zero evidence to prove it’ll do anything beneficial.
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So, should you slap yourself silly with the awesome healing power of stinging nettle root extracts? We’re sure your friends would get a kick out of the video footage, but unfortunately for the aspiring Jackass cast members out there, it just doesn’t make sense.
And the risk of allergic reactions shouldn’t be overlooked, even when weighing any potential therapeutic effects.
For most types of hair loss, you’d be better off giving your time to medications like topical minoxidil. This FDA-approved hair loss treatment can help reverse some of the damage from androgenetic alopecia (sometimes called androgenic alopecia). In some cases, it’s also used to treat telogen effluvium, another common cause of chronic hair loss.
Minoxidil is a vasodilator. This means it increases the capacity of the blood vessels in your scalp to convey oxygen and nutrients to your hair follicles, which keeps them productive even when there might be pressure on them to fail.
Another way to prevent hair loss from androgenic alopecia is to use FDA-approved medications like finasteride. Finasteride is an antagonist against the biochemical mechanism of male pattern baldness. It prevents the formation of the testosterone-derivative DHT, which is what’s largely responsible for killing your hairline over the course of your life.
Finasteride can greatly reduce DHT levels. If you’re interested in trying it, get in touch with a healthcare professional.
So here’s what really matters in the stinging nettle conversation:
Fresh nettle and nettle extracts may have some benefits for hair health and hair growth one day. But there are entirely too many unanswered questions to say how to make use of those benefits right now.
Ravenously gorging on stinging nettles isn’t going to bring your bald spot back to life. And if you’ve experienced hair loss already, you don’t need to flog yourself with these irritating little plants — that alone won’t bring hair growth back.
But there’s a sensible alternative you should consider in all this. If you’re ready and willing to head out into the wilderness and forage your way to thicker, healthy hair, you should have no problem reaching out to a healthcare professional back here in civilization.
A healthcare provider can help you find less sting-y treatments for hair loss, and they can help you identify the type of hair loss you’re experiencing.
If you’re looking for a place to get that support, it’s not on the forest floor. It is, however, available at our hair health resources page — a great place to learn, ask questions and get medications scientifically proven to treat hair loss.
As for the nettles, go wild on your own. But don’t let the discomfort mask the sting of further hair loss. Explore your options today.