Flaxseed oil is the fatty components of the flax seed extracted into a concentrated oil.
It’s used quite often due to its purported health benefits.
Do these reputed health benefits extend to hair loss sufferers?
In this article, I will discuss both topical use and dietary supplementation of flaxseed oil, its benefits, how to find the best flaxseed oil, and if science backs up using flaxseed oil for hair loss.
Quickly, make sure you take the free hair quiz later in this article.
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What Is Flaxseed and Flaxseed Oil?
Flaxseeds are seeds from the flax plant.
The flaxseed itself contains healthy fats, fibers, antioxidant compounds like vitamin E and β-carotene, lignans (which have estrogen-like properties), and proteins (1).
The predominant fatty acid found in flaxseed and flaxseed oil is α-linolenic acid (ALA). It also contains a small percentage of linoleic acid and oleic acid.
When flaxseed oil is extracted from the flaxseeds, it doesn’t retain any of the fiber, lignans, or proteins, contrary to popular belief. However, it does maintain its levels of beneficial fatty acids as well as the antioxidant compounds. The degree to which these are retained and their quality is dependent on how the oil is processed, though. (More on this later.)
When taken internally or used topically, the constituents of flaxseed oil may hold some benefit for hair loss sufferers. These will be discussed below.
- Flaxseed contains various beneficial compounds including healthy fats, fibers, antioxidant compounds, lignans, and proteins.
- Flaxseed oil only retains the beneficial fatty acids like ALA, linoleic acid, and oleic acid and the antioxidant compounds vitamin E and β-carotene.
- The constituents of flaxseed oil might hold some benefit for hair loss sufferers.
Flaxseed Oil for Hair Loss
When it comes to using flaxseed oil for hair loss, the research is murky. However, we can make some assumptions on how flaxseed oil might benefit hair based on its constituents.
Flaxseed oil can be used in two ways: topically and internally.
Topical Flaxseed Oil for Hair Loss
Topical flaxseed oil is not frequently used. This is mostly because flaxseed oil can be pricey and slathering it on your scalp isn’t necessarily cost-effective.
Nonetheless, using flaxseed oil as an oil treatment might be beneficial. This is due to its fatty acid and antioxidant content.
Linoleic acid is an omega-6 fatty acid with skin-protecting properties found in flaxseed oil. It is the precursor to ceramides within the skin like on the scalp (2).
These ceramides are a major constituent of the skin permeability barrier. This protective barrier helps keep harmful microbes and environmental pollutants out of the skin. It also functions to keep water in, which is essential for proper skin and scalp health.
If the skin is deprived of this omega-6 fatty acid, the skin barrier begins to deteriorate. This allows harmful microbes and pollutants to get in and water to escape.
What this all culminates to is the production of free radicals and inflammation. The lack of hydration also leads to scaly, dry, and sometimes itchy skin.
Free radicals and inflammation work against hair growth. On their own, they have demonstrated an ability to inhibit hair growth (3, 4, 5). Together, they may work synergistically to seriously hamper hair growth.
Overall, a scalp depleted of fatty acids is an unhealthy scalp. Simply put, an unhealthy scalp doesn’t create the environment needed for healthy hair growth (6).
However, the effects of linoleic acid from flaxseed oil are limited by the small amount of linoleic acid found within it. In contrast to linoleic acid-rich oils like sunflower seed oil or hemp seed oil, flaxseed oil may not have the linoleic acid content to support barrier function.
Instead, flaxseed oil’s primary fatty acid is ALA. ALA is still considered beneficial for the skin, but the data on its topical use is limited.
The antioxidants in flaxseed oil may also confer some benefit when used topically. For example, vitamin E exerts potent antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects as a result of topical use (7).
The ancient medicine system Ayurveda also deems flaxseed oil as a useful topical treatment. They indicate that flaxseed promotes balance in the skin which is essential for hair growth.
Although, no studies have been conducted to observe the effects of flaxseed oil on hair growth. For this reason, we can’t make too many assumptions about how flaxseed oil promotes hair growth topically.
- Linoleic acid, a fatty acid in flaxseed oil, is essential for ceramide synthesis in the skin. These ceramides are the major constituent of the skin barrier that protects the skin from free radical damage, inflammation, and water loss.
- Without the skin barrier, the skin becomes flaky, dry, inflamed, and damaged (by free radicals). Inflammation and free radicals inhibit hair growth. For this reason, topical application of linoleic acid may enhance skin health required for healthy hair growth.
- The effects of linoleic acid may be limited by the small amount of linoleic acid found in flaxseed oil.
- ALA is the major fatty acid in flaxseed oil but its topical benefits haven’t been studied.
- Vitamin E in flaxseed oil neutralizes inflammation and free radicals.
- Ayurvedic medicine indicates that flaxseed oil promotes balance in the skin which is essential for hair growth.
- However, no studies have been conducted to observe the effects of flaxseed oil on hair growth.
Flaxseed Oil Supplementation
Flaxseed oil supplementation is a common practice. But, can this improve hair growth?
The fatty acid profile of flaxseed oil may have anti-inflammatory properties.
In the body, ALA is converted to DHA and EPA, two anti-inflammatory omega-3 fatty acids (8). But, the rate of this conversion is usually very inefficient in humans. This means that flaxseed oil consumption alone likely doesn’t result in high enough DHA and EPA levels to provide an anti-inflammatory benefit.
Although, ALA supplementation may have some anti-inflammatory benefit on its own. In one study, mice fed an ALA-rich diet had a lower inflammatory response to UVB-radiation (9). This was statistically significant when compared to mice fed a linoleic acid-rich diet.
Flaxseed oil supplementation may also help repair the skin barrier. In one randomized controlled trial, subjects who supplemented with flaxseed oil had less water loss from the skin and diminished skin sensitivity (10).
Considering that skin barrier function is essential for a healthy scalp, flaxseed oil might promote support healthy hair growth.
ALA may also have a dihydrotestosterone-blocking (DHT) effect (11). DHT is a powerful male hormone converted from testosterone by the enzyme 5α-reductase (5α-R).
DHT is believed to be a significant contributor to a form of hair loss called Androgenetic Alopecia (AGA). It plays a role in the formation of scarring around the hair follicle and calcification of blood vessels in the scalp that lead to hair follicle miniaturization. This miniaturization appears as hair loss.
So, many of the treatments used to counteract AGA are targeted at blocking the activity of the 5α-R enzyme. This prevents excessive amounts of DHT from forming, preventing follicle miniaturization.
In one study, an herbal extract containing ALA had 5α-R-inhibitory effects and promoted hair regrowth (11). Although, there were many other fatty acids that may have contributed to the overall inhibition. This means that effects cannot be attributed to ALA alone.
Despite these beneficial effects, no studies have demonstrated that flaxseed oil supplementation stimulates hair regrowth.
- In the body, ALA is converted to anti-inflammatory DHA and EPA. But, ALA isn’t readily converted to EPA and DHA in the human body and may not produce enough to have an anti-inflammatory effect in this way.
- In an animal study, an ALA-rich diet prevented UVB-induced inflammation in rats, suggesting ALA may have an anti-inflammatory effect on its own.
- Flaxseed oil supplementation has been shown to support skin barrier function. Because scalp health is affected by the functionality of the skin barrier and scalp health facilitates hair growth, flaxseed oil might indirectly promote healthy hair growth.
- There is a chance that ALA might have DHT-blocking effects, however, this hasn’t been extensively studied. If ALA truly has DHT-blocking effects, flaxseed oil supplementation might be beneficial for AGA.
- Despite these possible mechanisms, no studies have confirmed that flaxseed oil supplementation stimulates hair regrowth.
Does Flaxseed Oil Increase Estrogen?
Estrogen has been documented to play various roles in the skin, including regulation of oil production (14). It has been shown to minimize sebum excretion and reduce the size of the sebaceous gland.
One feature of AGA is abnormally large sebaceous glands. These have increased sebum output that contributes to inflammation on the scalp.
Because estrogen helps to regulate the sebaceous gland, this may be part of the reason estrogen can stimulate hair regrowth. Although, not many studies have explored this.
Flaxseed is a common supplement used to balance estrogen levels (1). This is because it contains high levels of lignans that mimic estrogen in the body. Lignans can bind to estrogen receptors and influence their activity.
However, flax lignans aren’t as strong as estrogen itself.
Nonetheless, flaxseed and flaxseed oil are often used in an attempt to balance hormone levels. Contrary to popular belief, though, flaxseed oil doesn’t contain any lignans. Lignans are water-soluble and don’t make it into the final flaxseed oil product.
This means that flaxseed oil doesn’t impact estrogen activity in any way.
- Estrogen has documented effects of the skin. However, its exact effects on hair growth are less clear.
- Estrogen regulates sebum production and sebaceous gland size. One feature of AGA is enlarged sebaceous glands and increased sebum output. Because estrogen regulates the sebaceous gland, this may be one of the ways it helps stimulate hair regrowth.
- Flaxseed is often used to balance estrogen levels because of their estrogen-mimicking lignan content. Flaxseed oil, though, doesn’t contain any lignans and doesn’t influence estrogen activity in any way.
The Best Flaxseed Oil
If you choose to use flaxseed oil, it’s important to ensure you are getting a high-quality flaxseed oil.
The ALA and linoleic acid in flaxseed oil make it prone to oxidation by light, heat, and air. This is because of the molecular structure of these fatty acids.
When ALA and linoleic acid come into contact with light, heat, and air during processing, these fatty acids can become oxidized. When oxidized, they form lipid peroxides which diminish the antioxidant content of the oil (vitamin E is used to neutralize the lipid peroxides).
If the flaxseed oil becomes extremely rancid, these lipid peroxides can completely deplete vitamin E, allowing more and more lipid peroxides to form. When these lipid peroxide-laden oils are used on the skin or ingested they act as free radicals which can damage cell structures, cause inflammation, and inhibit hair growth.
To avoid this, purchasing cold-pressed oil in a dark glass bottle is prudent. This ensures no toxic solvents or heat was used to extract the oil from the seed, preventing excessive lipid peroxide formation.
Storing flaxseed oil in a cool, dark place away from possible heat exposure also helps maintain the quality of the oil.
You’ll also want to opt for organic flaxseed oil to guarantee you’re avoiding pesticides that can negate the benefits of consuming flaxseed oil.
- Flaxseed oil is prone to oxidation and lipid peroxide formation because of the molecular structure of its fatty acids.
- To avoid excessive damaging lipid peroxides that can damage cell structures, cause inflammation, and inhibit hair growth, opt for a cold-pressed oil in a dark glass bottle.
- Store your flaxseed oil in a cool, dark place away from possible heat exposure.
- Purchasing organic flaxseed oil also ensures you’re avoiding harmful pesticides.
The Verdict: Can You Use Flaxseed Oil for Hair Loss?
So, is flaxseed oil really that beneficial for hair growth?
Unfortunately, there isn’t any data to suggest it is. Although the fatty acid content of flaxseed oil may be beneficial for hair growth, we can’t make any conclusions.
However, if you do choose to use flaxseed oil, make sure you purchase organic, cold-pressed flaxseed oil stored in a dark glass container.
Have you ever used flaxseed oil? What was your experience with it? Leave a comment below.