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Olive Oil for Hair Growth: Can It Actually Help?

Olive oil is extracted from the mega-nutritious olive fruit.

Its health benefits and longevity-promoting properties have ushered in a new wave of research.

But, does it hold benefits for hair?

Preliminary research suggests it might.

Ready to understand all the details?

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In this article, I’ll show you how olive oil might help you achieve healthy hair, how to use olive oil for hair growth, the best olive oil to use, and more!

Just keep reading.

Quickly, make sure you take the free hair quiz later in this article.

What Is Olive Oil?

Olive oil is the oil extracted from the olive fruit. It’s a key component of the renowned Mediterranean Diet.

The crux of olive oil’s healing properties is its highly bioavailable antioxidants called polyphenols.

Among the many, three polyphenols are the most abundant:

Oleuropein, tyrosol, and oleocanthal (1).

Each one works differently. They act on different signaling pathways to really ramp up your health.

But, intriguingly, these benefits may also translate to hair.

Below, I’ll discuss the various benefits of these polyphenols and how they relate to hair growth.

Key Takeaway: Oleuropein, tyrosol, and oleocanthol are the main polyphenols in olive oil. The way the act in the body may benefit hair.

The Benefits of Olive Oil: Does It Promote Hair Growth?

Olive oil’s rich polyphenol content may benefit hair when used both topically and internally.

Olive oil being poured into a glass bowl
Olive oil is an abundant source of polyphenols.

Let’s talk about how.

Oleuropein

Oleuropein is a polyphenol abundant in olive oil.

Besides antimicrobial and antifungal activity, oleuropein also lowers inflammation and neutralizes free radicals in the body (1). Its anti-inflammatory activity is attributed to its ability to downregulate Tumor Necrosis Factor alpha (TNFα) and interleukin-1β (IL-1β) (2, 3).

Here’s why this matters:

This all happens within the cells. When TNFα and IL-1β are secreted, they stimulate a transcription factor called Nuclear Factor-kappa Beta (NF-κB) (4). NF-κB makes its way to the nucleus in cells which then stimulates the production of pro-inflammatory proteins (5).

Usually, this process is short-lived. But, if this cellular signaling is sustained it can lead to tissue damage.

In response, the body increases the production of Transforming Growth Factor-Beta (TGF-β1). This is a growth factor that stimulates collagen production to remodel damaged tissue (6). But, it can also cause fibrosis.

In the case of chronic inflammatory signaling in the hair follicle, fibrosis around the hair follicle can be detrimental for hair growth (7). It can reduce blood flow and miniaturize follicles, leading to hair loss. This is the suspected development of androgenetic alopecia (AGA), a male hormone-mediated form of hair loss.

Interestingly, inflammatory IL-1 proteins may also increase androgen production, which may explain the elevated levels of IL-1 in AGA patients.

Research mirrors this. Studies analyzing hair loss patients suggests that TNFα, IL-1β, and excess of pro-inflammatory proteins are all implicated in both alopecia areata (AA) and AGA. TGF-β1 is elevated in AGA.

On top of its anti-inflammatory action, oleuropein also neutralizes free radicals that can damage cell components.

Studies suggest balding dermal papilla cells (DPCs), the cells within hair follicles responsible for hair growth, are susceptible to oxidative stress by free radicals (8). Human studies have confirmed this, showing that hair loss sufferers seem to have higher indicators of oxidative stress (9, 10).

Putting the pieces together, we can understand how oleuropein may benefit hair growth:

  • By reducing inflammatory signaling and the downstream negative impacts on hair.
  • By preventing oxidative stress which is associated with hair loss.

These findings have led researchers to conduct studies directly looking at how oleuropein impacts hair growth.

Although still in the preliminary stages, there is one interesting study we can look at.

Researchers in this study set out to see how oleuropein influenced human DPCs in cell cultures as well as rats (11).

When added to the DPC cell culture, researchers observed that DPCs started to proliferate:

The effect of oleuropein on DPCs
The effects of control, oleuropein, and minoxidil, respectively, on the proliferation of DPCs.

Because DPC cell division is a key driver of hair growth, this suggests that oleuropein may stimulate hair growth.

However, whether or not this activity translates to the whole hair follicle in live humans is still under debate.

In the animal portion of the study, researchers found that oleuropein shifted hair from the resting telogen phase to the growing anagen phase. They also found that it enhanced hair growth more efficiently than the FDA-approved treatment for hair loss, minoxidil:

The state of hair follicles in the control, oleuropein, and minoxidil groups, respectively.
The state of the rats’ hair follicles in the control, oleuropein, and minoxidil groups, respectively.

These results validate the possible mechanisms of olive oil for hair growth. However, we need more human studies to know exactly how it might work.

Key Takeaways:

  • Oleuropein is an abundant polyphenol in olive oil.
  • Oleuropein inhibits TNFα and IL-1β secretion which prevents the activation of NF-κB. It may downregulate inflammation in this way.
  • High levels of TNFα, IL-1β, and other inflammatory proteins are high in both AA and AGA sufferers.
  • Chronic inflammation in the hair follicle activates TGF-β1 which can lead to decreased blood flow and miniaturized hair follicles. TGF-β1 plays a role in the development of AGA.
  • Oleuropein is also an antioxidant that can prevent oxidative stress. Oxidative stress is toxic to DPCs responsible for hair growth. Measurements of oxidative stress is higher in hair loss sufferers.
  • A new study showed that oleuropein induced the anagen phase when applied topically and enhanced proliferation in DPC cultures.

Tyrosol

There’s one interesting connection researchers are making between an important cell component and hair loss: the mitochondria. These are the powerhouses of the cell that produce adenosine triphosphate (ATP), the energy currency of the body.

As research evolves, more and more studies point to the impact of mitochondrial health on all facets of health.

Hair health is not exempt from this. Hair follicle studies suggest that mitochondrial energy production plays a role in fueling hair growth (12).

In one novel study, mice with impaired mitochondrial function developed wrinkled skin and hair loss (13). When they were treated to re-establish mitochondrial function, their wrinkles and hair loss reversed.

Studies on the olive oil antioxidant polyphenol tyrosol indicate it stimulates the production of new mitochondria (1). This is a process called mitochondrial biogenesis.

Essentially, more mitochondria mean better mitochondrial energy production, which could benefit hair growth.

Although, we need more studies on hair loss sufferers and the quality of their mitochondria.

Key Takeaways:

  • Tyrosol is another active polyphenol in olive oil.
  • It stimulates mitochondrial biogenesis, the formation of new mitochondria.
  • Mitochondrial function might play a role in fueling hair growth. A study of mice with imapired mitochondrial function exhibited hair loss and skin wrinkling. Restoring mitochondrial function reversed the wrinkling and hair loss.

Oleocanthal

Oleocanthal is yet another polyphenol with some really unique properties.

It exerts anti-inflammatory similar to ibuprofen, an OTC anti-inflammatory drug (14).

Both oleocanthal and ibuprofen work by inhibiting a group of enzymes called cyclooxygenases (COX; COX-1 and COX-2) (14). These convert omega-6 fatty acids into inflammatory proteins called prostaglandins.

While the production of some prostaglandins is beneficial for hair growth, others are detrimental. For example, F type prostaglandins induce hair growth while D type prostaglandins are high in AGA scalps (15, 16).

However, prostaglandin production is highly specific and influenced heavily by the environment (17). So, how the COX enzymes exactly influence prostaglandin production related to hair growth is hard to pinpoint.

But, what we do know is that COX-2 activity can inhibit hair growth in animal studies. COX-2 inhibitors, like oleocanthal, restore normal hair growth.

By inhibiting COX-2, oleocanthal may help restore hair growth in this way. Although, it could be a double-edged sword.

If COX-2 is inhibited too much, it could downregulate the production of prostaglandins that stimulate hair growth. When it comes to the levels of oleocanthal in olive oil, it’s probably unlikely that oleocanthal would impact COX-2 negatively.

Key Takeaways:

  • Oleocanthal works like ibuprofen: by downregulating COX-1 and COX-2 enzymes.
  • Some prostalgandins are beneficial for hair growth while others are detrimental.
  • Prostaglandin production is specific and influenced by the environment. So, how COX enzymes exactly influence prostaglandin production is hard to say.
  • Animal studies show that enhanced COX-2 activity can inhibit hair growth while COX-2 inhibitors restore hair growth.
  • By inhibiting COX-2, olecanthal at the levels in olive oil may restore normal hair growth.

Oleic Acid

Oleic acid is the predominant fatty acid found in olive oil. It’s a monounsaturated fatty acid, also called omega-9.

When plant oils like olive oil are used on the skin, the fatty acids influence skin health in different ways.

Linoleic acid is the most abundant fatty acid in the skin (18). It helps to restore barrier function, which is critical for skin health. It protects against microbial, environmental pollution, and water loss from the skin (transepidermal water loss; TEWL), all of which can lead to skin dysfunction.

This skin function also translates to scalp health. Barrier function of the skin on the scalp is important for maintaining scalp health. Researchers believe that scalp health directly correlates to healthy hair growth (19).

Oleic acid, on the other hand, decreases barrier function. This can enhance the penetration of beneficial ingredients applied in tandem with oleic acid. But, it can also make the skin susceptible to microbial invasion, pollutant damage, and TEWL.

The skin structure
Oleic acid decreases skin barrier function. This leads to better penetration of the substance, but it can also open the skin up to harmful molecules.

Considering olive oil is mainly comprised of oleic acid, this makes things a little tricky.

However, the antimicrobial, anti-inflammatory, and antioxidant properties of the polyphenols in olive oil might counteract these negative effects.

In fact, the oleic acid present might even enhance the beneficial effects of the polyphenols.

So, in spite of olive oil’s oleic acid content, it seems to have a net benefit for the skin and scalp.

Key Takeaways:

  • In contrast to linoleic acid, oleic acid increases the permeability of the protective skin barrier. This can enhance penetration of beneficial ingredients, but also increases the chances of microbial and pollutant invasion. Water can also escape the skin (TEWL), causing dysfunction.
  • Oleic acid is the predominant fatty acid in olive oil.
  • However, the beneficial effects of the polyphenols may counteract the negative effects of the increased permeability.
  • In spite of olive oil’s oleic acid content, it seems to have a net benefit for the skin and scalp.

The Big Picture: The Advantages and Disadvantages of Using Olive Oil

Most studies looking at the benefits of olive oil examine olive oil in the diet.

Although the polyphenols in olive oil are relatively bioavailable, you would have to consume a lot of olive oil to directly treat something as advanced as AGA or AA.

It may put a dent in the overall inflammation and oxidative stress in the body, but there’s no guarantee that it will directly benefit hair growth.

Studies have looked at the benefits of topical olive oil. In a few clinical trials, topical olive oil demonstrated an ability to improve osteoarthritis (20). This indicates that topical olive oil has a local anti-inflammatory effect.

The probable local anti-inflammatory action of olive oil may benefit hair loss, considering hair follicle inflammation is a factor. However, this hasn’t been directly explored in humans.

So, when it comes down to it, there’s a chance topical and dietary use of olive oil may benefit hair growth.

Key Takeaways:

  • Most studies have looked at the health benefits of dietary olive oil.
  • Some clinical trials indicate a benefit of topical olive oil in osteoarthritis. This suggests topical olive oil can reduce inflammation locally.
  • This local anti-inflammatory effect could benefit hair loss, considering inflammation is a factor.
  • However, the exact effect of topical olive oil hasn’t been directly explored in humans.
  • When it comes down to it, there’s a chance topical and dietary use of olive oil may benefit hair growth.

Is There Any Research On Olive Oil for Hair Loss?

Unfortunately, there are no human trials on the dietary or topical use of olive oil for treating hair loss. The only study we have is on a constituent of olive oil in DPC cultures and rats.

So, in spite of really promising mechanisms, we can’t draw any c0nclusions from the literature.

Key Takeaway: The only study we have is on a constituent of olive oil in DPC cultures and rats. There are currently no human trials looking at the dietary or topical use of olive oil for hair loss.

Olive Oil for Dandruff

As I mentioned earlier, some of the polyphenols in olive oil have antibacterial and antifungal properties.

So, using olive oil topically might improve dandruff. This is because dandruff is predominantly caused by a yeast species called Malassezia.

By acting as an antifungal, olive oil may theoretically improve dandruff.

However, the research on this suggests otherwise (21). Malassezia spp. yeast thrive on fatty acids, hence why they tend to reproduce in places with an abundance of sebum (22).

Because of this, olive oil may not be the way to go when it comes to treating dandruff. Moreover, using olive oil topically to promote hair growth if you also have dandruff could prove to be counterintuitive.

Key Takeaway: Malassezia spp. yeast depend on fatty acids for survival. So, although olive oil has some antifungal activity, the fatty acids feed Malassezia type yeast. This means olive oil is probably not the way to go.

The Best of the Best: Organic, Unfiltered Extra Virgin Olive Oil for Hair Growth

Whether you plan to use olive oil topically or include it in your diet, you should opt for the best of the best.

According to analyses, unfiltered extra virgin olive oil retains the most polyphenols during processing (1). The higher the polyphenol content, the more beneficial the oil is.

You’ll also want to look for an organic oil. This ensures that harmful pesticides don’t contaminate the oil, which can have potentially detrimental effects.

Key Takeaway: An organic, unfiltered, extra virgin olive oil retains the most beneficial polyphenols as well as avoids potentially harmful pesticides.

How to Use Olive Oil for Your Hair

Properly using olive oil increases the chances of accessing olive oil’s potential benefits for hair.

Below, I’ll let you know how to best use olive oil.

Olive Oil Scalp Mask

If you don’t have dandruff, topical olive oil could potentially enhance hair growth.

A woman using an olive oil hair mask

By applying olive oil to your scalp, massaging it in, and letting it sit, you allow the polyphenols to effectively penetrate.

And thankfully, studies show that olive oil readily penetrates the skin (18).

Here’s how you can do an olive oil hair mask:

  1. Pour about a half an ounce of olive oil into an applicator bottle.
  2. After thoroughly combing hair, apply olive oil to your scalp until fully coated.
  3. Massage olive oil into the scalp to maximize penetration.
  4. Optional: Add coconut oil to the ends of your hair. The small molecular structure of coconut oil allows to effectively penetrate the hair shaft to promote stronger, healthier hair (23).
  5. Let the olive oil sit for a minimum of twenty minutes to allow for full penetration of the oil.
  6. Cleanse your hair, as usual, using shampoo and conditioner.

While there is no guarantee that this can promote hair growth, there’s no harm in trying it to see how it impacts you individually.

Key Takeaway: If you don’t have dandruff, an olive oil hair mask is probably safe to use. However, there’s no guarantee it will promote hair growth.

Is Olive Oil Good for Hair Overnight?

Considering olive oil’s relatively reliable safety profile, there’s probably no harm in leaving it on for an extended period of time.

So, if you choose to do a hair mask, feel free to leave it in overnight!

Key Takeaway: Olive oil is probably safe to use overnight.

Olive Oil In Your Diet

Olive oil is a great addition to salads, bread, or drizzled on some flatbread.

For cooking, it’s best to use olive oil for low-heat cooking like sauteeing. This is because the polyphenols are relatively sensitive to heat.

If you expose them to high heat, you could risk losing out on some of the nutritional benefits of consuming olive oil.

Key Takeaway: Use olive oil unheated or for low-heat cooking to maintain the nutritional value.

The Bottom Line: Olive Oil for Hair Growth Faster?

So, here’s the verdict:

There are a lot of ways olive oil might promote hair growth. But, none of them have been proven.

We don’t have any research directly examining olive oil intake or topical olive oil for its benefit on hair growth.

When it comes to using olive oil for hair growth, it’s probably relatively safe unless you have dandruff. In that case, the fatty acids in the oil could theoretically feed the yeast species that causes dandruff.

Is olive oil a regular part of your routine? Let me know in the comments below.

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