Plants have been used in folk and traditional medicine for centuries. For some beautiful, aromatic, or even flowering plants, it’s easy to see why humans would have been drawn to them. However, the saying “don’t judge a book by its cover” is the first thing that comes to mind when looking at the nettle plant, a common weed covered in stinging hairs.
Nettle, also referred to as stinging nettle or by its scientific name urtica dioica, has been used to treat a wide variety of ailments and even in food preservation for centuries. You can often find nettle listed as an ingredient in herbal teas, especially those designed to detoxify the kidneys. As with many ingredients packed with antioxidants, people have claimed that nettle has the ability to treat hair loss. But is there truth to these claims?
In order to sort fact from fiction, we turned to two board-certified dermatologists to understand the potential benefits of nettle for hair. Keep reading to hear their takes on using nettle for hair loss.
NETTLE FOR HAIR
TYPE OF INGREDIENT: Antioxidant, strengthener, and anti-inflammatory agent.
MAIN BENEFITS: Soothes scalp inflammation, strengthens hair, may help stimulate hair growth, and has antimicrobial properties.
WHO SHOULD USE IT: In general, anyone looking to soothe scalp irritation or who is experiencing hair loss/thinning. Nettle can be drying, so those with damaged or dry hair may not want to apply it topically. Nettle should be avoided during pregnancy, as it has the potential to stimulate contractions.
HOW OFTEN CAN YOU USE IT: Nettle can be used as a topical treatment for the scalp and hair once a week. A doctor should be consulted before taking oral nettle due to its potential to interact with certain medications.
WORKS WELL WITH: Moisturizing ingredients/treatments to restore hydration lost by using nettle.
DON’T USE WITH: Nettle contains high levels of vitamin K and may interact with certain medications. Nettle should never be used in combination with diuretics or diabetes medications.
What Is Nettle for Hair?
Nettle is found across the globe as a perennial wild plant. All parts of the nettle contain a rich composition of bioactive compounds with high antioxidant capacity, including the leaves, stalks and roots.
Benefits of Nettle for Hair
All parts of the nettle have anti-inflammatory and therapeutic effects and are used in the treatment of arthritis, anemia, allergies, joint pain, and even urinary tract infections. When it comes to hair, there are several reported benefits, but there isn’t a ton of research to back some of them up. Board certified dermatologist Joshua Zeichner, MD, says stinging nettle is a botanical extract that has long been used to help enhance hair growth, but cautions that there is not much real data out there to back this up. Snehal Amin, MD, a board-certified dermatologist, agrees and adds that although there is limited research on the use of stinging nettle for hair growth, the inflammatory and antioxidant properties of nettle have benefits for the scalp’s overall health.
- Potent scalp inflammation fighter: Extracts from the leaves of the plant rich in sulfur, which has anti-inflammatory properties, explains Zeichner. Inflammation is associated with many scalp conditions, especially eczema. Due to their antihistamine and anti-inflammatory properties, stinging nettles can be used as a natural component in eczema medications. Nettles can even work in combination with non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), allowing patients to decrease their use of NSAIDs.
- Strengthens the hair: While not as common, in certain parts of the world nettle is used topically to strengthen hair.3 This is due to nettle leaves and stalks having a rich source of vitamins A, B, and C, minerals (iron, potassium, calcium, magnesium), and polyphenols, such as phenolic acids and flavonoids.3
- Rich in antioxidants: Nettles are rich in antioxidants. In fact, research has found that the antioxidant activity of nettles may induce a decrease in the relative weight of the liver. Antioxidants are great for your overall health, which can impact your hair.
- Can improve dandruff: Nettle has been shown to have antimicrobial and antibacterial properties, which can help to improve conditions like dandruff, says Zeichner. Research has shown that the large number of active compounds in this plant may show stronger antibacterial activities than synthetic antimicrobials.
- May prevent hair loss: Nettle may help to combat two causes of hair loss: DHT and inflammation. Amin explains that nettle works to prevent hair loss by blocking DHT, a precursor to testosterone which is the culprit in androgenetic hair loss. Second, inflammation is an important etiologic factor of hair loss, says Amin. He explains that many types of hair loss are characterized by chronic inflammation, so the anti-inflammatory properties of nettle may help to reduce this.
- May contribute to hair growth: Although there is limited research on the use of stinging nettle for hair growth, one study suggests that it promotes dermal papilla cell growth, explains Amin. “The papilla is the part of the hair follicle that regulates hair growth. In addition, the active compound beta sitosterol stimulates growth factors for hair,” Amin adds.
Potential Risks of Using Nettle for Hair
Our experts agree that nettle is safe for all hair types, including color-treated hair. While nettle does have strengthening properties, it is important to note that it is very drying. Amin recommends using it as a treatment, but washing it out and conditioning to restore moisture. Due to its potential to impact hair loss and growth, nettle may be especially helpful for those who are experiencing hair thinning or loss. Nettle should be avoided in pregnancy though, as Amin warns that stinging nettle can stimulate uterine contractions.
How to Use Nettle for Hair
Nettle can have differing benefits and interactions depending on if you apply it topically or ingest it. Zeichner explains that the extract may be used in commercial hair care products or the leaves themselves can be used to create a homemade treatment. With oral consumption, Amin warns that there are potential drug interactions. “With oral consumption, watch out for drug interactions with warfarin since the plant contains high levels of vitamin K,” Amin cautions. “Avoid using in combination with diuretics, since the potassium loss from these anti hypertensives is compounded by stinging nettle. Similarly, blood sugar may dip too low when stinging nettle is used with other diabetes medications.” As always, you should speak to your doctor before starting any new medications or supplements.
Create a Rinse
Amin recommends applying a nettle rinse one per week, but following it with shampoo and conditioner to prevent nettle from drying out the hair. He provided the below recipe for a rinse and suggests massaging it in to the hair and scalp for a few minutes before rinsing.
- About two cups boiling water, preferably distilled.
- Three tablespoons dried nettles (or six tablespoons chopped fresh nettles)
- Adding an essential oil like peppermint is also a nice boost
- Bring water to a boil and add the nettle leaves.
- Remove from heat and allow to steep for five to ten minutes.
- Strain and allow to cool. Add essential oils once cool (optional).
- Massage cooled rinse through scalp and hair. Follow with shampoo and conditioner.
Use Hair Products With Nettle
Nettle can be found in numerous products. Check the ingredient lists in shampoos and conditioners, as well as hair treatments for hair loss for the multi-tasking ingredient.