Alopecia is more than just hair loss. This often misunderstood condition can have devastating effects on the confidence and mental health of those it affects. There is no cure, but depending on the type of alopecia, there are a number of different treatment options that may help.
Clinical trials are few and far between, and what works for one person may not work for another. Add to this the costs and side effects of many of the treatments and it is not surprising that many people are looking for more natural alternatives.
One natural treatment that is creating a buzz in the treatment of hair loss is CBD oil. Spas and hair salons have started offering CBD oil hair and scalp treatments, and a quick internet search digs up tons of CBD oil-based products claiming to stimulate hair growth and even reverse baldness.
But does topical CBD oil for alopecia really work?
To evaluate the effectiveness, first, we need to know what type of alopecia we are dealing with and the cause.
What Is Alopecia?
Alopecia is the loss of hair anywhere on the scalp, face or body. Here are some of the most common types of alopecia:
This is an autoimmune condition that causes sudden loss of patches of hair when the body’s immune system mistakenly attacks the hair follicles. Approximately 1 in 50 people will experience this at some point in their life.
The follicles do retain their ability to regrow and half of all sufferers with a mild form of this condition will recover fully within a year. However, they may experience more episodes during their lifetime. A more severe but rare form is alopecia totalis, which can develop slowly from alopecia areata or can come on suddenly and involve total scalp hair loss. Alopecia universalis is the most extreme and is characterized by a total loss of all hair on the head and body.
Also commonly known as male pattern baldness, this form of alopecia affects 50% of men over 50. It is not an exclusively male condition, with 50% of women over 65 also experiencing some hair loss. It can also occur in younger people.
In androgenic alopecia, hormones cause hair follicles to shrink, creating shorter, thinner hairs. Without treatment, androgenic alopecia is a permanent condition. However, some medications like finasteride and minoxidil may reverse hair loss in some individuals.
This refers to damage due to pulling the hair from hair styling, particularly hair extensions and braiding. This is often simply temporary hair loss, but depending on the intensity and duration, it can cause damage to the hair follicles that results in permanent hair loss.
This is a sudden excessive shedding of hair and most commonly occurs after childbirth. It can also occur due to physical stressors on the body such as malnourishment (it is a common side effect of anorexia sufferers) or psychological stressors such as a bereavement.
This form occurs when hair follicles are replaced with scar tissue. Frontal fibrosing alopecia, lichen planopilaris, and folliculitis decalvans are all types of scarring alopecia.
Other Types of Alopecia
Alopecia can result from skin conditions such as eczema and psoriasis where scratching damages the hair follicles. It is also a common side effect of chemotherapy.
How to Treat Alopecia
There is currently no complete cure for alopecia, particularly the androgenic (hormonal baldness) and alopecia areata (autoimmune) versions. However, there is a range of treatments that may possibly help. They include immunotherapy, oral and topical medications, steroid injections, and topical ointments that stimulate the scalp or treat inflammation of the skin.
There is some promising research from Columbia University showing successful stimulation of hair follicles using JAK inhibitors (used to treat bone marrow disorders and rheumatoid arthritis). Unfortunately, there are very few clinical trials and success stories are largely anecdotal.
Could Topical CBD Oil Be the Answer?
With so many other medical benefits of CBD being discovered, it makes sense to wonder if topical CBD oil can be effective at treating alopecia as well. Unfortunately, the answer is probably not. Or, at least, there haven’t been the right kinds of studies done that can demonstrate CBD oil has any efficacy against alopecia.
Let’s look at one of the most common types of hair loss first—male pattern baldness. As described, male pattern baldness occurs when hormones (specifically dihydrotestosterone, or DHT) cause hair follicles to shrink, producing shorter and thinner hairs.
There are two medications that can be used to treat male pattern baldness. The first is finasteride, which is an oral medication that works by affecting levels of DHT. The second is minoxidil, which is a topical medication. Its mechanism of action is unknown, although it appears to partially work by improving blood flow to the hair follicles. Unfortunately, CBD oil is not known to have either of these two effects.
What about hair loss from a vitamin deficiency? Depending on what it is mixed with, CBD oil may contain a wealth of vitamins, minerals, and fatty acids—such as omega 3 and omega 6.
However, supplementation with very few vitamins is actually shown to improve hair loss. And even when using vitamins that do help (such as vitamin D or iron, in those who are deficient), they generally need to be ingested orally—not applied topically. Because of this, it is unlikely that topical CBD oil would be helpful in any way.
So what’s the good news? It’s possible that CBD oil may be beneficial in one type of hair loss—alopecia areata.
Could CBD Oil Be Used to Treat the Cause of Alopecia Areata?
There is no shortage of stories online from people claiming to have healed their autoimmune or stress-related conditions with only CBD oil. However, given that the widespread use of CBD oil is relatively new and there is little incentive for pharmaceutical companies to fund trials, there isn’t much in the way of evidence available.
That being said, we are becoming increasingly confident that CBD oil can reduce inflammation and oxidative stress, which is good news for people with alopecia areata as the condition is the result of an overactive immune response. Much of the wellness advice online from sufferers who have found ways to alleviate the condition mention nutritional protocols based heavily on reducing the toxic load on the body. Moving towards natural products such as CBD oil for skin and hair care could prove beneficial.
CBD Oil for Alopecia: Success Stories
The general consensus seems to be that in order to affect the immune system at that level, the CBD would need to enter the bloodstream, which cannot occur through topical application. Topical application could affect the local endocannabinoid system, say of the scalp, but as yet we don’t have much to go on in terms of research into this, particularly when it comes to CBD without THC.
However, Japanese plastic surgeon Dr. Minaru Arkaki presented findings at the Cannabinoid Conference in 2015 that showed successful treatment of alopecia areata in a single patient with topical use of cannabidiol. Scroll down to page 129 for his presentation in the write up of the Cannabinoid Conference.
There are also a lot of promising anecdotal stories online, such as that of Kristin Price. Kristin had hair loss from Ehler Danlos Syndrome and turned to CBD oil when she found she found her medication lacking. Her hair started to grow back and she shared it with her friend, who also had EDS and hair loss.
As they were both won over by the results they set up their own CBD oil company, called Hoop Beauty, designed for teens, and have partnered with Trinity University to take part in clinical trials. At the time of writing, the University hasn’t published anything – but watch this space.
Conclusion: Can CBD Oil Help Alopecia?
As to whether CBD oil is effective at treating alopecia when used topically, at this time we have limited research to back up the anecdotal claims. The anti-inflammatory and calming benefits of CBD oil are becoming increasingly well understood and supported by research. This not only provides a way to cope with the psychological effects of alopecia, but could potentially affect the underlying autoimmune and stress causes—although we’ll need to wait for more research to know for sure.