I usually stick to the scientific facts in my articles on natural health, and I'll get to them in a moment, but first I want to share the experience in using fish oil for hair growth of a friend of mine who is also named Robert, who gave me permission to use his story.
Robert was and largely still is what many of us Americans would euphemistically call "follicularly challenged." Bald as a cue ball, Robert got skin cancer and started wearing toupees. One week about five years ago, however, Robert's toupee started slipping around on his head.
This had happened right after Robert got a bad case of dandruff. He had shared with me that he thought it was just totally unfair that bald people should get dandruff but that was not nearly as much of a problem as the sebum that came after it. At first Robert thought that the problem must be the tape or glue (or whatever it is they use) his hairdresser was using to keep the hairpiece in place.
But it turned out that Robert's scalp was generating gobs of yellow, sticky, glue-like sebum. So much sebum, in fact, that the little hair Robert had left fell out and there was nothing to keep the toupee in place.
Robert came to me to ask about nutritional approaches, and, actually fish oil was not my first recommendation. The first thing I suggested he do was to make sure he wasn't somehow suffering a B vitamin deficiency.
It is hard to be deficient in B vitamins if you eat processed, white sugar laded and white flour laden foods in the USA, because the products made with white sugar and white flour are fortified with B vitamins to make them "nutritious."
But Robert had been eating all-natural whole foods, mostly plant foods diet for several months when this problem started. Then I suggested he treat his scalp problem as if he were treating a baby with a condition called cradle cap. You are not supposed to get cradle cap when you are 61 years old, but Robert managed to do just that. In adults, this condition is termed "seborrheic dermatitis," although the underlying mechanism is the same. Robert started taking a complete B-vitamin supplement every day, and the greasy gooey yellow mess that had been oozing from his scalp stopped.
The problem was that Robert didn't have any hair left around his scalp for holding his hairpiece in place, and he was concerned about covering up scars on his scalp. His hairdresser tried a tape that has little suction cups in it, and that worked, but it also pulled out any new growing hairs as soon as they developed. That was when Robert realized he needed to take a time out from fake hair and fight inflammation in his scalp.
In addition to taking B vitamins, he started taking a high quality fish oil. That along with a lower-fat, lower-protein diet helped restore his scalp to the way it had been before he developed the adult equivalent of cradle cap, but that wasn't all.
Lowering levels of inflammation in the skin made Robert's scars a lot less noticeable. They had been red, but after a few weeks, they weren't noticeable. To the chagrin of the hair shop (where he had been spending $600 a month), Robert started going all natural. He did grow a little peach fuzz on top of his head, but that wasn't the point.
The point was he looked good just the way he was. You don't have to be bald and using toupees to need to deal with sebum in the scalp. Too much sebum can essentially "choke out" hair growth, so over time hair thins, even if you don't have male pattern baldness or alopecia areata.
All the sebum in your scalp can give you big, fat, wavy hairs, with so much space between them you may wonder if you need hair extensions or a wig. And maybe that will be your choice. But before you go that route, I suggest you try this simple seven-step program for fighting excess sebum and restoring natural hair growth.
1. Ditch the dandruff shampoos. Paradoxically, anti-dandruff shampoos and hair care products for seborrheic dermatitis often have an extremely undesirable side effect, namely, more seborrheic dermatitis. They dry out the skin of the scalp causing it to flake, and the flakes of skin feed the Malassezia yeast protein to complement their diet of fat from the sebum. Use the mildest shampoo you can find and only shower in warm, never hot, water. If you choose to use any special shampoo, try a pyridoxine (vitamin B6) shampoo and make sure to leave it on your scalp for at least 3 minutes before rinsing it off. Do not use any psoralen or coal tar shampoos for your scalp. They will just dry it out.
2. Don't overdo protein in your diet. Meats, especially foods like frozen fish sticks and fast food hamburgers, break down in the gut with the release of some especially nasty-sounding (and nasty-acting) proteins such as putrescine and cadaverine. Do you really want to encourage the formation of the distinctive proteins found in rotten meat and cadavers in your colon? These proteins can get into the bloodstream and put the "brakes" on cell growth in the skin. You don't have to give up meat, but you will probably have better hair if you limit your consumption of meat, eggs, fish, and cheese to at most once a day. Try it and see.
3. Be careful with antifungal products for your scalp. They kill the yeast that make sebum sticky, but they also interfere with the ability of your immune system to keep the yeasts from coming back.
4. Take a complete vitamin B supplement every day. This will be more helpful in relieving oily skin on the scalp than it is for rejuvenating dandruff-prone skin. The B vitamins that help your scalp return to normal sebum production are biotin, riboflavin, B6, and B12 but it is simpler just to take a product that contains all of them. If you are over 60, you may especially need additional B6 and B12 because your digestive tract produces less of the stomach acid needed to digest them from food.
5. Take at least 15 mg of zinc, preferably zinc gluconate, when you take a B supplement. The additional B vitamins can cause your skin to need more zinc.
6. Try a honey treatment. A study in the United Arab Emirates found that applying raw honey directly to seborrhea-affected skin, and leaving it there for three hours before rinsing away with warm water, kills the yeasts that stimulate the overproduction of sebum and cause inflammation. Ideally this would be something you do every day for a week, but using the honey pack once a week for a month would also be helpful in most cases.
Fish oil is just part of the treatment for sebum-induced hair loss. You still have to get the underlying problem under control with sensible diet, vitamin B, and zinc. But fish oil helps reduce inflammation so that hair can grow back once the disease process is halted.
This procedure works for both people and pets. In pets, the condition would be called mange. (It's not nice to call people mange-y.) For pets, it is important to get flea allergies under control first, then to make sure there isn't ingredient in the pet food causing an allergic reaction, and then giving the pet vitamin B and fish oil (one capsule a day broken over food for dogs, one capsule every other day for cats, although cats often express pleasure in getting fish oil).
Frequently Asked Questions About Fish Oil and Hair
Q. Can fish oil kill dandruff in hair?
A. No, I don't recommend fish oil for dandruff. Although Robert had dandruff and was bald, usually if you have dandruff you don't need to fight inflammation with diet. You need to avoid inflammation by using mild shampoos and warm water. Killing dandruff is something your immune system ultimately has to do, usually after you cut down on protein foods (especially frozen fish and microwaved hamburger) and you make sure you have enough B vitamins. Fish oil fights inflammation and allows hair to grow normally.
Q. What does fish oil do for split ends?
A. Splits ends are less of a problem when you have the right amount of sebum in your scalp. You need some sebum to keep your hair lustrous and lubricated, so it does not tangle and split. But you don't need so much sebum that the hair follicle itself becomes "clogged" and inflamed. Take fish oil by mouth. You don't apply fish oil directly to your hair.
This might make you very popular with your cat, but even "deodorized" fish oil is not exactly a perfume (although there are perfumes that include fish oil). Take fish oil by mouth to help reduce inflammation and to support hair regrowth.
Q. Does fish oil make your hair grow faster?
A. No, fish oil makes a difference in whether it grows at all. When you have lost patches of hair to some kind of short-term inflammatory condition of the scalp, fish oil helps restore them.