Social media is awash with hacks to give your hair a growth boost. Rosemary oil is the new holy grail on TikTok, recipes with apple cider vinegar are popping up like mushrooms and rice water is the equivalent of botox for hair. Does the secret to long hair lie in ancient rituals?
‘Grow your hair in one week’, ‘This product changed my life’, ‘With this hack you say goodbye to thin hair’, on social media we are clearly collectively under the spell of hair (growth). New hype? Not really: Some hacks, like rosemary oil, rice water, and apple cider vinegar, are as old as the street. But what really works, and what is nonsense? Dermatologist dr. Thomas Maselis clarified.
Let’s start with the beginning, how exactly does hair growth work? Dr. Maselis outlines it in three phases: ‘First you have the anagen phase: that is the growth phase of your hair and this phase can last up to six years,’ he says. In this phase, your hair grows an average of one cm per month, unless there are hormonal or genetic factors involved, then it can fluctuate. Then you have the transition phase. In scientific terms this is called the catagen phase.’ Finally, your hair goes into the telogen phase or the resting phase. “In human language, that just means your hair stops growing. After this phase, your hair will fall out. Then new hair grows and a new cycle begins.’
Can natural remedies affect the hair cycle? ‘Unfortunately I have to pop that balloon,’ says Maselis. ‘Everything depends on the life cycle of your hair and that cycle depends on your genes. You should therefore critically consider the tips you encounter online and not expect drastic changes. Some remedies can help you, but not every hype is worth it.’ We took a closer look at the most viral hacks.
In the heart of China, deep in the province of Guanxhi, lies Huanglo: a small, green village with a swirling river and an ancient beauty secret. According to the Guinness Book of World Records, this is where the longest hair in the world grows. The women of the Red Yao tribe from this village have more than two meters long hair.
The secret to their Rapunzel-esque hair? The rice water technique: a rinse based on fermented rice water, brewed in a mixture of herbs, fruits and tea. In Huangluo, the women gather on the banks of the Jinshi River. They comb the murky, starchy water through their long locks with a wooden brush. An ancient tradition, where the Japanese court ladies in 800 BC. were already familiar with. That tradition has since grown into a viral hype. Under the hashtag #Hairtok you will find thousands of rice water tutorials and testimonials. ‘Rice water has changed my life’, ‘My hair has never been so strong and soft’, ‘My hair grew two inches in two months.’ But is that even possible?
According to science, rice water does contain useful nutrients, such as zinc, magnesium, manganese, Vitamin B and antioxidants. ‘The problem nowadays is that everything that is natural and contains vitamins is automatically labeled as healthy,’ says Maselis. ‘Natural ingredients can also cause side effects.’ For example, a 2002 study suggests that rice water may even be harmful to your scalp. “Think flakes, protein overload of the hair cuticle, dryness and breakage. Rice water has a heavy starch component that can lead to brittleness over time.’ Your hair may feel softer or shine more after a rice water rinse, chances are it’s a temporary effect.
Can Rice Water Make Your Hair Grow? According to one study, yes, although the research method is somewhat thin. In the study, the researchers involved deduced that rice water promotes hair growth because Japanese women sometimes use the substance and have long hair themselves. This conclusion is drawn without taking into account the genetic aspect. A crucial detail, according to Maselis. ‘The hair cycles of some populations, in this case the Japanese and Chinese, are much longer than in other populations. That’s why their hair is so long. Rice water plays no direct role in this.’
Apple cider vinegar
Another viral “miracle cure” for hair growth is apple cider vinegar. The ingredient, made with fermented apple juice, has many different uses. The Ancient Romans used it in medicine, not so long ago it was hailed as a waste remedy and now vinegar is going viral on #Hairtok. Apple cider is said to do wonders for the scalp and is therefore sometimes used in combination with lemon and baking soda to detox the hair.
I can hear you thinking: why would you put an almost corrosive cocktail of vinegar, lemon and baking soda on your scalp? ‘Having styling products or shampoo build up in the hair can clog the follicles, leading to conditions like dandruff and even hair loss,’ says Dr Maselis. ‘The idea behind such a detox is that you can break down and rinse off all the accumulated products in your hair, so that your hair is well cleaned and the light reflects better against your hair. That creates a glossy effect.’
The detox is particularly popular with people with frizzy or curly hair. They usually use a lot of styling products – such as oil, hair gel, conditioners – to hydrate the hair and show it off. The combination of apple cider vinegar, lemon and baking soda washes everything away and revitalizes the curls. Or so it seems. “Your scalp doesn’t actually need a detox,” says Maselis. ‘Don’t worry about the “toxicity” of the accumulated products: the molecules of hair products can’t just penetrate your skin. The scalp has a very efficient barrier and can protect itself perfectly.’
The claim that apple cider vinegar stimulates hair growth is also not scientifically substantiated. According to experts at the Belgravia Centre, a UK clinic specializing in hair loss, this age-old remedy is particularly good for adding shine and treating dandruff. It is a good clarifying hair rinse, nothing more.
A hack that does get a lot of support from the scientific world is the uber-popular rosemary oil. With its anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties, the herb has been a favorite in Egyptian, Indian and Chinese medicine for centuries. In more recent times, the product has become the holy grail of the African American and black community: rosemary is said to do wonders for the growth of frizzy and curly hair.
TikTok is currently teeming with videos about the healing power of rosemary. One product in particular, Mielle’s biotin-enriched rosemary oil, caused quite a stir and controversy. The founder of the oil is Monique Rodriquez – also known as The Queen of Hair – who went viral on social media when she shared her routine for long frizzy hair. She launched Mielle and designed a range of products that stimulate hair growth. In a short time, the whole of TikTok fell under the spell of oil, so that it was completely sold out in no time. It is also almost impossible to obtain in Belgium anymore, with the exception of a few webshops where the price – perhaps due to the enormous demand – has risen at least twice as high.
This sudden popularity worries the black community. They fear that the brand will turn away from its black core customers and change its formulas to benefit consumers with straighter hair. Under the hashtag #gatekeepMielle, black content creators are even going to leave bad reviews about the product in an effort to keep the product to themselves. Because of that shortage, homemade rosemary recipes are now popping up everywhere, which are said to have the same beneficial effects as the oil.
Rosemary oil may sound like a hype that got out of hand, but it is anything but. A 2015 study found that after six months, rosemary oil was comparable to 2 percent minoxidil — a potent pharmaceutical to combat hair loss — for treating baldness. Similar results have been observed in another study. In mice with testosterone-related hair loss, rosemary oil was able to regrow hair. And other studies confirm that the oil helps with dry and itchy scalp.
Dr. Maselis also concludes that rosemary sounds promising. ‘All in all, studies indicate that rosemary is worthwhile. But,” he warns, “like other essential oils, rosemary oil can weigh thin hair down. Rubbing the oil directly on your scalp can lead to hair breakage or hair loss. It is therefore best to use a base oil, such as jojoba or coconut oil, to dilute your rosemary. That way you avoid allergic reactions and irritations.