Thinning Hair? Doctors Recommend This At-Home Trick

Are your locks starting to look less-than lustrous? Try scalp massage—a simple DIY solution to improve hair thickness

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Hair loss is not just a guy’s problem. In fact, some 40 percent of Americans with hair loss are women, according to the American Hair Loss Association. If you’re starting to see your strands thinning, consider trying scalp massage, which may promote hair growth. (Watch out for these 7 sneaky reasons that your hair is falling out.)

What is scalp massage?

“A scalp massage can increase blood flow to the scalp and to the hair follicles,” explains Debra Jaliman, MD, a dermatologist in New York, NY, and the author of Skin Rules: Trade Secrets from a Top New York Dermatologist.

A small study in the January 2016 issue of the journal ePlasty shows that just four minutes of scalp massage a day increases activity among genes known to promote hair growth, and dials down the activity of genes linked to hair loss and inflammation. What’s more, study participants also noted an improvement in hair thickness. “Gentle massaging of the scalp can increase blood flow to the hair follicle, the root of the hair, which is the only living part of the hair,” says Abraham Armani, MD, medical director of Armani Medical Hair Restoration in Dallas, Texas. “Massaging works by dilating the very small arteries within the scalp, increasing blood flow to the hair follicle and therefore prolonging the growth cycle of hair.” (Check out some surprising things that can lead to hair loss.)

Scalp massage for hair loss also reduces stress, which can worsen hair loss. “Not only does the boost in blood circulation to the surface of the skin aid in delivering more nutrients, it’s also relaxing,” Dr. Jaliman says. A small study in an October 2016 issue of the Journal of Physical Therapy Science backs this up. It found that a twice-weekly scalp massage can lower a person’s stress hormones, blood pressure, and heart rate, all of which are known to be elevated during times of emotional or physical stress.

When to do scalp massage?

Scalp massage for hair growth can be done while you’re shampooing in the shower or when your hair is dry pre-shampoo. “You should aim for at least three minutes if you are working with both hands because that encompasses a large surface area,” says Jessie Cheung, MD, director of the Cheung cosmetic dermatology treatment center in Willowbrook, Illinois. There’s no need to use any oil or serum, she says. But some people like to include aromatherapy. “Relaxing scents such as lavender, and invigorating scents such as eucalyptus or mint, will augment the circulatory boost,” Dr. Cheung says. You can learn a lot more about essential oils here.

How to do scalp massage?

A gentle fingertip massage is a good jumping-off point. “That’s enough to stimulate the blood flow,” Dr. Cheung says. “If you tend to hold a lot of tension in your neck and scalp, you can increase the pressure gradually.” Start from the edges of the hairline and work your way in toward the crown, she suggests. “You want to stimulate the lymphatic drainage as well, and that starts at the periphery.” Dr. Jaliman adds: “Kneading, in particular, aids with warming up the skin, which helps increase blood flow to the scalp.”

Keep in mind that significant or rapid hair loss may be a sign of an underlying medical condition and should be evaluated by a doctor. This is what your hair is telling you about your health.

Sources
  • American Hair Loss Association: "Women's Hair Loss"
  • Debra Jaliman, MD, dermatologist and author of Skin Rules: Trade Secrets from a Top New York Dermatologist, New York, New York
  • ePlasty: "Standardized Scalp Massage Results in Increased Hair Thickness by Inducing Stretching Forces to Dermal Papilla Cells in the Subcutaneous Tissue."
  • Abraham Armani, MD, medical director of Armani Medical Hair Restoration in Dallas, Texas
  • Journal of Physical Therapy Science: "The Effect of a Scalp Massage on Stress Hormone, Blood Pressure, and Heart Rate of Healthy Female"
  • Jessie Cheung, MD, director of the Cheung cosmetic dermatology treatment center, Willowbrook, Illinois
Medically reviewed by Elizabeth Bahar Houshmand, MD, on April 29, 2020

Denise Mann, MS
Denise Mann is a freelance health writer whose articles regularly appear in WebMD, HealthDay, and other consumer health portals. She has received numerous awards, including the Arthritis Foundation's Northeast Region Prize for Online Journalism; the Excellence in Women's Health Research Journalism Award; the Journalistic Achievement Award from the American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery; National Newsmaker of the Year by the Community Anti-Drug Coalitions of America; the Gold Award for Best Service Journalism from the Magazine Association of the Southeast; a Bronze Award from The American Society of Healthcare Publication Editors (for a cover story she wrote in Plastic Surgery Practice magazine); and an honorable mention in the International Osteoporosis Foundation Journalism Awards. She was part of the writing team awarded a 2008 Sigma Delta Chi award for her part in a WebMD series on autism. Her first foray into health reporting was with the Medical Tribune News Service, where her articles appeared regularly in such newspapers as the Detroit Free Press, Chicago Sun-Times, Dallas Morning News, and Los Angeles Daily News. Mann received a graduate degree from the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University in Evanston, Ill., and her undergraduate degree from Lehigh University in Bethlehem, Pa. She lives in New York with her husband David; sons Teddy and Evan; and their miniature schnauzer, Perri Winkle Blu.