Garlic: you know what it is! It’s delicious in pasta, stir-fry, and just about any savory dish imaginable! But have you ever heard of garlic being used as medicine?
The internet is full of home remedies for hair loss. How many of them are actually effective? This article will explore the effectiveness of garlic as a topical treatment for hair loss, and then go over how you can treat your hair loss with garlic.
History of Garlic in Alternative Medicine
Garlic has long been prescribed as a medicinal remedy in many cultures. Before antibiotics and vaccines existed, garlic’s potency made it a popular remedy.
It became known as ‘Russian penicillin’, ‘natural antibiotic’, ‘vegetable viagra’, ‘plant talisman’, ‘rustic’s theriac’, ‘snake grass,’ and more (1).
Where Did Garlic Come From?
Garlic has been around forever. It first came from Middle Asia, where Sumerians utilized garlic as medicine as early as 2600 BCE. Sumerians most likely introduced garlic to China and then saw it spread to Japan and Korea (1).
Garlic in Ancient Times
In ancient China, physicians used garlic extensively to treat a variety of conditions. It was used to improve respiration and digestion and to treat diarrhea, parasites, fatigue, headaches, male impotency, and even depression (2).
In Ancient India, garlic was thought to cure heart disease, arthritis, infection, and digestive issues.
Garlic was also used as a kind of health supplement in many cultures.
In ancient Greece, athletes would eat garlic before Olympic events because they thought it would enhance their athletic performance (2).
In Egypt and Rome, people believed that garlic could improve strength and endurance. Because of this, working class citizens such as soldiers, laborers, and sailors consumed the most garlic, as they needed energy to perform their jobs (2).
However, some outside of the lower class also tried to take advantage of garlic’s health benefits. For example, King Henry IV of France may have been baptized in water containing garlic in order to protect himself from disease and evil spirits (2).
Even as recently as the 20th century, important figures in society have ascribed to the healing powers of garlic – Eleanor Roosevelt used to eat three chocolate-covered cloves of garlic every morning to improve her memory. She was even advised by her doctor to do so (3)!
So has garlic’s importance in society changed?
We haven’t even gotten into the scientific evidence of garlic as medicine, but based on the folk history of garlic, it seems pretty amazing.
Across the world and in so many different historical periods, garlic has somehow become known in so many cultures as a powerful healing product.
Garlic isn’t any less popular these days than it was in ancient times. We use it every day to flavor our cooking, and it’s not just for the lower class anymore. Everyone knows that garlic can be delicious.
We also still see a lot of people swearing by garlic tonics and home remedies, even claiming that eating garlic can prevent cancer (2). One Google search of “garlic remedies” makes it clear that people still believe in garlic’s healing power.
One problem that many people claim can be fixed with garlic is hair loss. If garlic could stop or even reverse hair loss, that would mean we have a totally natural (and maybe a bit smelly) solution to hair loss.
It sounds too good to be true. But what does the science say?
Garlic and Hair Loss: The Research
As it turns out, there are only a couple of studies that have been done on the effect of garlic on hair loss. Garlic preparations come in four forms in research:
- Raw garlic juice
- Heated garlic juice
- Dehydrated garlic powder
- Aged garlic extract (AGE)
We’re going to be looking at the effects of the last one, aged garlic extract, because scientists have declared it the most useful (4).
Aged Garlic Extract: What Is It?
Aged garlic extract is garlic extract that has been stored for up to 20 months. Aging the garlic makes it more useful as a topical treatment for two reasons (5):
- It becomes odorless.
- The aging process turns harsh, unstable compounds into mild, beneficial ones, such as the two important ones we’ll discuss below.
Aged garlic extract is made up of many compounds, including allin, cycloalliin, S-allyl-L-cysteine, S-methyl-L-cysteine, S-ethylcysteine, S-1-proponyl-L-cysteine, S-allylmercapto-L-cysteine, fructosyl-arginine, and beta-chlorogenin. It also consists of L-arginine, L-cysteine, and L-methionine (4).
That’s a lot, we know.
Let’s just focus on the important ones for skin: S-allylcysteine (SAC) and S-allylmercaptocysteine. What do they do, exactly? Let’s get into it.
Benefits of Aged Garlic Extract for Your Hair
Aged garlic extract has a couple of qualities that make it good for your scalp. It has antioxidants, is antimicrobial, and can strengthen your immune system. The next part of this article will tell you how.
It Contains Antioxidants That Can Prevent Hair Loss
The compounds S-allylcysteine and S-allylmercaptocysteine are organosulfur compounds in aged garlic extract that prevent oxidation, or cell damage, on your skin. What this means is that these compounds act as antioxidants on your skin (4).
Oxidation, or oxidative stress, is a major contributing factor to hair loss (6). Oxidation is when free radicals (also known as oxidants) steal electrons from healthy cells and damage them. The damaged cell then turns into an unstable free radical and does the same to another cell (7).
Research has shown that oxidative stress is a major factor in the occurrence of both androgenetic alopecia and alopecia areata (8, 9). This is why it’s a good idea to try to reduce the effects of oxidative stress on your scalp.
Antioxidants can slow down or stop your hair loss, and could also keep your hair from aging and becoming gray (10).
Scientists have found four antioxidant effects of aged garlic extract (11):
- Scavenges (kills) oxidants
- Increases antioxidant levels
- Activates Nrf2, which senses oxidants and regulates antioxidants
- Inhibits enzymes that aid oxidants
As you can see, aged garlic extract has some pretty powerful antioxidants. There’s even proof to support the antioxidant effects of AGE.
One study showed that mice who were fed AGE over two months experienced the following (12):
- No hair loss or skin coarseness
- Increased survival ratio
- Improved memory
- No brain atrophy or deterioration.
Scientists have also found that AGE can protect against cardiovascular diseases and dementia (13).
Although there isn’t as much research on the link between AGE and scalp health, it’s clear that garlic really can be an effective antioxidant treatment.
It Can Kill Bacteria and Fungal Infections
Scientists have found a connection between the fungus species Malassezia and dandruff and hair loss. They have also found evidence that AGE may prevent Malassezia growth (14). This would mean that if your hair loss is caused by an excess of Malassezia, applying AGE to your scalp could help solve your hair loss.
Scientists found in the same study that AGE can prevent dermatophytes, or ringworm, which is the most common fungal infection that causes hair loss (14). However, if you suffer from ringworm of the scalp that requires treatment, we recommend seeking traditional treatment methods. If your condition is very mild, natural methods may be the way to go.
AGE also has antimicrobial properties. This means that it can kill bacteria that may be harming your body. Studies have shown that Staphylococcus bacteria can cause alopecia, and that aged garlic extract has high antimicrobial activity against Staphylococcus aureus (15, 16).
If you suffer from hair loss due to Malassezia, ringworm, or Staphylococcus, AGE has antimicrobial and antifungal properties that can protect your scalp.
It Can Improve Your Immune System
What does your immune system have to do with hair loss?
Well, many researchers have found that part of the process of alopecia is autoimmune assault on the hair follicle, which leads to hair loss (17). This means your own immune system attacks your hair follicles and prevents normal hair growth.
There are a couple of ways garlic can improve your immune system:
By Stimulating Your Immune System
How? Garlic and AGE contain something called Fructooligosaccharides, which are fructans (18). Fructans are a type of carbohydrate found in foods like garlic, wheat products, onions, broccoli, and asparagus (19).
A study on the fructans found in AGE found that they can activate white blood cells like lymphocytes and macrophages, which are important to your immune system (18).
By Lessening Allergic Reactions
Human and animal subjects treated with AGE in studies experienced improved reactions to allergens. They had reduced inflammation in the airway and less severe skin reactions (18).
By Regulating Cytokines
Cytokines are proteins that can affect communication between cells. There are good cytokines and bad cytokines. AGE can help the good and stop the bad.
Various compounds in garlic, including SAC, have been shown to inhibit cytokines that cause inflammation (18). Allicin, which is found in raw garlic, can also aid good cytokines that stimulate the immune system (18).
Despite all the evidence that garlic can aid your immune system, more research has to be done to link garlic’s immunomodulation effects on hair loss. Nevertheless, the evidence we do have suggests that garlic may be useful in preventing autoimmune damage to the hair follicles.
Now that we’ve looked at the details of how garlic can prevent hair loss, let’s look at two significant studies that show the relationship playing out.
Garlic and Hair Loss: Two Important Studies
The two studies we’ll look at yielded positive results when subjects used topical garlic extract on their scalps. One was conducted in 2007, the other in 2009.
They show that even the medical community is interested in garlic as a hair treatment.
2007: A Double-Blind, Randomized Study
This study treated alopecia areata (patchy hair loss) with a combination of garlic gel and betamethasone cream, which is a type of steroid. It may be important to note that the garlic gel was made with fresh garlic extract rather than AGE.
Forty people took part in this study. They were separated into two groups. The subjects of one group treated their scalps with a topical 5% garlic gel, and the other a placebo gel.
In both groups, the gel was rubbed onto the areas of hair loss, put under a dressing, and left for an hour twice a day for three months.
The 0.1% betamethasone cream was applied topically to the same areas of hair loss twice daily. The subjects in both the control group and the garlic gel group went through this part of the process for all three months.
At the end of the first month, there were no significant differences between the control group and the garlic group in terms of patch size or number of total hairs in the patch. Out of 20 subjects, 19 in the garlic group had a moderate therapeutic response to treatment, and one person had a weak response.
At the end of the third month, 19 people in the garlic group had a good therapeutic response, and one person had a moderate response.
Although both groups experienced hair growth throughout the three months, there were big differences between the control and garlic group at the end of the trial.
The size of the patches of hair loss were significantly decreased in the garlic group, and the number of total hairs in the garlic group significantly higher (17).
2009: A Two-Month Trial Study
This second study is similar to the first. It treated subjects suffering from alopecia areata with a topical garlic extract applied twice daily.
However, there were some differences:
- No control group
- Ten total subjects
- Subjects were treated with the topical garlic extract only – no betamethasone cream
- The study lasted for two months
- Evaluation every two weeks
Out of a total of 18 hair-loss patches, all patches showed hair growth by the end of the study. This translates to 100 percent response of patches to treatment by topical garlic gel (20).
However: It’s important to note that there is a lack of research on the effects of garlic on alopecia.
These studies were very limited in scope and shouldn’t be taken as definitive proof that garlic can fix hair loss. And this is especially true because alopecia areata has a high spontaneous remission rate. In other words, hair grows back on its own often without any treatment (20).
Garlic as a Hair Loss Treatment
This section will go over why aged garlic extract is the most useful in treating hair loss, and then tell you how you can treat your own hair loss with garlic.
The Advantages of Aged Garlic Extract
If you decide to use garlic to treat hair loss, we encourage you to use aged garlic extract over any other garlic preparation.
Aged garlic is a better remedy than fresh garlic. Fresh garlic can cause some issues when used as medicine, including (21):
- Pungent odor
- Digestive problems
- Severe skin irritation when applied to skin
The problems of fresh garlic are mainly due to the compound allicin, which is highly unstable, harsh, and irritating to the human body (22). Although some studies have found apparent benefits of allicin to the body, others have concluded that it can’t be beneficial for a couple of reasons.
The main reason is that allicin is too unstable to circulate in the blood after it is ingested. It binds to proteins and fatty acids in the body before it has a chance to enter the bloodstream.
- Damage cancer cells
- Lower cholesterol
- Lower blood pressure
- Reduce blood glucose level
- Protect liver cells
- Protect against oxidative stress
- Kill harmful bacteria
- Support the immune system
The last three benefits, which were discussed earlier in this article, are the ones most important in hair loss. Studies have also shown that aged garlic extract is a more powerful antioxidant than fresh garlic extract (27).
Should You Use Garlic to Treat Hair Loss?
If you’ve tried other medical alternatives, or want to try natural methods first, turning to garlic as a remedy can be a good idea. However, if your hair loss is severe and comes with irritation, we advise you to see a doctor first.
If it’s ringworm or another infection causing the hair loss, there may be better ways to treat it.
Although the circumstantial evidence that garlic can cure hair loss makes a strong argument, it’s important to keep in mind that there isn’t enough research to know for sure. The two clinical trials discussed in this article support the evidence in favor of garlic remedies, but were very limited in scope.
How to Treat Your Hair Loss Using Garlic
So now we know that garlic may be an effective treatment for hair loss. What’s the best way to use it?
With Aged Garlic Extract
Purchase a liquid, non-capsule form of aged garlic extract. Apply it to the areas of hair loss twice a day. If the liquid is too thin, consider mixing it with a thickening agent, such as honey, which also has antimicrobial effects and can be soothing to the skin (27).
With Raw Garlic
Even though raw garlic can be irritating to your skin, there’s no doubt that it’s the most accessible form of garlic. If you’re careful about applying it, you can still get most of garlic’s benefits without the harmful side effects. Here are our recommendations for how you can apply it:
Garlic and Honey Mixture
Mince some garlic and mix with honey. Leave the mixture to sit for half an hour or longer. This will allow the garlic to infuse into the honey. Then apply onto affected areas of your scalp. Wash the mixture out after an hour.
Garlic and Oil
Mince garlic and place it into a small bowl with a healthy oil, such as coconut oil. Leave the mixture to sit for half an hour. The oil will protect your skin from the harsh allicin of raw garlic, and keep your skin hydrated. Apply onto affected areas of your scalp and wash it out after an hour.
Remember: If you do choose to treat your alopecia with garlic, the best way to see results is to be consistent. Apply the garlic mixture at least once a day, but stop if you feel skin irritation.
Garlic has demonstrated a lot of health benefits that are supported by research. This article has gone over the benefits that are relevant to hair loss, the ones that could mean that garlic can help to stop or reverse hair loss. Namely, the following:
- Contains organosulfur compounds that act as antioxidant
- Inhibits enzymes that help oxidants, making it a powerful antioxidant
- Protects against fungal and bacterial infections that may cause hair loss
- Aids your immune system, protecting your scalp from autoimmune assault
There are two main clinical studies that support the hypothesis that garlic can reverse hair loss. Subjects in both showed a 95-100 percent response to topical garlic application on areas of alopecia areata.
You can use fresh garlic or aged garlic extract as topical treatments for your hair loss. They have the same benefits, but fresh garlic can be irritating to your skin and has slightly less effective antioxidant properties.
Of course, keep in mind that there are limitations.
The studies carried out above were limited in scope, and there is still much research to be done to determine if garlic is actually a beneficial treatment for hair loss.