Alopecia is more than just hair loss. This often misunderstood condition can have devastating effects on the confidence and mental health of those affected. There is no cure, but depending on the type of alopecia, there is a number of different treatment options that may help. Clinical trials are few and far between and what works for one person may well not work for another. Add to this the costs and side effects associated with 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 throws 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.
Alopecia Areata: This is an autoimmune condition and 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. A more severe 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.
Androgenic Alopecia: 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. It’s a permanent condition and is caused by hormones shrinking the hair follicle.
Traction Alopecia: This refers to damage caused by 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.
Telogen Effluvium: This is a sudden excessive shedding of hair and most commonly occurs after child birth. 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.
Scarring Alopecia: 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.
Alopecia can also result from skin conditions such as eczema and psoriasis (where scratching damages the hair follicles) and as a common side effect of chemotherapy.
How to Treat Alopecia
There is currently no cure for alopecia, particularly the Androgenic (hormonal baldness) and Alopecia Areata (autoimmune) conditions, but there is a range of treatments that may possibly help. They include immunotherapy, drugs designed for other conditions that have shown to be effective for alopecia, 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) but there are very few clinical trials and success stories are largely anecdotal.
Could Topical CBD Oil Be the Answer?
CBD oil is rich in the fatty acids omega 3 and 6, naturally occurring in the 1:4 ratio believed to be the golden formula for optimal health. It also contains a whole host of other hair growth nutrients like essential fatty acids, magnesium, and vitamin E. Check out this Reuters article for an analysis of studies in the nutrition profile and benefits of CBD oil.
This gives us a strong case for arguing that CBD oil can improve the quality and condition of the hair that is there, enhancing the overall appearance. It could also provide the nutrients and oils to support the growth of new hair in people with Traction Alopecia. For people with Telogen Effluvium that stems from a nutritional deficiency, CBD oil could also work by supplementing nutrition deficiencies. Regarding Scarring Alopecia or alopecia as a result of skin conditions such as eczema, CBD oil is going to condition the skin, which could help with reducing the severity of the scarring. There is also some research on CBD oil and acne that could provide some application to these dermatological types of alopecia.
When it comes to Alopecia Areata, the hair follicles aren’t damaged, so CBD oil could be used to improve the quality of the hair as it grows back. But could CBD oil do more?
Could CBD Oil Be Used to Treat the Cause of Alopecia Areata?
Most of the available research on cannabis, the immune system, and skin and hair conditions has been based on THC and the effects on the body’s endocannabinoid system. However, THC – the psychoactive ingredient in cannabis – is typically not present (or only in very low doses) in CBD oil. That said, there is no shortage of stories online from people claiming to have healed their autoimmune or stress-related conditions with only CBD oil. 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.
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 inflamed 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.
But 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 be achieved 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 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 has 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, nothing has been published from the University – but watch this space.
Conclusion: Can CBD Oil Help Alopecia?
We can be confident that CBD oil works to provide nutrients to support hair growth and this can be beneficial for all kinds of alopecia. As to whether it is effective at treating alopecia when used topically, at this time we have limited research to back up the wealth of 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 to affect the underlying autoimmune and stress causes. Topical application of CBD oil will likely benefit most alopecia sufferers, but with Alopecia Areata (and the more severe Alopecia Totalis and Alopecia Universalis) or Telogen Effluvium, a combination of topical CBD oil together with edible or inhaled CBD may provide the best whole-body approach and enhance the effects.