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If you’ve never heard of black seed oil, allow us to introduce you. Black seed, also known as black caraway or kalonji, “is an oil derived from the black seeds of the fruits [of] Nigella sativa, a plant native to southwest Asia,” says Sunitha Posina, MD, a board-certified internal medicine physician based in NYC. “It has been used for thousands of years for the treatment of various conditions such as hypertension, weight loss, diabetes, asthma, and also topically on skin and hair, hence [being] referred [to] as the ‘panacea’ universal healer.” Arguably one of the most touted benefits of black seed oil is for hair health. It’s believed to help with hair growth and maintaining a healthy scalp, and who doesn’t want that? Keep reading to learn how black seed oil can give your hair and scalp a glow up and how to incorporate the oil into your hair-care routine.
Want hydrated, silky, smooth strands (yes, please!)? Certified trichologist and inventive colorist Bridgette Hill says black seed oil is believed to hydrate, moisturize, and soften hair. However, she says one caveat, like many herbal and botanical remedies, is that the benefits are largely anecdotal and not evidence-based, so you’ll have to give it a go yourself and see how it works on your hair.
If you’ve got scalp or skin issues, black seed oil may help with that. “Due to its anti-bacterial and anti-fungal properties, [black seed oil] can help resolve skin imbalances such as eczema and psoriasis on the scalp and body,” says Jenelle Kim, DACM, LAc, founder and formulator of JBK Wellness Labs. Some studies have shown that black seed oil can help treat and manage scalp conditions better than or equal to prescription medication, which is promising, but Hill notes that these studies were mainly performed on animals, and more clinical trials are needed to confirm the benefits.
If you struggle with dandruff, listen up. “Basic science studies have demonstrated that extracts of black seed oil can help decrease the growth of various fungal organisms” due to its anti-bacterial, anti-inflammatory, and anti-fungal properties, says Sandy Skotnicki, MD, a board-certified dermatologist and author of Beyond Soap. “Normal occurring fungus organisms on the scalp are felt to play a role in dandruff. There is support for using black seed oil along with other delivery ingredients to help decrease dandruff,” Dr. Skotnicki says. But again, there isn’t a ton of clinical research to back up this claim; however, anecdotal evidence supports it.
Perhaps the most alluring benefit of black seed oil for hair is that it can potentially help your hair grow thanks to a key component. “[Black seed oil] contains high amounts of an antihistamine called thymoquinone, and historically antihistamines have been used in the treatment of alopecia, hence the belief that black seed oil may promote hair growth,” Dr. Posina says. Dr. Kim adds, “black seed oil contains omega-3 and 6 which encourages blood circulation, especially in the head. This is known to promote rapid hair growth within weeks.”
According to Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), “hair is a direct extension of your blood circulation. Therefore, increasing blood circulation directly benefits the health of your scalp and hair,” she says. Dr. Skotnicki notes that some clinical studies have shown that various mixtures of black seed oil effectively promote hair growth and decrease hair shedding. She references one double-blind placebo-controlled and randomized study in particular that concluded that hair oil with Nigella sativa reduced hair fallout by 70 percent. “The treatment was used for three months, and results were assessed by dermatologists,” adding that, “70 percent of the treatment group had significant increases in hair density and thickness.”
The easiest way to test out black seed oil on your hair is to incorporate a hair product into your routine that contains the oil, such as hair serums, shampoos, or hair masks. Dr. Skotnicki also recommends looking at the concentration of the oil extract. “Look for at least 0.5 percent Nigella sativa, which was used in the study and showed good hair growth,” she says. Dr. Skotnicki points out that in the clinical study, oils were applied to the scalp using a lotion that contained 0.5 percent Nigella sativa daily for three months. In other words, consistency over a period of time creates the best results.
To make your own black seed oil treatment at home, Dr. Kim says to mix the oil with another carrier oil such as olive, coconut, or castor oil to boost its efficiency. Hill’s preference is using oils like black seed oil as a pre-shampoo treatment for your scalp and hair. Apply the oil treatment to hair that hasn’t been shampooed, and “Allow the oil to process for a minimum of 30 minutes,” Hill says. For best results, she also suggests sleeping with the treatment in your hair. Just be sure to use a pillowcase that you don’t mind getting oily.
Thymoquinone is one of the main chemicals in black seed oil that’s believed to contribute to hair growth, but that’s just one of its benefits. “Thymoquinone appears to have significant antioxidant properties and has been shown to reduce inflammation,” Dr. Skotnicki says. Dr. Posina adds that animal studies have shown that black seed oil can help with inflammation in the brain, pointing to potential benefits in Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease. However, more human trials are needed to know for sure.
“It has also been used in obesity to reduce body weight and BMI, lower blood pressure and blood sugars, especially in type 2 diabetics, and lowering cholesterol levels,” Dr. Posina says. “However, all these claims are very preliminary and need substantial clinical trials to support them, but more studies are slowly coming up now.”
Kim says there are few known side effects of black seed oil and doesn’t advise using it if you’re pregnant. That said, when using any new product, there is always the risk of allergy or irritation, which is why Dr. Posina recommends doing a patch test prior to use to see if you have any negative reaction, especially if you have sensitive skin. “Black seed oil is an essential oil, and it can be very potent, so it would be better to mix it with a carrier oil (jojoba oil, olive oil, etc.) instead of directly applying it to an area to minimize the risk of irritation,” she says.
“Botanicals and herbs can be toxic if used under the wrong conditions and may negatively interact with any other medication or supplements,” Hill says. For that reason, it’s always a good idea to check with your doctor first before using it, especially if you’re consuming it in a supplement form. Dr. Posina adds that it can potentially upset your GI system when ingested orally and cause nausea, abdominal discomfort, or bloating.
If you’re looking for a simple way to improve the health of your hair and scalp, black seed oil may work, but it’ll take time and consistency to see any potential results.
For more hair- and scalp-health tips, check out the following video: