Ayurveda for healthy hair: Oils prescribed by ancient Indian practice can ease scalp woes

Experts explain holistic healing approach that is 'natural and effective'

Head massages, which promote scalp health and naturally lustrous hair, are at the core of Ayurvedic beauty rituals. Getty Images
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Cope with a bad hair day. Deal with dandruff. Bring sheen to your mane. Browse any fashion or beauty magazine or blog and haircare articles will come at you thick and strong.

Factors such as a faulty diet, irregular mealtimes, lack of sleep and a sedentary lifestyle may contribute towards unhealthy hair, as could deficiencies of vitamins B-6, B-12, D-3 or E, biotin and minerals such as copper.

Genetics, stress, autoimmune diseases, thyroid disorder, sinusitis, smoking, anxiety, sun exposure, and excessive use of hair dyes and heat gadgets can also impact hair health.

Enter Ayurveda.

What is Ayurveda and how can it improve hair?

“Ayurveda, the 5,000-year-old ancient Indian alternative medical practice, focuses on treating the root cause rather than the symptoms,” explains Dr Rajesh Nair, medical director of Ayur Vaidya Ayurveda Clinic in Dubai. “It is built on the premise that our body is made of the five great elements combined into three doshas: vata (space and air), pitta (fire and water) and kapha (earth and water).

“Every individual has a unique combination of these three doshas and any imbalance can result in what we call ‘dis-ease’.”

Dr Reji Raj, an Ayurveda consultant at wellness retreat Amal Tamara in Kerala, adds: “In Ayurveda, the health and condition of the hair is closely related to the dosha.”

“Individuals whose vata dosha is high could have scanty, dull and frizzy hair with split ends. Those with high pitta typically have coppery-brownish hair that may be susceptible to early greying and dullness, while individuals with kapha dosha usually have black, shiny and thick hair,” he explains.

Ayurvedic practitioners assess an individual’s dosha and recommend personalised haircare routines, including the use of suitable oils and hair packs, plus treatments such as shirodhara and takradhara for healthy hair, says Dr Raj.

Dosha-appropriate oils

“Head massages hold a pivotal role in Ayurvedic haircare as they work as natural conditioners for the hair shaft, enhance scalp circulation and soothe the central nervous system.” Dosha-appropriate hair massage oils are your best bet.

Those with vata dosha can look to sesame or almond oils, which provide much-needed nourishment and moisture, and effectively address issues such as dryness and frizz.

Those with pitta dosha can choose coconut or amla oils, which assist promote hair health, and can prevent premature greying.

Individuals with kapha dosha will benefit from mustard oil or herbal oils, which offer stimulation while preventing excessive oiliness.

Dr Raj shares a hair oil recipe for scalp massage.

Ingredients

1 handful curry leaves

10-15 Indian gooseberries (amla)

5-6 shoe flowers

1 bunch ixora flowers

5g black pepper

1 pinch camphor

200ml coconut oil or sesame oil

Method

Blend the curry leaves, gooseberries, shoe flowers, ixora flowers and black pepper into a paste.

Add the coconut or sesame oil and cook over medium heat. Stir occasionally until the froth disappears. Cook for a further five minutes stirring continuously.

Allow the mixture to cool then transfer to a container. Add a pinch of camphor. Massage on to scalp on a regular basis.

Addressing common hair problems with Ayurveda

Dandruff

Ayurveda cites skin or fungus issues on the scalp as the main reason for dandruff, which then causes flaky skin and itching on the scalp, says Dr Nair.

Ayurvedic treatments for dandruff involve evaluating the type of dandruff followed by a tailored treatment. “This may involve gentle scalp exfoliation through techniques such as lekhanam, utilising specialised herbal medicines or incorporating internal medication,” says Dr Raj.

Hair loss

According to the American Academy of Dermatology, it is normal to shed 50 to 100 hair strands every day. Multiple causes, such as stress, illness, surgery, childbirth and more, can cause unnatural hair loss.

Ayurvedic practitioners study the root cause, which could range from unbalanced doshas to specific health conditions, says Dr Raj. “Following this evaluation, personalised treatments, external applicators such as the use of dosha-specific suitable oils, hair packs and treatments such as shirodhara and takradhara.”

Dr Nair recommends detox therapy to clean the gut, followed by external applicators and herbal medication to maintain healthy hair and control hair loss.

Dull hair

Hair can lose its sheen due to nutritional deficiencies, hormonal changes, exposure to harsh sunlight or extreme dry and cold air, and overuse of harsh gadgets, chemical treatments or unsuitable hair products.

“Pitta and vata-pitta prakriti individuals often have dull hair,” says Dr Raj. “The remedy includes the prescription of suitable oils (sesame or almond for vata; coconut or amla for pitta) aimed at restoring the hair’s natural lustre.”

For premature greying, Dr Nair prescribes applying an Ayurveda combination of mucilage of fenugreek seeds and flax seeds.

Split ends

Dry, brittle and frayed hair often results in split ends. Nutritional deficiencies, exposure to extreme weather, sleep deprivation and irregular lifestyle can contribute to this issue.

Regular hair trimming helps in combating split ends; however, it doesn’t treat the underlying cause to prevent further damage.

“Ayurveda suggests scalp massages, using oils with vata-alleviating properties to nourish and strengthen the hair shaft,” explains Dr Raj.

Head hygiene

Maintaining daily head hygiene is crucial, says Dr Raj, and can be done by using mild herbal shampoos and natural conditioners such as aloe vera gel; drying hair with a soft towel; incorporating a weekly hair pack made from a paste of neem leaves to promote a healthy scalp; and tying long tresses before sleeping with soft hair ties to avoid breakage.

Dr Nair says while oiling the scalp and hair is crucial, it is equally important to wash off the product properly otherwise it can damage the scalp instead of improving it.

Finally, he emphasises the importance of a good diet and metabolism for a healthy scalp, which critical for hair wellness. Here are some foods to seek out.

  • Fruits and vegetables such as melons, pumpkins, jackfruit, mangoes and Indian gooseberries (amla) for vitamins and antioxidants
  • Pulses and legumes for protein
  • Raisins, green leafy vegetables, sesame seeds and dates for iron
  • Cod liver oil, pumpkin seeds and flax seeds for healthy fats
Updated: December 31, 2023, 3:58 AM