For as long as humans have roamed the planet, they have turned to the earth to treat all manner of ailments. The use of essential oils can be traced back as far as 4500BC, when the Ancient Egyptians distilled and extracted them from leaves, seeds, wood, bark, berries, resin, flowers, peel, roots and fruits for their remedial powers.
“Essential oils have more than 10,000 known aromatic components,” says Isabelle Pacchioni, founder of Puressentiel, the French-born essential oil brand that recently made its way to the UAE. “This explains why their therapeutic arsenal is so extremely varied and extensively developed.”
Not just a stage in the mummifying process (cedar oil, we’re looking at you), such aromatic elixirs were incorporated into beauty routines, too – not least haircare. And their powers can still be harnessed today. “Essential oils can be used generally to increase the effectiveness of products or as a treatment for specific conditions," explains Iryna Sukharevskaya, aromatherapy and cosmetology specialist at home-grown company Essential Oils UAE.
One caveat, says Doaa Gawish, founder of online store The Hair Addict, puts forth is: “Considering the short contact time between your shampoo and your scalp, the outcome wouldn't be similar to the effect of a specialised treatment.” This is why essential oils are not a quick fix, and could be adapted into your daily and weekly routine to see the best results. Using these oils regularly in line with good hygiene practices can alleviate symptoms.
Whether proven scientifically or passed down anecdotally, these ancient remedies have a lot more to offer when it comes to hair.
Rosemary, lavender and peppermint for thin hair
Many of us long for thicker or more lustrous locks. But before turning to styling products, start at the source by trying essential-oil-based tress-thickening remedies. Sukharevskaya prescribes a blend of rosemary, lavender and peppermint oils for thin hair.
"Lavender extract promotes the growth of cells, rosemary oil improves both hair thickness and hair growth while peppermint increases circulation to the area it is applied to,” she explains.
While invigorating peppermint and rosemary can be mixed into shampoo and massaged into the scalp by day, lavender makes for a relaxing evening treatment owing to its sleep-promoting powers.
Ylang-ylang for dull hair
Ylang-ylang is especially useful for hair health, says Pacchioni. Derived from the Cananga tree native to India, this extract can give dulling hair a new lease of life when added to a carrier liquid for a weekly treatment. To see the full effects, make sure your base is made up of the ideal oil for your needs: brittle hair types benefit from grapeseed oil; frizzy texture can be smoothed with Argan oil; thin hair is boosted by sweet almond oil; and dull locks are brightened with olive or jojoba oil. If you're unsure, coconut oil is the best all-rounder base, while vitamin E-rich prickly pear oil makes for a great conditioner.
Clary sage and macadamia for brittle hair
If your hair is quick to snap, meaning locks never look their healthiest, Sukharevskaya suggests turning to clary sage oil. Containing the phytochemical linalyl acetate, it "improves hair strength and makes the hair less brittle." Mix into your shampoo for a regular top-up or – as the essential oil is also known for its sedative and mood-boosting properties – apply as an evening mask mixed with macadamia oil, which can also strengthen weak tresses.
Geranium and cedarwood for hair loss
While the above can certainly help with those experiencing hair loss, other ingredients have been proven to benefit those experiencing conditions such as alopecia. Gawish puts forward geranium and cedarwood oils.
For the former, a 2017 study published in the BMC Complementary Medicine and Therapies journal shows it can boost hair growth in just three weeks, while another demonstrated that a mix of essential oils, including cedarwood, was more effective at promoting hair growth in subjects with alopecia than a carrier oil used alone.
Chamomile for dry scalp
Hair woes aside, if it’s an inflamed or a dry scalp you’re dealing with – which results in flakes becoming visible around the hairline – make chamomile your first call to action. Gawish recommends starting with chamomile oil owing to its anti-inflammatory and gentle antiseptic properties, which can treat the initial itchiness and soreness, while the flower extract’s overall soothing power can help to heal the scalp over time.
Chamomile is great for adding shine, too. Since it is known for its relaxing properties, incorporate chamomile oil into your evening routine once or twice a week by mixing in with a suitable carrier (Argan oil is perfect for dry scalps) and leave it on for half an hour.
Tea tree for dandruff
For more serious conditions, such as conditions such as seborrheic dermatitis and scalp psoriasis can lead to inflamed, flaky and patchy skin (which can then present as dandruff) around the scalp, Pacchioni recommends tea tree oil.
A veritable essential oil holy grail, this is derived from Australia and has been used to fight infections for centuries, as it boasts antibacterial, antimicrobial and anti-fungal properties. For day-to-day use, Pacchioni recommends blending one drop into your usual shampoo and allowing it a minute to get to work before rinsing. As a weekly conditioning treatment, mix with jojoba oil which also helps to prevent dandruff. Alternatively, lemongrass oil contains similar medicinal powers and can help reduce dandruff when used daily in the same technique.
Choosing essential oils
Check the bottle: Make sure your new buys stand the test of time. Keep an eye out for dark glass containers, which are best for preserving the potency of the product.
Read the labels: A good brand should include the Latin name of the plant, information on purity or other ingredients added to it, and the country in which the plant was grown. Also look out for 'EOBBD' on the label, which stands for Essential Oil Botanically and Biochemically Defined – a high-quality rating.
Avoid fragrance oils: Fragrance or perfume oils are made from essential oils combined with chemicals or entirely from chemicals. They're not suitable for aromatherapy – instead, look for bottles that contain a single essential oil in its purest form.
Remember to dilute: On their own, many essential oils can be extremely strong when applied directly to the skin, causing irritation. Do your research and dilute oils as necessary, usually at no more than a five per cent rate.
Consult professionals: Pregnant or breastfeeding? Be extra-cautious when bringing essential oils to your routine, as some are deemed unsafe due to their physiological effects, especially during your first trimester. Consult your doctor if you are expecting or if you suffer from allergies.