Did you know that pumpkin seed oil may be able to to improve hair count and hair thickness in people with hair loss problems? This comes from the results of a 24-week research trial, which I’ll discuss in-depth below.
The intent of this article is to present all the relevant facts so that consumers can make an informed decision as to whether this claim has any merit and, if so, how to use it to achieve the desired results.
We will get there by answering the following questions:
- What is pumpkin seed oil, and what does it do?
- What does science have to say about it?
- Are there side effects?
- How do you use pumpkin seed oil?
- What’s the bottom line?
But first, let’s take a quick look at what causes pattern hair loss (Androgenetic Alopecia (AGA)) in the first place.
An Introduction to Pattern Hair Loss
It is thought that when DHT levels increase in hair follicles, the hair’s growth cycle is shortened and new hair growth is delayed (4). Over time, the hair follicles completely stop growing new hair.
The pharmaceutical treatment options for AGA are minoxidil and finasteride.
Minoxidil, commercially known as Rogaine, is a topical treatment that stimulates the hair follicles.
Both of these pharmaceutical options can be costly, and they also have potential adverse side effects.
The possibility that an inexpensive, natural substance like pumpkin seed could be an alternative remedy for AGA would certainly seem to justify all the fuss if it actually works.
What Is Pumpkin Seed Oil?
Pumpkin seed (cucurbita pepo) oil is obtained by expeller-pressing toasted, hulled pumpkin seeds. It is a rich source of antioxidants, essential fatty acids, minerals, and more (6, 7). It is also a long-time foodie favorite for its nutty aroma and flavor.
Aside from being a delicious edible plant (it’s officially a fruit, by the way) and making a darned good pie, pumpkin is also known to have substantial medicinal properties including anti-inflammatory, and others (8, 9, 10).
Interesting fact: Pumpkin seed oil has been highly valued for its healing properties ever since it was first produced in Austria back in the seventeenth century.
As a matter of fact, in March 1773 Austrian Empress Maria Theresa issued a legal edict which stipulated:
“This healthy oil is unique and much too precious for using it in tasty meals and therefore should rather be used as a medicine. So it shall not be used as a culinary delicacy anymore but shall be collected and distributed only by the apothecaries.”
…and thus it was decreed.
What Does Pumpkin Seed Oil Do For Hair?
There are a lot of health benefits attributed to pumpkin seed oil, most of which have nothing to do with hair loss. The following is a summary of the main health uses of pumpkin seed oil, including the conditions that it is used to treat.
Pumpkins, like all plants that have a close relationship to the soil, are an excellent source of mineral nutrients (14).
Pumpkin seeds, extracts, and oil are all very good sources of the minerals phosphorus, magnesium (learn more about magnesium oil), manganese, and copper and good sources of the minerals zinc and iron.
Pumpkin seeds have a broad diversity of antioxidants. For example, they contain a wide variety of forms of Vitamin E, two of which have only recently been discovered (15).
They also contain mineral antioxidants, (much like evening primrose oil) phenolic antioxidants, and lignans. This diverse mixture of antioxidants imbues pumpkin seeds with antioxidant-related properties that are not widely found in other foods.
Fatty acids isolated from pumpkin seed oil have been used in medicine for their anti-inflammatory properties, and include mainly linoleic, followed by oleic, palmitic, and stearic acid (16).
The people of Central America and India rub the oil extracted from the seeds of pumpkin on herpes sores, venereal sores, acne vulgaris and stubborn leg ulcers which refuse to heal.
Pumpkin leaves are also applied as a poultice on sprains and pulled ligaments.
Pumpkin seeds have antibacterial, antifungal, and antiviral properties as a result of their unique proteins (17).
Benign Prostatic Hyperplasia (BPH)
Pumpkin seed oil has been used to treat BPH successfully, based on its phytosterol, lignan, and zinc content, which is interestingly, what hair loss drug finasteride was originally intended to treat (18, 19).
Certain types of hair loss
In this way, it may be useful in treating hair loss caused by clogged hair follicles, dead skin build up, or some sort of scalp condition.
Pumpkin seed oil may be helpful in treating Androgenetic Alopecia (AGA), also known as male-pattern baldness (21).
What Does Science Have to Say About Pumpkin Seed Oil?
In other words, is pumpkin seed oil really an effective treatment for male-pattern baldness?
In 2014, Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine published the results of a clinical research study that investigated the efficacy of Pumpkin Seed Oil (PSO) as a treatment for AGA (22).
This was the first randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial to study this issue. The 24-week trial included 76 male subjects with mild to moderate AGA.
Half were given a daily supplement (which included PSO) in the form of a 400 mg capsule. The other half were given a placebo.
IMPORTANT! The supplement given to participants was Octa-Sabal Plus, which does contain pumpkin seed powder but also additional ingredients. These include Octacosanol (from vegetable powder), Gamma linolenic acid (from evening primrose), and Lycopene (from tomato powder). This means there’s no way to definitively say whether the PSO was the source of the study’s results, or if the other ingredients also played a role (which is quite likely).
The researchers used a process known as phototrichography to analyze hair changes, including hair counts and diameters (23).
Hair analysis was performed at the start of the trial to establish a baseline, after 12 weeks of treatment, and again after 24 weeks of treatment.
The results, shown in the two tables below, show that the PSO treatment group had significant increases in hair count over the placebo group.
The differences in hair thickness were negligible.
As a result of their study, the researchers were able to conclude that taking a PSO supplement for 24 weeks has a positive anabolic effect on hair growth in patients with mild to moderate AGA. They believed this could be due to the possible effects of 5-reductase inhibition.
So, Can Pumpkin Seed Oil Treat Hair Loss?
As stated above, the supplement used in the trial contained PSO but it wasn’t the sole ingredient.
So, the real question becomes: CAN PSO treat hair loss by itself?
The answer is: We don’t know.
While it’s likely that pumpkin seed oil contributes various benefits, including anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial, there’s no way to tell exactly what effect it has on the hair growth cycle (24).
After all, the other ingredients founds in the PSO-containing supplement may have also contributed to hair growth.
These ingredients, including polyphenols (found in green tea) and gamma linolenic acid (sourced from evening primrose), have themselves been shown to possibly contribute to hair health and regrowth. As such, there’s no way to determine what percentage of the results were due to PSO, and what percentage was due to the other ingredients.
Does this mean you should avoid PSO, and disregard its positive health effects? No.
But, you should know that much more research is necessary and there are likely better alternatives out there.
Are There Side Effects?
According to the University of Michigan Health System, pumpkin seed oil has no reported side effects (25).
However, it has been speculated that it might have a diuretic effect (26). For those of you taking lithium, taking a pumpkin seed oil-containing supplement might decrease how well the body gets rid of lithium.
This could increase how much lithium is in the body and result in serious side effects.
Finally, it is important to note that any natural remedy can cause an allergic reaction in some people, and this holds true for pumpkin and its many derivatives (i.e. oils, extract, etc.) as well.
Signs of an allergic reaction may include breathing problems, tightness in the chest or throat, chest pain, hives or rash, and itchy or swollen skin (27). Any of these reactions should be treated as a medical emergency.
Women who are pregnant or nursing should not take any supplement without consulting their doctor.
How Do You Use Pumpkin Seed Oil On Your Hair?
For use in maintaining a healthy scalp, pumpkin seed oil should be massaged into the scalp with some type of carrier oil such as olive oil and then left in overnight.
It has been suggested that this should be repeated at least twice a week for a minimum of two months before expecting to see results.
For treatment of AGA, pumpkin seed oil is ingested orally as a supplement. Pumpkin Seed oil (cucurbita pepo) supplements are widely available online, and at drug stores, grocery stores, nutrition specialty stores and the like. They are packaged as capsules or soft gel caps.
Dosages range from 500 to 1000 mg. Prices typically range from 15 cents to 35 cents per unit, depending of course on the dosage, brand, and quantity purchased.
Individuals deciding which supplement to buy should look for those containing pure, unrefined, organic pumpkin seed oil that has been expeller-pressed.
A recommended dosage for the particular treatment of AGA has not been defined.
How to Combine With Other Natural Treatments
While you can choose to apply PSO to the scalp, or take it as a daily supplement, there are treatments you can combine it with to boost its effectiveness.
Here are just a few that I highly recommend:
There are plenty of oils that can be combined with microneedling to improve results, but pumpkin seed oil is one of the better options.
So, how can you use it?
You can use a dermaroller or a dermastamp, though a dermastamp is my recommendation.
Just apply the dermastamp to the areas of hair loss, and press down until the needles penetrate the scalp. Do this horizontally, and then vertically and finally diagonally.
So, where does the pumpkin seed oil come in?
You can apply it after your microneedling session, though I recommend waiting at least 8 hours before doing so. This will ensure there’s no irritation, but you’ll still receive the benefits.
Scalp Massage and Exercises
The dermaroller and dermastamp are great tools to use to increase blood circulation to the scalp. But you can also do so with your hands.
That’s right! Scalp massages and exercises are easy and gentle enough to do on a daily basis, but also incredibly effective at bringing more blood to the scap.
In 2016, a study proved that 24 weeks of standardized scalp massage can increase hair thickness (30):
So, how can you see these same results for yourself?
How to Perform Scalp Massages
Using just your fingertips (and maybe even a bit of PSO), place your thumbs, index, and middle fingers on either side of your head (just above the ears). Place varying levels of pressure throughout the massage, begin to use circular motions.
You’ll start at the sides, and then move up to the crown, to the hairline and temples, and finally to the base of the scalp.
You can also trace back at any point during the massage, and even focus more exclusively on thinning areas.
This should take 10 – 15 minutes per day.
How to Perform Scalp Exercises
To further increase blood circulation, you can use your facial muscles to stretch and gently pull the skin of the scalp. Here’s a quick rundown of how:
- Lift your eyebrows as high as possible, and hold for 2 minutes. Return to resting position.
- Furrow your eyebrows as deep as possible, and hold for 2 minutes. Return to resting position.
- Lift your eyebrows as high as possible, and hold for 2 minutes. Then furrow your eyebrows as deep as possible, and hold for 2 minutes. FInally return to resting position.
You can also use your fingertips, and gently stretch the skin by pulling and pushing your fingers together.
At this point, you may be wondering why increasing blood flow to the scalp is so important. And here’s the answer:
Blood contains oxygen and other nutrients vital to the hair, such as iron, zinc, and biotin. When the hair follicles are healthy (i.e. not in a state of miniaturization), blood flow is sufficient. However, miniaturization can ‘strangle’ the flow of blood from the arteries to the follicles and reduce both oxygen and vitamin delivery.
When you’re battling miniaturization and hair loss, proper blood flow can be the difference between further thinning and regrowth.
With that said, let me introduce just one more way you can improve circulation: inversion therapy.
This technique involves placing yourself in an upside-down position for a period of time each day. The blood will naturally flow to your scalp while in this position.
You can perform this with the help of specialized tools, or just by simply hanging upside down from a tree, or from a couch or chair.
This can be a bit unnerving at first, especially since you’ll be able to feel (in the form of increased warmth) and even ‘hear’ the blood rushing to your head. But if you can do it for at least five minutes per day, the results are well worth it.
What’s the Bottom Line?
There is promising scientific evidence to support the use of pumpkin seed oil supplements to treat mild to moderate AGA, also known as male-pattern baldness.
However, there has been only one trial, and much more research needs to be done to verify its results and identify a recommended dosage.
If you have any questions, please leave a comment below.
*This article was reviewed by Dr. Debra Rose Wilson