Men and women with hair loss are increasingly turning to scalp massage as a treatment. It is easy, effective, free of side effects, and can be combined with any other treatment. If you are interested in learning more about how scalp massage can help you regrow hair, you are at the right place.
You will learn:
- What scalp massage is
- How and why it promotes hair growth.
- Results you can expect.
- Types of scalp massage
- How to do it
What Is Scalp Massage?
Scalp massage (or head massage) is simply the manual stimulation of the scalp. You can do it with your bare hands or special devices. These range from simple plastic aids to complex electrical devices.
Scalp massage is used for various purposes. These include headache relief and stress reduction.
Another application is for the growth of denser, thicker hair. For this reason, scalp massage is popular among the hair loss community.
It is also used by people with healthy hair. Research has found that it can give stronger hair even when there is no pathological hair loss.
To understand how scalp massages can grow hair, we must first take a look at a key problem in hair loss. This is poor blood flow.
Hair Loss Is Linked to Poor Blood Flow
There are various types of hair loss. Some are more common than others. By far the most common type is Androgenetic Alopecia (AGA) (1). It accounts for over 95% of hair loss in men.
Hair Follicle Miniaturization
The hallmark of AGA is a process known as hair follicle miniaturization. The follicles in balding areas of the scalp progressively shrink in size and diminish in vigor. They literally become a miniature version of a healthy follicle (2).
Eventually, the follicles become so small that the hair can no longer push through the scalp. If not treated in time, the hair loss can be permanent.
(Learn the early signs of balding so you can battle the issue NOW!)
AGA is a multifactorial problem. In other words, different causes combine to cause the problem (3, 4). A key problem, however, is poor blood flow to the scalp.
Normal blood flow is essential to all human tissue, including the scalp. Blood carries the oxygen and nutrients the hair follicles need. It also removes cellular waste like CO2. Without sufficient blood, the follicles cannot carry out their activities. As a result, they cannot sustain their healthy (non-miniaturized) growth cycle.
AGA and Blood Flow
Scientists have known for a long time that men with AGA have poor blood flow in their balding areas (5). In areas where there is no hair loss, like the side of the head, their blood flow is normal. Men without AGA show no such pattern.
Overall, men with AGA have between two and three times less subcutaneous blood flow in the scalp compared to healthy men (6).
It is no coincidence that the first medication approved against AGA was minoxidil (7). This drug is a powerful vasodilator. It widens the blood vessels, allowing more blood to pass. Within 15 minutes of application, topical minoxidil increases blood flow to the scalp threefold (8).
Scalp Massage Improves Blood Flow
Fortunately, scalp massage can improve blood flow to the scalp (9). The massage dilates the blood vessels that lie near the surface of the skin. This increases the rate of blood flow in the area.
Massage also promotes the local release of histamines and other endogenous substances that are vasoactive. In other words, they affect the blood vessels by increasing their diameter. These vasoactive effects are more pronounced with a strong, forceful massage.
Scalp Massage Promotes Healthy Hair Growth
We saw how a scalp massage can improve blood flow. Unsurprisingly, researchers have found that scalp massage may benefit hair growth. It can achieve this with both balding and healthy men.
In a Japanese research study, nine healthy men received four minutes of daily scalp massage on one side of their heads (10). They used an electrical massage device, the Panasonic EH-HM75.
The scientists measured the total hair number, thickness, and growth speed. They did this for each participant at 0, 4, 12, and 24 weeks.
The hair growth rate and total hair number did not improve significantly. However, the researchers saw a noticeable improvement in hair thickness at 24 weeks. In other words, the average diameter of the hair shafts increased significantly.
Even a small increase in hair shaft thickness can dramatically increase total hair volume. This is because the volume of each hair shaft is a function of the square of its diameter.
The researchers proposed two possible explanations for the hair shaft diameter increase.
Firstly, increased blood circulation.
Secondly, the direct mechanical stimulation of the hair follicle cells. The researchers provided some evidence that mechanically stretching the follicles can affect the expression of certain genes. These genes are expressed by the dermal papilla cells in the hair follicle. The dermal papilla cells are critical in regulating the hair growth cycle. The end result is more robust hair growth.
Scalp Massage and Androgenetic Alopecia
In 2019, a pair of researchers from California looked at scalp massage for treating AGA (11). They wanted to know if scalp massage can reverse hair loss. Another question was if the results are dose-dependent, or if someone will get more regrowth the more they massage.
The researchers collected questionnaires from 327 people with AGA. All of them had used or were still using scalp massages to treat their hair loss. 296 were men and 29 women. All participants massaged using their own hands. They did not have the help of a professional or use any sort of device.
The researchers gathered data on the duration and frequency of the scalp massages. Most people reported massaging between 10-20 minutes a day. The typical participant massaged for 7-8 months overall.
The researchers also asked participants to evaluate their results.
Scalp Massage Can Halt Hair Loss
Scalp massage was found to be effective in stopping or partially reversing hair loss. The effects were dose-dependent. Participants who massaged the most minutes daily tended to report the best results. Similarly for those who massaged over longer time periods. Massaging for many months gave better results compared to a few weeks.
Participants reported their self-assessment of their hair loss on a scale from -2 to +2. Negative values were for further hair loss, with -2 being the worst. Zero was unchanged hair and positive values were for new hair growth, with 2 being the best.
The graph below shows the results. Each dot is one participant. The vertical axis is the self-reported results. The horizontal axis is the total number of hours invested in scalp massages (SSM). The dashed line is the statistical trend line. Its upward shape suggests more massage leads to better results.
On average, it took a total of 36 hours of massage to start seeing new hair. This total was accumulated over a few months of massage, typically between four and five. Diffuse hair loss responded to treatment better.
A limitation of the study is that the data are self-reports. Future studies that directly observe patients will be able to corroborate these results.
Stress and Hair Loss
Stress can be acute, due to a particularly stressful event, or chronic (12).
It is also a common factor in hair loss. It can coincide with AGA and exacerbate its course. Or it can contribute to hair loss on its own, without underlying AGA (13).
(Learn more about telogen effluvium, the hair loss most commonly associated with stress.)
The effects of stress on hair have been studied for a long time. For example, a recent 2017 study looked at 33 female medical students. Eighteen of these were in the midst of exams and 15 were not (14).
The researchers used various assessments to measure stress. These included questionnaires and cytokine measurements. Cytokines are endogenous pro-inflammatory substances. Immune cells release them in response to injury, infection, or allergic reaction. When cytokine levels increase, this can indicate body-wide inflammation.
Stress increased significantly when the 18 students were in the midst of exams. This was accompanied by changes in cytokine balance.
The exam students also showed diminished hair growth during this time. The percentage of their hair that was in the anagen growth phase of their cycle dropped. The women who were not undergoing the stressful exams showed no such patterns.
Scalp Massage Lowers Stress
Massage is one of the more popular stress reduction methods. Scalp massage in particular can reduce mental stress and physical tension. It is also an easy and time-efficient practice.
Research has found that twice-weekly scalp massages lower the secretion of the so-called stress hormones. These are adrenaline, norepinephrine, and cortisol (15). These hormones regulate stress, arousal, and the “fight or flight” state. In today’s hectic work environments their levels can become permanently elevated.
The same research also found scalp massages lower blood pressure and resting heart rate. Only 15 minutes of massage are sufficient for this. Extending the duration to 25 minutes increases these effects even more.
How to Perform Scalp Massage
While a massage is a simple enough practice, there are right and wrong ways of doing it. For best results, see the instructions below. You can also watch our video guide.
1. Use Your Hands
The easiest method of scalp massage involves nothing but your hands. This can be done at home and it is a great introduction to the beneficial practice.
To start, get into a comfortable, quiet area. This may be your bed, your couch, or even a quiet space at work. Try to find a place where you will be uninterrupted.
The Simplest Massage
In the simplest massage, take both hands and place them on either side of the scalp. You want to grip the scalp hard and then move your hands around in a circular motion. Move back and forward, round and round.
The goal is to create different creases throughout the scalp. For this purpose, move one hand while keeping the other fixed, and then move the other. Then vice versa again. Aim to move and loosen the entire scalp.
Using a similar technique, you can also place either hand in the front and back of the head. Make sure to grip the scalp firmly, to avoid friction against the hair.
After about a couple of minutes, you can move on to the next massage, the so-called squeeze. In the one-handed squeeze, you squeeze the skin together, without creating friction on the skin. Just like a pinch. Pinch and hold for a couple of seconds, along the entire head.
Keep your opposing fingers one or two inches apart. If your scalp is tight, this might be hard in the beginning. With time it will get easier. Try to do this all over your scalp, not only the affected areas. You can do this massage for around 1 minute.
A variation of this is the two-handed squeeze. Taking both hands, you squeeze the scalp together, forming a crease in the skin.
Keep the fingertips of the two hands 2 or 3 inches apart. Again, do this all over the head, even in parts not affected by hair loss.
The Scalp Shake
In the scalp shake technique, you grasp the scalp with both hands and shake back and forward. You can do this vigorously, feeling the scalp move around over the cranium. This will help loosen up the entire scalp and increase blood flow. Your arms will tire pretty quickly, but with time you will find this easier and easier to do. Aim for 30 seconds to begin with.
With time, you should aim to perform the massage for at least 10 minutes per day. This will provide you with enough time on each area of your scalp. It will also ensure the experience is relaxing and stress-reducing.
2. Use a Scalp Massager
Instead of your hands, you can also use a scalp massager. There are different types of scalp massagers.
To use the metal massager in the above photo, start by placing the tips on the top of your head. Slowly move the massager tool up and down. As you move it, rotate it in circular motions to get all areas of the scalp.
This tool is best for the sides of the head, but there is another massager tool you can use for the crown. The plastic massage brush is a small, rubber tool that enables you to target specific areas of your scalp.
If you have very short hair you can use both brushes simultaneously, one in each hand. With circular motions, brush and glide across the entire scalp. Pay special attention to the areas you want to treat.
If you have long hair you should use only one brush at a time and carefully, to avoid pulling out hair. Place the brush firmly on a spot of the head and massage with a gentle circular motion.
After you have treated that area, lift the massager and place it down on the adjacent area. Do not drag the brush across the scalp as this can catch and pull hairs.
You can also use this scalp massager in the shower. After applying shampoo, you can scrub the scalp thoroughly with the brush.
3. Combine With Oil
To further boost the benefits of scalp massage, you can add in oil.
Which Oil Should You Use?
There are many oils that can bring additional benefits to your scalp massage routine. The oils you choose should depend on your goals.
For example, rosemary oil extract is great for use as a topical DHT blocker (16). Peppermint oil can be used to further promote blood circulation (17). Or, almond oil can be used as an antioxidant and hair growth promoter (18).
How to Perform an Oil Massage
Using the oil (or combination) of your choice, pour a quarter-size amount into your palms. Rub your hands together to warm the oil.
You may find that you need more oil as the massage progresses. Continue to add small amounts to your palms and apply evenly.
NOTE: If using an essential oil, be sure to dilute every drop of oil with 5mL of carrier oil. Essential oils are very potent. Dilution is necessary to avoid contact reactions. It will also deliver the essential oil more effectively.
Only apply enough oil to create a thin coat on the scalp. You don’t want to saturate the hair.
Once you have completed the massage (10-15) minutes, let sit for an additional 5-10 minutes. Then, rinse thoroughly with lukewarm (or cold) water. You can repeat this on a daily basis or do it occasionally to add variation to your massage routine.
Which Scalp Massage Technique Is Right for You?
The previous section described the various techniques and tools available for scalp massage. The technique you will eventually settle down on will depend upon your own preference, as well as the tools you have available.
However, the absolute best method for you will be the one that you stick with consistently. For this reason, you can experiment and try different methods. The one you find most easy and relaxing is the one you are likely to practice for the long run.
3 Tips to Improve Your Massage Techniques
If you want to ensure you are getting the most from this technique, here are a few tips to implement.
1. Use Your Fingertips, Not Your Nails
A common mistake made by many is the use of their fingernails during a scalp massage. This can significantly damage the scalp and hair follicles. It will also result in less mechanical stimulation and poor results.
2. Perform Massage for At Least 10 Minutes Per Day
A common mistake is inconsistent massage sessions or sessions that are too short. Without enough time and effort, you will not see positive results.
For best practice, you should perform a massage for at least 10 minutes per day. Aim to slot in the session at the same time each day. This will increase your consistency.
3. Do Not Be Afraid to Apply Pressure
It is important to avoid applying excessive pressure. This can pull out hair and damage the follicles. At the same time, pressure is necessary to see positive results.
If you start catching and pulling out hairs, you are likely applying too much pressure. On the other hand, if your scalp does not feel like it has even been massaged five minutes after your session, you are likely applying insufficient pressure.
It might take some experimentation till you find the optimal pressure point. With time it will become easy.
Is Scalp Massage for Everyone?
Scalp massage is generally very safe and can be practiced by anyone. However, If you suffer from an inflammatory condition like dandruff, psoriasis, or scalp irritation, the friction might aggravate the underlying inflammation. In this case, you should consult with a doctor prior to starting treatment.
The Real Deal?
The hair loss community is always on the lookout for new cutting-edge medications and high-tech treatments. Understandably, a common concern of many hair loss sufferers is that scalp massage seems too simple. This leads them to avoid the practice altogether.
Yet simplicity is not a minus to any treatment. On the contrary, the simplest treatments are often the most effective. For example, researchers found that high blood pressure drops the most by fasting for a few days. Eating literally nothing and consuming only water gives better results than the newest wonder drugs (19).
Scalp massages are a natural treatment. As such they have no side effects. They do not require medical supervision. They can be done by anyone at the comfort at their own home. These are significant advantages for anyone considering hair loss treatments.
You should perform a daily scalp massage for at least five months before you decide if it is right for you. Taking good-quality baseline photos of your scalp will allow you to monitor your progress.
Massage is a common alternative health practice. It is used to improve blood circulation, decrease tension, and aid muscle recovery. In addition, it is increasingly used to promote hair growth.
Scalp massage alone will probably not restore a full head of hair. A good idea is to use it as the foundation of your hair loss routine. You can then add in other treatment options, be they pharmaceutical or natural. As with all conditions, a healthy lifestyle is also essential.