I get asked about natural beauty cures and home remedies all the time—do they work, are they safe, how should I use them? My response usually goes something like this: Even if there isn’t a double-blind placebo-controlled study proving a particular tincture or extract is effective, that doesn’t mean you won’t see results. After all, many of these ingredients, like rosehip oil, have been used for thousands of years—there’s got to be some truth to the tales of their purported benefits.
Black seed oil is one such ingredient. This pressed oil from the seeds of the Nigella sativa plant—a flowering shrub species native to Western Asia, Northern Africa, and parts of Europe—has long been thought to help with hair growth, giving limp or thinning locks a boost, like other popular oils are said to do. But one research review suggests the ingredient, also known as black caraway or black cumin, has more far-ranging powers in cosmetic products as an antimicrobial, anti-aging, and even sun-protecting agent.
I wanted to get to the bottom of this, so I tapped some of my favorite beauty pros to help set the record straight on whether this compelling natural ingredient will make your hair healthier.
Is black seed oil actually good for your hair?
In a word: Possibly. Some research suggests that Nigella sativa oil can, in fact, be helpful for those struggling with thinning hair or shedding. One study found that black seed oil mixed with coconut oil helped promote hair growth while another white paper found that hair fallout was reduced by 76 percent when subjects used a hair oil containing Nigella sativa. And a 2013 study showed that women with telogen effluvium—that’s sudden, temporary hair fallout or thinning—experienced an improvement after using the ingredient topically.
So what’s behind black seed oil’s crown boosting powers? That’d be thymoquinone, a component of the oil that has antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. “These effects can help create a supportive scalp environment for healthy hair growth,” says natural hair stylist and trichologist Kari Williams, PhD. “Because we know healthy hair cannot grow from a scalp that’s inflamed.”
But don’t get too excited. Much of this research was conducted with a relatively small pool of subjects and is preliminary or inconclusive (telogen effluvium, for example, often comes and goes mysteriously, so it’s hard to tell if the black seed oil truly helped). “I wouldn’t say it’s a panacea for hair growth,” says Mona Gohara, M.D., associate clinical professor of dermatology at Yale University. “But I would say it’s okay to use topically.”
Ready to try? Here’s how to use black seed oil.
In addition to finding the ingredient in myriad hair products and treatments (see below for some of my recommendations), the ingredient is also available in supplement form. But both Williams and Gohara urge you to proceed with caution if you want to go down that route. “I don’t think it’s a great idea,” says Gohara. “The FDA doesn’t regulate certain supplements, so you don’t really know what’s in there.” And one thing we do know that’s in there—the thymoquinone mentioned above—is also an antihistamine, so “it’s not really innocuous. It does have potential medicinal properties and may not be right for everyone. Moral of the story: Talk to your doctor before taking any OTC supplements.
But you can have fun experimenting with all manner of haircare products infused with black seed oil. Just read the product’s instructions. Those with strands that feel limp or lackluster could see benefit, as could those with dandruff or seborrheic dermatitis. “Nigella sativa also has antifungal properties, so it’s conceivable that it may help with those conditions.
Should anyone avoid black seed oil?
As with any topical ingredient, there is a possibility that black seed oil could cause an adverse skin reaction such as sensitivity. “That’s why I always recommend that people do a patch test before they put it all over their scalp,” says Williams. Just select an inconspicuous spot on the underside of your arm and apply a small amount of product. Wait a few minutes and if you don’t notice any redness or irritation, you’re in the clear.
Don’t expect to see results right away.
As with much in life—finding true love, earning a degree, getting your tax refund—good things come to those who wait. Black seed oil isn’t an overnight fix, so you’ll need to use your product of choice consistently to notice any change. “I usually say to use a product for at least three months to really determine its effectiveness,” Williams advises.
The bottom line: Black seed oil isn’t a miracle cure.
But, if used consistently, there is some compelling evidence to show that this time-honored ingredient may help give your hair a boost. And if you really want to determine what may be causing your hair to thin or fall out, make an appointment with a trichologist or dermatologist who specializes in hair and scalp health. Because you never know when it’s hair today, gone tomorrow.