Plant Powered Hair Growth: The Science & Secrets of Ayurvedic Hair Oiling



For thousands of years, people have taken part in rituals to repair, replenish and nourish the hair. In Ayurveda, hair care and wellness meet in the ancient and sacred practise of hair oiling. Traditionally, herbs and botanicals are infused into golden oils and then massaged into the scalp to promote hair growth. The recipes have been handed down through generations of women and contain hundreds of years of hair health wisdom.


A lot of hair care starts with understanding how the hair works - what it’s made of, its structure, its life cycle and so on. But if you want to skip the science lesson, feel free to scroll down to find out what we can learn from ancient hair rituals and see our list of oils and herbs to stimulate hair growth.


Hair Anatomy 101


The structure of our hair is made of 2 parts: the follicle and the shaft. The follicle sits at the root of the shaft and is responsible for the growth and health of our hair. It’s a tunnel-like structure with several layers extending through the epidermis and down to the dermis.


The Follicle


We are born with all of the hair follicles we will ever have for life. By 22 weeks, a foetus will have developed 5 million hair follicles (with about one hundred thousand on the scalp) and our bodies never make any more. Each of those follicles has an active growth period (known as anagen) where the cells in the root of the follicle divide rapidly to form new hair. About 90% of the hairs in our scalp are in this anagen stage at one time.


As the shaft of the hair is formed, 2 sheaths surround the follicle to protect the growing hair. The inner sheath ends just below the sebaceous (oil) gland, but the outer sheath continues all the way up and around it. The sebaceous gland produces the sebum oil that conditions our hair to keep it strong and healthy. As we age our body naturally produces less sebum, so one of the key ways to maintain healthy hair is to use a natural oil to mimic sebum and protect the hair as it grows (but more on that later).


The Shaft:


The shaft of the hair is made of Keratin. A hard protein with three layers; the medulla (inner), the cortex (middle), and the cuticle (outer). The cortex makes up most of the structure but the outer layer, the cuticle, is the most important to protect the hair. (It’s also the most vulnerable to damage). The tightly formed, scaly structure encases the hair with shingle-like tiles that overlap one another. It does a good job of keeping moisture in and nasties out, but if it gets damaged the lower layers of hair become vulnerable to breakage. The Keratin that makes up our hair is actually dead, so it’s up to us to take care of it as the hair has no ability to heal itself.


The Life Cycle of Hair


According to the American Academy of Dermatology, we lose between 50-100 hairs a day. This is because our scalp hair is only in its active phase of growth, or anagen, for 2-6 years. (Our eyelashes, eyebrows and other body hairs have a much shorter anagen phase that lasts for about 30-45 days.)


After the anagen phase, the hair enters catagen - a transitional phase that lasts about 2 weeks where the hair ‘clubs’ as the outer root sheath shrinks and attaches to the shaft. (If you’ve ever pulled a hair out and seen a small, white hard material attached to the end of it – you were looking at the sheath). Finally, the hair follicle goes into its resting phase – telogen. About 6-8% of all our hairs are in telogen at one point in time, the phase lasts 100 days for scalp hair and longer for brows and lashes. The hair falls out when the cycle starts again, and new hair growth comes up the follicle to push the ‘dead’ club hair out of our scalp.

Hair Growth & The Genetic Lottery



Pretty much everything about our hair is decided for us by our genetics. For example, even the shape of the hair follicle we’re born with determines how our hair will grow. Round follicles grow straight hair, oval-shaped follicles grow wavy hair and ribbon-shaped follicles will give you curly hair. It’s all about your DNA and genetics.


How fast, or long, your hair grows is also determined by genes. If you struggle to grow your hair, this could be because your hair spends less time in its anagen phase. This phase of the hair cycle is the only period of time that the hair will actively grow and get longer – so if your anagen phase is only 2 years long then your hair is likely to ‘max-out’ at a shorter length before the cycle restarts.


However, this doesn’t mean you have to sit back and accept your hair fate. The overall condition of our hair and scalp plays a big role in its growth and appearance. The healthier the hair - the longer and stronger it will grow. When it comes to hair care, we can learn a lot from ayurvedic rituals and remedies.


Ancient Hair Care Rituals


The ancient Ayurvedic tradition of hair oiling involves massaging natural, nutrient-rich oils into the scalp and lengths to moisturise, strengthen and thicken the hair. The ritual is as much about hair health as it is about self-care and bonding time with your hair-oiling partner. In fact, in Sanskrit the phrases ‘to oil’ and ‘to love’ share the same word – Sneha. 


In Indian culture, recipes of infused oils have been handed down from generation to generation to use as part of the hair oiling practice. Traditionally, Sesame Oil is used in the cold season and Coconut Oil in the warm season, but as time has passed the recipes have adapted and evolved.


Natural & Nourishing Oils 


Deeply conditioning the hair with natural oils forms a protective & nourishing layer around the shaft to help it stay free from damage while it grows (helping it to grow longer & stronger). We have a few different go-to-oils for hair, each serving a slightly different function. We use all of them in our own recipes and hair elixirs as a base point to nourish the hair & scalp. 



Castor - Used by Ayurvedic practitioners for thousands of years, Castor Oil is the world’s oldest and most valuable herbal remedy. It is rich in naturally occurring ricinoleic acid, a type of fatty acid proven to coat the shaft of the hair and reduce damage.


Coconut - Coconut oil is made up of a medium-chain fatty acid called lauric acid. This gives it a long, straight structure, which is easily absorbed deep into the hair shaft to moisturise the hair from within. Coconut oil also has a sun protection factor of 8, so it can help avoid any damage caused by UV rays.


Argan - Argan Oil supports healthy hair to repair and replenish. Rich in essential fatty acids and vitamins (A, E) that nourish the hair to prevent dryness and frizz, Argan has a protective effect that can prevent damage from styling.


Avocado - Full of hair-loving vitamins, antioxidants and monounsaturated fats. By coating the hair at the follicle, Avocado Oil mimics our sebum to prevent damage at the root of the hair allowing it to grow healthier and stronger.


Shea Butter - For dry & irritated scalps that need intense moisturisation, Shea Butter is an anti-inflammatory that works as a soothing and nourishing base for hair care treatments. It’s thicker than the other oils on this list, but it’s non-comedogenic so it won’t clog the pores making it suitable to use on curly, thicker hair. We use it in our Hair & Scalp Treatment Mask for more intense moisturisation.


Hair Healing Herbs


Alongside oils, certain herbs and botanicals have particularly healing qualities when it comes to our hair. These herbs have been used by Ayurvedic practitioners for 5000 years, and they are still proving to be just as effective as any modern, chemical-based treatment.


The not-so-secret ingredient in our hair masks & elixirs is our slow infusion of 11 Ayurvedic botanicals with Castor & Coconut Oil. Rich in vitamins, nutrients and fatty acids essential for healthy hair and scalp conditions. Our own in-house blend reinvigorates traditional recipes used for centuries to nourish, soften and repair damaged hair. These are some of the herbs and botanicals we use…



Tulsi - In Sanskrit, Tulsi means the incomparable one. It is an adaptogen, meaning it adapts to physical stressors to balance the body. Rich in vitamin K and antioxidants, Tulsi benefits the hair by stimulating blood circulation to promote hair growth.


Bhringaraj - Also called Eclipta, and known in Ayurveda as the king of the hair. Bhringaraj is believed to extend the length of the anagen phase - giving our hair the chance to grow longer, stronger and prevent hair loss.


Amla - Amla has a high concentration of vitamin E, known to support healthy circulation and improve cell regeneration to support scalp health. Studies have shown that topical application of Amla oil increases hair growth.


Neem - Full of antioxidants and vitamins, research has suggested that anti-inflammatory Neem conditions the scalp to reduce dandruff. When massaged into the scalp, Neem nurtures the follicle at the root for healthy & happy hair.  


Rosemary - Used in the Mediterranean for hundreds of years, Rosemary stimulates blood circulation in the scalp to promote hair growth and reduce hair loss. It’s also used to prevent premature greying and dandruff.


Scalp Massage: 


Massage has always been an integral part of the Ayurvedic ritual of hair oiling. It helps the oils to penetrate the skin and reach deep into the dermis to nourish the hair at the root. Imagine the skin on the top of your head as the soil which your hair grows from – if the soil is dry and lacking in nutrients, the growth will be slow and weak. The way our hair grows isn’t too different – you can’t have hair health without scalp health.


You can use your fingers, a comb, or a Gua Sha tool to massage the scalp as part of your hair care ritual. The massage disrupts the lower levels of skin to increase blood flow and stimulate the follicles by activating tiny muscles that contract and cause the hair to stand on end. This contraction causes the sebaceous glands to secrete the oil and sebum needed to nourish the root of the hair helping it to grow longer, healthier and thicker.


In Ayurvedic practices, caring for the hair and scalp comes hand in hand caring for the mind and soul. Scalp massage is traditionally a bonding time between mothers and daughters, and the massage itself is believed to activate the crown chakra – the spiritual bodies centre of wisdom and enlightenment. Just a few moments of scalp massage a day have been proven to reduce tension, headaches, stress and anxiety.


Haircare is simple when we embrace the natural goodness of the herbs, seeds, botanicals and flowers that grow in our soils. Reconnecting to the earth and ancient rituals allows us to nurture the self, the scalp and the hair.


If you have read this far, thanks for sticking with us. We hope you give Hair Oiling a try and if you do – please let us know how you find the experience.

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1 comment

I found this really informative and have saved it for future reference! Just recently discovered Earth To You and I’m enjoying exploring your website and the beautiful product range – I really like what you are doing! Very eager to try out your oils. :)


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