Sometimes a hair care product comes along that stirs a ton of conversation, and the use of arnica oil for hair care definitely meets this criterion.
Much of this discussion has centered around the oil’s long history as a toxin and how that compares to its potential uses as a hair growth supplement.
So what’s the real story with arnica hair oil, and how can you use it safely?
In this article, we’ll cover how to use arnica oil for hair growth, hair loss, regrowth, dandruff, premature graying, and much more.
Table of Contents
- 1 Historical Overview: Where Does Arnica Oil Come From?
- 2 What Does Arnica Oil Do?
- 3 What Are the Benefits of Arnica Oil?
Historical Overview: Where Does Arnica Oil Come From?
Arnica oil is an extract taken from a member of the sunflower family found in the Western half of North America and across Eurasia, with the herb being native to Russia. You may know this herb by another name, “wolfsbane,” “leopard’s bane,” “mountain daisy,” “arnica montana,” and “mountain tobacco.”
Goethe wrote glowingly of arnica, using it to help treat a dangerously high fever. However, the legendary German poet took arnica orally, which is no longer considered a safe way of consuming the herb given the fact that it can be poisonous.
One of the most commonly used variants of arnica, Arnica Linnaeus, can grow to 2-3 inches (6-8 cm) wide and 4-6 inches (10-15 cm) tall. Arnica flowers are typically adorned with large bright yellow or light orangish flowers (hence their connection to the sunflower family) with a straight deep-rooted stem.
The phyllaries have hairs that spread out underneath them. The herbs have a faintly fragrant aroma, but if taken in an incorrect dose or an incorrect way, they can prove poisonous (which is why we don’t take it orally, the way Goethe did anymore).
If you have heard of arnica by its more famous names, aconite, and wolfsbane, chances are it was in one of the many mythological, literary, and historical contexts where it was used as a poison.
Medea attempts to poison Theseus with it in Greek mythology, while Shakespeare compares “aconitum” to a “venom of persuasion” as Henry IV considers his political situation in Henry IV, Part 2.
“Wolfsbane,” meanwhile, takes its name from being potent enough to poison wolves and other big carnivores. Another name for aconite and wolfsbane is monkshood, a fact Harry Potter fans will remember from Professor Snape informing Harry of that in his first Potions class in Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone.
What Does Arnica Oil Do?
When taken in low and properly-treated doses, you can take advantage of arnica’s healing potential.
Arnica has been used for various treatments in folk medicine traditions for thousands of years by both Native American tribes as well as various groups across Central and Eastern Europe and Russia.
In these traditions, it has often been used as a pain relief treatment. It has also been used to treat a wide range of wounds, sprains, bruises, and contusions.
In traditional Russian medicine, it has been used to treat everything from uterine hemorrhage and cardiac issues to myocarditis and arteriosclerosis. However, its efficacy in treating these conditions is a lot fuzzier given the folk nature of these remedies.
That said, different studies have validated many of the broader medical claims made by users of different forms of arnica. One, in 2017, published in the Journal of Pharmacy and Pharmacology, found it to be an effective anti-inflammatory that, as elucidated in another study in the Journal of Biological Chemistry, is due in part to helenalin, a compound that is partially responsible for the herb’s toxicity.
It is also a noted antifungal and antibacterial agent with pain-killing properties. Laboratory studies in Germany have also found some support for the latter idea, with tinctures of arnica being found to suppress enzymes in cartilage in your joints that can otherwise contribute to swelling and discomfort in conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis and osteoarthritis.
What Are the Benefits of Arnica Oil?
1. Moisturize and Nourish Your Scalp
Arnica is especially good at soothing and moisturizing irritated skin, which is essential for the long-term well-being of your hair in a variety of ways. Just as healthy soil is a prerequisite for fertile fields, a healthy scalp is essential for sustained hair growth.
If your scalp dries out, your hair follicles can become malnourished, leading to breakage or potentially shedding. On the other hand, you don’t want your scalp to feel like an oily mess, either.
It’s all about maintaining balance, and that’s what natural moisturizing agents such as arnica are all about. Arnica does this by soothing irritation and inflammation, thus ensuring that your scalp remains smooth and healthy.
2. Fight Dandruff
Smoothing and soothing your scalp can also help alleviate any itchiness, which in turn can help with dandruff. Seeing dried flakes of skin flutter down all around you after contact with your hair can be embarrassing.
Dandruff can be caused when your scalp starts to dry out and can be exacerbated when your scalp is itchy. You go to scratch your scalp, dislodging loose dried flakes of skin and other sources of dandruff.
Arnica can help by easing the irritation and inflammation that can make your scalp itchy in the first place. Since fungal infections can also cause dandruff, arnica’s status as an antifungal allows it to treat multiple causes of dandruff at once.
3. Combatting Hair Loss and Stimulating Growth
Just as important to your hair’s long-term health and appearance as stimulating hair growth is stymieing hair loss. A study in the Journal of Drug Delivery & Therapeutics from 2017 featured an Indian team extolling the efficacy of a certain kind of gel containing arnica oil and its ability to combat hair loss in patients.
It is an excellent option if you are experiencing hair loss at a young age and is a favorite of those suffering from male pattern baldness.
Arnica montana extract is mixed in with certain specialty shampoos designed to combat balding. These formulas are rich in nutrients that stimulate hair growth, mitigate hair loss (also known as hair fall), and add volume, giving you a trifecta of ways to revive your hair.
Topical arnica oil can also help by clearing away excess sebum oil. It’s important to note that a certain amount of sebum oil is necessary for making sure that your hair retains enough natural oils to keep your scalp from drying out.
On the other hand, however, if you have too much sebum oil in your hair, it can become greasy and oily. Not only is that tactilely and aesthetically unpleasing, but it can likewise lead to bacteria and other harmful particles becoming trapped, leading to infections and other factors that can negatively impact hair growth and scalp health.
Adding a bit of arnica oil is thus a valuable way of balancing that out with something that can naturally limit sebum oil without obliterating it, establishing a nice equilibrium.
4. Treat Split Ends
Arnica oil is also good at smoothing out hair from the root to the tip, making it ideal for dealing with split ends. This also allows you to cut down on factors that can cause your hair to fray and appear frizzy.
5. Treat Premature Graying
One final aesthetic upside to working with arnica oil is the fact that it can combat premature graying by once again treating your hair from the root to the tip.
It is important to note that graying is determined in large part by genetic factors that are out of your control. This makes it all the more important to control those factors if you can, which is where arnica oil can help.
It can strengthen your hair follicles and extend their lifespan, helping them stay strong and retain their original color longer.
The Potential Side Effects of Using Arnica Oil
However, as stated above, the toxic elements of arnica can be dangerous if you don’t take proper precautions, and you’ll want to watch out for warning signs and side effects.
Discontinue use immediately at the first sign of a rash, ulcers, dermatitis, blistering, or skin necrosis. Please do not use it on scratched or broken skin.
Some research has indicated that alcoholic extracts of arnica can cause your blood pressure to increase. This is one reason why arnica is always used in a highly diluted state.
The potential side effects of oral consumption include irritation of the mouth and throat, diarrhea, vomiting, shortness of breath, stomach pain, bruising and bleeding, organ failure, coma, and death. There’s a reason this substance is a famous poison!
However, rubbing it onto your scalp should be fine as long as you follow the instructions.
Arnica can sometimes cause mild allergic reactions to those already allergic to this family of plants, including chrysanthemums, daisies, marigolds, and ragweeds.
Arnica can also slow blood clotting, so you should discontinue using it two weeks before you are scheduled for surgery. You should also avoid taking it if you are already on any anticoagulant/blood-thinning drugs for the same reason.
How to Use Arnica Oil for Hair and Scalp Care
We’ve made it pretty clear by this point why taking arnica orally is a horrible idea, and rubbing it onto your scalp will be way more effective anyway, so that’s the method of application you’ll wish to use.
When using arnica for hair care, the first thing you’ll need to decide is whether you want to massage it into your scalp on its own or mix it into your shampoo and apply it that way.
The benefit of the latter method is clear, allowing you to cut out an extra step in your hair care regimen. That said, arnica is already included in some shampoos.
So you’ll want to check to see if your shampoo already contains the hair oil, because arnica’s potency and potential for toxicity means you definitely don’t want to overdo your dosing, even when applying it topically.
On that same note, if you do opt for massaging arnica into your scalp, make sure that the solution is strongly diluted before applying it. However, diluting it drastically with water or via similar methods can leave it ineffective.
The answer is to mix it with a carrier oil such as almond or coconut oil. Your ratio should be roughly 2 to 3 drops of arnica oil for every 8 to 10 drops of carrier oil.
Massage it into your scalp in gentle circular motions. Don’t leave the arnica oil in too long. After 15 minutes maximum, wash it again with lukewarm water. For best results, apply and wash it out before going to bed.
Some people like to keep a bit of arnica oil on them to repair split ends on the go. If this is you, apply a tiny amount to the affected strands from top to bottom.
If you are looking to buy a shampoo or other hair care product that features arnica oil, look for products that feature common essential oils. It is often paired with sandalwood, cinchona, coconut, almond, sage, rosemary, grapeseed, and shea butter.
Arnica oil is not an essential oil that should be used lightly or carelessly. The risk of poisoning is still very real, and you need to be careful when applying it.
That being said, as long as you follow the precautions or purchase an already-diluted and treated version of it, arnica oil can be an extremely potent soothing, moisturizing, and all-around reinvigorating hair care agent.