If I had a secret blend of essential oils that cured baldness I am sure that I would pretty soon have enough money to set up my own research lab where I could investigate things that took my fancy rather than what my employers tell me too. (Sorry if that isn’t what you would do with sudden wealth). I have spoken before about the shortcomings of topically applied baldness treatments. This is a shame because there is a huge demand.
But interestingly there is one intriguing report in the literature which comes close to being my dream find.
The trial was run by Professor Ormerod, a dermatologist at Aberdeen Royal Infirmary, and he was explicitly interested in seeing whether claims made for aromatherapy could be tested by the standard scientific method of a clinical trial. It is important to remember that scientists try to avoid prejudice. If the claims made for aromatherapy are true it should be possible to show them in a properly designed and carried out trial.
And this was certainly a properly carried out trial. It was randomized , double-blinded and controlled. It went on for 7 months’ and was managed from the the Dermatology outpatient department. Eighty-six people with alopecia areata, baldness in other words, took part – plenty to pick up any effects.
The active group massaged the essential oils (thyme, rosemary, lavender, and cedarwood) in a mixture of jojoba and grapeseed into their scalp daily. The control group used only oils for their massage.
The results were assessed on a scale by two different dermatologists independently by looking at photographs. 44% of patients in the active group showed improvement compared with 15% in the control group. They checked that the scale was repeatable, and found that independent observers came up with the same assessment, so the scale was meaningful.
So there it is – a scientifically proven cure for baldness based on aromatherapy. The question is, why don’t we all know about it? Well for a start although the results were safe and effective, they weren’t actually that impressive. Not even 50% of people who tried it got any effect. Some of the people on the oil alone showed an improvement – it is really interesting how believing something will work so often leads to it actually working.
I think that ultimately the problem with this potential product is the same that most treatments suffer from. It doesn’t really do what people want, which is to restore their hair to normal. If you are bald it is worth trying, you might be one of the people on whom it works. But the probability is that it will do little or nothing for you. For me the most interesting aspect of it is the scientific trial of aromatherapy. It turns out that aromatherapy can be effective, and in fact in this case where it is up against a condition that conventional treatment doesn’t treat very well it is pretty comparable. But it isn’t magic.
Hay IC, Jamieson M, Ormerod AD. Randomized trial of aromatherapy. Successful treatment for alopecia areata.Arch Dermatol. 1998 Nov;134(11):1349-52.
Thanks to Mike Burns on Flikr for the marvelous picture of a bald head.