At some point in your life, a sudden change arising with your hair or scalp has made you question your hair health. For example, you may have been following your typical hygiene routine and washing your hair, only to realize that your hair is falling out in more clumps than usual. Or, maybe when you were brushing your hair or running your fingers through, there are handfuls of dry flakes falling out that cause concern. What was once your head of silky, luscious locks has become brittle, sparse strands that hang by a thread.
The question is: how do you nourish your thinning or otherwise tricky hair to its original glory, while also avoiding therapeutic chemicals and costly treatments?
If you’re an enthusiast for alternative health and wellness, specifically Traditional Chinese Medicine and herbal dietary supplements, keep reading for how to naturally support your hair and scalp health*
In this article, we go back to the very beginning of recorded history and cover the origins of Traditional Chinese Medicine and how certain products and ingredients lauded for centuries support the health of your hair, your scalp, and overall well-being.
What is Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM)?
Traditional Chinese Medicine, an ancient medical system, has origins beginning over 2,000 years ago during the Shang Dynasty. TCM aims to heal disease and ailments by restoring yin (passive), yang (active) balance, and a person’s vital energy, the life force making up all living things.
To restore harmony in the mind and body, Traditional Chinese Medicine practitioners use a variety of holistic methods to support your health including but not limited to:
Chinese herbal dietary supplement products have been used for centuries and are still a staple in many Chinese-American households. Some herbs can be used to help a variety of hair and scalp needs, including enhanced nutritional support and scalp blood circulation.*
Tui Na Massage
Tui Na massage is the art of using fingers and strength to heal the physical body, focusing on acupressure points and problem areas to remove blockages and restore the balance of qi (life force). Tui Na massage can be practiced on the scalp to stimulate blood flow, which encourages hair growth.
Food is medicine. That is a belief held by millions of people all over the world, across many cultures, and Ancient China was no exception. Over the course of several centuries, Chinese people have used food for healing. While most aspects of TCM nutritional values focus mostly on the digestive system, some are specifically concerned with blood stagnation, another contributor to hair and scalp challenges. TCM practitioners, thus, believe that consuming certain Chinese herbs, foods, and vitamins support hair and scalp health.*
One of the oldest TCM practices, acupuncture began in China around 3,000 years ago. Acupuncture is performed by carefully inserting thin needles into the skin and is believed to stimulate the central nervous system, releasing chemicals into the muscles, spinal cord, and brain. It is thought that the release of these chemicals may stimulate the body's natural healing abilities to promote physical and emotional well-being. TCM practitioners use a map consisting of the human anatomy and how certain points of insertion affect different parts of the body. For those with a goal of hair growth, the needles are inserted into the scalp. According to a study conducted in April of 2020, “acupuncture can relax blood vessels, improve blood vessel elasticity, and increase cerebral blood flow”, which is essential for combating blood stagnation and stimulating the hair follicles.
Traditional Chinese Medicine as an alternative practice has come a long way in helping a variety of illnesses and ailments, including those of the hair and scalp. TCM’s long-standing traditions and values are still upheld and used in today’s society and are ever-growing in popularity as individuals seek natural alternatives for supporting their health goals.
Common Ingredients in TCM Hair Products
There are many different hair products to choose from when shopping online, but most of them contain ingredients that most people have never heard of. Harsh ingredients that damage the hair include those that do more harm than good, such as sulfates (which strip hair oils), parabens (that can irritate the skin), and formaldehyde (a harmful carcinogen that is absorbed through the scalp and may cause rashes), and more.
When it comes to Traditional Chinese Medicine and haircare, practitioners believe simple is best: TCM seeks to manage hair and scalp issues by choosing products that contain natural ingredients and herbs well-known to support hair health.*.
Dong Quai Root
Also known as Chinese Angelica or Angelica sinensis, this popular herb is found in the mountains of East Asia. It is similar to ginger root in taste, providing a warming effect when consumed or topically applied. Dong Quai is commonly found in TCM haircare products due to its ability to support healthy blood circulation and healthy inflammation response.*
Dodder seeds come from the Dodder plant, also known as Cuscuta. It grows all over the world, making it one of the more accessible herbs that are used in hair and scalp care. Dodder seeds are sweet and pungent and serve as a natural source of vitamin A, which is essential for helping promoting the secretion of sebum*, an oil that nourishes the scalp and hair.
This popular Chinese herb goes by many names, such as Polygonum multiflorum, He Shou Wu, or just Fo-ti. The benefits of the Fo-ti root are well renowned in Chinese medicine and have been used as an herbal medicine for over 3,000 years. Fo-ti is known for its ability to support blood health and stress,* making it a staple dietary ingredient in several Chinese hair care products.
While there are more herbs and ingredients that are used in Chinese hair care products, the three outlined above are among those most commonly used in formulations. Keeping it simple with natural ingredients such as the herbs listed above may keep hair healthy and moisturized.*
Chinese Herbs for Dry, Damaged Hair
Dry hair may be caused by different types of disharmonies including liver and blood stagnation or nutrient deficiency. The liver is responsible for storing blood and enhancing the flow of qi. Liver and blood nutrient deficiencies can lead to brittle, dry hair that is prone to breakage.
Chinese herbal mixtures for helping the appearance of dry hair are vast and may replenish liver and blood nutrients in order to maintain optimal hair health.*
Commonly used for menstruation discomforts and nourishing the yin of the blood, Si Wu Tang is formulated with Chinese White Peony (Bai Shao) root and Dong Quai (Dang Gui) root. These ingredients tonify the blood and support liver health.*
Bu Gan Tang
Similar to Si Wu-Tang, Bu Gan Tang features similar ingredients such as Chinese White Peony (Bai Shao) root, Dong Quai (Dang Gui) root, Jujube (Suan Zao Ren) seeds, and Chinese Licorice (Gan Cao) root. This formulation is packed with antioxidants and flavonoids, which support healthy cell-cycle activity and blood flow, which is essential for hair growth and moisture.*
Sheng Yu Tang
Again, Chinese White Peony (Bai Shao) and Dong Quai (Dang Gui) root are also used in Sheng Yu Tang, with the addition of Ginseng root. This concoction of Chinese botanicals supports blood flow and provides energy, while also helping with natural stress * (another cause of dry, thinning hair).
Dry and damaged hair may be prevented by taking the right steps to ensure healthy liver and blood nutrient levels by incorporating an assortment of Chinese herbs, like those listed above, into your diet and daily routine.
Chinese Remedies for Oily Hair
Oily hair is caused by overactive sebaceous glands when they are producing too much sebum, a waxy substance that moisturizes and protects the hair. Too much of sebum can leave the hair looking and feeling greasy. The overproduction of sebum is caused by:
Bad Hair Product Ingredients
Using hair products with excess oils can be detrimental to an already oily scalp. As an alternative, try using shampoos with Chinese angelica, also known as Dong Quai.
Hair Washing Technique and Schedule
Those with oily hair tend to wash their hair more, thinking that it will solve the problem. This is often an incorrect approach because overwashing the hair and stripping the sebum sends signals indicating that the scalp is dry, driving overproduction of sebum, and thus, making the problem worse.
Improper Brushing Techniques
In Traditional Chinese Medicine, wooden brushes are used for brushing the hair. A plastic brush increases static electricity. Using a wooden brush or comb is an extension of Tui Na massage, and stimulates blood flow to the hair follicles. The use of a wooden brush distributes the oil where it may be concentrated at the scalp, helping to get rid of the greasy look in the roots.
Oily hair is a common annoyance that a lot of people deal with, but can be dealt with in a short amount of time using simple techniques such as switching out bad products, sticking to a hair-wash schedule, and brushing with wood instead of plastic, and consuming Chinese herbs and products that will moisturize the hair and scalp without ramping up sebum production, such as Dodder seeds.
Dodder Seeds for Dandruff and Hair Growth *
Dandruff is one of the most common scalp issues that impacts over 50% of adults at some point in their lives. Dandruff is often caused by a dry, itchy scalp. It appears as little flakes that cling to hair strands and can be embarrassing for some. One common Chinese herb that is used to help dandruff is called Dodder seeds.*
As stated earlier in this article, Dodder seeds come from the Dodder plant and can be found all over the world. Adding Dodder seeds to your hair care routine will nourish the scalp without making it oily and help with dandruff.*
In November 2013, researchers tested the effects of the Dodder plant stem oil on dandruff. “Present investigation reported that formulated oils from C. reflexa exhibited hair-health as-well-as hair growth activity that might be due to the presence of a number of nutrients like different proteins, fatty acids, flavonoids, and saponins.” This limited and inconclusive data shows that not only are Dodder seeds perceived to be beneficial for dandruff but also support hair growth.*
Dandruff and other scalp concerns are often irritating and can point to other underlying issues, such as those relating to hair loss.
Common Causes Of Hair Loss
Hair loss can be devastating. There are a few ways to help mitigate it, but the first step would be to get to the root of the problem. Start with complete nutrition and feed your body the nutrients it needs. Here are the conditions that are synonymous with hair loss.
Androgenic Alopecia, also known as pattern baldness, is the most common type of hair loss that people deal with. This is due to genetics and happens more often in males. Pattern baldness may show as a receding hairline or a patch of baldness on the crown of the head. People are more likely to run into pattern baldness at some point in their life if other family members have it as well. There are several Chinese herbs that are commonly used to supplement the diet with nutrients that can help minimize hair health concerns but the research is inconclusive at this time but ongoing.
Everyone experiences stress at some point in their life but only a few deal with the hair loss that comes with it. The reason that stress causes hair loss is because high levels of cortisol (the stress hormone), impede hair growth. Rehmannia Root is used to support healthy adrenal glands. Healthy adrenal glands control the production of cortisol and perceived stress. The ideal Chinese herb to help hair issues is Ginseng root, because of its ability to provide stamina, helping to reduce the feelings of fatigue and stress.*
When a woman is pregnant, her blood vessels double in size to increase blood flow to the body and are delivered to the uterus, where nutrients are provided for the growing fetus. It’s almost as if the baby’s needs for growth are prioritized, making the mother have to resort to changing their diet by taking vitamins and other dietary supplements to keep them both healthy and strong. Because pregnant women’s blood supply increases, so does their need for iron. More often than not, pregnant women don’t take enough iron to support their changing bodies, making anemia in pregnant women very common. The solution to battling anemia during pregnancy is straightforward; consume more iron. Iron can be found in most animal meat products, and in alternative sources such as whole grains, nuts, and legumes.
Other than pregnancy being the most obvious cause of rapid hormonal changes, the thyroid regulates the hormone thyroxine. Hyperthyroidism is the production of too much thyroxine, increasing metabolism. Hypothyroidism is the underproduction of thyroxine, causing issues with heart rate and slowing the metabolism. Hypothyroidism is the cause of hair loss because the lack of thyroxine (responsible for stimulating the hair follicle) can send the body into a state of telogen effluvium. This is when the hair roots enter a resting stage, halting growth and causing fallout in a short amount of time. There are currently no studies on the effects of Chinese herbs on hypothyroidism. Consult your primary healthcare provider if you believe you might have hypothyroidism. This is not a health condition subject to self-diagnosis, or self-treatment.
Hair loss can be caused by many things. Whether it be nutrition deficiencies, hormonal, hereditary, stress, or another underlying issue. To pinpoint the root cause of hair loss, consult with your doctor and stick to healthy lifestyle habits.
TCM Dietary Habits for Healthy Hair
The way we eat directly affects the way we feel. Eating a diet that is not balanced can cause many issues, such as hair loss, disrupting the gut microbiome, digestive issues, unwanted weight gain, and more. TCM practitioners believe that restoring balance in the body and attaining healthy hair can be achieved with dietary planning, healthy eating, and nutrient supplementation.
One of the most important essential nutrients that have been mentioned numerous times in this article is iron. Iron plays an important role in sustaining our hair health by keeping anemia at bay. Iron in combination with Dong Quai root can be used to nourish the blood.*
Because hair challenges can be caused by blood nutrient deficiencies, the liver is often first to be addressed because of its role in storing and cleaning blood. Vitamin C is necessary for regulation of blood sugar levels and liver health.* Vitamin C also has a role in providing moisture to the scalp and itchiness.* Vitamin C can be found in tangerines, strawberries, oranges, amla, acerola, and other fruits.
Collagen supports hair follicle growth through providing amino acids and protein.* Collagen can be found in animal products, fish products, and eggs.
Eating a balanced diet is necessary for optimum hair and scalp health. Prioritize meats, citrus fruits, berries, and whole grains to keep your hair soft and strong.
Hair Thinning or Loss Prevention
As stated earlier, hair thinning or loss can be caused by a number of underlying challenges. In this section, we will discuss long term preventative measures and include listing Traditional Chinese Medicine herbs that can be taken to support hair health.*
Poor sleep quality may cause hair loss because lack of sleep can be due to or cause stress. Some Chinese herbs that may help with sleep quality are poppy, ashwagandha, or passionflower.* Add these to your night routine for sound sleep and healthy hair.*
Exercise promotes quality of life and is proven to reduce stress, a common cause of hair loss. To avoid the feeling of grogginess and perhaps support energy levels, take ginseng.* Ginseng is a Chinese herb that is taken to support athletic performance.*
Acupuncture is one of the oldest TCM practices in existence and is used to restore qi to the body. Scalp acupuncture increases blood flow and improves circulation, thus stimulating hair follicles and encouraging growth.
Combing Therapy - Tui Na
In TCM daily haircare, use a wooden brush. A plastic brush increases static electricity. Using a wooden brush or comb is an extension of Tui Na, and restores balance to the hair follicles, encouraging growth.
The best thing about these TCM methods is that most of them are easily accessible, making preventative measures easier to practice.
Traditional Chinese Medicine is a holistic alternative to maintaining hair and scalp health because of its non-invasive techniques and natural ingredients used in products. At Solstice Medicine, we take pride in our vast collection of natural hair care products that are carefully crafted to ensure the best solutions for any hair or scalp concerns.*.
- Adrenal gland imbalances can cause stress and insomnia https://solsticemed.com/blogs/blog/what-are-the-benefits-of-rehmannia-root
- Ginseng boosts stamina - better exercise performance. Also great for stress https://solsticemed.com/blogs/blog/best-herbs-for-giving-you-quick-energy-boost
- Vitamin in fruit keeps the scalp healthy and moisturized, reducing dandruff https://solsticemed.com/blogs/blog/amazing-benefits-of-tangerine-peel-and-fruit-1
*These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.