By Dr. Mercola
If you struggle with hair loss, at first glance, research out of Europe demonstrating the effectiveness of a sandalwood preparation to support hair growth may seem promising. After all, the smell of natural sandalwood is a pleasing woody scent to which you have very likely been exposed.
Before you get too excited though, be advised the research was cosponsored by an Italian pharmaceutical company and was completed using a synthetic derivative of sandalwood oil that is used in the company’s haircare products.
While I cannot recommend you try a chemical-based hair growth solution like Sandalore®, I will comment on the research. I’ll also take this opportunity to remind you of the benefits of sandalwood essential oil, as well as share some of the most common reasons for hair loss.
Synthetic Sandalwood Chemical Shown to Promote Hair Growth
A 2018 study published in the journal Nature Communications1 suggests the woody, floral scent of a synthetic sandalwood-containing product has been shown to stimulate hair growth in both lab tests and a small pilot study involving 20 females. The product — Sandalore® — is associated with Giuliani Pharma, the pharmaceutical company that cosponsored the research.2,3
Lead researcher Ralf Paus, professor of cutaneous medicine at the U.K.’s University of Manchester and director of research and deputy of the university’s center for dermatology research, and his team sought to uncover the role of cutaneous olfactory receptor OR2AT4 in the process of growing new hair.4 One source notes Paus acts as a consultant for Giuliani Pharma.5
As noted in the video above, some of the same scientists previously showed that the OR2AT4 receptor plays a positive role in wound healing.6 In the current body of work, Paus and company bathed patches of human scalp tissue (taken from people getting facelifts) for six days in Sandalore® to see if the OR2AT4 receptors might possibly affect hair formation. Notably, the group observed:7,8
- A 25 to 30 percent increase in a growth hormone released in the Sandalore®-infused scalps
- The delay of natural death in cells linked to hair production
- An increase in keratin levels, which signaled skin regeneration and hair growth9
Along with the synthetic sandalwood chemical, the researchers coadministered an OR2AT4 antagonist called Phenirat®, which was shown to silence OR2AT4 and inhibit hair growth. About the results, the researchers stated:10
“Here, we show the epithelium of human hair follicles, particularly the outer root sheath, expresses OR2AT4, and specific stimulation of OR2AT4 by a synthetic sandalwood odorant (Sandalore®) prolongs human hair growth ex vivo by decreasing apoptosis and increasing production of the anagen-prolonging growth factor IGF-1 (insulin-like growth factor 1).
[O]ur study identifies that human hair follicles can engage in olfactory receptor-dependent chemosensation and require OR2AT4-mediated signaling to sustain their growth, suggesting olfactory receptors may serve as a target in hair-loss therapy.”
“This is actually a rather amazing finding,” Paus told The Independent.11 “This is the first time ever it has been shown that the remodeling of a normal human miniorgan [a hair] can be regulated by a simple, cosmetically, widely used odorant.”
What Are Odorants and Olfactory Receptors and How Do They Work?
If you’re not familiar with “odorants,” Newsweek defines them as “an ingredient used to give a particular smell to a product.”12 While you may not realize it, your body is covered with olfactory receptors, which work to boost your sense of smell. Besides the ones found in your nose, your body has a few hundred of these “chemoreceptors” scattered throughout its tissues.
In fact, a review of more than 200 studies, published by the American Physiological Society (APS),13 asserts olfactory receptors, which can be described as “proteins that bind to odors that aid the sense of smell,”14 perform a variety of functions outside the nose. Many of these functions are still being identified.
According to Medical News Today, in the APS study researchers used DNA tools to determine each type of bodily tissue has five to 80 olfactory receptors. They also noted distinct types of olfactory receptors — different from the ones housed in healthy cells — are found in abundance in cancer cells.15 The study authors stated:16
“Olfactory receptors (ORs) are not exclusively expressed in the olfactory sensory neurons; they are also observed outside of the olfactory system in all other human tissues tested to date, including the testis, lung, intestine, skin, heart and blood.
Within these tissues, certain ORs have been determined to be exclusively expressed in only one tissue, whereas other ORs are more widely distributed in many different tissues throughout the human body.
For most of the ectopically expressed ORs, limited data are available for their functional roles. They have been shown to be involved in the modulation of cell-cell recognition, migration, proliferation, the apoptotic cycle, exocytosis and pathfinding processes.”
Identifying the olfactory receptors is just one part of the equation, says study author Dr. Hanns Hatt, head of the department of cell physiology at Germany’s Ruhr University Bochum. He suggests scientists also must identify and analyze the large number of odorants that trigger them, which is a huge undertaking.
“Unfortunately, the activating odorants of only about 50 of the 350 human olfactory receptors have been identified to date,” says Hatt.17
Why You Don’t Want to Put Toxic Chemicals on Your Face, Hair or Skin
With respect to the current study, Paus and his team indicated the scalp tissue needed to be continuously stimulated by OR2AT4 olfactory receptors to achieve maximum hair growth. They suggest their technique, which is likely to move on to clinical trials, may one day emerge as a complementary treatment for baldness.18
In my opinion, unless you want to slather your skin with toxic chemicals, you’d be wise to look elsewhere for hair growth solutions. After all, the PubChem website suggests Sandalore® is, at the least, a potential irritant and also an environmental concern related to “aquatic toxicity.”19
For certain, it contains neither natural sandalwood nor sandalwood essential oil. In fact, Paus says a natural sandalwood product would not have the same effect on hair loss because “it does not bind to OR2AT4.”20
Unfortunately, just because a product is sold over-the-counter does not make it safe for use. Of the nearly 13,000 chemicals used in American cosmetics, only 10 percent have been tested for safety. Although the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has the authority to regulate ingredients in cosmetics and personal care products, they often do not exercise it.
The reality is, personal care products are allowed to reach store shelves without prior approval by a regulating agency. Only after a product has demonstrated harm, has been misbranded or adulterated, may the FDA take action. According to the FDA’s description of their authority over cosmetics:21
“The law does not require cosmetic products and ingredients, other than color additives, to have FDA approval before they go on the market, but there are laws and regulations that apply to cosmetics on the market in interstate commerce.
FDA’s legal authority over cosmetics is different from our authority over other products we regulate, such as drugs, biologics and medical devices. Under the law, cosmetic products and ingredients do not need FDA premarket approval, with the exception of color additives.
However, FDA can pursue enforcement action against products on the market that are not in compliance with the law, or against firms or individuals who violate the law.”
For more information on how to keep yourself safe with respect to the products you use on your face, hair and skin, check out my Hidden Dangers in Personal Care Products Infographic. For now, let’s turn our attention to a natural product you can use without hesitation, although not necessarily for hair loss: sandalwood essential oil.
What Is Sandalwood Oil?
Sandalwood essential oil is derived from the heartwood of the East Indian sandalwood (Santalum album), a hemiparasitic evergreen that grows by joining the root system of other trees. The sandalwood tree belongs to the Santalaceae family.
Sandalwood oil has been around for millennia and factors prominently in many cosmetics, fragrances and personal care products. It also is used for meditative and spiritual practices, particularly in India.
India and Indonesia are the largest producers and exporters of sandalwood oil.22 The oil is extracted through steam distillation using pieces of wood from mature sandalwood trees. Some suggest trees at least 80 years old are preferred because, the older the tree, the more oil available and the stronger the aroma.23
The oil has a woody, exotic smell that’s subtle and lingering. Its color ranges from pale yellow to pale gold. Although expensive, it has many wonderful characteristics that make it useful and beneficial for health and wellness, making it worth every penny.
Some of the Uses of Sandalwood Oil
Sandalwood oil is well-known for the calming, harmonizing effect it has on your mind. Simply inhaling it will help you reduce confusion and tension. Sandalwood oil has long been used in Ayurveda, India’s holistic health practice, for the treatment of mental and somatic disorders.24 About this oil, one group of researchers stated:25
“Compared to either an odorless placebo or alpha-santalol (the main active compound in sandalwood oil), sandalwood oil elevated pulse rate, skin conductance level and systolic blood pressure. Alpha-santalol, however, elicited higher ratings of attentiveness and mood than did sandalwood oil or the placebo.
Correlation analyses revealed these effects are mainly due to perceived odor quality. The results suggest a relation[ship] between differences in perceived odor quality and differences in arousal level.”
Sandalwood also is in demand as incense, often being used in various types of yoga and a number of Hindu ceremonies and rituals. Regardless of your religious affiliation, you may find sandalwood oil useful during periods of anxiety, chronic illness, depression, fear and stress.
Beyond that, sandalwood oil is beneficial in skincare given its ability to relieve inflammation and itching, as well as soothe dehydrated skin. Furthermore, sandalwood oil is well-known as a remedy for acne, dandruff, eczema, psoriasis, rashes and scar tissue. Sandalwood oil can be found in consumer products such as creams, deodorants, incense, lotions, perfumes and soaps.
Be advised you should not apply sandalwood oil directly to your skin. For topical application, be sure to mix sandalwood essential oil with a carrier oil such as coconut oil or jojoba oil. Also, for your safety, I recommend you perform a skin test on the underside of your arm to ensure you are not allergic before applying this oil over a large area.
Health Benefits of Sandalwood Oil
According to Organic Facts, the many health benefits of sandalwood essential oil can be attributed to “its properties as an antiseptic, anti-inflammatory, antiphlogistic, antispasmodic, astringent, cicatrizant, carminative, diuretic, disinfectant, emollient, expectorant, hypotensive, memory booster, sedative and a tonic substance.”26
A 2017 study published in the Journal of Clinical and Aesthetic Dermatology validated its “biological activity as an anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial and antiproliferative agent.”27 The study authors asserted:28
“Sandalwood album oil has also shown promise in clinical trials for treatment of acne, psoriasis, eczema, common warts and [the skin infection] molluscum contagiosum.
The favorable safety profile, ease of topical use and recent availability of pharmaceutical-grade sandalwood album oil support its broader use as the basis of novel therapies in dermatology.”
For aromatherapy, you might try blending sandalwood oil with bergamot, geranium, lavender, myrrh, rose, vetiver or ylang-ylang.29 Below is a summary of the top health benefits associated with sandalwood essential oil:30
Anti-inflammatory — While beneficial for all types of inflammation, sandalwood oil is known to be particularly beneficial with respect to circulatory and nervous system-based inflammation31
Antiseptic — Soothes boils, pimples, sores and wounds, ensuring the affected areas remain infection free32,33
Antispasmodic — Given its nature as a relaxant and sedative, you may find sandalwood oil to be useful to counteract spasms by relaxing your blood vessels, muscles and nerves; apply it when you have aches, coughs or cramps34
Astringent — While mild compared to other natural compounds, sandalwood oil is said to possess astringent properties beneficial for tightening your skin; for this reason, it is commonly found in aftershaves and facial toners35
Disinfectant — The distinctive fragrance of sandalwood oil has been shown to repel insects and resist germs, which is why it is a popular ingredient in disinfectants, fumigants, incense sticks and sprays36
Expectorant — It is specifically effective in treating coughs, but it also helps fight the infections that cause coughs, colds, the flu or mumps37
Memory booster — Sandalwood oil has been noted for its ability to boost your memory and support concentration, thereby reducing anxiety and stress38
Sedative effect — This oil is well-known for inducing calmness, positivity and relaxation, driving away anxiety, fear, restlessness and stress39
Possible Reasons for Hair Loss and Steps You Can Take to Troubleshoot the Issue
If you are losing your hair, be assured I am someone who understands what that is like. Hair loss is a common condition that affects most people — including me — at some time in their lives. Regardless of your age and health, hair loss can be an embarrassing, emotional and psychologically damaging ordeal that can affect your mood, self-esteem and relationships.
In many cases, hair loss has genetic ties, but that is just one of the possible causes. You may be losing your hair due to:40
An autoimmune condition such as alopecia areata
Medication side effects
Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS) if you are a woman
Chronic illness such as anemia or thyroid disease
Hormone imbalance, such as producing too much testosterone if you are a woman
Vitamin or mineral deficiency, including a lack of B vitamins, vitamin D, iron, magnesium and zinc, to name a few
While there are many commercially available medications and treatment options for hair loss, I advise you to consider the natural remedies first. As a first step, work with your doctor to rule out an underlying illness, hormone imbalance, medication issue or vitamin or mineral deficiency. If it’s been awhile since your last physical and complete blood count, schedule it as soon as possible.
If stress might be a factor in your hair loss, you might consider using the Emotional Freedom Techniques (EFT) to reduce your stress level, as demonstrated in the video above.
Only as a last resort should you consider applying a synthetic chemical compound, like the one mentioned earlier, to your scalp. As disappointing as it may seem, the potential adverse side effects of Sandalore® and other conventional hair-loss treatments almost always outweigh any potential benefits.