The Health Benefits of Amla Oil

This Ayurvedic remedy is believed to treat hair loss and dandruff

Amla oil is a natural oil used for hair health that contains extracts from the Indian gooseberry (Phyllanthus emblica). It is traditionally made by drying the fruit and immersing it in a base oil for a duration, after which the oil is filtered and purified. Amla oil is said to stimulate hair growth and prevent hair loss and premature graying. When used as a hair treatment, amla oil is applied to the scalp or face.

Long used in Ayurveda, the Indian gooseberry is prized for its sour taste; rhe word amla translates to "sour" in Sanskrit. It is used in numerous multi-herbal formulations, including the centuries-old dietary supplement Chyawanprash. While Indian gooseberry is edible, amla oil manufactured from its fruit is intended for external use only.

Indian gooseberry is native to India, but it is today grown throughout Asia and parts of the Middle East. Indian gooseberry should not be confused with traditional gooseberries found in the produce aisle of many higher-end grocery stores, and it is rarely sold fresh in the United States.

Amla, the Indian Gooseberry, in a wicker basket
RBB / Getty Images

Health Benefits

In Ayurvedic healing, the Indian gooseberry is said to possess kashaya (astringent) properties beneficial to hair. It is high in vitamin C and natural antioxidants known as flavonoids and polyphenols.

When used for hair treatment, amla oil is thought to strengthen and condition follicles down to the roots. Ayurvedic practitioners also believe that amla oil can promote hair growth, reduce dandruff, and prevent the graying of hair.

Even beyond the effects of the fruit extract, the application of oil to dry, flaky skin can have a therapeutic effect by acting as an emollient moisturizer. This is not unique to amla oil, however.

Even though amla oil has a long history in Indian cultures, there is little scientific evidence to support its use. Of the available research, there is some evidence, albeit slight, of its benefit in treating male pattern baldness.

Hair Loss

Androgenic alopecia is characterized by a receding hairline and the gradual disappearance of hair from the crown and frontal scalp. Despite it often being called male pattern hair loss, this condition can affect both men and women. It can also occur with diseases like polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS).

A 2012 study published in the Journal of Ethnopharmacology found that, of the 17 plants commonly used for hair treatments, amla extract was the second most potent inhibitor of 5-alpha-reductase. This is the same enzyme target for inhibition by the oral drug Propecia (finasteride), used to treat male pattern hair loss and enlarged prostate. Whether the plant applied topically offers anywhere the same effect has yet to be proven.

Another study conducted by Yeungnam University in Korea evaluated a naturopathic hair product called DA-5512 which contains six plant extracts, including Phyllanthus emblica. According to the scientists, when applied daily to mice for 16 weeks, there was significant hair growth comparable to that seen in mice treated with Rogaine (minoxidil)—a topical drug used to treat male pattern baldness.

Despite the promising findings, the conclusions were limited by the lack of a study control (specifically, a subset of mice provided a placebo). In addition, additional research is needed to prove similar outcomes in humans.

Possible Side Effects

While presumed to be safe, amla oil has not been thoroughly researched and may pose health risks to some.

People allergic to gooseberries may experience contact dermatitis if amla oil is applied to the skin. To avoid a reaction, spot test the oil on a patch of skin and wait 24 hours to see if a rash or redness develops. If it does, you should avoid using the oil altogether.

Skin reactions may also occur as a result of the base oil rather than the fruit extract. Mineral oil, for example, is known to cause skin irritation. Cheaper heat-pressed oils (like coconut, jojoba, or argan oil) can also be irritating to some since the heat quickly oxidizes the oil and increases its acidity.

According to a review in the Journal of Cutaneous Medicine and Surgery, amla oil use has been associated with an uncommon skin condition known as lichen planus pigmentosus.

Lichen planus pigmentosus is an immune reaction that causes the swelling and irritation of the skin, hair, and nails. It usually appears on the skin as purplish, itchy bumps that gradually develop over the course of weeks.

It is unknown whether amla oil can interact with oral or topical medications. Taken orally, Indian gooseberry is known to interact with blood thinners and diabetes medications. It is presumed that the topical application of amla oil poses a lesser risk.

Selection, Preparation, and Storage

Amla oil can easily be sourced online and is found in many stores specializing in natural foods or Ayurvedic products.

Amla oil is sometimes incorporated into commercial shampoos and hot oil treatments. Amla extract can also be found in a variety of hair powders.

When buying amla oil, choose quality over quantity. The best products will have Phyllanthus emblica printed on the product label as well as the country of origin.

Opt for brands made with organic, cold-pressed plant oil. Choosing one marked "100% pure" can better ensure there are no added dyes, fragrances, or preservatives.

Amla oil typically has a long shelf life and may be stored at room temperature for up three years, depending on the base oil and production technique. Discard any oil that suddenly smells bad or changes color or consistency. Never use an amla oil product past its expiration date.

It is important to keep in mind that Ayurvedic remedies are largely unregulated in the United States. In some cases, an imported product may be contaminated or contain other products than those listed on the label. While consumers face such risks when purchasing any natural supplement, these risks may be especially high with Ayurvedic products.

In fact, according to the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health, around one in four of the Ayurvedic supplements tested had high levels of lead and almost half had high levels of mercury.

Common Questions

How do I use amla oil?
Amla oil is often used in place of a conditioner after shampooing. It is gently massaged into the scalp so that it lightly coats the hair. People with an oily scalp should apply it to the hair shafts only. After 15 minutes or so, thoroughly rinse the hair with warm water. If amla oil gets into the eyes, rinse thoroughly with cool water.

Using the oil in the shower or bath can make the floor very slippery. Caution should be used to prevent slips and falls.

Can I make my own amla oil?
Yes. You can make amla oil with a neutral carrier oil and dried or powdered Indian gooseberry. Most practitioners recommend using organic, cold-pressed coconut oil as the base, since it is alkaline and has a pleasant, mild scent.

To make amla oil:

  1. Combine 1 tablespoon of amla powder with 5 tablespoons of coconut oil in a stainless steel pan.
  2. Place the pan on the lowest heat setting, stirring occasionally. Do not allow the oil to boil or even simmer.
  3. After around 5 minutes or so, the oil will begin to emit a musky aroma and you will start to see tiny bubbles forming in the oil itself. As soon as that happens, remove the oil from the heat, cover the pot, and allow the oil to steep for 24 hours.
  4. Strain the oil with a fine tea strainer and pour into a sterilized glass jar (if possible use one that has an amber tint, as it will block the most UV light).

Can amla oil make my hair healthier?
Amla oil can also be left on the scalp overnight for deep conditioning. If used in this way, wear a shower cap and cover your pillows with towels to prevent staining. Amla oil can have a strong, musky odor, so you may want to use it sparingly if you don't plan to rinse it out right away.

Some people will make their own hair product by mixing amla powder with warm water to create a paste-like cream. When applied to dry, clean hair, the mixture is thought to increase the hair's softness and thickness.

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Article Sources
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  1. Narayana DB, Durg S, Manohar PR, et al. Chyawanprash: A review of therapeutic benefits as in authoritative texts and documented clinical literature. J Ethnopharmacol. 2017 Feb 2;197:52-60. doi:10.1016/j.jep.2016.07.078.

Additional Reading
  • Kumar N, Rungseevijitprapa W, Narkkhong NA, Suttajit M, Chaiyasut C. 5α-reductase inhibition and hair growth promotion of some Thai plants traditionally used for hair treatmentJ Ethnopharmacol. 2012 Feb 15;139(3):765-71. doi:10.1016/j.jep.2011.12.010.

  • National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health. Ayurvedic Medicine: In Depth. Bethesda, Maryland; updated January 2019.

  • Yang G, Tan C. Lichen Planus Pigmentosus-like Reaction to Guasha. J Cutan Med Surg. 2016 Nov;20(6):586-88. doi:10.1177/1203475416659857.

  • Yu JY, Gupta B, Park HG, et al. Preclinical and Clinical Studies Demonstrate That the Proprietary Herbal Extract DA-5512 Effectively Stimulates Hair Growth and Promotes Hair Health. Evid Based Complement Alternat Med. 2017;2017:4395638. doi:10.1155/2017/4395638.