Oil has a bit of a bad rap. For years, all anyone could talk about was stripping oil out of hair and off of the skin, replacing it with vitamin-infused moisturizers and other treatments. Trends have begun to shift the other way, however, and now oils are much more commonplace.
Many people still promote stripping out the sebum and natural oils exuded by your hair follicles, and that's fine. The oils your body produces are protective, but at the expense of appearance, since your body doesn't much care how you look as long as you're alive. They leave your hair feeling dirty and greasy, and can cause all manner of grime to accumulate, mats to form, and other problems.
Today, a modern hair care routine starts with a good shampoo that strips these body oils and follows up with natural oils that can bring a whole range of their own benefits. There are easily dozens of oils you can try out, and they all have their own features.
The Benefits of Natural Oils in Hair
Natural oils are oils extracted from plants, primarily. This is not to be confused with synthetic oils, which are usually chemicals or petroleum products, which can be harmful not just to the environment but to your body as well.
Natural oils bring a lot of benefits to your hair. They're loaded with fatty acids, minerals, vitamins, and nutrients, all of which can infuse both your hair and your scalp. Your hair will be stronger, more resistant to damage, resistant to wind and sun, and will often be more vibrant. It will also be smoother and less prone to tangles.
How to Apply Natural Oils
Unlike something like a conditioner, which needs to be applied to the hair directly, natural oils generally need to be applied directly to the scalp. Calling them hair oils is almost a misnomer and can lead some people to use these oils incorrectly. Applying natural oils to your hair itself won't necessarily hurt it, but it won't help all that much either. But hey, at least it will smell nice!
Natural oils for hair might be thought of as oils for your scalp. They help cleanse and promote the health of your hair follicles and the hair cycle, minimizing dead follicles and helping to keep your hair long and vibrant. They won't do a lot for already damaged hair, unfortunately, but as your hair grows out, the new hair will be much healthier than the old hair.
As such, you need to temper your expectations. Natural hair oils take some time to work, and you won't see the full benefits until your natural hair cycle has been completed fully. Depending on the person, a full hair cycle can last three to five years. This means that your oils will help your hair quickly, but will take quite a while to fully impact every hair on your head. That said, you'll still see results within a few weeks or months of using hair oils, so it's not like it's useless before the cycle finishes.
As for actually using natural hair oils, the process depends a lot on the oils you're using. If you're using essential oils, you will need to dilute them in a carrier oil so they don't damage your skin or scalp. An already diluted formula, or a hair treatment that uses natural oils as one of many ingredients, might vary.
The general recommendation is to use your hair oil treatment once a week. Massage your hair oils into your scalp and let them sit for 20-30 minutes, then rinse them out. Rinse, don't wash, so you aren't stripping the oils right back out with shampoo. That said, make sure to read the instructions on whatever product you buy and use it accordingly; some might allow for more frequent treatment, while others might be best used every two weeks instead.
Now let's get to the main event; a list of potent natural oils, and how to best use them for your hair.
Castor oil comes from a bean called the castor bean. It's a distinct oil with a strong taste and odor, so it might not be for everyone. It's also a uniquely viscous oil. There's not a lot of evidence that it can benefit your scalp when you use it, but it does one thing very well: volumizes.
Castor oil can give your hair the impression of being thicker and fuller, so it's great for people who want luscious, thick locks. If you have thin hair, it can be great for boosting its appearance. If you have thick hair already, castor oil might make it unmanageable, so it's better to avoid it.
Argan oil is probably the single most common oil recommended for hair. It's an oil made out of the kernels of the argan tree, which is native to Morocco. Almost the entire chemical composition of argan oil is healthy fatty acids, which has made it one of the best go-to beauty oils in all cosmetics. You would have to try pretty hard to create a healthier oil synthetically.
Argan oil adds a mirror-like shine to your hair, and it can help protect against the damage done by styling your hair. Use it prior to heat treatments in particular, and use it after dye jobs to help lock in color and prevent it from fading as quickly. When purchasing argan oil, keep in mind that you might also find it under the name Moroccan Oil, which is the same stuff, just less pure.
Tea Tree Oil
Tea Tree oil is interesting because it's almost not oily itself. It's an astringent, and so it works very well at clearing out the natural oils your body produces, which is why it's often part of shampoo alternatives. It also has anti-fungal and anti-microbial properties, so it can be safely used on the scalp. In fact, tea tree oil is a good option if you have dermatitis or dandruff because it can help kill off the yeasts and microbes that cause it.
Tea tree oil is among the best oils to use for people who have dandruff or who have naturally oily or greasy hair. It can also help remove excess build-up of product, including the silicone residue from some silicone-based conditioners and treatments.
Jojoba oil is made from a shrub that grows primarily in Arizona, called the Simmondsia Chinensis. It comes from the seeds and makes up about half of the makeup of those seeds. It's extremely popular for both skin and hair care.
Jojoba oil can be used in two ways. A small amount of it can be added directly to your hair and scalp. This will moisturize and give your hair a lustrous shine. It will also nourish your hair follicles and promote stronger hair.
The other way to use it is as a carrier oil. Using a larger amount of jojoba oil as a neutral base for a few drops of your favorite essential oil will allow you to get the benefits of the essential oil without a disruptive base. That's because of jojoba's neutral scent as much as anything, but it's good at what it does.
Avocados are quickly becoming a favorite amongst a wide variety of people. Avocado oil is useful for cooking, it's great as a dressing base, and it's wonderful as a skincare base. You can use it to make homemade products, and as a carrier oil due to its neutral scent.
For hair care, avocado oil is excellent at penetrating the hair shaft itself and can carry moisturizers and vitamins into the hair to help restore it. Hair can't heal, since it's not a living thing, but it can be used as a powerful moisturizer that leaves behind very little grease. It's safe enough for weekly use, even when mixed with more potent oils.
Rosemary is a great culinary herb, but the oil you get from it shouldn't be discounted. Rosemary oil is an incredibly good hair growth booster. It helps stimulate blood flow to your scalp and to your hair follicles, which promotes hair growth. In fact, studies have shown that it's as effective as some FDA-approved medical treatments, like minoxidil.
Rosemary oil is most commonly found as a highly concentrated essential oil, so it's best to use it in small doses. One good option is to pair it with avocado oil as a carrier, so it can penetrate both hair and scalp to give you an all-around treatment.
Almond oil is another relatively neutral oil that works quite well in penetrating the hair. The true strength of this particular oil is in restoring and protecting hair from damage. In particular, it can penetrate cracks and breaks in your hair and prevent them from getting worse. It's great for preventing tangles and mats, and it's a good option to use before heat treatment to minimize the damage.
Grape seeds, cold-pressed, produce grapeseed oil. This oil is full of emollients and antioxidants and thus is great for both hair and skin. It's a good treatment for hair loss and especially for brittle hair because it can penetrate deep and restore the supple and resilient qualities of hair. Grapeseed oil is also another great carrier oil, so you can use it with your favorite essential oils for added benefit.
Coconut oil is an odd duck among hair oils. It has a lot of moisturizing and healing properties on the strands themselves. Where most of the natural oils you would be massaging into your scalp directly, coconut oil will have you use it as a conditioner, gently combing it through your hair starting from the ends of the strands. Warm it up so it's a liquid before you start using it, work it through your hair, leave it in for around 30 minutes, then shampoo it out.
There is also coconut oil-infused shampoos out there that will have quite similar effects to the base coconut oil application itself. You can find an example of said shampoo here!
Olive oil is a great oil for hair, but much like coconut oil, it's not good to use on the scalp. Olive oil is quite nutritious, which is why we use it as a culinary oil, but that feeds other organisms beside ourselves. Olive oil feeds yeast and other critters that live on your scalp, and it can cause irritation. This can lead to an increase in dandruff or the related condition, seborrheic dermatitis, both of which cause itchy, dry scalps, and flakes.
First of all, if you want to use olive oil, look for a purified olive oil hair treatment rather than pure extra virgin olive oil from the cooking aisle. Secondly, work the oil into your hair but keep it away from your scalp. Like other oils, it's best left in place for around half an hour to let it soak in, then wash it away. Unlike coconut oil and some other oils, you can leave olive oil in place overnight as a hair mask. Just make sure to wear a cap to keep it contained, so you don't wake up with an oil-stained pillow.
Your Favorite Oil
Do you have a favorite oil we didn't mention in this post? If so, feel free to leave us a recommendation in the comments. Adding a little bit of essential oil to carrier oil is a great way to get the effects of multiple oils at once, so there's no reason not to mix and match, right? Let us know what you think about the various hair oils you've tried. Don't forget to mention your hair type! Remember that different people have different hair, so what works for you might not work for someone else.