After the obvious shampoo and conditioner set, oiling hair might be the best next addition to your hair care routine! In this article, I’ll explain what hair oiling and hair oils are, what the difference is between natural hair oils and commercial ones, as well as how to oil hair properly.
In this article:
- What Are Hair Oils?
- When Should I Be Using a Hair Oil?
- Difference Between Natural Hair Oils and Commercial Hair Oils
- Best Natural Oils for Hair
- Best Essential Oils for the Hair
- How to Use Commercial Hair Oil
- How to Oil Hair with Natural Hair Oils
What Are Hair Oils?
Hair oils are thick, liquid products that fortify the hair, seal the cuticle, stop frizz, and make the hair look incredible. They can be used in a variety of ways, both before washing and after styling.
There are two main types of hair oils: natural hair oils, which you can buy both in the cooking aisle or at the health food store, and commercial hair oils that can be found at any beauty store. You can check out our selection of both natural and commercial oils in our guide to the best hair oils.
When Should I Be Using a Hair Oil?
Oiling hair is done both for health and beauty! You should consider using hair oils:
- If your hair is damaged due to dyeing or heat styling;
- If your hair is dry or weak;
- If you have split ends;
- If you have a dry scalp;
- If you suffer from dandruff;
- If your hair seems dull;
- If your hair is unruly and difficult to style;
- If your hair looks frizzy or becomes messy due to static electricity;
- If you just want healthier hair!
What’s the Difference Between Natural Hair Oils and Commercial Hair Oils?
Plant oils are naturally rich in essential fatty acids, vitamins, and nutrients that can strengthen and protect the hair. Some oils, like coconut oil or olive oil, are better able to penetrate the hair shaft to strengthen from within, while others like jojoba or apricot oil tend to stick closer to the surface where they can smooth down the cuticle and give the hair natural shine.
These natural oils for hair can be bought along at the grocery story, or you can buy a blend of oils made especially for your hair, so your hair can get a few different benefits.
We also have commercial hair oils, often advertised as containing sexy ingredients like marula oil, argan oil, or sea buckthorn oil. This leads consumers to assume that these hair products only include those oils, although that’s rarely the case.
Instead, they contain a tiny percentage of the oil advertized, and a large quantity of silicone. A quick look at the ingredients list on your bottle will tell you what kind of oil you have in your hands.
If you have read my post on makeup primers, you know that silicones are the main ingredients in most primers. In a way, a lot of commercial hair oils work like primers for the hair – the silicones seal the cuticle, make the hair silky and smooth, and give a light-diffusing shine. Silicones can build up in the hair, so using them regularly without adequate removal can cause build-up, which makes the hair feel heavy and look lifeless.
These kinds of commercial hair oils are better applied to the hair as a styling product, to keep it looking and feeling good, while plant oils are better as hair treatments to nourish and strengthen the hair before it is washed.
Best Natural Oils for Hair
You can buy natural hair oils from the cooking section of the grocery store, as well as from various natural food stores. Some of these oils have a shorter shelf-life once they’ve been opened, so read labels and consider keeping them in the beauty fridge!
You can mix any of these hair oils with a few drops of essential oils, for a delicious scent and additional hair benefits! These are some of the best and more popular natural hair oils:
This is considered the best natural oil for hair, because it is by far the most penetrative. It can sink deep into the hair shaft where it fills in space between the hair cells to prevent moisture loss, strengthen the hair, and improve its elasticity.
Coconut oil can be applied to the hair before a shower, although if it is applied to the hair while it is damp, it can pull moisture into the hair. Since this oil is more penetrative, it is not great for styling or taming frizz because it doesn’t seal the cuticle from the outside.
This oil is the modern star of botanical hair oils, and while I do believe it is a little overhyped, it is still a phenomenal hair oil. It doesn’t penetrate as deeply into the hair shaft, so it can work quite well as a post-shower hair treatment. It is very rich in vitamin E, so it does a great job protecting the hair from environmental damage. Argan oil is also a wonderful treatment oil for the scalp.
Avocado oil is a semi-penetrative oil that has benefits both for the shallow layers of the hair, and for the outside, where it can seal in moisture and protect the cuticles. It is a little on the thicker side, and is also super healthy to consume!
Castor oil for hair has anti-inflammatory properties, so it is great as a scalp oil, especially if you’re sensitive. It is said to help increase hair growth, and while there is no concrete proof, it doesn’t hurt to try. It is one of the thickest natural hair oils, so it is definitely best as a treatment, or thinned out with a lighter oil.
Olive oil is just as penetrative as argan oil, and as nourishing to boot. It helps to soften the hair, keep it moist, and load it up with different fatty acids. Watch out, though, olive oil is not great as a scalp treatment for many people due to a high oleic acid content.
Grape Seed Oil
This medium-penetrative oil is very light, and famously excellent for acne-prone skin. If you have an oily scalp, this should be your treatment oil of choice. For the hair, it provides some shine, and does penetrate a little bit, but it is not the richest or most moisturizing of natural hair oils.
Macadamia Nut Oil
As one of very few sources of palmitoleic acid, macadamia oil is quite moisturizing to the hair, both from the outside and the top inner layers. It contains some vitamins to protect the hair from damage, so it can work both as a treatment or as a styling oil.
This moisturizing oil is similar to macadamia oil, with medium penetration and loads of vitamin E. Almond oil for hair is extremely stable, so it is a wonderful choice as a protective oil for daytime, against pollution and sun damage.
This is one of my favorite styling hair oils, because it doesn’t penetrate the hair – instead, it seals the cuticles, provides an incredible shine, and tames frizz effortlessly.
You can blend it with other oils for a more comprehensive treatment, or save it as a post-shower shine booster. It is also a great oil (well, technically wax) for the scalp, because it is rich in antioxidants and is wonderfully light and moisturizing.
Camellia (Tea Seed) Oil
Brands like Tatcha are starting to popularize this lovely beauty oil. This oil is very high in vitamins E and B, as well as nourishing oleic acid. In that regard, it is similar to olive oil, but with a less potent scent.
Like coconut oil, babassu can also penetrate deeply into the hair shaft, so it is great for dry and damaged hair that needs deep repair. It is rich in lauric acid, which is great for sensitive scalps as well.
Similar to other nut oils for hair, marula penetrates the hair shaft only shallowly, but it is able to keep moisture in the hair and to make the hair look shiny and healthy. Its antioxidant content protects the hair from all kinds of drying and destroying free radicals.
Sea Buckthorn Oil
Since it is loaded with beta-carotene, sea buckthorn is one of the best anti-aging natural hair oils. It is richly orange, and provides incredible repair and protection to both the scalp and the hair shaft. Since this oil is quite luxurious and expensive, it is best blended with less expensive oils.
Best Essential Oils for the Hair
Essential oils are actually not oils – they’re volatile fragrance compounds and cannot be used like a regular oil! Instead, an essential oil can be mixed with a carrier oil (i.e. a natural hair oil) and applied to the hair, in order to give the plant oil a nicer scents.
Remember that since essential oils for hair are very potent, it is important to be careful and to dilute them well in oil, especially if you’ll be putting them on the scalp as well as on the hair. Always read safety precautions about essential oils before using them, and conduct patch tests.
Some essential oils for hair are also reported to have various positive effects on the hair, although remember that these reports are anecdotal and there is little scientific evidence for most of these benefits.
Lemongrass Essential Oil
This citrusy essential hair oil has shown some ability to inhibit dandruff, and it also has a wonderful and refreshing unisex scent. Additionally, lemongrass is said to be an insect repellant, so it is a great option for those who love hiking and camping.
Thyme Essential Oil
This is a mild anti-septic essential oil for hair, great for controlling odour and preventing breakouts. When blended with the essential oils of lavender, cedarwood, and rosemary, this oil has shown the ability to reduce hair loss caused by alopecia areata, and it wouldn’t hurt to give it a try for other kinds of hair loss as well.
Lavender Essential Oil
Well-known for its anti-inflammatory capabilities, lavender is fantastic for an irritated or inflamed scalp. As combined with previously mentioned essential hair oils it is also great for some types of hair loss.
Cedarwood Essential Oil
This classic essential oil for hair is lightly antibacterial, and can prevent alopecia when combined with other essential oils. It has a warm, woodsy scent that is favored by men.
Rosemary Essential Oil
In addition to being a key-part of a hair loss fighting blend, rosemary also works as an astringent to stimulate the scalp and tighten pores. It is great for those with oily scalps.
Geranium Essential Oil
Thanks to a high antioxidant capacity, geranium essential oil can protect the hair and scalp from destructive free radical damage. It is also said to soften the hair, although the mechanism by which essential hair oils can do such a thing is unclear, nor has this effect been proven.
Chamomile Essential Oil
This essential oil is rich in chamazulene and other calming properties, so it is a must for irritated and sensitive scalps. It can prevent itchiness and redness. Chamomile tea is able to lighten the hair over time, so the essential oil might have similar effects.
Clary Sage Essential Oil
Clary sage is said to improve hair growth and balances women’s hormones, although there is little proof. It doesn’t hurt to add it to your carrier oil, since the fragrance is lovely and mood calming.
Lemon Peel Essential Oil
Like many other citrus peel oils for hair, this essential oil has a clarifying effect that is wonderful for oily hair and scalps. This essential oil is antibacterial as well, which is great for those who breakout on their scalps. Since lemon peel oil is phototoxic, avoid using it in the daytime, and avoid sun exposure to the scalp.
Patchouli Essential Oil
Known for its skin repairing and anti-inflammatory effect, patchouli oil is perfect for sensitive or irritated scalps. This oil has a musky smell that is closely associated with the hippie culture.
Tea Tree Oil
Well known for its effect on acne, tea tree oil is a great choice for anyone with oily or acne-prone skin on their scalp. It might also be able to control fungal infections, which are occasionally at fault for dandruff.
Rose Essential Oil
With one of the highest antioxidant capacities as well as skin regenerating properties, the delicious essential oil of rose can both renew the scalp and protect the hair shaft from sun and pollution damage.
Peppermint Essential Oil
The menthol in peppermint has a cooling and stimulating effect on the skin, which is great for anyone who gets headaches easily. The stimulating effect might also have a positive effect on hair growth by helping to strengthen the hair follicle.
How to Use Commercial Hair Oil
- The best way to use silicone-based commercial hair oils is when hair is damp, before blow-drying or air-drying.
- Depending on the length of your hair, squeeze out at least a pea-sized amount of hair oil. Apply it to your hair beginning at the mid-length point, and work it downwards to the ends of the hair, either with your hands or a hair brush. Follow it up with your usual hair styling routine.
- If you notice some flyaways after you already finished styling your hair, you can smooth them down with a tiny amount of hair oil.
How to Oil Hair with Natural Hair Oil
- As a pre-shower hair treatment, coat your hair and scalp with your hair oil of choice. Make sure every strand is thoroughly saturated by applying it to the hair in sections. You can leave it in for as long as you like – my favorite way is to apply it in the evening, wrap my hair up in a clean scarf, go to sleep, and wash it out in the morning for silky-soft hair. If the hair is dehydrated, do all of this while hair is damp. The oils will help lock the water in the hair.
- For an extra boost of moisture, squeeze out a few drops of oil into your conditioner, right before applying it to your hair. Leave it in for a few minutes, and then rinse it out as normal.
- If you don’t have the time for a full night soak in hair oils, but still need speedy repair, heat up your hair oils before applying. For the hot oil treatment for hair, don’t let them get too hot – just warm them up a bit with a double boiling method, or microwaving them at a very low heat. The warmth of the hot oil will open up your cuticles, and allow more of the oil to penetrate quickly.
- If what you require is more of a scalp treatment than a hair treatment, rub the oil directly onto your scalp. Leave it in for 30-45 minutes, and wash it out.
- Lighter, less penetrative hair oils like jojoba oil, argan oil, or grape seed oil can be used for hair styling. Use a very small amount, either after or before heat styling, to smooth down frizz and nourish the ends. Avoid applying them too close to the scalp, as that can lead to a greasy look.
- You can apply hair oil to your hair right before dyeing it, and you don’t have to remove it for the session! The hair dye will take just as well, but your hair will be extra strong and protected.
- Before jumping in the pool, a coating of hair oil will prevent the chlorine from causing too much damage.
Photos via @negin_mirsalehi, Instagram