Hair oiling: Is it necessary to put oil in your hair?

BY Kiku Chaudhuri

Hair oiling has been a sacred self-care ritual in India that has been around for over 4,000 years passed down from generation to generation. Rooted in Ayurvedic beauty, head massages with herbal oils and butters act as a nutritious supplement for your hair and scalp as it strengthens hair strands and prevents hair loss. This ritual is still foreign in many Western cultures as hair oiling is associated with greasiness; however, contrary to that assumption, oils and butters leave your hair silky, soft, smooth, and strong. Let’s dig into some science and talk about how oils prevent hair damage — I promise not to use too much chemistry jargon. 

How are oils and butters good for your hair?

Hair is most vulnerable when it’s wet. Oils and butter are hydrophobic in nature, meaning they do not dissolve in water. Think of the water, oil, and vinegar experiments in elementary school (major throwback, I know). Oil just sits on top of water forming a film that restricts interactions with water. The same thing happens when you apply oil or butter to your hair. The oil forms a fine coat over your hair shaft making your hair water resistant and preventing damage from occurring.

How do oils and butters prevent damage?

Oils are significant because they act as a protective barrier, lock in moisture, and prevent an excessive amount of water absorption. Hair is porous and depending on the level of porosity, your hair can absorb up to 30-50% of water. When introduced to water, a pH imbalance can occur which leads to brittle hair since our hair is naturally acidic, ranging within a pH of 4.5-5, and making it vulnerable to water’s neutral pH of 7. Oils and butters prevent this imbalance from occurring and maintain your scalp and hairs’ pH, a phenomenon you can read about in our previous blog post

What kinds of oils and butters are good for my hair and scalp type?

There are a variety of oils and butters so which one suits your hair the best? Well, it depends on your hair type, porosity, and condition. It is easy to identify your hair type, but porosity is not as obvious. To determine your porosity, take a hair strand and put it in water. If your hair sinks to the bottom then it is highly porous. If your hair settles in the middle of the water, then you have medium porosity. Lastly, if your hair floats, then it has low porosity. 

Low porosity hair has difficulty absorbing moisture so jojoba, argan, and sweet almond oil work best and will not weigh your hair down. These oils are also great for people with thin, fine hair too. In contrast, highly porous hair needs “heavier” oils like castor, coconut, sesame seed, and avocado oil that can penetrate deeply into the hair shaft. People with thicker hair need heavier oils too and creamy butters like shea, kokum, and cocoa.

How does oils help the scalp?

In addition, hair oils and herbs can function as a remedy for scalp irritations, dandruff, and hair loss. Tea tree and neem oils can diminish a flaky itchy scalp, but make sure to mix it with a base oil like jojoba or coconut. Herbs, fruits, and flowers like fenugreek, amla, hibiscus, and jasmine oil can stimulate hair growth and promote thicker hair. 

Overall, think of your hair as a plant, your scalp is the soil, and within the soil are your hair roots. Just like a plant, your hair needs nutrients and needs to be fertilized. So add hair oiling to your hair care routine because it will make your hair healthier and happier!

Photo by Sharon Pittaway on Unsplash