Hair oil might seem like a hot new beauty trend, but this is down to marketing. In reality, they’re nothing new, with humans having used natural seed and plant oils to nourish their locks since ancient times.
The Ancient Greeks would treat their hair with olive oil to keep it shiny, and coconut oil for hair has been a thing across the southern hemisphere for thousands of years.1
Why hair oil?
If you could see the anatomy of a strand of hair up close, it will seem be obvious why hair oils are a good idea.
A strand of hair has hundreds of overlapping cuticles. Think of them like roof tiles, all pointing downwards. To stay smooth, these cuticles must all stay uniform and overlapping.
Heat damage, rough handling and too much sun can all roughen up the hair’s cuticles, causing them to become uneven.
Split ends, as you probably know, occur when the hair strand splits from the bottom and the split makes its way up the length of the hair strand.
This is where hair oils come in. They can seal fraying ends and fill the gap between damaged hair cuticles, lubricating the hair strand and preventing further damage. Think of hair oils as grouting for the tiny invisible cracks on each of your hair strands!
What’s the difference between a hair oil and a hair serum?
Hair oils and hair serums are very similar and often contain many of the same ingredients. However, whereas hair oils are primarily for protecting and improving the condition of your hair, hair serums are often silicone-based and have more specific styling focus such as taming frizz caused by the weather.
The best natural hair oils
Here’s a few of the best hair oils around, plus their benefits for your locks.
The hugely popular argan oil is native to Morocco (and aka Moroccan hair oil). It’s mostly made of fatty acids which explain why it’s so nourishing to hair strands.2 We like Miaflora Argan Oil which contains 100% cold-pressed argan oil, meaning none of the moisturising properties are lost in its manufacture.
For a quick argan oil hair mask, pour a little oil in a container of hot (not boiling) water until oil is warm. After shampooing, massage the oil into hair and scalp then cover with a warm moist towel for 3-5 minutes. Rinse with warm water. Add a little tea tree oil for hair to help a dry scalp and oily roots.
Black seed oil
This oil comes from the pressed seeds of the nigella sativa plant.3 Black seed oil for hair and body offers softening and nourishing properties. It’s great for softening all hair types, as well as used diluted on the scalp to help fight flakiness.
A favourite pre-shampoo treatment, as well as a way to seal in moisture on damp afro hair types. Due to its high saturated fat content, coconut oil is heavy and can make finer hair feel greasy if too much is applied. A product like Fushi Really Good Hair Oil contains a blend of coconut, argan and avocado oil which will nourish all hair types, without weighing it down.
This oil is renowned for its ultra-moisturising properties.4 Derived from the seeds of the jojoba plant, you can smooth out frazzled hair cuticles and add shine with just a few drops of jojoba oil for hair.
Sourced from the castor bean, an inedible bean made up of fatty acids including omega-6 and ricinoleic acid.5 Using castor oil for hair is used all over the world. Castor oils moisturising properties may help to reduce the appearance of split ends.
How to use hair oils and serums
On damp hair
Most oils and serums can be used on damp hair. Oils will help to fill in the gaps in any rough cuticles on your hair strand, as well as sealing the moisture in as your hair dries.
On dry hair
Many oils and serums can also be used on dry hair. You should never apply oil or serum to the roots of your hair – only the lengths and ends. Applying heavy products to the roots will leave you with product build up on your scalp and oily, lank roots.
Using a hair oil before shampooing might seem pointless, but by penetrating the hair and reducing the amount of water your strands absorb during washing, the oil helps your hair stay stronger over time. This is because the oil coating the hair results in lower hygral fatigue (repeated swelling and drying), a factor that can damage hair.6
Before heat styling
Most serums have an in-built heat protectant which shields your hair from the damaging effects of high heat up to around 240 degrees Centigrade.
A word of warning. If you’re using oil as a heat protectant, you should be aware that natural oils can have a low smoke point and they burn when exposed to a heat higher than this smoke point. Coconut oil has a smoke point of 177 degrees Centigrade, so ensure your heat styling tool is set to low.7
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Last updated: 10 August 2020