Hair and scalp oiling

Hair and scalp oiling involves the practice of applying plant oil to the length of the hair and/or the scalp as a treatment before washing the hair. How to do it right?

Hair and scalp oiling is becoming a new trend on social media. While most trends don’t catch my attention, oiling certainly did because there is a very logical scientific background behind this practice.

To better understand the entire topic, it is first necessary to know the anatomy of hair. The part of the hair affected by cosmetic hair products is the cuticle, similar to the skin. This part of the hair is a sheath, consisting of multiple layers of cells that overlap like roof tiles. Its purpose is to protect the hair from external influences. This layer of the hair consists mostly of proteins, which are crucial for hair’s healthy appearance. The less protein in the hair, the more damaged it becomes, allowing greater water absorption and consequent swelling, leading to damaged, swollen hair (so-called ‘frizz’) that loses its shine and shape.

The structure of the hair cuticle under the microscope (adapted from: Rogers 2019, Cosmetics)

Hair and scalp oiling

Hair and scalp oiling involves the practice of applying plant oil to the length of the hair and/or the scalp as a treatment before washing the hair. The purpose of applying oil to the length of the hair is to lubricate the hair, smooth the cuticle, and reduce hair swelling. The application of oil will not only help in making the hair easier to comb, softer, and shinier but will also contribute to long-term healthier hair.

On the other hand, the purpose of applying oil to the scalp is different. Many oils, in addition to their emollient effect, also exhibit antibacterial, antifungal, and sebostatic effects, which can benefit the scalp. The scalp is characterized by a high density of hair with numerous sebaceous glands, contributing to the development of a specific microenvironment that differs from the skin on other parts of the body. This also affects the rate of skin renewal on the scalp. Oils can help soften and remove dead skin cells, which is favorable, especially for very dry scalps showing signs of flaking or for scalps prone to dandruff development. Oiling can also benefit oily scalps, as some oils have sebostatic properties, regulating sebum secretion, and with their fatty acid composition, they can also influence the scalp’s microbiome and, consequently, its oiliness.

Guide for hair and scalp oiling

If you are currently wondering why you would need a guide for applying oil to hair and scalp, let me tell you that oils must be applied correctly to achieve the desired effects. Improper oil, improper application, brushing, and inadequate cleansing of hair and scalp after oil application can lead to dryness, hair loss, or increased greasiness.

Is oiling suitable for everyone?

Hair oiling (oiling the lengths of the hair) can be beneficial for every person with long hair who desires healthy and beautiful locks, especially if they are coloured or frequently styled.

Oiling the scalp, on the other hand, is more specific. Social media presents it as something everyone needs, but it may not work for every scalp. Applying oil to the scalp will be most beneficial for dry and flaky scalps, as the oil will nourish the scalp and soften the skin.

Is Oiling Suitable for Problematic Scalps?

Simultaneously with scalp oiling, it is desirable to massage it. This improves microcirculation (blood flow), removes superficial dead skin cells (actually providing a mild exfoliation), which is believed to contribute to improved hair growth and the overall condition of the scalp characterized by the accumulation of dead skin cells. These conditions include dandruff, seborrheic dermatitis, and scalp psoriasis. Studies supporting these effects are currently limited, but the common factor in all these conditions is the increased presence of the fungus Malassezia on the scalp. With appropriately selected oils with antifungal properties, in conjunction with other measures, one could potentially influence the development of a healthier scalp microbiome.

What about oily scalp?

Appropriately chosen oils can indeed have sebostatic effects. Through experimentation on my oily scalp, I found that this is true, and oiling does extend the time between hair washes. However, the fact remains that oiling may not be suitable for every oily scalp. If you consider the following guidelines, you may find a way for oiling to help extend the period between hair washes in your case as well.

Choosing the right hair oil

For oiling, it makes sense to choose plant oils or blends of plant oils, which may also contain silicones. Not all oils are equally suitable for hair and scalp, as their fatty acid composition can have different effects on the skin and hair.

Best oils for hair oiling:

  • Coconut oil: It has a high affinity for proteins and a low molecular weight, allowing it to penetrate the hair cuticle. This helps in preventing protein loss from the hair, both as a pre-wash and post-wash treatment.

    Note: Pure edible coconut oil is also an acceptable choice, but due to its unoptimized formulation for hair, it can cling too much to the hair, resulting in inadequate rinsing and making the hair feel stiff and dry.

  • Argan oil: Enables good water retention in the hair and increases its elasticity.

  • Sweet almond oil: Smoothens the hair and increases its elasticity.

  • Sesame oil: Has a high penetration rate into the hair cuticle, contributing to better protection.

It’s essential to be aware of the specific properties of each oil and how they interact with your hair type and scalp condition. Additionally, caution is advised when using pure edible coconut oil to ensure optimal results without leaving the hair feeling too stiff or dry.

Choosing the right scalp oil

Best oils for scalp oiling:

  • Coconut oil: Contains a high percentage of monolaurin, which acts antibacterial and antifungal.

    Good choice for: Dry, problematic scalp

    Note: Pure edible coconut oil is an acceptable choice, but due to its unoptimized formulation for hair, it can cling too much to the hair, resulting in inadequate rinsing and making the hair feel stiff and dry. The same issue may arise with products containing coconut oil and silicones, which also cling to the hair.

  • Castor oil: Ricin and ricinoleic acid have antifungal properties. Ricinoleic acid is believed to act as an inhibitor of prostaglandin D2 synthase (PGD2) and may have a certain effect on hair growth.

    Good choice for: Problematic scalp

  • Argan oil: Acts sebostatically, meaning it regulates sebum secretion.

    Good choice for: Oily scalp

  • Black Cumin seed oil: Contains thymoquinone, which acts antioxidative and anti-inflammatory. Scalp issues are primarily linked to oxidative stress, which occurs due to increased colonization with the fungus Malassezia. Antioxidants are believed to help in their recovery. The oil also has antibacterial properties.

    Good choice for: Oily, problematic scalp

You can choose oils that contain a combination of different oils, especially for the scalp, those with controlled proportions of essential oils exhibiting antibacterial or antifungal effects can be considered. When using oils with essential oils, it is advisable to exercise increased caution, perform a preliminary patch test, and limit the maximum contact time with the scalp to 2 hours to prevent the occurrence of contact dermatitis.

Hair and scalp oiling techniques

Application technique

Before oiling, it’s essential to thoroughly comb your hair. Combing oiled hair can result in increased breakage and hair loss. When oiling the hair and scalp, always segment them and apply oil in sections. For the scalp, distribute approximately 1 drop of oil to various sections. Massage the oil into the scalp using your fingertips.

Similarly, oil the length of the hair in segments. Instead of gathering the hair into one section and applying oil only to the outermost parts, try segmenting each side of the hair into 4 sections and apply oil by gently spreading different parts of the hair with your fingers. Avoid pulling your fingers through the hair to prevent hair breakage. Focus on applying oil primarily to the very ends of the hair, which are usually the most damaged.

You can gently secure the hair with a clip or leave it down.

Time on the hair and scalp

In the case of oiling the scalp, leave the oil on the scalp for 1 to 4 hours, but not overnight. Leaving oil on the scalp overnight can result in clogged hair follicles and the development of acne on the scalp, and it can also make it more challenging to remove during washing.

If you are oiling only the tips of your hair, you can leave the oil overnight.

If you don’t always have time for oiling your hair, you can also use the ‘sandwich method,’ which doesn’t require leaving the oil on the hair for several hours. Just before washing your hair, comb it out and apply oil to the tips in segments. Wet your hair, squeeze water out from the tips, and apply conditioner, then use shampoo on the scalp as usual. During rinsing, the shampoo will wash out both the conditioner and the oil from the tips. Then, apply conditioner again and rinse.

Hair cleanse after oiling

Oils have different viscosities, so they can adhere more or less to the hair and scalp. This can become problematic if you do not clean the scalp sufficiently, as oil residues may remain on the scalp or hair, potentially causing issues with greasiness or hair breakage.

After oiling, it is essential to perform a thorough cleansing of the scalp. Use a clarifying (non-conditioning) shampoo to effectively remove all oils from the scalp and hair. Clarifying shampoo does not contain added conditioning ingredients. On days when I oil my scalp, I perform a pre-wash by first exfoliating the scalp with salicylic acid, which is additionally useful for managing scalp oiliness. Then I wash the scalp with a clarifying shampoo. When oiling only the tips, I clean the scalp with a clarifying shampoo.

Hair oiling troubleshooting

As mentioned earlier, oiling the scalp may not be suitable for everyone. If you are concerned that oiling may cause an even greasier scalp, only oil the length of your hair. The success of oiling the scalp depends on several factors: the type of oil chosen, the duration of contact with the scalp, the type of shampoo used, how effectively it cleanses the scalp, and the characteristics of your hair.

I recommend following all the instructions described in this post. If, despite this, oiling does not work for you, and you are looking for a way to reduce scalp oiliness, I suggest the following:

  • Perform a scalp exfoliation with salicylic acid once a week before washing your hair.
  • Wash your scalp with a clarifying shampoo.
  • Use a serum for controlling scalp oiliness between washes (e.g., Hairvest Greasy Hair Serum).

Oils are very viscous, which means they can weigh down the hair to some extent. Therefore, it’s crucial to choose oil formulations carefully. Especially for hair oiling, it makes sense to opt for oil blends with silicones, which are significantly lighter than pure plant oils (e.g., instead of pure edible coconut oil, you might consider OGX Coconut Oil). The application of dense oils will have a more pronounced effect on thin hair than on thick and dense hair. It’s also essential to find the right amount of oil that suits your hair characteristics.

Furthermore, it’s important to thoroughly brush your hair before applying oil, and during the application, try to minimize tangling and breakage.

If your hair feels dry, brittle, and greasy after oiling, it could be a result of improper oiling technique and inadequate oil removal. Oil that is not properly removed from the hair can lead to build-up. Hair with a significant build-up can feel stiff and greasy to the touch, lacking shine because of a thick layer of residual oil. Proper cleaning and the application of smaller amounts of oil should resolve the issue for most people.

Oils are one of the best elements in hair care to prevent hygral fatigue. This phenomenon occurs because hair constantly absorbs and releases water, causing the hair to become tired, swell, and ultimately become brittle and prone to breakage. Oils on the surface of the hair create a protective layer that smoothens the cuticle scales, reducing the hair’s ability to absorb water. It’s important to note that water (or hyaluronic acid) is not necessary for hydrating the hair, as excessive hydration can be detrimental to the hair.

In case you have any more questions or insights about the topic, share them in the comment section!

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