Hair Oiling: Should You Try It?

Hair type, medical conditions, age and ethnicity all might play a role
Person applying hair oil to scalp.

From shampoos to heat styling, your hair can go through a lot. Many of us are always looking for ways to give our locks some much-needed R&R. 

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But could it be that your hair needs an oil change?

Hair oiling is an ancient practice used to strengthen and moisturize hair — and many believe that it’s an important step for making sure your strands get a good balance of vitamins.

But is oiling your hair right for you? Dermatologist Shilpi Khetarpal, MD, explains what hair oiling is, how to do it and what technique is best for you. 

What is hair oiling?

Hair oiling is a practice where natural oils are spread or massaged throughout your hair to increase shine, moisture and overall health. This beauty routine has its roots in Ayurvedic medicine and Indian tradition, but has gained traction recently in the world of natural hair care.

If you Google the term, a couple of different methods pop up. Some recommend applying natural oils to your scalp, while others suggest putting it on the ends of your hair to keep it hydrated and hide split ends.

What are the benefits of hair oiling?

Similar to our skin, our hair needs a good balance of oils to keep it healthy and happy.

According to proponents of this practice, hair oiling’s main goal is to hydrate your hair and make up for any vitamins or minerals your hair may be missing after repeated washing.

Some benefits of hair oiling include:

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Adds moisture and shine to hair

The secret to having silky hair that would make Rapunzel herself jealous? Hydration!

A 2015 study found that oils can help revive hair with a much-needed moisture boost. Another study from 2021 found that coconut oil strengthens hair fibers. Especially for hair that’s been affected by intense styling and heat damage, hair oiling can fill in some gaps to keep it moisturized and, in turn, silky smooth. 

Improves appearance of split ends

If you haven’t had a chance to visit your salon in a while, there’s still a way to conceal those split ends. Add some natural oils to the ends of your hair to help visually clean them up, while adding a bit of moisture in the process. Remember though, this is only a temporary fix. 

May protect your hair from the sun

Heat damage doesn’t just come from your straightener or curling iron. Protecting your hair from the sun’s rays is important to keep your hair from getting too dry or frizzy over time. Research suggests that almond oil’s moisturizing properties may create a protective barrier against the sun’s UV rays.

Should you apply oils to your scalp?

There’s plenty of advice out there for hair oiling. Chances are, most of the articles and social media posts involve applying oil directly to your scalp. But this particular method of hair oiling may not work for everyone. 

Depending on your hair type, hair oiling advocates claim that it may improve your scalp’s health if used correctly. A recent 2021 study found that coconut oil in particular has a positive effect on the scalp.

Another study suggests that hair oiling can even prevent dandruff. But other experts, such as Dr. Khetarpal, advise against putting oil directly on your scalp. It turns out, hair oiling could actually put you at higher risk for seborrheic dermatitis — essentially, dandruff. Overall, it’s best to steer clear of oiling your scalp. 

Is hair oiling right for you?

No matter the beauty routine you’re following, there isn’t a one-size-fits-all for every type of hair. Dr. Khetarpal points out that hair oiling isn’t going to affect each head of hair the same way.

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“Certain hair types can benefit from oiling more than others,” he says. “People with dry, coarse tightly curled hair can benefit from oiling, while others with fine, straight hair may find oiling weighs their hair down too much. Those who are prone to dandruff should avoid all types of oils.”

Whether or not hair oiling will work for you may depend on: 

  • How dry or oily your hair naturally is. 
  • Any medical conditions you may have.
  • Previous styling or color.
  • Age. 
  • Ethnic background.

What kind of oils are used for hair oiling?

When it comes to applying oil to your hair, a little bit goes a long way.

“Oils can be applied to the ends of the hair, and then washed out after several hours,” notes Dr. Khetarpal. “It’s best to apply to dry hair and use a small amount.”

Try this method on a weekly basis: 

  1. Prep your hair by brushing or combing to avoid any tangling. 
  2. Put a pea-sized amount of oil into your hand. 
  3. Apply oil to the ends of your hair. Use your fingers to spread the oil evenly from the middle of your hair to the ends. 
  4. Keep oil in hair as long as desired (20 minutes to an hour) and then wash out.

All in all, it’s good to start slowly when exploring different hair routines. Remember, not every head of hair is the same, so oils — as natural as they may be — can yield different results for everyone.

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