Monday, May 24, 2010

E-mail question: Using oils in your hair

Laura posed this question:

I would also be very interested to know what happens to the hair when we treat it with an oil mask for a few hours or even overnight and then wash the oil away with a shampoo. If the oil does not penetrate the hair cuticle, is there any benefit from this type of oil treatments? To the hair? To the scalp? Any tips to make these masks more beneficial?

Some oils can penetrate the hair cuticle - those with low molecular weights or shorter fatty acid chains like fractionated coconut oil, coconut oil, babassu oil, and murumuru butter - and some coat the hair strand to offer an increase in slip, softness, and shine. Jojoba oil can penetrate the hair follicles to remove stubborn sebum, and we know coconut oil has a great affinity for the proteins on our hair. (Links to these oil posts can be found on the general oils page.) So oils do have some lovely benefits for our hair.

I want to amend this post by saying that there is no evidence that avocado and camellia oil can penetrate the hair shaft, although they will coat your hair strand and help your scalp. 

The goal of using oils on our hair is to equalize the moisture levels in our hair as they create humidity and moisture barriers, which can prevent frizz, and we see a reduction of 10% to 20% in the combing forces on our wet hair when we use high molecular emollients (the ones that don't penetrate, like the butters or silicones) in our conditioners. (Effectively, they coat the hair strand.)

How can we make these oil masks more beneficial? Using coconut oil would be a great place to start. We know this stuff is great for our hair (heat it to melt it slightly before using). Leaving it on our hair overnight might have some benefits for increasing the penetration in our hair (if they're able to do so) and they will definitely offer moisturizing benefits for your scalp. Some oils have anti-bacterial and anti-fungal properties that might offer some relief to people with scalp conditions. And you want to use this on dry hair - having water on the hair will only repel the oils without an emulsifier.

Does heating it help? We know heating something can increase the solubility, so does this hold true for our hair? If something will penetrate your hair, heating it can increase the rate of penetration. If something won't penetrate your hair, heating won't help you. So if you choose oils that will penetrate your hair or scalp, then heating it a little bit will help it penetrate faster.

Oiling your hair has benefits for certain hair types - dry hair types as well as dry African hair types will definitely benefit - if your goal is to increase the moisture levels inside your hair. Oily hair won't benefit much from oils as it will increase our oiliness, which we're trying to reduce, but you can use it on the dry ends of longer hair.

Oils on their own are not conditioners, but they are great moisturizers we can use to trap moisture into our hair and reduce frizz, and they can help reduce combing forces on our hair up to 20%. Not bad at all, eh?


Ambra said...

Great info and very timely for me. My dauhter has very long hair that she has had dyed pink for some time. Now she is trying to revert back to her old colour before her wedding and that is a bit tricky because it is quite damaged from bleaching. I have been wanting to use oils on her hair but didn't really know if it would make that much of a difference. Thanks :)

Marnie said...

Camellia seed oil is really nice for dry and dammaged hair.

Mine is super curly and it makes my hair soft and shiny. After I shampoo/condition my hair, I use a few drops of the oil and then use my regular styling products. My hair doesn't feel greasy, just soft.

Janelle said...

Hello! Before I comment, I just want to tell you how much I love this blog!! I always love to read informative posts related to beauty, that are backed by science, and this is one (of very few sites) that are fantastic reading!!

Regarding your statement: " having water on the hair will only repel the oils without an emulsifier." - I use coconut oil as a sort of "leave in" by itself, after I get out of the shower. Does this mean the coconut oil is not as effective/not working properly if I apply it on wet hair? What exactly does it mean when you state the water repels the oil? Where does the oil go - does the water go in the shaft and the oil is forced to stay out and not penetrate?

-Janelle :)