Categorized | Prevention

Hair Care: To Oil or Not to Oil?

The condition of your body and overall health is reflected by the look of your hair.  Your hair may be your personal “crowning glory” or a perfect torture.  In all probability every woman dreams of thick and shiny hair; and in all probability every woman has tried oil masks or other homemade hair care preparations at least once in her life.

How can oils help your hair?

imagesWe’ve all heard about reviving the hair with natural oils and/or masks.   But is it really possible? Here is a brief theoretical overview to try to discover the truth.

The hair cells are formed in the follicle where an on-going process of cell division (mitosis) takes place. The pressure created inside the follicle due to mitosis pulls the hair cells out of the hair follicle and makes hair gain from 0.3 to 0.4 mm in length every day. The nutrients required to support mitosis are supplied to the hair follicle by blood flow. As the hair grows, its cells change structure (the cells lose their kernels and gradually keratinize) and lose the bond with the hair follicle.  Once the hair cell is formed and has left the follicle, it can no longer be “fed” by the blood flow; it no longer receives “help” from within your body and the internal processes occurring within your body no longer affect it.  Virtually, the hair that we see is a “dead” tissue consisting of keratinized cells that is capable of neither regeneration nor restoration.

The hair shaft consists of 3 layers:

  • The medulla – the core of your hair formed by 2-4 (depending of the thickness of your hair) layers of non-keratinized cells of cubic form. The medulla provides thick hair with its stiffness.
  • The cortex – the thickest part of the hair shaft.  90% of the cortex consists of the protein called keratin. The cortex is formed by the lengthwise rows of keratinized cells (keratin fibers) bundled together which make it flexible and durable.  Also, this layer contains the molecules of melanin, a hair pigment.
  • The cuticle – the outermost layer of the hair shaft is a cover that protects the cortex fibers and holds them together. The cuticle consists of 6-10 layers of prolonged, flat, overlapping cells that form scales and cover the cortex like roof tiles. The edges of the newly formed scales are smooth and undamaged.  But as the hair “grows away” from the skin, the cuticles are damaged and broken by washing and combing.  Cuticles of  dyed or permed hair experience the worst damage as the scales can be easily torn off the hair shaft.  This leads to the exposure of the cortex fibers and allows those fibers to become damaged. The most common consequences of such damage are split ends and hair brittleness.

Technically it is not possible to “revive” hair, as it is already “dead”.  It is your responsibility to look after the health of your scalp, follow a healthy diet and maintain the overall health of your body so that the hair produced by your hair follicles is strong and healthy.  However, you can minimize the damage to your hair caused by the environment by frequent washing and combing.  Oils may offer some help as well.

Scientific studies have proven that some oils, due to their composition and the chemical structure of the fats they contain, can penetrate the hair cortex and reduce and repair protein loss, making your hair look shiny and smooth.  Whereas the molecules of other oils can only form a film that coats the hair shafts without penetrating the cortex.  But even those oils which penetrate only the cuticle can still be effective as a protective means to fight the negative influence of the environment. The following is a table listing helpful (penetrating) and useless (non-penetrating) oils.

“Yes” “Yes” rather than “No” “No” rather than “Yes” “No”
Olive oil Argan Oil Jojoba oil Mineral Oil
Coconut Oil Apricot Oil Peanut Oil Sunflower Oil
Avocado Oil Sesame Oil Walnut Oil
Shea butter Flax Oil
Cocoa butter Grape seed oil
Hazelnut oil
Peach oil
Palm oil

Oils can perform a conditioning function by protecting your hair from breakage when combing, improve hair gloss, reduce the formation of split ends and slow the moisture loss from the hair.1,2 According to one study, coconut oil, when used as a pre-wash conditioner, has a protective effect against hair damage in the grooming process,  It not only protects undamaged hair, but also is beneficial for UV-treated and chemically treated hair.3

Oils are beneficial for the scalp as well. A combination of essential oils (thyme, cedarwood, rosemary and lavender) and carrier oils (grapeseed and jojoba) massaged into the scalp on a daily basis can effectively treat Alopecia Areata.4  Another study suggests that Zizyphus jujuba essential oilhas a hair growth promoting effect.5  Tea tree, rosemary, coleus and clove oils have proved to be effective in the treatment of dandruff.6

The fact is that oils are good for your hair.  The question is, “how to use them?

Base (carrier) oils and essential oils

In order to use oils properly, you should understand the difference between base or carrier oils and essential oils.

Essential oils are distilled from the aromatic parts of plants – leaves, roots, bark; they have a concentrated aroma and evaporate quite quickly.  Whereas base oils are derived from the fatty parts of plants (nuts, seeds and kernels) by means of cold-pressing; they do not evaporate and do not have such a strong aroma as essential oils.  Pure essential oils are too highly concentrated; therefore, they cannot be used directly on the skin as they may cause irritation and skin damage.  For this reason, when used for the cosmetic purposes, they are diluted in base oils. In addition, a very small amount of an essential oil (only several drops) is needed and obviously this small amount will not be able to be spread evenly throughout your hair.  But, if diluted in a base oil, it will then be able to cover a larger area.  Base oils are also known as carrier oils (the name comes from the function) carry the essential oils to the skin.  Carrier oils have unique and useful properties.  Essential oils are considered more potent.

The following table will help you do your measurements when preparing your healthcare products.

Essential oil drops (min-max) Into measurement of carrier oil
1 drop 1/5 teaspoon
2-5 drops 1 teaspoon
4-10 drops 2 teaspoons
6-15 drops 1 tablespoon
8-20 drops 4 teaspoons
10-25 drops 5 teaspoons
12-30 drops 2 tablespoons
1 teaspoon = 5 ml and 1 tablespoon = 15 ml

There is an opinion confirmed by some dermatologists that some base oils such as castor and burdock oils should not be applied directly to the scalp as they clog the hair follicles, break the oxygen supply and form a film on the scalp.


1) Brazilian oils and butters: The effect of different fatty acid chain composition on human hair physiochemical properties (J. Cosmet. Sci.,60,273–280 (March/April 2009));
2) Effect of oil films on moisture vapor absorption on human hair (J. Cosmet. Sci., 58, 135-145 (March/April 2007));
3) Effect of mineral oil, sunflower oil, and coconut oil on prevention of hair damage (j, Cosmet. Sci., 54, 175-192 (March/April 2003));
4) Randomized trial of aromatherapy. Successful treatment for alopecia areata. (Hay IC, Jamieson M, Ormerod AD.);
5) Hair growth promoting effect of Zizyphus jujuba essential oil. (Yoon JI, Al-Reza SM, Kang SC.);
6) Herbal vs. chemical substances as antidandruff ingredients: which are more effective in the management of Dandruff? – An overview (Egyptian Dermatology Online Journal, vol.5 No 2:8, December 2009);