Cracking the Code on Oils for Hair Care

If you made it to the “natural hair” portion of your hair journey, you’ve probably had some experience with raw carrier oils. With the mid-2000s influx of naturalistas, the term “natural” gained emphasis and became a standard in hair care. Chemical treatments and frequent heat application were just first of the many habits that were left in the dust. Simpler and healthier hair became pop. Natural oils also joined the group.

Unfortunately, misguided newbies who have tinkered with carrier oils unsuccessfully have been discouraged from using them in their regimen entirely. They have even become further discouraged from abstaining from chemical treatments and frequent heat application. So really, are essential and carrier oils necessary for hair care?

First things first… oils don’t moisturize.

If you have any familiarity with the world of lipids (ex: coconut, olive, almond, etc.), they are some of the main go-tos — thanks to community testimony and are regularly spotted in many faved hair products. Yet, some naturals are avoiding their use individually. Due to experimentation, there’s opportunity for misuse which may be the issue.

There’s a tendency to slather oils, similarly to synthesized moisturizers, but all oils do not behave the same way on the cuticle (outer most layer of a hair strand), nor do they hydrate or “moisturize.” They can, however, penetrate or seal a cuticle depending on the oil type. If you’re seeking hydration, this is efficiently done by humectants like glycerine, which draw water from the atmosphere.

In a dryer environment, you may notice an undesirable viscosity from glycerine, so you will need to add moisture as needed with a sealing oil to slow evaporation. We recommend buying a product formulated with these properties while staving off build up with a clarifying wash regimen.

On to the oils!

It’s pretty simple. Sealing oils are bound to the cuticle. And because they don’t penetrate, they can keep strands detangled since the hair would slide against each other more easily. They leave a high shine and should be applied moderately since they can leave a film. Penetrating oils like jojoba and almond can make great stand alone treatments and also seal in added moisture at a deeper level (cortex) of the hair. These tend to have more of a subtle shine because they seep in the cuticle, which tends to work well for skin care, too.

There is a spectrum of varying oils for hair care that with a little research may help reveal what works for you. Sure, it may be tempting to just go and purchase the latest trendy oil, but it’s more important to consider your hair needs and what nutrients it may be lacking. While texture is a dead giveaway of your moisture levels, there’s also the porosity factor. Low, medium and high porosity is defined by how secure and tightly space your cuticle layer is. This should be considered when determining which oils to add to your hair care routine.

  • Low is usually characterized as having a closed unrelenting cuticle that is more resistant to moisture but retains it longer than other types. This type requires oils that are more lightweight and penetrate the cuticle.
    • Recommended oils to use: jojoba, sweet almond, grapeseed, sesame, and argan.
  • Medium is considered the most common and “normal” porosity type. This type absorbs and retains moisture inside the cuticle.
    • Recommended oils to use: grapeseed, olive, macadamia, argan, and jojoba.
  • High is described as completely open and takes in moisture easier but loses moisture the quickest. It is typically a result of damaged hair.
    • Recommended oils to use: hempseed, mango, avocado, castor, and shea butter.

The strand test can be helpful when diagnosing your hair porosity and mentally logging your hair behavior when using certain products. Indirect heat to the hair can lift any cuticle easily and absorb any oil with moisture. Sounds familiar? Yep, a hot oil treatment will do just this! It is great for the whole spectrum, especially on the higher end of porosity levels. Try learning more techniques for using beneficial oils and you could earn an in-depth standard for surfacing hair products — less trial and error while deterring the involuntary product junky in you.

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