With effects that run the gamut from conditioning and adding shine to treating dandruff and stimulating strand growth, oils are truly the workhorse of hair care products.
While the nutrient-rich substance fell out of favor in recent times in part due to a general lack of knowledge of how to use it without weighing down hair, oils are now enjoying a popular resurgence as the rise of the green beauty category brings the ancient treatment back to the spotlight.
"Oils are not only incredibly beneficial to all hair types, but they have a ritualistic quality to them that many find spiritually soothing," says Horst Rechelbacher, founder of both Aveda and Intelligent Nutrients, a certified organic beauty line that is entirely based on plant ingredients.
Two oils of the moment -- argan and monoi -- are the current 'it' girls of the industry, attracting attention and fame, and dedicated legions of fans. Argan oil is the star ingredient of the ubiquitous Moroccanoil brand, and monoi takes center stage in a new line launching by Carol's Daughter.
"The romance of monoi is what hooked me first, its tradition and the process by which it is made. The second thing was its scent," says Carol's Daughter founder Lisa Price, of the oil that is created by soaking Tahitian gardenias in coconut oil. "The goal became, 'How do we prepare this so that we can marry the ancient tradition with modern-day efficacy?'"
But before you dive into the healthy hair benefits of oil, it's vital that you know how to apply it in the right way to best benefit your hair. Our tips and tricks below cover all textures and types -- and even the most baby-fine heads of hair.
Know the three types of cosmetic oils and their weight. Fatty oils like castor and shea butter have large molecular weight and sit on the surface of hair, while semi-fatty oils like sweet almond, avocado and sunflower are absorbed more readily, and work for most hair types. Dry oils like grape seed, coconut and evening primrose are the lightest, and seemingly disappear into the hair without any residue on even fine textures, says natural beauty expert Julie Gabriel, who will publish Oleotherapy: Reveal the Powerful Rejuvenation Benefits of 100 Oils for your Health, Beauty and Wellbeing in November 2011.
Always massage oil into the scalp. The most common mistake people make is that they apply oil to the ends of hair only. "Oils help regulate sebum production in the scalp much in the same way that face oils are helpful to normalize sebum production in the skin," says Gabriel. Fine hair can apply oil only to the scalp, while medium to thick types can also apply the oil to the mid-shaft and down. Coarse types can massage the oil from the scalp all the way to the ends.
The goof-proof choice for any hair type is jojoba oil. A plant that is indigenous to the southwest, jojoba is the lightest of all cosmetic oils, and absorbs weightlessly. If you have super-fine hair, you can even look for clarified jojoba, which takes it even a step lighter. "Jojoba is a liquid wax, and you can clarify it and take some of the wax out of it to make it even lighter than it already is," says Rechelbacher.
Argan oil is best for medium to thick hair. While everyone is reaching for argan these days, Rechelbacher says that the exotically fragrant oil is more suited to thicker heads of hair. "Argan is sticky, and can be hard to get out of fine hair. It's like olive oil -- you'll need to shampoo two or three times to fully rinse it out, or else you'll get build-up." Yet for richer locks, argan can strike the perfect balance of shine, scent and manageability.
To get the benefits without any weight, apply oil to dry hair. If you don't want to keep oil in your hair, try this treatment recommended by Rechelbacher. On completely dry hair, first work oil into the ends, and then slowly massage into the scalp, deeply inhaling the aromatic experience for relaxation. Gently brush hair from scalp to ends for five minutes, and allow the oil to sit for 15 to 20 minutes. Then hop in the shower and wash it out. "In most cases, you won't even have to follow up with a conditioner unless you're very coarse. Your hair will feel like silk," says Rechelbacher.
Castor oil is a natural growth treatment. Castor oil is believed to stimulate and strengthen hair growth, but Gabriel says that it's too heavy to use on hair. Instead, you can apply the vegetable oil with a Q-tip to sparse eyebrows and lashes at bedtime to encourage thicker, healthier and faster growth. Think of it as nature's Latisse.
Warm oil is a fix-it for scalp problems. Since putting oil on the scalp encourages the skin to rebalance itself, adding warmth will also allow nutrients to penetrate more deeply. Gabriel says that massaging your choice of oil into the scalp is helpful for dry dandruff, non-hormonal hair loss and itchy scalps. Simply nuke a small amount of oil in the microwave, and then enjoy a soothing fingertip massage in small circles around the scalp.
How often you should use oil depends on how often you wash. Fine and oily hair types that wash daily, or close to that, can consider using an deep oil treatment weekly. Textured and coarse hair types that wash weekly or bi-weekly will likely enjoy the best results with an oil treatment applied once a month. The risk of applying oil too often is that it will build up in the scalp and weigh hair down, unless it has been shampooed sufficiently between applications.
Beware of cheapened oils. Manufacturers are notorious for flooding products with silicones and petrochemicals, and including only minute amounts of oil, says Gabriel. Be sure to read ingredient labels to confirm that you're getting the real deal -- which should be a listing of various oils. Rechelbacher and other vetted natural experts often use essential oils in their mixes, as it's a more hygienic choice that diminishes the chance of bacteria growth. The addition of seeds and antioxidants is an indication of top-notch blending that will allow the oils to perform even better.
If pregnant, don't use nut oils. Oils derived from nuts like peanuts and pine nuts can be potentially hazardous to pregnant women. "Oils from nuts go rancid the quickest, and you don't want to apply rancid oil if you're pregnant. If in doubt, smell it. If it doesn't smell right or is off, don't use it," says Rechelbacher.
It's clear that oils are well worth the effort -- but can the same be said for the clampless curling irons that are all the rage right now? StyleList investigates.