Saturday, November 4, 2017

Is this oil good for MY hair?

Greetings! The blog has been very quiet lately. Life gets busy, busy, busy.

I keep reading how many people experience problems with oils. Some people's hair never met an oil it didn't like. And for others, their hair has a problem with all but 1 or 2 oils. Occasionally we try an oil and get such a bad result, we want to swear off all oils. But then you're probably missing out on some beneficial, inexpensive effects.

Here's my quick assessment checklist for whether your hair gets along with an oil or not. Don't worry that somebody else's hair does really well with an oil that makes yours look and feel awful. We're all as different as we are the same. Skin and hair chemistry vary subtly from person to person.

Good oils for your hair: A good oil for your hair will look and feel good when you apply it - maybe adding a little sheen, a smoother feel, ease of detangling. And it will still have that sheen and smoothness hours later. You may need to re-apply the oil at some point between washes, but your hair should not be worse off after using the oil.

Oils that don't work for your hair: Obviously limp, flat hair means your hair doesn't get along well with an oil - or you used too much. If your hair becomes dry, frizzy, waxy, brittle, tangly, stiff, crunchy or dull-looking - your hair is NOT getting along well with an oil you used. This may happen right away, or it may occur over the course of many hours - or maybe not until after days or weeks of use. Sometimes we blame other ingredients for some of these effects and forget to consider the oils in products.

Oils that are underwhelming: Do you keep adding oil to a deep conditioner or doing oil treatments and not seeing any result? You may not yet have found the right oil for your hair. Some people's hair will tolerate a lot of different oils without showing much change for better or worse - but when you find the right one - that's when your hair stands up and does a little dance!

Watch out for: 

  • Many products combine 1 or 2 or a whole bunch of oils (and butters, too) in a single product. If your hair does well with one of those oils, but the product as a whole does not agree with your hair - the problem may be an oil you are not familiar with. If your hair is picky about oils, save your money and don't buy products that use several different oils.
  • A problem with quantity vs. the oil itself. Too much of a good thing can be a bad thing. If you've only ever used enough oil to get your hair greasy or wet-looking and found it too difficult to wash out, and leaving your hair feeling crunchy and like artificial hair you may need to use less to get a useful result.

Make it work for you: Not all oils are good in the same application. Some oils are nicer to use on dry or damp hair, but terrible if mixed into a conditioner - save those for oil treatments. Some oils might not provide a nice result when used during styling, but are good in a conditioner (added by you upon use, or by the manufacturer). Some oils work well for one part of styling, but not another - for example, smoothing frizz in dry hair only, or sealing damp hair only. You never know what will work - sometimes you'll be pleasantly surprised. Sometimes you'll have to go wash your hair again. It's all part of the learning process, right?

What sort of hair is more picky about oils? I don't know if there is any foolproof, always-accurate way to guess with the tools we all have at our disposal. Low-porosity hair seems to be more reactive to oils sometimes. Hair which is quite coarse (wide in width) may be more picky because any added rigidity is more noticeable. Hair which tends to feel or behave wiry or springy may also be more sensitive about oil choices because of the "added rigidity" problem. Hard water can go either way, it can make your hair more or less oil-friendly. Porous hair may be more oil-loving, but it can still have bad reactions to different oils. Temperature and humidity matter too - oils may behave differently in your hair in hot weather vs. cold weather.


  1. Hi Wendy! It made my night to see you posting again. I am taking chemistry in college this semester and I've been suprising myself with how much I know already from reading your blog. As someone who's always been a bit nerdy when it comes to science things, you truly do inspire me in so many ways.
    Okay okay sorry - I'll try to stop gushing now!

    But I did want to ask you about a specific kind of hair damage. We're all familiar with split ends, but what are those kinky hair strands (in non kinky hair) called? They look like this: ( and I'm assuming they're caused by some form of mechanical force causing damage to the hair structure, but is this permanent damage? As in, we know there's no way to "mend" split ends so is this also the case when it comes to these strands?
    I'm starting to believe this is a sign my hair needs protein, because although I haven't found a split end in my hair since middle school - I have a ton of these crinkled dudes. My hair is curly so it hides it more than if it was straight but I'd really love some insight on this issue.

    1. Hello Evelyn,
      Hit those books! Balance those equations. :) I'm glad you have been able to use the blog to compliment your college education! That makes my day. The hair strand in that photo is interesting - rectangular kinking? A kinky hair in a head of non-kinky hair can still have kinking! It would depend on whether that hair grew in that way or not. Sometimes hairs will take on what looks like kinking from an abrupt force or tension (think of curling ribbon for gift-wrapping). And there is a method of hair-cutting called "slithering" in which the stylist slides the shears down a section of hair to take out bulk. On *wet* hair with low elasticity, I have seen that cause permanent twists and bends in hair because it stretches the hair in a vulnerable condition (wet). Which is still a mechanical deformation - tension.
      Heat-damage can cause hair to take on a uneven feel - or anything else that weathers hair on the ends (sun, brushing, pulling hard on a tangle, updos)...

      If you naturally have kinking hairs in amongst non-kinking hairs, when they are becoming easier to see, it means your hair needs more of whatever makes it more flexible. Kinking hairs tend to need good hydration (and lubrication) to stay flexible. The right protein for your hair will improve hydration and flexibility. So protein helps them get in line with their neighboring hairs because once hydrated and thus flexible-ized, they can take on the same curl pattern. For some people, it will be an oil treatment (or deep conditioning) that gets their hairs to work together better because those provide lubrication, elasticity and porosity-management as well.
      Even if those hairs are in a different shape due to mechanical damage - when they pop up, they are definitely telling you they need more hydration and flexibility. Best wishes -W

    2. Hi Wendy!
      That is really interesting to hear regarding the "slithering" technique hair stylists use, it makes sense that it could be damaging. Although I haven't gotten that done on my hair too many times, I'm definitely going to steer clear from that from this point forward. Yeah, my hair breaks very easily - I recently did the Aphogee 2 step protein treatment and I haven't noticed too much of an improvement so the plan is to focus more on hydrating.

      One last thing, although I've read and referenced your blog numerous times I haven't found much info on your personal routine, which I admit I've always been curious about. Maybe I just haven't stumbled across it yet though. I know we all have different hair that responds to things in different ways but I'd love to hear about your journey and where you are currently.

      By the way, I know you have a totally unrelated career and you're a pretty busy person, but I just wanted to let you know that if you ever decided to move full time to hair related research and start your own product line, I know I'm not alone in saying I'd be first in line to sign up for your Patreon or GoFundMe!

      Thank you,
      Evelyn Stephens

    3. Hello Evelyn,
      I have boring hair. It's not thick, it's not difficult to manage, and seems to take a lot of abuse in stride. It's medium-coarse (really - all over the place width-wise) and wavy in some places, curly in others, with kinking hairs. It tends to want to break around shoulder length because it becomes sun-damaged and any just damage-damaged easily -
      and while I grew it to my waist several years ago, I didn't really enjoy wearing it long. I think it's great to have "easy hair" but all the women in my family thought it was pretty bad, messy hair. Nobody taught me how to style or care for my hair, so I had to learn that as an adult. Right now I'm wearing my hair fairly short because I love short hair.

      I must use a salicylic acid shampoo (0.5% - I make this myself so it'll be mild, my super-sensitive husband uses it too). I prefer to wash every-other day (any longer and things get itchy). I massage my scalp and smooth my fingers over my hair before washing - this does wonders for shine and softness. About every 1-2 weeks I do a protein treatment for 3-5 minutes with heat because my not-thick hair needs the support. Also about every 1-2 weeks I do an oil pre-wash treatment for 3-4 hours with sunflower oil or avocado oil. I use the "Squish to Condish" technique for conditioning, but I rinse out my conditioner most of the way. And I always style with homemade flaxseed gel, maybe a little strong hold gel over it. Flax gel keeps my hair very well hydrated (yay, easy hair!). If I need something extra for flexibility when it's cold and dry or hot, I like argan oil or avocado on dry hair. Or a mist of water with a bit of "Neutral Protein Filler" added *over* the oil, which sounds odd - but that's what works for me.
      Pretty simple! Maybe not - but I have to use fragrance-free products and dodge an itchy, extremely sensitive scalp, so I let my treatments do the heavy lifting rather than trying to find great products.
      Best wishes - Wendy

    4. Hi Wendy, Re: your answer above . When you say you "smooth your fingers over your hair before washing" do you have any product or oil on your fingers? I would like to try this to hopefully get the shine & softness you mention. How do you do it? Thank you. Betsy

    5. Hello Betsy,
      If you've just massaged your scalp well, there will be some sebum on your fingers. It's not necessarily visible, but it's there and it makes a difference. You smooth your fingers over your hair in the same motion as you were trying to mash (press? does that sound better?) your hair against your head and neck for the top layer - but then you have to get the ends by pulling your fingers and hands over your hair as though you were making ponytails - if your hair is longer than chin-length. Close the fingers over the ends of the sections (ponytails) to be sure fingers have contact with the hair to the very ends. It helps conceptually to visualize you have a color on your fingers after massaging your scalp - and you will be spreading that color over your hair.

  2. I am so happy to see you back on track by posting more awesome stuff!
    I am a true fan, I never ever took care of my hair in 25 years! But once i found this blog, it just changed my entire "hair care" awareness.
    I cant thank you enough for all the information you have kindly written for us !

    I cant wait to see more!

    Now, im going natural with my hair, im not quite sure if its straight or straight/wavy. Im applying heat on it once a week (used to be 3 - 4 times p/w b4)
    I have been using coconut oil, since the very begining it make my hair kinnda stiff... so ive been trying to use it less, leave it less time, combining it with other oils (shampoo and conditioner have protein as well).... and i think i just have protein overload (? Or thats what i think because i google what i was feeling in my hair... so now i wanna know more about moisture... to make a balance maybe...

    Would be nice to know about this topic from an expert like you!

    P.d pardon my grammar english is not my lenguage!

  3. Oh nvmd about my previous comment in this post (hahaha) i made one more clear in "coconut oil makes my hair stiff". Ty for reading anyway!

    Love you WS! You are so smart !!!!!!!!! God bless you and wish you best for taking the time to reply everyone of us!

    1. Hello Hikari,
      I have a post just for you.
      Using oil is a very good idea, but your hair might prefer a different oil.
      If you're using heat, you might need a little protein also, not too often if you're not familiar with using protein - but maybe once every 2-3 weeks for moisture.
      Best wishes - W

  4. My east indian (south to be specific) thick, curly hair HATES coconut oil which is what my entire family uses and which was slathered on me, generously head to toe, growing up (very traditional practice). I randomly came across a pakistani blogger talking about almond oil for hair and how in Pakistan that's what they use. In southern india coconut oil is used extensively. Anyway, on a whim I tried it and OMG it was wonderful. Total eureka moment. Every single point you mentioned in the 'oils that don't work' section is what happens to my hair when using coconut oil and my hair after washing is much healthier and thicker but never softer and many times coarser than before the oil treatment which is bizarre. BUT with almond oil I get the super soft feeling even with my coarse curly texture! It feels divine and well conditioned. I have not experimented with avocado oil maybe someday but for now I am using almond and castor oil only on my scalp in the middle section (like it is traditionally done). What are some other oils that are commonly used??Am I missing out if I stick to just one oil? Like the body needs a variety of nutrients to be healthy is the hair the same way? Am i missing out if I stick to just almond oil?

    1. Hello SV,
      Almond oil is a popular oil - glad you have already found something that works well for you. It has a nice texture and is "lighter" feeling than coconut oil. If it works so well for you, sticking to almond oil is a good plan. Other oils that are commonly used for hair are olive, sunflower, avocado, castor, sesame, and argan oils. Each one can have a very different effect on hair.
      Almond oil and olive oil are fairly similar - sunflower oil is chemically different than almond (and olive), so if you want to assure your hair isn't missing some fatty acids, it's a fairly "safe" oil to try. Coconut oil is very different from almond oil, but in a different way than sunflower oil. Best wishes -W

    2. thank you for the reply! sunflower oil huh never thought of using that! is there unrefined sunflower oil or does it even matter? thanks a lot for replying back.

  5. Hi Wendy,

    This has been on my mind lately and I have spent a lot of nights trying to come to a conclusion with the current info available online, but without any luck. I'm hoping you can give us some of your wisdom.

    From your previous posts we know that some oils do actually penetrate into the hair shaft, making the hair more hydrophobic and less symptomatic of hair that is too porous.

    I know this question has been posed before, but from what I at least understand your answers have been purely speculative so far (and understandably so).

    My question is, can penetrative oils like coconut & olive penetrate through hair coated with silicones? If so, by what mechanism? Is there any way we can test this on the blog and put the debate to rest, for good?

    From what I understand silicones bind to the hair, and most cannot be removed without proper surfacants; so how could the triglycerides in oils move through silicones?

    I guess to some degree my logic is since there are tons of hair product formulations that incorporate both oils and silicones, rationally it wouldn't make sense for them to do this if silicones mitigate the restorative properties of some oils.

    Is it all tactical marketing to appeal to the "natural" consumer craze or can these ingredients both work together without compromising each of the benefits they bring to the table?

    1. Hello Evelyn,
      Silicones like dimethicone and plant oils do not mix. What that means to the unaided eye is that when you mix them, the clear oils turn milky-looking and under a microscope, you'd see droplets of each rather than a smoothly blended fluid.

      Coconut oil or Capric or Caprylic triglycerides (in coconut oil) are polar, they are actively attracted to hair's proteins in the same way the opposite ends of magnets are attracted to each other - as a result they may be more likely to move through products on the hair. This isn't something people tend to test, so I don't have a citation, but it's the basis for a lot of separation processes in organic chemistry - separating things based on their polarity.

      Oils need a detergent to be removed from hair too, not just silicones. Clay seems able to remove silicone residue as well. It's not just silicones that can be occlusive, oils do the same thing. To some extent, natural oils tend to dry out (or soak in partly) so it feels like they've gone, but some residue remains. That's the same process as the slow drying of oil-based wood stains for home siding or shingles (usually flax oil or at least based on it). Some oils dry out more than others.

      When silicone and plant oils are combined in a product, they are emulsified - little droplets suspended in the product. Each has access to the hair - more or less depending on which one there is more of in the product. I don't see the inclusion of silicone as taking away completely from the restorative property of the Coconut oil or Capric or Caprylic triglycerides completely because they both have access to the hair. The purpose of the silicone ingredient is to increase lubrication and shine. Lubrication is very important for maintenance of long hair, or of very curly hair, very tangly hair. The silicone is added for the function of "slip." I *do* notice a change if I add a small amount of silicone to a product with other oils (including coconut in this case). So I can't say there is no difference because I know there is. But the original result from the plant oils is not lost completely. The "product" I'm referring to was an oil pomade type product. When I added silicone, there was more "slip" but the same treatment-time produced a more-slippery-but-less-defined result. If "more slippery" had been the only goal, it would have been achieved.

      I think silicones and plant oils can coexist peacefully - if a person likes the result from a product formula which contains both. Formula matters so much that it's not always possible to rely on inclusion or exclusion of a single ingredient or ingredient class. Having that great recipe can make all the difference.

      Ideally, we lean towards things that provide hydration and manage porosity and hydrophobic and hydrophilic behavior in our hair. But if silicones work well for somebody - then they're like putting some icing or decorations on a cake - best in moderation. Because silicones are too large to soak in, they stay on the hair's surface to provide lubrication. As long as we don't use silicones to solve every single problem, it should be possible to find a balance of natural oils, cleansers appropriate for one's unique skin and hair, and if there is a silicone-containing product a person likes, there should be a place for it as well. Knowing which cleansers to use allows a person to hit "restart" if it seems necessary, which is very handy.
      That was long and rambling and I hope it came close to answering your question. Best wishes - Wendy

  6. Hello! I am having an extremely difficult time with my hair in the last three months. I am from Brazil, last year I was living in California and now I am in Italy. Since I got in Italy I noticed a big hair loss. I thought my hair was falling - from the scalp - but now I can see this little strands all over my head then I realized my hair is actually breaking.
    I've been passing through so many changes like my diet changed, weather is different in every place, shower water (hard/soft), strees, hormones... so I can't figure it out what is the real cause of my problems.

    To find a solution I've doing some reading about natural ways to take care of your hair and I've tried I few things but looks like nothing is really helping.
    I already tried: trimming, coconut oil, jojoba oil, banana + honey mask, avocado + honey mask, olive oil, baking soda, apple vinegar, rosemary tea.

    The major reasons to making all this damage could be the cold weather and the hard water. And because is cold outside we use heather inside of all places so I guess this takes away the humidity of the air (and the hair) right!?

    I also made the porosity test (hair strand in glass of water) and I think my hair has low porosity. Reading about porosity this result makes sense.
    SO, consediring HARD WATER + LOW POROSITY + HAIR BREAKAGE, what should I try next?

    What do you think? I'm desperate!

    Thank you!

    1. Hello, You have all the right things in consideration. But your hair may react badly to some of the treatments you have tried. For example, some hair reacts very badly to baking soda, or coconut oil or olive oil. For hard water, think of using a hard water shampoo or dilute acidic rinse every 2-3 weeks. Recipes are here:
      For oil treatments, use the post above as a guideline for choosing an oil. If your hair responded well to coconut oil or olive oil - select one of those oils and use it as a treatment before washing every 1-2 weeks. There are tips here for how to do that:
      Your hair may need some protein for the less humid climate. You can use beer for a natural treatment which is not too strong. Hair that needs protein may break easily.
      For a very strong protein treatment, gelatin works well - but you should test it on a small strand first to make sure it will not make your hair feel stiff or dry. People often need a deep conditioner after using a strong protein treatment. (First recipe on this page):

      If you are not using any styling products, you might need a leave-in conditioner or hair gel to provide hydration (moisture). If you prefer natural products, flax seed gel can provide hydration. Irish moss gel is another good, natural, homemade product for hydration. I hope that helps - good luck! WS

  7. Hi Wendy I'm curious if the nature of all hair conditioners are to bring out the natural pattern in hair. I would think smoothing the cuticle inherently makes this happen. I have a bizarre hard to deal with wave pattern in my hair that I would like more relaxed. I've always attacked it with a lot of conditioning products to attempt to relax it, but maybe what I need is less, or different types of conditioners? This makes sense in my brain because styling products that are high in silicones seem to make my hair smoother, yes, but also very curly and wavy beyond belief. Thoughts?

    1. Hello Patrick, Conditioners tend to lubrication hair, which helps hairs line up neatly with neighboring hairs to form defined wave or curl. If you want conditioner to create less wave, you probably need a heavier conditioner. That might be a thicker, heavier product, or a product containing starches and/or other polymers. An example of that would be something like Aveda Smooth Infusion, Bumble & Bumble Straight Blow Dry, TIGI Bedhead Straighten Out. A bit of a pomade or texturizing styling cream combed into wet hair might also have the desired elongating effect - those tend to be products designed for men, but you have to be careful choosing the product (read the label description and do a little online research) to get the right "finish" - some have a dry, stiff look, others might have a wet, sculpted or somewhat firm (immobile) look. Whereas the products designed as styling creams/balms made for women or "unisex" are geared towards a more flexible result. Good luck! -W

  8. Thanks Wendy, an issue I have with a lot of products is they contain a lot of water, which either takes a long time to dry (hours in the humidity) or the water itself creates facilitates the curl pattern of the hair.

    1. In that case, you might want to consider some sort of styling paste or texturizing product rather than a water-based product. Those tend to be thick and meant to do some shaping and molding upon application, as well as provide hold later on, so the water content is lower. I can't suggest a particular product offhand.

    2. what are your thoughts on baobab oil for 2c/3a hair? its not super thick, i think im low - med porosity.

    3. Hello, I am working on updating my oils chart and baobab oil will be included. It is likely to have good hair-penetration, which can be softening. I think it might perform more like palm kernel oil or coconut oil due to its higher saturated fat content than like sunflower or olive oil.