Cover Story Hair

The Ultimate Debate—to Oil or Not to Oil?

Is oil good or bad for your hair? We dissect this deeply ingrained hair ritual and give you the lowdown on whether oil’s well or not.

Text: Shweta Vepa Vyas

Your grandmother swore by it, but your current hairstylist tells you otherwise. When it comes to oiling your hair, clearly the opinion is divided, which leaves you decidedly in a lurch. Should you be relying on age-old wisdom or new-age research? We decided to investigate, so without further ado, read on for what we found.

The goodness of oiling

A head massage is extremely relaxing and can help release all that pent up stress, which ultimately contributes to your hair health in the long run.

To cut a long story short, oil essentially benefits the hair in two ways—first up, and the most obvious, is that a good hair oil delivers nutrients directly onto the scalp. More so, if it’s well-heated, as it allows for better penetration. Secondly, a good head massage gives your blood circulation a boost, and all that extra blood rushing to your scalp will further nourish the hair.

Celebrity hairstylist Hiral Bhatia, who regularly works with Bollywood celebrities such as Sonam Kapoor, Priyanka Chopra and Alia Bhatt to name a few, is no stranger to the different myths surrounding hair oil. “Oil is not something that damages the hair—it is not bad unless you only oil your scalp and massage well. What damages hair is the removal of certain types of oil,” she states. Hiral firmly believes that a massage with a light oil is beneficial: “A lot of oils available in the market are way too thick and sticky, which makes their molecules too large to enter the hair or scalp. These, in no way, benefit the hair. However, there are also a lot of oils that are non sticky and way lighter too. Massaging your scalp with these or adding a drop or two of these on your hair is good.”

Of course, we’d all unanimously agree that the best part about oiling is undoubtedly the massage. A head massage is extremely relaxing and can help release all that pent up stress—which ultimately contributes to your hair health in the long run.

The bad effects—if any?

It’s not so much about the oil but how you apply it that gives oil it a bad name. Typically, oil should be applied on the roots of your hair. Applying oil on the mid lengths and ends will cause you to scrub the shafts excessively to get rid of the stickiness. Hiral points out, “Rigorous scrubbing of your mid lengths and ends while shampooing damages the hair cuticles, which leaves the ends looking dull and could even lead to breakage. You may also end up getting rid of the natural oils from the scalp and hair over a period of time.”

The no-nos for oiling

Then of course, there are those at the far end of the spectrum who believe that oil is an absolute no-no. Dr Sruthi Gondi, dermatologist and founder and managing director, Science of Skin, Hyderabad does not recommend the practice of oiling hair at all. She believes that when you start applying hair oil regularly, the oil forms a layer on every strand, making it sticky and thus allowing dust particles and foreign bodies to stick to the hair. “These particles get deposited at the base of the hair and trigger the formation of dandruff. As a result, the hair strands are loosened from the roots. Once you comb your hair, you will notice it starts falling. Even the nutrient supply to the hair is insufficient once the strands are loosened from the roots. As a result, the hair gets weak and starts falling, leading to bald patches,” she warns.

Dr Sruthi believes that the effects of excessive oiling are not seen immediately but will start showing in a year or two. Instead of oil, she suggests applying a moisturising conditioner to keep the hair hydrated and healthy.

The final verdict

So, while there maybe two opposing views on whether oiling is good or bad, it’s always advisable to take the middle path. Hair issues crop up due to oiling only when it’s done excessively. If you must apply oil, ensure that it’s a good quality, light-textured oil that can seep through the roots. Most importantly, the oil needs to be applied just to the roots; applying on the mid lengths and ends serves no real purpose apart from causing you to shampoo vigorously later on.

Unlike our grandmother’s advice, oil doesn’t need to be left on the scalp overnight—just two hours is enough to do the job. Make sure you heat it before application so that it gets absorbed. Also, make sure your scalp is clean before application. A dirty scalp mixed with oil is a disaster waiting to happen! Not only will this cause dandruff, but can also cause rashes and clog the hair roots, again causing hair to fall. Depending upon your hair texture, oiling once or twice a week should suffice. Complete avoidance of oil is necessary only if you have hyper-sensitive skin that is prone to breakouts—the oil in such cases can lead to breakouts on areas like the scalp, forehead and back.

So long as you’re mindful about the correct way of oiling, you can rest assured that it’ll do your tresses a whole lot of good.

Do’s and don’ts of oiling

Some pointers you need to keep in mind the next time you oil your hair:

Do’s

  • Do ensure that the oil you use is 100 per cent pure and natural. Non-organic brands may add fillers which often include harmful chemicals which are detrimental in the long run.
  • Do dilute the essential oils prior to application. They can be blended with base oils or carrier oils. Essential oils are highly concentrated and should never be used undiluted on the skin as they can irritate the skin and, in severe cases, also burn the skin. The ideal ratio is about 3-4 drops of essential oil in 10 ml of base oil.
  • Do a patch test before using any new oil, in particular an essential oil to ensure that it suits your skin.
  • Do use a conditioner once you’ve washed your hair after oiling, as this will seal in the moisture in the hair strands.

Don’ts

  • Don’t ingest essential oils, despite what you may have seen online. Topical oils are just meant for external application.
  • Don’t apply essential oils to mucous membranes, eyes or directly into the ears. Some of these oils are extremely potent and can cause severe irritation to the aforementioned areas.

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Editorial Team