Curly hair, and African-American hair in particular, can be dry. Often, products aimed for the latter contain not only mineral oil, but petrolatum, lanolin and sometimes vegetable oils. Petrolatum is greasy and contains wax; lanolin is a greasy, sticky wax and both can be hard to remove from hair without clarifying.
Cosmetic (USP/BP) mineral oil used on its own can be light and so enhance curls, moisturize hair and can be removed easily and completely with one wash with sulfate-free shampoo or conditioner only, when used in small amounts. It is non-drying oil, not a liquid wax like jojoba oil. A drying oil can leave “a dry, hard and tough film” on hair and have environmental consequences as well.
Fixing Fragile Coils
African-American hair is often said to be more fragile that other hair types, yet there are no actual differences between it and Caucasian and Asian hair, except that it has less apparent moisture, not less protein. It is believed that the difference in observed fragility is down to hair care practices. One of the hair care practices mentioned, aside from the obvious ones like chemical processing, and combing and brushing, or a less obvious one like over twisting hair, is the manipulation of the hair when using styling aids.
Because of its emollient, moisturizing and detangling properties, using mineral oil for hair can reduce the friction and breakage manipulation can cause when using styling aids. Better curl formation can result by using mineral oil alone, without the need of styling aids.
Mineral Oil Benefits for Hair
Mineral oil cannot repair damage. No product can do that. It can help keep moisture in the hair, making it feel softer, aid in detangling and add shine.
Mineral oil can rehydrate dry hair. If a small amount (small drops) are evenly applied to very damp or fairly wet hair for curly girls, the oil can help keep moisture in the hair by slowing down moisture evaporation and allow good curl retention. It also slows, but does not seal out, access to the hair by atmospheric moisture, helping to prevent frizz. For hair with a good moisture level, it can be used on dry hair to help maintain that level.
There is no reason why mineral oil should not help moisturize even severely damaged hair caused by chemical processing, or heat styling, when used on very damp or wet hair. Damaged hair can be very dry. The cuticles, having been compromised by the damage, are unable to keep moisture in the hair well, even if they are closed with an acidic rinse. Mineral oil cannot repair damage. No product can do that. It can help keep moisture in the hair, making it feel softer, aid in detangling and add shine.
Mineral oil is not sticky. Used in small amounts it is not greasy either which can result in hair looking stringy. Mineral oil can reduce and eliminate tangles and is antistatic. It can work effectively on hair that has been conditioned or unconditioned. It works most effectively when hair does not have a lot of conditioner on it at one time, or residue (build-up), and when it is not combined with other oils. Reapplication between washes is usually not necessary. The hair can be moisturized enough, to not feel or look dry.
Mineral oil is known to moisturize skin more effectively, than vegetable oils or silicones. It is also known in the cosmetic industry for: ease of spreading; shine; and slip thereby reducing friction.
The best choice of mineral oil is one with the least ingredients because it is the mineral oil itself that is the effective ingredient wanted. Other ingredients may cause build-up or cause hair to look greasy. Baby oil is often sold with just two ingredients, paraffinum liquidum (mineral oil), and fragrance. Sometimes tocopheral actetate (vitamin E) is listed. It is used as a stabilizer for cosmetic mineral oil and is often not listed.
USP/BP mineral oil is safe, classified as natural, can be biodegradable, and by using it in such small quantities, it is managing a limited resource very well. There is really no downside to it at all.
Try out some mineral oil today and let us know how your hair responds!
For more information about mineral oil and baby oil, check out KTani's blog!