Photo Courtesy of Keshia Langevillier
Greasing the scalp and slathering oils on tight coils and curly strands has historical roots for black Americans; but as we have become more knowledgeable about the benefits of natural oils, oiling the scalp has become a common practice among people of all ethnicities to maintain a healthy scalp. In the book Hair Story  by Ayanna Byrd and Lori Tharps, there is an extensive look at the history of hair care practices among black Americans. During slavery, blacks no longer had access to the palm oil they would use in Africa to care for their hair, so they began to use other oil-based products like “bacon grease and butter to condition and soften the hair, prepare it for straightening and make it shine.” Fast forward to today, and the use of grease continues to be used among black Americans to add shine, protect the hair from the hot comb, and lubricate the scalp.
Grease vs. oil

Although the terms “grease” and “oil” are oftentimes used synonymously, for the purpose of this article I am going to define the terms, because they actually represent two different categories of products.

  • Grease is a term used to describe heavy pomades that are thick in consistency. They typically include ingredients like petroleum and mineral oil.
  • Oils are lighter than grease and are produced in a liquid form. They typically include natural oils that absorb into the scalp and hair. 

Is greasing your scalp the solution?

We put a lot of emphasis on the scalp when it comes to use of grease and oil. In addition to the historical references, applying grease to the scalp comes from the belief that if the scalp is dry or flaky, adding grease will cure the dryness and get rid of the flakes, but this practice can actually make the scalp condition worse. Grease will provide a temporary shine or give the appearance that flakes have disappeared, but in reality the grease can clog hair follicles, accumulate on the scalp, and plaster flakes to the scalp, only making the existing scalp condition worse. If you are experiencing the symptoms of a dry or flaky scalp, it is more likely a result of an imbalance in your scalp’s pH or a dysfunction of the sebaceous glands. It is important to first consult with someone about the cause of the symptoms and from there you will be given recommendations that can effectively treat the symptoms and give you long term results. If you are going to apply something to the scalp to assist in balancing the pH of the scalp you should stick to oils.

applying grease to the scalp comes from the belief that if the scalp is dry or flaky, adding grease will cure the dryness and get rid of the flakes, but this practice can actually make the scalp condition worse.

How do you use oils?

Oil your ends

In general, oiling the scalp is not necessary because our sebaceous glands produce sebum. Sebum is a slightly acidic oil that lubricates our strands closest to the scalp and guards against lost moisture. Sebum is able to effectively lubricate straighter hair strands from the root to the end. In curlier hair patterns, the sebum cannot effectively travel around the loops, curves, and coils in the hair. As a result, the hair closest to the root is well lubricated, but the ends of the hair still lack lubrication, making them susceptible to breakage. To protect the hair from damage and to keep it healthy, the focus should be applying oil to the ends of the hair.

Moisturize daily

We need to moisturize our hair daily. A moisturizer should contain water, oils for lubrication and sealing in moisture, a stimulant (encourage cell replication), and optional humectants (which pull moisture from the air). Heavy greases, pomades, or products that contain petroleum and mineral oil coat the hair but do not moisturize it. Avoid leave-in conditioners and products with protein for daily application. Too much protein has a drying effect.

Add essential oil

A working knowledge of the use and benefits of certain oils can enhance your current hair care regimen and add a boost to the ingredients in your current products. Several drops of an essential oil or extract to a commercial product or a customized blend of your own can enhance the quality and condition of your hair and scalp.

Wet and warm hair

When using essential oils, it is best for the head and hair to be wet and warm. Warming of essential oils can kill their healing properties and is not required for them to be effective.

Use a carrier oil

Carrier oil is used to dilute essential oils when creating a mixture of oils. The carrier oil protects the skin from the potency of the essential oils, which can burn the skin or cause severe reactions if used alone. Carrier oil also helps with even distribution of the essential oil and smooth absorption into the skin and scalp. Ninety percent of an oil mixture should be a carrier oil and the remaining 10% is your essential oil. When creating your mixture the essential oil may be difficult to detect, but once the mixture sits overnight or for a couple of days, the oils combine and it's easier to detect the smell of an essential oil.

Common carrier oils and essential oils

  • Coconut oil- an emollient for all hair types and softens the hair
  • Jojoba oil- a waxy substance that is similar to sebum, has a high penetration into the scalp, and balances the pH of the scalp and controls flaking
  • Extra virgin olive oil- absorbs well, soothes to the scalp, contains vitamin E and fatty acids omega -3, -6 and -9, and provides moisture, elasticity and shine to the hair
  • Shea butter- an excellent emollient that prevents dryness, strengthens the hair, regenerates skin cells, helps with healing, and absorbs well into the hair and scalp
  • Castor oil- contains anti-inflammatory and antibacterial properties and is rich in omega-6 essential fatty acids, which boosts blood circulation to the follicles leading to faster hair growth

These are just some of the common oils that you will see in your product. They can also be used to create your own formulations. Remember, most essential oils should be diluted with a carrier oil and should not be used alone, because it can burn the skin or cause a serious reaction. Let’s explore some of these oils and herbs:

  • Peppermint- has antiseptic properties, stimulates the scalp and creates a cooling effect. This oil restores balance to an oily scalp. It should be avoided on clients who are pregnant because of the antispasmodic properties (can cause muscle spasms).
  • Rosemary- is a strong stimulant for hair growth, has antioxidant and antimicrobial properties, and is great for dandruff
  • Tea tree oil- is highly effective antifungal; can create a powerful soothing and cleansing agent.  It also stimulates the scalp and fights dandruff and flaking.

Having a working knowledge of oils and their properties helps you to choose the best products so that you can achieve your hair goals. Don't want to mix your own oils? Try the Peppermint Chamomile and Coconut Lavender from my new hair care line AnnCarol

Have you tried oil and grease on your scalp? How do you use oils now?

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