A quick search on the internet on oils for your hair will reveal various articles on the many ways oils can be beneficial to your hair. However, in the natural hair community, nothing is set in stone. One ingredient touted as beneficial to your hair today, may be canceled by the community for having negative effects tomorrow. And oils are not exempted from these discussions. While using oils on our hair is a tradition that has been practiced for ages, some natural hair experts in this day weigh in that oils can be bad for our hair. This article will focus on experts’ opinions on both sides of the divide and draw a balanced conclusion.
Why you should stop using oils, according to natural hair experts
Natural hair experts and founders of Black Girl Curls, Aeleise Ollarvia and Aishia Strickland flag the use of natural oils such as shea butter and coconut oil on your hair. “Stop with the coconut oil and shea butter,” Ollarvia said point-blank. This opinion, when shared on BlackDoctor, went viral and led to the #30DayHairDetox, also referred to as the “No Oils, No Butters Challenge,” in which people give up raw shea butter, raw coconut oil, Eco Styler, and products that include them in the top 5 ingredients for 30 days.
To clarify, “No butters, no oils means no raw oils, no raw butters. And by ‘raw’ we mean single ingredient, or concoctions that somebody made in their kitchen,” Ollarvia said on a livestream. “We’re not necessarily talking about the use of well-formulated products that are formulated with high quality processed butters and oils in them. Because there is a very big difference between products that use quality processed shea butter and cheaply processed shea butter.”
She and Strickland further highlight seven reasons you should not use these oil and butter on your hair.
1. Oils are heavy
Coconut oil and shea butter are heavy when compared to other oils and butter. Ollarvia says, “Shea butter and coconut oil used the way most consumers do suffocates the hair and scalp. Moisture = water. Oil = sealant. If you don’t clarify the oil layer off of the hair and allow water to get into the cuticle you’re moisturizing dry hair.”
2. Oils can dry out the hair
According to Ollarvia, “Water evaporates in 4-7 days from hair so adding coconut oil or shea butter to dry hair then co-washing or using weaker sulfate-free shampoos contributes to the experience of dry hair.”
3. Oils can leave your hair frizzy
Strickland and Ollarvia say that hair that is shampooed and sealed with either coconut oil or shea butter is blocked from absorbing any moisture from the atmosphere. Ollarvia further explains, “Once the water stored in the hair evaporates [after] 4-7 days, the hair reaches out to the atmosphere for water (e.g. dry, rough, frizzy hair).”
4. Oils do not provide the hair with moisture
As you may have read, oils and shea butter act as sealants, which means they lock in moisture from water or other forms of moisture like a moisturizing cream. Ollarvia says, “There’s no need for oils (natural or petroleum based) on the hair but for sealing or lubrication. A healthy scalp contains sebaceous glands that provide a protective layer for the scalp skin. Light oils that form a protective barrier around the hair strand are fine. What’s not okay is an absorbed oil (coconut oil and shea butter) that blocks water out of the hair strand.”
5. You are using too much oil/shea butter
As the famous saying goes, too much of anything is good for nothing.
6. Oils are not water-soluble
Coconut oil and shea butter are hydrophobic, that is, they do not mix with water. This can lead to your hair looking greasy.
7. Oils cause build-up
Using coconut oil and/or shea butter too often can cause them to leave build-up in your hair. Strickland says that coupled with the fact that many naturals prefer to use sulfate-free shampoos to wash their hair, that is, shampoos that are not strong to remove the build-ups, the end result is permanently dry hair. Ollarvia recommends that reducing or eliminating the use of coconut oil and shea butter eliminates the need for harsh shampoos.
A different opinion, according to a cosmetic chemist
Cosmetic chemist and founder of Curl Chemistry, Tonya Lane, shares a different perspective. In fact, she says it is “crazy” to ditch the use of oils in your hair care routine. In her YouTube video, she breaks down the composition of the types of oils that are used for hair. The first type of oils are saturated fatty acids and monounsaturated fatty acids and they include coconut, avocado, olive, and Babassu oils. Lane explains, “Those two are the best oils for our hair if you’re trying to have oils that penetrate into the hair.”
The second type is polyunsaturated fatty acids. These are oils that do not penetrate your hair, rather they create a film on top that coats the hair. Usually, many naturals think it is a red flag when the oil sits on your hair instead of penetrating it. Lane corrects that notion by stating it is actually a good thing as the oil protects the hair by reducing friction on the surface. She says when your hair is dry and is not coated with oils to help the hair glide across each other, it can cause tangles and ultimately, breakage. “So you want a nice film on the hair a.k.a oils…they’re going to help the hair glide past each other without tangling up and causing breakage.” These types of oils include hemp, sunflower, safflower, and grapeseed oils.
How to use oils on natural hair
So this brings us back to the question: Are oils bad for your hair? The answer to this depends on the type of oil used, how it is used and your hair’s reaction to it. Ollarvia clarifies that neither she nor Strickland hates oils. They state that oils and butter can be moisturizing as long as they are not applied to dry hair. This means that you should dampen your hair with water or any other moisturizer before applying your oil.
Also, some naturals may find that penetrating oils like coconut oil dry their hair, among other problems. For such people, Lane recommends that they replace the coconut oil with Babassu oil as the latter contains high lauric acid that will deeply penetrate the hair strands without drying it. Ollarvia also suggests, “alternative ingredients like aloe vera, marshmallow root, jojoba oil, almond oil, etc. that are water-soluble or able to be easily removed with a light cleanser serve the hair better.”
What has your experience been with using hair oils? Do share in the comments.