Pictured: Aeleise Harris Ollarvia of Black Curl Magic, Co-Founder of #30DayHairDetox
If you tend to keep close tabs on all of the consumable media dealing with the latest “healthy hair discourse,” you’ve probably realized that the abundance of textured hair advice online can be a bit of a mixed bag. And it’s okay, we can say it--it’s a lot to keep up with. Social media comment sections are overflowing with (occasionally heated) debates on hair maintenance. Shampoo with sulfates vs. without (or not using shampoo at all), brushing vs. not brushing, shopping for products solely through the hair typing system vs. shopping based on the individual’s specific head of hair, etc. In recent months, one of the most contentious topics the community has grappled with is not using moisturizing/styling products at all.
A quick dive into YouTube’s natural hair rabbit hole will uncover page after page of content discussing whether or not naturals should kick all oils and butters to the curb. Yes, that means no leave-ins, no creams, no moisturizers, and certainly no sealing oils--just shampoo, conditioner, a deep conditioner, and maybe a little gel if you’re feeling fancy. On one hand, you have people who subscribe to the idea that oils do not moisturize hair, but block the hair from receiving moisture, and are even “bad” for hair. On the other hand, it’s also a common thought that oils are the key to “sealing” moisture into textured hair, particularly in the case of high porosity hair, among a variety of other uses.
Are oils “bad” for your hair?
So that leads us to this question: are oils “bad” for your hair? According to professional stylists and chemists, the answer is mostly no (let the product junkies rejoice!). But there is a bit of a grey area, of course.
In a YouTube video weighing in on the debate, cosmetic chemist Tonya Lane says that the idea that oils are harmful to your hair is “crazy.” “In our hair care regimen, oils are designed to either penetrate the hair or to protect the hair. And our hair is made up of oils.” Lane notes, of course, that there are other components like protein and keratin, but there are tons of oils in hair, as well. “There’s cholesterol, there’s ceramide, there’s fatty acids, there’s triglycerides. All of those are oils.” Typically when it comes to oils that penetrate the hair strand, Lane says those are going to be oils like coconut, avocado, olive, and babassu. Because of their molecular makeup, they can easily fit between the hair’s cuticles not to moisturize, but to fend off hygral fatigue, or holes in the cuticles caused by repeated swelling and shrinking.
And don’t disregard those oils that “sit on top” of the hair. They’re called polyunsaturated fatty acids, and Lane explains how they can be useful in textured hair care. “Even though these oils don’t really penetrate the hair, they do create a film around the hair that protects the hair. For a long time, people thought that films on the hair were a bad thing, but no, they’re actually really good. They also reduce the surface friction of the hair [the ability for the hair strands to glide past one another and not tangle].” Oils that fall under this category would be ones like hemp, sunflower, safflower, and grapeseed.
What “no oils or butters” really means
Overall, oils are just as important as other products in a balanced hair routine, but the key lies in using the right kind of product, and using it properly. Expert stylists Aisha Strickland and Aeleise Harris Ollarvia of Black Curl Magic tackled the “no oils or butters” convo on a livestream in March in which they clarified what “no oils or butters” really means. Strickland and Harris Ollarvia are founders of the #30DayHairDetox which challenges naturals to wash with shampoo (even better, a clarifying shampoo) and to avoid applying raw butters and oils to the hair. “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,” Harris Ollarvia says in the 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.” In other words, those homemade shea butter deep conditioners might not give you the results you think it will--the molecules are too big. But using a moisturizing product with a well-processed shea butter derivative, on the other hand, is perfectly acceptable.
“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” - Harris Ollarvia
What does using no oils or butters do to hair?
As far as the consensus for using no oils, butters, or moisturizing products from the people who have tried it, the method has received mixed reviews to say the least. Some people really enjoy the newfound freedom and pride in their hair texture sans products, like beauty influencer and entrepreneur Jade Kendle, and for others like Danielle Glover aka Star Puppy, forgoing all traces of oils and butters causes more stress than it’s worth. Danielle mentions the lack of malleability her 4C hair had without these products, as well as intense shrinkage and a “dry” feeling.
If there’s one overarching point to take away from this debate, it’s this: natural hair care methods are not all encompassing. If your current routine is taking care of your hair’s needs and you and/or your stylist see no signs of damage (i.e. breakage, dryness, curl pattern loss, hair loss, etc.), then there is no need to trash your leave-ins, curl creams, or styling butters anytime soon. The most important method to follow is the one that works for you and your hair.
How do oils and butters work for your hair? Have you tried cutting raw oils and raw butters out of your regimen?
Sound off in the comments.