Monday, June 24, 2013

Oils – Which Ones Soak In vs. Coat the Hair?

Updated: June 2016
Plant oils are emollients used to soften hair or add “plasticity” or pliability. Pliable hair bends easily without breaking. Hair with oils applied to it lines up better with neighboring hairs thanks to the lubricating properties of oils (slip). Oils generally increase glossiness. When water is able to get inside the hair easily, it swells on the inside. But the cuticle layer on the outside cannot expand, so the cuticle scales are forced to stand up - a position in which the cuticles are easily broken and the hair is more porous. Oils which penetrate into hair make the hair proteins more hydrophobic (water-repelling). Healthy, strong hair is naturally hydrophobic. Normal and lower porosity hair is somewhat hydrophobic. Hydrophobicity (water-repelling) is a matter of balance. What we don't want is for our hair to take on too much water, too quickly. That's the problem. Hair gets dehydrated. Re-hydrating hair is a good thing. But when hair is porous, it takes on more water than is good for it, too quickly and that's when the swelling occurs. 

Almost any oil will help repel water, but they do it either by sitting on your hair as a film, or by soaking in slightly - penetrating the hair shaft.


Can we completely predict the behavior of any oil in any given person's hair? Seems doubtful. Please don't look at this chart and decide certain oils are not for you try them first. You never know what your hair is going to like without giving it a chance. This chart is organized with oils that have been demonstrated to penetrate hair at the top (green). You'll notice that they either have polar triglycerides or else high percentages of monosaturated fats.
©Science-y Hair Blog 2013
If you have dry, porous, rough-feeling, or coarse hair, you may love the penetrating oils. If your hair has become porous from environmental damage (sun, heat, hot styling tools, wind), you will probably like some penetrating oils at least on the ends of your hair. If you have fine or soft hair which is easily over-conditioned, those same oils may make your hair feel greasy and lank unless used in very small amounts. Lower porosity hair may do better with blends of penetrating oils and less-penetrating oils.

Triglycerides and hair penetration:
One key to whether or not an oil penetrates into the hair is the amount of triglyceride and short-chain fatty acids it contains – as well as how the components of the triglyceride are arranged. Lipid molecules need to be small to penetrate into hair – less than 18-20 carbon atoms, but that's not the only variable. Oils are not composed merely of one kind of fat (let’s call them lipids because it sounds prettier) – they’re composed of many different lipid “ingredients.” Triglycerides in oils are 3 fatty acid molecules attached to a glycerol “backbone.” The short-chain lipids – even if they are not triglycerides - are usually straight chains with no branching bits, making them small, compact 
Additionally, triglyceride components in plant oils can be polar (slightly positively charged) and that allows them to be attracted to the polar (negatively charged) proteins in your hair. Usually oils are non-polar and this is a big difference in chemistry to have an electrostatic (+ and -) interaction versus just having some oil form a film over your hair! This helps those triglycerides be actively pulled through the cuticle-membrane complex over your hair shafts to the inner portions. 

Fat saturation and oil penetration of hair:
In addition to the above and as a rule of thumb, monounsaturated fats tend to be better at penetrating your hair than polyunsaturated fats. What that really means is that these small, compact (non-branching) molecules penetrate the hair more deeply whereas larger lipids referred to above may only reside in the cuticle layers of your hair or on top because they are less compact and more branching. If your hair needs a great deal of softening and protection from swelling in water, the deeper-penetrating oils are a better choice. But if your hair is easier to maintain in good condition, having oils that only reside in and on the outermost cuticle layers is still going to give you benefits.

Which fatty acids to look for?:

Oils are composed of differing amounts of fatty acids. Oils which penetrate hair tend to contain larger amounts of fatty acids like lauric acid, caprylic acid, palmitic acid, myristic acid, oleic acid, or linloeic acid.

How to use this chart: 1) At the top of the chart are oils that have been demonstrated in lab tests to penetrate the hair, and which should, based on their chemistry - those oils are highlighted in green. They are high in triglycerides and/or contain monosaturated lipids which can penetrate below cuticles. 2) Below that are are oils with some penetration (highlighted in blue) - including olive oil which has been documented to penetrate the hair. These are arranged based on their lipid composition from more likely to penetrate (top of that list) to less likely at the bottom of that list. 3) At the end of the list is oils which do not penetrate the hair based on lab tests and/or their chemistry. They are highlighted in pink. 3) The chart provides percentages of the relevant components of the oils if you are interested. 

-Lipids less than 18 carbons long: The percentage of the oil which is small enough to seep under your cuticles.
-Polar triglycerides: The polar triglycerides are the ones that soak in - you want higher amounts of these for a penetrating oil.
-% Monosaturated lipids: Monosaturated lipids are also are more likely to penetrate the hair.
-Pentration improves with heat?: For some of these oils, I have data on this and I reported it.
-Hair penetration documented by research?: Those oils which have been tested in a lab on human hair are indicated here. 


Oils with high penetration
% Lipids that can “seep” under cuticles
Triglycerides
Polar triglycerides (these penetrate hair)
% Monosaturated lipids
Penetration improves with heat?
Hair penetration documented by research
Coconut oil
95%
Yes (64%)
Yes
6%
Yes
Yes, excellent
Ucuuba butter
Yes (~70%)
Possibly
~99%
unknown
Yes, good
Sunflower oil
91%
14-40%
Yes
Yes, good and no, depending on the study
Palm kernel oil (i.e. Red Palm Oil
98%
Yes (56%)
Yes
15%
likely
Not documented, likely based on chemistry
Capric / Caprylic triglycerides
NA
Yes
Yes
Unknown
Not documented, but if extracted from coconut oil, should penetrate
Babbasu oil
~100%
Yes (12%)
Yes
16%
Possible
Not documented
Oils with some penetration, in decreasing order (based on lipid composition)
% Lipids less than 18 carbons long
Triglycerides?
Polar triglycerides?
% Monosaturated lipids
Penetration improves with heat?
Hair penetration documented by research
Castor oil (Not sure castor oil belongs at the top of the listtriglyceriges are confounding, draw your own conclusions)
15%
Yes (86-90%)
Yes
7%
Unknown
Not documented. Chemical structure not ideal for penetration but possible???
Olive oil
94%
65-80%
Possible
Yes, good
Avocado oil
~100%
Yes
Yes
55-75%
Possible
Not documented
Corn oil
~80%
Yes (12%)
Yes
19-49%
Possible
Not documented
Canola oil
100%
60%
Unknown
Not documented
Mustard seed oil
44.90%
66%
Unknown
Not documented
Sweet almond oil
~99%
70%
Unknown
Not documented
Apricot kernel oil
~100%
~73%
Unknown
Not documented
Argan oil
98%
~45%
Unknown
Not documented
Sesame seed oil
~86%
40-50%
Unknown
Not documented
Shea butter
~98%
Yes
No
~50%
Unknown
Not documented
Peanut oil
~87%
~55%
Unknown
Not documented
Kokum butter
~100%
39-41%
Unknown
Not documented
Grapeseed oil
99%
12-25%
Unknown
Not documented
Rose hip oil
~97%
15%
Unknown
Not documented
Hemp seed oil
~100%
12%
Unknown
Not documented
Flax seed (linseed) oil
99%
12-34%
Unknown
Not documented
Perilla oil
~99%
12-14%
Unknown
Not documented
Safflower oil
90%
13-21%
Unknown
Not documented
Cocoa butter
~98%
~32%
Unknown
Not documented
Oils with little to no hair penetration
% Lipids less than 18 carbons long
Triglycerides?
Polar triglycerides?
% Monosaturated lipids
Penetration improves with heat?
Hair penetration documented by research
Rice bran oil
83%
40-50%
Unknown
No, penetration poor
Mineral oil
No penetration
Jojoba oil
less than 1%
No penetration
Why are less-penetrating or non-penetrating oils are used in products? They add shine, they decrease friction for easier combing and fewer tangles. Not everybody needs oils to soak in to their hair. If you wanted an oil specifically for gloss or shine or lubrication, you do not want it disappearing from the surface of your hair over time.
Oil film on hair obscuring cuticle
details - but adding shine
and lubrication. If this were a hair-
penetrating oil, over time this
coating would thin.


Ways to use oils
1) Oil pre-shampoo! This is one of the best times to use oil, even if it seems counterintuitive to put oil on your hair before you're going to wash it - in part to remove any excess oil. Apply a light (or heavy) oiling to your hair and leave it on for 2-12 or more hours before shampooing or otherwise cleansing your hair. The oil prevents dehydration and loss of proteins and otherwise protects and buffers your hair from water and detergent. If you get the amount of oil and leave-on time right, your hair will be more flexible and feel softer, better lubricated and if you have waves or curls, they will be better-defined. The longer you leave the oil on, the more oil will work its way into your hair.
2) Added to a deep or intense conditioning treatment.
3) To seal damp hair. But in my opinion you can't use just oil and expect your hair to stay hydrated. You need some leave-on conditioner over your oil. Or a nice film-forming gel like flaxseed gel for hydration, maybe a little conditioner. In my hair, just oil or just oil and flax gel gets a little fluffy - some conditioner and humectants (or protein) brings everything back together.
4) Oil rinsing. Either mix 1/4 oil and 3/4 conditioner or 1/2 oil and 1/2 conditioner and use this as you would a rinse-out conditioner, or apply the oil to clean, wet hair, then apply conditioner and squeeze and gently massage the oil and conditioner together in your hair. Then rinse and enjoy the very soft result.

If oils and your hair do not always get along, this post may help you out.

When to use penetrating oil pre-wash treatments
-If you notice your ends looking thinner or sparse or light colored or tend to fan or splay out.
- If your hair loses definition (cannot form curls or waves or coils in curling hair or is flyaway and too-light in straighter hair).
- If you have tried deep conditioning and your hair is still dry or not flexible enough.
- You have frizz you cannot manage with styling products, clarifying or chelating products or protein.
- Your hair starts to require more time to dry (penetrating oils cut back on "waterlogging" which means you might have shorter dry-times).


Resources:
Journal of Cosmetic  Science, 60, 273–280 (March/April 2009)
Brazilian oils and butters: The effect of different fatty acid chain composition on human hair physiochemical properties. ADRIANA FREGONESI, CARLA SCANAVEZ, LEANDRA SANTOS, AMANDA de OLIVEIRA, ROBERTA ROESLER, CASSIANO ESCUDEIRO, PRISCILA MONCAYO, DAISY de SANCTIS, and JEAN LUC GESZTESI.

Journal of Cosmetic Science, 56, 283-295 (September/October 2005)

Investigation of penetration abilities of various oils into humanhair fibers. K. KEIS, D. PERSAUD, Y. K. KAMATH, and A. S. RELE.


Plant Physiology 59, 1064-1066, 1977
Accumulation of Free Ricinoleic Acid in Germinating Castor Bean Endosperm
Donaldson RP


International Journal of Cosmetic Science. Oct 2005, Vol. 27 Issue 5, p299
Mapping penetration of cosmetic compounds into hair fibers using time of flight secondary ion mass spectrometry (TOFSIMS). Hornby, S. B., Appa, Y., Ruetsch, S. Kamath, Y.


113 comments:

  1. Amazing article, I've referred back to it several times in the last few months and have re-forumlated my leave-in conditioner based on this information. Thanks for consolidating this research!

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  2. My porous hair is currently liking sweet almond oil, which is rich in oleic acid like olive and avocado. I would be interested to see that added to your list.

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  3. Added! When I have time, I need to go back to my spreadsheet and add some more oils and re-work based on the saturation and fatty acid composition. WS

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  4. I noticed that coconut oil works for me less good during fall because it becomes solid when I'm outside. Although I still can use it as overnight pre-wash treatment.
    So which alternative for coconut oil penetrates the best when directly applied on dehydrated / dry hair? Olive or sunflower oil?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Sera,
      Sunflower oil looks to me to have more convincing hair-penetrating benefits. I use sunflower oil instead of coconut and I like it very much. It's close to coconut oil in penetrability. Palm kernel oil would be about the same as coconut oil, but it is not as easy to find nor as inexpensive.

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    2. There are studies that show sunflower oil doesn't penetrate
      https://dl.dropboxusercontent.com/u/1020026/oilsandhairpenetration.pdf
      Textile Research (J. Cosmet.Sci 52, 169-184, 2001)

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    3. I have read this study, Jerry. The one you're citing studied protein loss and water retention which are both important because they indicate the functional aspects of the oil in hair. A 2005 article in the same Journal of Cosmetics Science (Volume 56, p.283-295) measured decrease of film thickness in various oils. The authors determined that sunflower oil does penetrate the hair shaft. These are contradictory conclusions on the one hand, but what the studies were designed to do are quite different on the other hand. Are they comparable data? Not exactly. Should I exclude sunflower oil from my list because of this? No, because sunflower oil is inexpensive and widely available and it may be a better choice for people whose hair or skin react negatively to coconut oil. It is up to the individual consumer to experiment with an oil and determine whether the result is desirable and beneficial.

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    4. http://journal.scconline.org/pdf/cc2005/cc056n05/p00283-p00295.pdf

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  5. There are many anecdotes that olive oil, when massaged into the scalp, causes hair to grow faster. A girl on Youtube claims that her hair grew one inch after a week of massaging hot olive oil into her scalp and flipping her head over for four minutes to increase blood flow.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FxmZntIuQ_o

    Is there any scientific veracity to this?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. There is no research to support this claim that I am aware of. Good nutrition, good circulation (exercise, inversion and scalp massage both stimulate circulation), good hydration (drinking enough water) are all beneficial for hair growth. I think it's always good to suspect that if a claim sounds too good to be true, it probably is. We'd need to measure her hair from a marked and stable point to be sure it actually grew an inch in a week - like a permanent line on the hair - to make sure there is no measuring bias involved.
      There *is* scientific evidence that massaging oil into your scalp can cause an irritated scalp and may cause hair to fall out if your scalp is sensitive.

      Delete
  6. Hi Wendy,

    Which oils (penetrating as well as coating) are the most lubricating?

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    Replies
    1. Sera, I think that varies with the person. Some people like an oil that has a lighter feeling and is less slippery on the hands and some like a heavier oil. Liquid oils which are not penetrating tend to be the most lubricating for leaving in the hair because they do not soak in - so they do not "disappear" from the hair's surface as the hours pass. Grapeseed, safflower, canola, hemp seed, rice bran, rose hip, jojoba oils tend to have a lot of lubrication for hair.
      If an oil is being left on the hair, I would use one of the less penetrating oils like those just listed. Each oil can behave like a different ingredient in your hair, in the environment around you - whether it is warm or cool or humid - and based on what else you have put in your hair. So it's important to experiment and learn your preference. This is just a guideline. If you are looking for a lubricating oil just for an activity like detangling, an oil like olive or jojoba can be nice because they tend to feel thicker and oilier - more slippery to the touch. For hair which is coarse and thick or porous, mixtures of oils and butters (shea butter, for example) are very, very nice because of the thickness and how well the mixture spreads. And oil-butter blends are good for detangling and for leaving in the hair. I have a recipe for an oil blend with a lot of ingredients which is an example and works well as an oil deep treatment, for sealing hair over or under a leave-in conditioner and mixed into styling gels.

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    2. What is your recipe for an oil blend

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    3. I just found your blog. It is very interesting and informative. I have been trying to learn what works for my grey coarse hair and it has been a real challenge trying to maintain softness, moisture and hydration. Do you have any advice.

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    4. The recipe is here: http://science-yhairblog.blogspot.com/2013/10/whats-cookin-oil-blend-recipe-for-hair.html

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    5. Hello Karen,
      You might find some useful information in the film-forming humectant post: http://science-yhairblog.blogspot.com/2014/07/film-forming-humectants-what-they-are.html
      The deep conditioning post (2-parts): http://science-yhairblog.blogspot.com/2014/01/deep-conditioning-part-ii.html
      How to use oil treatments in your hair type: http://science-yhairblog.blogspot.com/2014/03/oil-pre-shampoo-or-pre-wash.html
      Best wishes - W

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  7. I've tried several oils, but the only one that gave me the results I needed was avocado oil. My hair just looks and feels better when I use it, unlike olive and coconut.

    Is it really possible that one oil can better penetrate than others on a head of hair? Or is it all in my head?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hello Breezy Geezy,
      Every oil is practically a different "product" so it is absolutely NOT an imagined result that your hair responds best to avocado oil. Avocado oil does penetrate the hair beyond the cuticles, but is also lubricates the hair and has a different chemical composition than coconut oil and olive oil. Every oil is made of smaller "oil components" and in each oil they are present (or not) in varying amounts. Avocado oil is a good "recipe" of those components for your hair.
      Just like some people's hair gets along very well with coconut oil but others will become brittle and tangled or stiff. Every head of hair is different and every oil is different and matching them up can take a lot of trial and error.
      Glad you found an oil that works well for you!

      Delete
  8. Hi :-)

    what about water melon seed oil? does that penetrate the hair or coat it?
    I use it - it works really well on my hair - but I am not sure if it penetrates or actually coats my hair.

    Another question is whether oils r ok to use if I do not use shampoo? As most are not water soluble and I do not wash my hair using shampoo I am afraid that they will cause too much build up? or block the penetration of other ingredients in my hair products??

    I hope u can help me with this! Thank u in advance :-)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hello Salli,
      Watermelon seed oil is quite high in palmitic acid which has a 16 carbon chain - so it may be able to penetrate the hair somewhat. The other fatty acid in medium concentration is stearic acid which is common in butters like shea or cocoa butter. So it seems this oil penetrates the hair somewhat -but slowly- and also lubricates and covers the surface.

      It's perfectly okay to use oils if you do not shampoo your hair. Oils and butters do accumulate on hair, oils are not water soluble at all. Your hair may become limp or heavy or feel unpleasant if there is too much oil on it. Or hair can behave unpredictably when there is too much oil on it. Watch how your hair reacts to oils. If you use too much, you may notice your hair actually losing shine and feeling heavy. Adjust how much oil you use based on how your hair responds.

      Oils can slow the movement of water into hair and other water-based products as well. Oils that actively penetrate the hair like coconut oil are very good at keeping water out of the hair. If you notice your hair seems to repel water when you use oils and that is not what you want it to do, use less oil or use a cleanser to help remove excess oil.

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  9. Does the oils have the same effect on the skin? Should I use a penetrate oil on the skin or one that sealing the skin?

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    Replies
    1. Hello Tezzzzie,
      Apparently coconut oil has ben demonstrated to penetrate into the skin thanks to the lauric acid content (or at least in part). The lipids (oils) on your skin are a complex blend of fatty acids with very different compositions - it's a complicated "recipe." So using coconut oil would partially mimic the composition of the oil that naturally occurs on your skin, but there are some vital and missing components like waxes and cholesterol. I have a recipe in the recipes section for an oil blend which is similar to oils on the skin (but made with reasonably easy-to-find ingredients). But some people much prefer coconut oil because it doesn't have a greasy feel.
      For some people, coconut oil on the skin is great and for others, it causes the skin to itch, turn red and break down. In my opinion, a mixture of oils is best if you're using only oils on the skin. But better yet is to avoid removing too much natural oil and protect the skin from too much sun, wind and cold to avoid irritation that breaks skin down so it cannot function properly.
      Oils are at their best when used with humectants. Oil alone slows water loss but does nothing to preserve or attract moisture. Skin has water-attracting "ingredients" built into the system.
      In this blog, you can use the "search" feature to find a post about dry skin and sensitive skin and there is a very good diagram (not made by me) showing where the oils fit in the structure of the outer layer of skin.
      I actually am trying to answer your question, but with hair - the reason to use penetrating oils is because we're trying to "waterproof" the hair. Because hair is not a living system, it cannot respond to its environment so it's up to us to do things for our hair.
      Skin is living and even though the top-most layers are dead, they are cemented together with oils and other materials that come from the living cells underneath. Skin can do its best to try to waterproof itself and protect itself in response to changes in its environment. Our skin *can* respond and adapt. So the treatments we do for our hair need to be thought of differently as those we do for our skin.

      Delete
  10. Is there a difference in the penetrating effect between raw virgin coconut oil and RBD (refined, bleached, deodorized) coconut oil?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. At least one of the studies with coconut oil was done with deodorized (refined) coconut oil. The important part for hair penetration is the medium-length triglycerides and those are not lost in bleaching or deodorizing.

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    2. All this seems to be a mixed message that isn't backed up with any real scientific proof. I'm still unsure whether oil is really beneficial as an add on conditioning agent. What you've presented here is a conundrum. I'm no better informed about the benefits of using an oil (either pre or post shampoo or as an additive to conditioner) than I was before I read your posts. The chart on this page is no help at all and the numbers are meaningless. This information would be better presented if it clearly represented your opinion and wasn't presented as pseudoscience. I'm honestly trying to find a remedy for my dry hair and now I'm more confused about oils than I was before I read this post. You get a big "meh" from me.

      Delete
    3. Unknown, I usually don't publish comments which are anonymous. But I published yours. Because you told me you had difficulty using the information, so I changed a few things to make it more accessible. That helps me make it a better post.
      You are dismissing the information in this post by calling it, "pseudoscience." But in fact, this is chemistry and if you were a person in front of me, I would encourage you to read the references at the end of the post if you would like to prove that to yourself. When reading scientific papers, we're constantly confronted with tables and graphs and information that often needs to be read several times before we really "get" all that we read.
      It is rude to comment anonymously on my blog and reject the information because it is not presented in a way that suits you. None the less, I get the message. So I have tried to clear things up to make the post more helpful. If something isn't clear, say so and ask the writer to clarify. It is as simple as that.

      If you were reading this message, I'd say - please go back and read the post again. Look at the oils highlighted in green in the table - those ones soak in. Great for porous hair, lightened hair, coarse hair, sun-bleached hair. The oils in blue soak in a little, good in conditioners, leave-ins, oil treatments. The pink ones don't soak in - they're great for sealing and lubrication instead.

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    4. I think this post is well presented with scientific backing behind it yet written in a language that anyone can understand.I really appreciate it. it not like those YouTube videos where the Youtubers don't even understand the words they even using. I disagree with Anonymous.

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  11. I found your blog about a week ago and since then I haven't been able to tear myself away. Thanks for providing a scientific approach to hair care. The information is invaluable. I do have a question about your Penetrating Oils Chart. Are the oils: Sunflower and Safflower referenced the 'High Linoleic' version of the oils?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hello Wendy,
      Those were not necessarily high linoleic oils. I think one of the sunflower oils which was tested may have been, but the safflower is not (there are 2 tests I'm using for the information in the chart). If you can get the high linoleic oils, do - because linoleic acid content is a good indicator of penetration and is possibly the reason why sunflower oil does penetrate the hair.

      Delete
  12. What about coconut oil being comedogenic or clogging pores. Would that be a problem for the scalp?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hello Ester,
      Yes, that can be a problem for the scalp too. Anything that can irritate skin can cause comedones (whiteheads, blackheads, acne-like bumps). For some people, any plant oil on the skin causes a lot of irritation and possibly an acne-like eruption. For others, only some oils are irritating - a lot depends on the chemistry of the oil, how fresh it is, and how sensitive your skin is.
      It's not easy to predict which oil is going to cause a problem for which person's skin - but if coconut oil causes problems on your face, you may not want it in your hair for very long so it won't have contact with your skin.

      Delete
  13. Hello Wendy,
    thank you for all your interesting posts - i learned a lot just by browsing your blog!

    I have a question about some oils not on your list. First, cupuacu is said to be penetrating the hair shaft ( there is a study by a Brazilian team about all kinds of tropical oils, this one included), but as I understand what you explain up above in your intro, it wouldn't because its composition is more like shea butter than coconut oil ? I tried it once on my fine hair with dry ends, it seemed to make the ends soft and shiny, but after a while waxy because of its high melting point - it only really turns liquid on a very hot day.
    Then, crambe abyssinica, supposed to be similar to silicones. I like to put a tiny bit (2 drops for shoulderlength hair) on freshly washed still damp hair, and it makes the hair soft, not oily at all but shiny, and very easy to detangle. So would it also seal the hair shaft like silicones do?

    Finally, do coconut or any of the other penetrating oils still penetrate even if i have behentrimonium chloride and panthenol left on my hair a few days after washing and conditioning it?
    thanks a lot,
    Hanna

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hello HWI,
      I'm not sure cupuacu oil will penetrate the hair shaft, but it's not iincluded n the article I have about Brazilian oils. Saturated fats tend to penetrate hair better than unsaturated fats, but I'm not clear about this oil/butter.
      Butters can tend to lead to a waxy feeling - some people get that build up and others don't.
      Any oil will contribute to a sealing layer over your hair - for sealing, it's best to have a non-penetrating oil or an oil blend. Silicones are non-penetrating oils, that's why they lubricate so well. Crambe anyssinica looks like it is not going to penetrate the hair well - so that should make it a good sealing oil.
      Oils will penetrate your hair through conditioners and hair products - just be sure to give them time to do that.

      Delete
  14. Hello Wendy,
    Thanks for a great article! Have you come across any evidence for camellia oil? If not, any ideas on its possible penetration? It feels great on my hair but not sure if it's actually of benefit.

    ReplyDelete
  15. Hi Wendy,

    I am loving your blog...quick question: If using a silicone (whether it be a conditioner or serum) to seal the hair shaft, is pre-pooing with penetrating oils beneficial? In other words, will the oil still penetrate the hair shaft even though a silicone has been used? I have recently revisited silicones and am trying to determine how to fit my oils into my new regimen.

    Thanks for all of your information. (My apologies if this was already addressed!)

    Alex

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hello Anexandria,
      I have read differing opinions on this (whether oil will penetrate past silicones). What I do know is that plant oils and silicone ingredients do not mix well - when you mix them, the mixture of the 2 clear "oils" turns white. Under a microscope you can see droplets of oil suspended in the silicone - they stay separate, even though they're blended. But I think because a silicone-containing serum or conditioner are not a super-thick layer on your hair, it doesn't matter too much.
      You can certainly improve the situation by using a polar oil like coconut oil that will be actively attracted to the proteins in your hair (if your hair does well with coconut oil). And give the oil plenty of time to soak in - at least 4-8 hours if you can manage it.

      In my hair, a little silicone doesn't seem to alter the effects of an oil "pre-poo" at all. If anything, it makes the oil treatment have even more slip - which is one reason I like oil treatments in the first place.

      Delete
  16. LOVE this post. I tried coconut oil a few years ago, but it just seemed to dry out my hair and I haven't tried it since. Do you think it could be something else I was doing that caused the dryness?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hello M. Norgan,
      I have a post about problems with coconut oil: http://science-yhairblog.blogspot.com/2014/06/coconut-oil-makes-my-hair-stiff.html
      It probably was the coconut oil, or at least it had a role in making your hair feel dry. I never use coconut oil "straight." I only use it diluted in my oil blend recipe. My husband can use lots of coconut oil in his hair and it makes it look and feel great - so I know my problem with coconut oil is not the water or the shampoo we're using. Otherwise, sunflower oil is a good substitute for normal porosity or porous (or sun-damaged) hair that needs help managing porosity as an oil treatment. Avocado oil is good too. Good luck!

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  17. I guess I'm conffused. I seem to have thought water was a good thing for 4c low porousity hair. I have always read that humidity was good because your hair binded to the water molecules in the air to keep it hydrated. I always thought moisture,steam, humidity was all good. if oil repels water then does that mean oil is bad for 4c low perousity hair? or it is the water that's bad for the hair? I thought water=moisture. I'm not sure what to think anymore. someone please help me

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    Replies
    1. Hello Person Last,
      Water and humidity is good for hair - water is absolutely moisture. For *porous hair* including damaged ends if hair is long, the hair can take on too much water, too quickly rather than taking on a little water for good hydration. When hair takes on water too much and too fast, it puts stress on the hair from within - the cuticle layer cannot swell but the layers underneath it can swell - like when you smack your fingertip and it swells under the nail. So for porous hair or porous ends, it's very helpful to slow down the movement of water into the hair so the hair acts more like normal porosity hair. If too much water gets into (porous) hair - it takes away some of the proteins and other water-soluble "ingredients" and even oils that keep hair healthy.
      So we're not really trying to waterproof hair with oils, we're trying to manage porosity in porous hair.
      For lower porosity hair, oils can provide good flexibility and lubrication - but might be better as a pre-wash treatment or as part of a leave-in conditioner formula. Flexibility and lubrication are as important as hydration (moisture) for keeping hair healthy. Low porosity hair doesn't soak up oils as well as normal porosity and porous hair.

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  18. What about Aloe Vera - is it a good penetrating agent for the scalp?

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    1. Aloe vera juice (or extract) has some anti-inflammatory and humectant properties which make it very good for some people's scalps.

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    2. I know it's good for the scalp but is it useful in penetrating the hair shaft or being used as a delivery agent for other oils/ingredients?

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    3. Things that can penetrate the hair either are small enough to get under the cuticles and maybe a little way into the cortex, or have polarity and therefore are "pulled" there. There may be some constituents (molecules) of aloe vera that are small enough to do that, I can't think of a reference offhand. It would need to be a chemical analysis of aloe vera juice and you'd need to know the size for each of those molecules.
      Aloe vera juice won't be a delivery agent for oils because it is water-based - oils and water don't mix. It's about as good a delivery agent as water. If you're thinking in terms of aloe being able to take other ingredients along with it into the hair (if it were able to penetrate into the hair) the same "rules" apply - small molecule size and having polarity (and an affinity for proteins like coconut oil does) are required in things that can penetrate the hair shaft.

      Coconut oil, Cetrimonium bromide, palm kernel oil, and low molecular weight hydrolyzed proteins are examples of things which can penetrate into the hair. But they can't take another ingredient with them without some extensive chemical alteration.

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    4. So if you mix coconut oil w/ other oils - only the coconut oil penetrates? It doesn't delivery the other ingredients/oils that are mixed?

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    5. If you mix coconut oil with other oils, the lauric acid and polar triglyceride components will penetrate the hair. Lauric acid and oleic acid are among fatty acids that do penetrate hair (sunflower oil, olive oil, avocado oil). It is those fatty acids or polar triglycerides that penetrate hair. Oils are composed of many different fatty acids, some are small enough (or polar enough and small enough) to penetrate the hair, some are not.
      But a fatty acid that is too large to penetrate the hair will not do so, no matter what oil it is mixed with.
      Not even all the fatty acids in coconut oil penetrate into the hair, but coconut oil has a rather high percentage of fatty acids that can penetrate into the hair compared to other plant oils.

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    6. So when oil is mixed w/ coconut oil it will only penetrate to the degree of short chain fatty acids there are? Will it "carry" these other oils as well? Would using something such as MCT oil have a higher degree of penetration?

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    7. Short-chain, monosaturated fatty acids and polar triglycerides can penetrate hair beneath the cuticle, perhaps to the cortex. In the case of saturation, that has a direct impact on molecular structure - how "large" the molecule is in other dimensions than just the number of carbons in the fatty acid.
      It helps to think of this as though the oils are going through a filter with a specific pore opening size. The smaller-chain, smaller-structure fatty acids can get through because of their size. The polar triglycerides get through because of their small size and their attraction to proteins. Anything that is too large cannot get through. MCT oil (assuming it's made from coconut oil) and fractionated coconut oil tend to have a higher percentage of oils that will penetrate. But that doesn't mean the overall effect will be better than whole coconut oil. The oils that don't penetrate the hair have other beneficial effects.

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    8. What are your findings on Emu Oil which is known to penetrate all skin layers? Would you use this to deliver ingredients to the hair follicle?

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  19. Wow wow wow, just discovered you! You are amazing. Can't stop reading your blogs xxxxx

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  20. Could you touch a bit on Unrefined Ungurahui oil, I was blessed with some and from what I understand they say it's a good penetrating hair oil. Does it benefit the hair shaft or the scalp.I don't think I'll be repurchasing this oil no time soon because it's too darn expensive. Also Marula and Camellia oils could you please touch on those oils as well.

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    Replies
    1. Ungurahui oil looks like it will be similar to olive oil in terms of hair penetration (based on its fatty acid composition) - which is to say pretty good! It's high in oleic acid which actually can be irritating to the scalp if left on. Here's a reference for that oil: http://eco-ola.com/specsheets/ungurahui-oil-specsheet.pdf
      Camellia oil would fall in the turquoise category - it's composed of about half fatty acids that may penetrate the hair shallowly, and half which probably stay closer to the surface for lubrication.
      Marula oil is also similar to olive oil in its fatty acid composition, so it may penetrate hair about the same as olive oil.

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  21. Hi,I have read your article on low porosity and just came across this one too because I'm newly natural and have been researching on what to use and what not. First I must thank you for doing such a great job at educating lives. I realised that I have low porosity hair since I big chopped,about 2months ago,I simply have not been able to find products that can keep my hair moisturised for at least 5hours. I bumped into this article because I was also looking for oils that can help,I really wanna keep it simple,I have Shea butter,please how do I DIY my own mix to achieve a good result,I also wish to continue massaging y scalp with castor oil even if it doesn't penetrate the hair well,will that be wrong. I also wish to select few oils that I can mix together for my moisturising routine,please help me to put this whole thing together without having to waste a lot of money,I also bought a gallon of aloe Vera juice only to learn afterwards that it's a NO for low porosity,is there no other way I can incorporate it into my regimen,at first it made my hair so soft when I spiritz with it and after some days it started making my hair feel dry.and that's how almost every product behaves on my hair ,so I need staples please help. Thanks

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    1. Hello Ms. K,
      Starting with your castor oil scalp massages - that should be helpful for lubrication. Lubrication is part of what makes hair feel healthy, so there's no reason to change that unless your scalp decides it doesn't like it. Castor oil can have anti-inflammatory properties, too. For low-porosity hair, penetrating oils can actually be better mixed with other oils. Penetrating oils are great for normal porosity and porous hair, but there is less "wow" for low porosity hair.
      You have shea butter and you want a simple mix. If shea butter does not leave your hair feeling waxy with repeated use or crunchy or water-repellant, try mixing equal parts shea butter with another oil. Grapeseed oil is lighter and "drier," avocado oil is a nice oil with slight penetrating properties, if your hair really likes castor oil, use that. You can cook with just about any oil but castor oil, so that's a possibility for oils your hair doesn't like to avoid waste.

      Aloe juice isn't necessarily a "no" for low porosity hair, but you might want to use it diluted and only occasionally - like on wash days but not in a daily hydrating spritz.

      You're probably looking for humectants because oils only slow water loss, they don't actively preserve water. Glycerin is great, but it can be tricky in very dry or very humid weather for some people - not for everybody. I don't like it in conditioners or homemade flaxseed gel, but I have some KeraCare setting lotion with glycerin and it's great. If you can find a small bottle of glycerin at a drugstore, you might try a small amount (1/8 to 1/4 teaspoon per cup liquid) in your hydrating spritz with a little bit of conditioner. It can be very softening. Without a conditioner in the mix, it can leave hair feeling dry or odd.

      Your hair might need protein occasionally to stay hydrated, an inexpensive way to try that is Neutral Protein Filler additive (try 6-8 drops per tablespoon of rinse-out conditioner).

      You might do well with some of the other film-forming, water-hugging humectants like flax, nettle tea, marshmallow root. Or look for products with panthenol, sodium PCA, seaweed extracts. Those can go in your hydrating spritz, though flax gel is easier to spread on the hair, you have to dilute is a LOT to get it to spray and even then it comes out in a stream.

      I have more ideas for managing low-porosity hair in a post with that name on this blog which might help. There is a link in the "popular posts" at the right. I hope that helps! Best wishes.

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  22. Not sure what happened, wrote yesterday but can't find my post anymore. I'm new to this page and still a bit overwhelmed. Thanks for all the information! All a bit confusing though. My hair is blond and curly actually but always dry incl.dry scalp, so I brush out the curls, makes it easier. My hair got thinner over the years and dry as. I haven't used silicon for years and tried oils etc. Only wash with low poo once or twice a week anyway. Oil over night is good but then you need so much even though lo poo shampoo I thought it defeats the purpose. My hair feels terrible when wet. After reading this blog I gave coconut oil another chance and my hair is really smooth. Very oily, have only rinsed it with water and put more in (I don't need to go out at the moment :-)) in the last 4 days. Shall I wash it out? And what can I wash it out with? Funny everyone recommends acv and you think it's too acidic. Don't know where to go from here. After washing it's always frizzy and hanging or dry and curly but frizzy. Aloe seems to make it dryer...

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    1. Hello wavycurlygirl,
      It's not a matter of whether I think ACV is too acidic. It's a fact that human hair is at it's most resilient between pH 4.5-6. Outside that range, hair is more vulnerable, but some people's hair can handle ACV rinses just fine! When we're talking about hair in general, there are some generalizations that apply and when you're writing a blog, you have to use the generalizations so you don't point somebody in the wrong direction.
      Now, what I *think* is that an ACV rinse might do a little de-greasing to remove excess coconut oil and is probably okay if your hair isn't damaged or fragile. You can also wash out excess coconut oil with a conditioner (co-wash), with a clay hair wash (I find those make my scalp feel a little dry and tight), or with a diluted shampoo. Diluting shampoo reduces the harshness. If you use a co-wash or diluted shampoo and find your hair still too oily feeling, follow it up with a dilute ACV (1-2 teaspoons ACV per cup water) rinse so you don't have to agitate your hair again.
      Maybe start with a cowash since your hair seems to be responding well to the coconut oil and see how that goes. Good luck!

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  23. Thanks for such a informative post. Where do you think camellia seed oil would fall on your list in terms of color categories?

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    1. Camellia seed oil (tea seed) appears to be composed of about half fatty acids that may penetrate the hair somewhat - seep past cuticles and underneath, and half that may not. To me, that's a good composition to use alone as a treatment for lower porosity hair or to leave on hair, or else to mix with a more-penetrating oil for more-porous hair. I would put it in the turquoise category.

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  24. I'm wondering if you have any information on using oils to remove henna from hair? I have been dying my hair with henna for the last 9 months or so, touching up the roots every month. I am ready to stop using henna and go back to my natural color, but am not excited about having such a big difference in color as it grows out. I wonder if mixing some high-penetration oils (I'm thinking a mixture of olive oil and coconut oil), leaving it in for 12 hours or so, and then shampooing out may draw out and fade some of the color. Thoughts?

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    1. I don't have much information about removing henna with oils other than it doesn't work very well. I know people who henna their hair and regularly use coconut oil and the color is not changed by coconut oil. I believe the dye molecules from henna bond to the protein in the hair, so that makes it unlikely for an oil to do much lightening. ColourB4 or Color Oops may work with repeated (3 or 4) applications to lighten the color - definitely worth an internet search on those two products in regards to henna!

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  25. I have not checked how this post is but wow, I love it. I like understanding what I'm using whether food, medicine or hair products. I don't think I've ever seen things so well explained like this post. This is my new favorite hair blog. Thanks.

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  26. I have been bleaching my hair blond over the course of several months. I use Jojoba oil. It definitely gets absorbed and pretty quickly I might add. From my understanding Jojoba mimics sebum (natural oil put out by the body). Now I wonder if it is because my hair has become porous. Also before bleaching, I had tried Coconut oil and it left my hair brittle and dry feeling. I have heard of protein sensitive hair and maybe
    that was the problem. I wonder if should try coconut oil again.

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    1. Hello Stefania,
      For this purpose "penetrate" (or absorb) refers to the physical action of moving into the hair shaft. Jojoba oil is a wax ester. Most oils are primarily fatty acids, wax esters are a combination of fatty acid + fatty alcohol. Human sebum is somewhere around 15%-25% wax esters. So jojoba is about 15%-25% on the way to mimicking human sebum.
      Coconut oil can make some people's hair feel brittle. Protein-sensitive hair may be coconut-oil sensitive too, in that both tend to be lower-porosity. Lower-porosity hair may have difficulty with coconut oil. Coconut oil mimics the triglyceride component of human sebum, but there is a lot more triglyceride in coconut oil than there is in human sebum.
      I like to blend oils - there is a recipe on this blog for an oil blend which is designed to be fairly close to human sebum in composition - but using oils that are easy to find rather than specialty ingredients. If coconut oil alone makes your hair stiff, it might be okay in an oil blend.

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  27. Very informative article. .I bookmared your blog to come again ...
    Thank you ..

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  28. Do you know if there are any numbers on meadowfoam seed oil or camellia seed oil? I'm using a leave-in hair oil that contains a lot of both. Meadowfoam seed oil is recommended a lot for massage oils to create good 'slip' and it's described as having a texture similar to jojoba oil. I couldn't find a lot of information on camellia seed oil's properties, but it's apparently a good substitute for grapeseed oil.

    The blend also uses argan, avocado and jojoba oils - one of them either doesn't penetrate at all, or does so extremely slowly. I get the 'sticky' effect for at least 2-3 days (longer in cool weather) which is just long enough for my scalp to catch up with oil production so I don't have any 'difficult' days. (I can only go about 9-10 days though before my hair is noticeably oily.)

    Because the seller is overseas and shipping is getting slower and slower, I was going to look into replicating their blend in bulk.

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    1. Hello Dartigen,
      Meadowfoam oil looks like it has minimal penetrating fatty acids, they are too large. It's touted as having a similar skin-feel as jojoba oil for that reason (see this analysis http://www.elementis-specialties.com/esweb/webprodliterature.nsf/allbydocid/81C33FD0B999EA5585257AAA00544468/$FILE/meadowfoam%20comparison7-13.pdf)
      So meadowfoam is probably a great lubricating oil.
      Camellia seed oil (tea seed) appears to be composed of about half fatty acids that may penetrate the hair somewhat - seep past cuticles and underneath, and half that may not. To me, that's a good composition to use alone as a treatment for lower porosity hair, to use during styling, or else to mix with a more-penetrating oil for porous hair.

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  29. I use silicon based conditioners and deep treatment, Can coconut oil used as a pre-poo treatment for 8hrs get through the layer of silicone at all to penetrate and strengthen my hair?'

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    Replies
    1. Hello isabele,
      Yes, coconut oil should be able to work its way through your conditioner with silicone. In general, plant oils and silicone do not mix (it turns cloudy and the silicone and plant oils form little bubbles) but because the silicone is not a thick layer over your hair (it's 1-2% suspended in a conditioner base), the coconut oil should be able to work around it. Good luck!

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  30. I'm a little confused. Castor oil is listed as the oil most likely to penetrate on the "some penetration" list, but it is not documented by research. However, olive oil is lower than castor oil, but it can penetrate. Similaryly, sweet almond oil has "some penetration" but in my conditioner it says it "wraps the surface". Is this list based on items you think should or should not penetrate based on structure, rather than actual scientific evidence?

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    Replies
    1. This post uses published data about oil chemistry. But where there are gaps in that data, I'm extrapolating from lab tests with oils in hair, to oils that haven't been tested on hair, based on their fatty acid composition - which is also measured with laboratory equipment. This chart is based on the behavior of lab-tested oils in human hair, and on those oil's chemical composition and the conclusions made by the authors about fatty acid composition (carbon chains, saturation, triglyceride content). For example, olive oil does penetrate into hair. Olive oil is 65-80% oleic acid, 18 carbons long, so on the upper end of "short enough to penetrate" and un-saturated, so it's not a big, bulky molecule. Avocado oil is 55% to 75% oleic acid, so we might predict it has similar penetrating behavior in hair. There are some other similarities between avocado oil and sunflower.

      In the blue section of the chart, oils with higher percentages of shorter-chain fatty acids (those that may penetrate past the cuticle) are ranked higher (more likely to penetrate the hair) than those with smaller percentages of shorter-chain fatty acids because that is in line with the predicted behavior of those oils - the lower the concentration of shorter-chain oils, the less possible it is for the oil to penetrate the hair. Sweet almond oil has some fatty acids that are small enough to penetrate past the cuticle layer, the remainder will be on the surface only.

      Castor oil contains polar triglycerides, and polar triglycerides have affinity for hair proteins - they're attracted to hair proteins because they carry a charge and so do hair proteins. The triglycerides in castor oil are not small like those in coconut oil (which are medium-chain triglycerides - lauric acid), so whether castor oil penetrates like coconut oil is unknown. That is not in any tests I found for hair, but based on that chemistry, there is potential for castor oil to be a penetrating oil. The triglyceride in castor oil is Ricinoleic acid, and there seems to be some evidence for its ability to penetrate skin (you may have to copy and paste this link): http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18080873 Which might support its ability to penetrate into hair. The molecular weight of ricinoleic acid is less than 500 daltons (just under 300) - so that is supportive of potential hair/skin penetration also: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/10839713
      I hope that helps!

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  31. This is a bit off topic but if I use a deep conditioner that does not list a highly penetrating oil or hydrolyzed protein in the first five ingredients should I assume it does not deep condition as effectively as another deep conditioner that does?

    And do I need a penetrating conditioner? My hair needs moisture, but I don't know if I need an intensive moisture treatment or can use a regular conditioner (with certain ingredients)to restore my moisture levels. Can regular conditioners improve hair in the long run? Is penetration only required for strengthening treatments? I am asking because I don't want to avoid buying a good conditioner just because it doesn't "penetrate", considering that a lot of things seem to penetrate somewhat.

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    1. Hello again, KW.
      I don't think a deep conditioner necessarily needs to have highly penetrating oils. Those do take time to soak in - hours. And you don't necessarily need proteins unless you want a protein treatment. Most "conditioning" take place at the surface of the hair, conditioners leave a micron-thin layer of conditioner to lubricate and reduce static and "patch up" the damaged areas temporarily. Cetyl alcohol softens hair, any oils present in the conditioner help the conditioner be even more softening and lubricating. A good formula will have some humectants (glycerin, amino acids, panthenol, Sodium PCA, aloe vera, etc.) to attract water and reduce water loss later when your hair is dry.
      One approach for buying conditioners is to choose a product that gives you consistently good results for wash-day use. When you want a deep conditioner, you can turn your rinse-out conditioner into a deep conditioner by adding some oil (oils make a conditioner more intense) and a humectant like honey or aloe vera or a little protein if your hair likes it - like Neutral Protein Filler - and leave it on with some heat. Humectants make a conditioner more hydrating. But you don't need to have the expectation that every product will be deeply penetrating. Some of us can over-soften our hair with that approach. And one would hate to pass up a really good product!
      If you want a deeply penetrating treatment for lubrication and softness, do an oil treatment with coconut or sunflower oil or babassu or avocado oil.
      If you want deeply penetrating moisturizers - those would be smaller proteins like amino acids (Neutral Protein Filler has those), Hydrolyzed silk, keratin, or collagen, or panthenol or some of the seaweed extracts.
      Cetrimnoium bromide is a conditioner that can penetrate the hair. I have a list of conditioners with that ingredient. I like it because it seems to soften my hair better than some conditioning ingredients, which seem more to get waxy in my hair.:
      • Burt's Bees Hair Repair, Shea & Grapefruit Deep Conditioner (no protein)
      • Giovanni Smooth as Silk Xtreme Protein Hair Infusion (dimethicone)
      • Burt's bees More Moisture
      • Burt's Bees Very Volumizing
      • Giovanni Smooth As Silk (protein)
      • Paul Mitchell The Conditioner Original (no protein)
      • TIGI Bed Head Moisture Maniac Conditioner (silk amino acids)
      • Giovanni, Root 66, Max Volume Conditioner (no protein)
      • Nutress Hair Moisturizing Protein Pack

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  32. WS... love your blog, woman after my own heart! I do make & use a lot of oil products for hair, and your info is excellent.
    What I would like to know is your opinion on some of the 'Amazon' oils about touted as the next best thing for hair eg; Pracaxi. I have rather long porus hair, sandy blonde is the natural colour, but I've been light blonde most of my life from bleaching etc. Also have a very good mix of grey hair (which is why I stay blonde) that came about from my early twenties. My hair is extremely thick, quite coarse and naturally wavy... to the point of frizziness if it sees a hint of rain clouds, Dutch heritage I suppose.
    I make my own conditioner now as I cant find anything heavy enough to tame my hair, but I was wondering if you can recommend anything out of the box other than Coconut & Castor for me. I've read lots of positive reviews about the amazon oils, so just wondering if they may be any use?
    I do oil treat my hair a lot... it doesnt love coconut neat so I mix with castor, flax, sunflower etc.

    Thanks so much
    Rhiannon

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    1. Hello Rhiannon,
      I don't have much information on Amazon oils. What I find for Pracaxi oil looks a lot like avocado oil or olive oil. It does have a significant behenic acid content, something that Moringa Oil is notable for containing. I don't think this is a particularly hair penetrating oil, but it's probably a very nice lubricant and hair-softening oil.
      For conditioner, if you are using a cationic conditioner, a fatty alcohol like Cetyl alcohol, and an oil - make sure you have a humectant also. Sometimes to get hair soft and hydrated - if your conditioner is not working well enough - you must spend time with conditioner in your hair adding extra water and smoothing it along your hair. The extra water makes the hair more moisturized and flexible. Keep smoothing over sections of hair and adding water as necessary to make the hair more flexible.
      If you have not used hydrolyzed proteins before, your hair may need some protein occasionally. You can add it to your conditioner. Some hair needs protein every wash day, others need it less often.
      Good luck finding a good oil!

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  33. I wish I could share this post with my friends. I keep coming back to it every month or two. Could add the option for sharing?

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    1. Your wish is my command. :) Thanks for the suggestion!

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  34. Sorry if it's basic, but would what are considered "heavy oils" be the ones that are mostly absorbed by hair? Olive and coconut are considered heavy oils and they both have great absorption capabilities documented, the same with shea butter but it's just not documented in this case. Or is the heaviness of an oil due to something else?

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    1. Hello Mariel,
      Several of the penetrating oils are heavy oils - coconut, olive, sunflower. Sunflower feels a bit lighter to me. Babassu oil is wonderfully light. It's solid at room temperature like coconut oil, but it feels absolutely nothing like coconut oil in your hair. It's a little more difficult to find, but if you're looking for an oil that absorbs well into the hair for softness and porosity-management, it's a good choice.

      Argan oil has a large percentage of fatty acids that are small enough to absorb, as well as almost 50% monosaturated fats (which are better absorbed by hair). So that's another lighter-feeling oil that will absorb, though it hasn't been studied - unless there's a published document I haven't seen yet.
      Shea butter has some potential to be absorbed by hair with its 50% monosaturated fats. But the high stearic acid content (solid at room temperature) makes it heavier, and also gives it a little "drag" or grip in dry hair.
      So yes, for the most part you are right - a lot of these oils the absorb well are heavier or thicker - but there are some exceptions. W

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  35. Hello, I was doing some research and i was wondering where would the following oil fall on your chart or in comparsion to what is on your chart. They are: brocolli seed oil, camellia oil, rice bran, pracaxi oil and hazlenut oil. Thank you.

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    1. Hello Addy,
      If you do a "find" on the page, you can find rice bran oil in the "does not penetrate" section (which makes it a great oil for sealing or styling), broccoli seed oil is similar to mustard (do a "find" on the page), somebody asked about camellia and pracaxi oil in a previous comment. W

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  36. What a brilliant blog post. I have been doing some research into 'clogging' oils and came to understand more about linoleic acid as a hair stimulant and oleic acid. On paper coconut oil looks like a perfect all rounder but it makes my scalp itch- I've put this down to it being high on the Comedogenic scale? Castor oil does wonders for hair growth but can experience a hit and miss with itching, which is perplexing as it has low Oleic acid and is low down on the clogging scale?? Avocado oil I use on the hair shaft & makes it feel hydrated from within but can experience scalp itching if it gets in close contact for eg doing my edges. You say oils high in Oleic acid could irritate scalp so this makes sense.

    Do you know much about Baobab oil, Emu Oil, Hemp Oil ( not hemp seed oil) and Cacay oil? The latter is meant to have double the amount of Linoeic acid as Argan. Tried it the once and atleast it doesn't make my scalp itchy as too Argan oil.

    And what about essential oils? I use rosemary, lemongrass, peppermint, ylang ylang but cannot find any info on their clogging factor nor any acids contained?

    If I use only products that are 0 or very low on the clogging scale, do you think it means I'll need to wash my hair less frequently or do water only or ACV rinses? I currently wash my hair x1/2 per week with sulphate free shampoo, conditioner, DC, Leave in and oil and trying to touch my hair less for length retention :)

    Thanks so much!

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    Replies
    1. Hello,
      Some oils itch because of oleic acid, which can be irritating - but if you have a sensitive scalp, especially if you tend to have an itchy scalp, when you add oil, you may be feeding the fungi that normally live on the scalp and provoking an overgrowth of fungi. That can be itchy because of their metabolic by-products, one of which is (drum roll plays...) oleic acid! They break down triglycerides in your sebum to form oleic acid. Coconut oil is full of triglycerides and it did make your scalp itch. So hypothetically, that might be a big part of the problem.

      Your scalp may not be very tolerant of oils, you might need to keep them a bit away from your scalp.

      Essential oils are concentrates and need to be diluted in a "carrier oil" so they don't cause irritation. Some of them can inhibit fungi (tea tree, juniper, rosemary, thyme), which might make it easier for you to use the carrier oil - but they can also cause sensitivity reactions for some people. Including itching and pimple-like bumps - and that's not so much pore-clogging as it is allergy or irritancy.

      So I'm not certain about whether it's the pore-clogging ability of these oils so much as their irritant potential or provocation of fungal overgrowth that is causing you a problem. But I can't leave oils in my hair very well either or I get an itchy scalp. So I do empathize.

      If your scalp is anything like mine, I would imagine you can go the longest between washes by using oil only on the ends (or length) - and keeping them off your neck while you sleep. Leave-in conditioner might be okay if you have one that doesn't irritate your skin. For length retention, you do need plenty of lubrication on the ends.

      I have not heard much of cacay oil, but if it's working, keep using it. It looks similar to high-linoleic sunflower oil. Except the price is ever so much higher.

      Jojoba oil is a wax ester - no triglycerides or oleic acid. Some people love it, some hate it (my hair and scalp seem to dislike this oil). I really like babassu oil, and my scalp seems remarkably tolerant of it.

      This might also be as simple as using Nizoral shampoo occasionally or a pyrithione zinc shampooo occasionally to see if you can tolerate oils better if you treat your scalp. Good luck! W

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  37. What are the best oils for low porosity, fine hair? Right now I've been doing an overnight coconut oil treatment then washing it out the morning after, every 4 days. I also use Argan oil after every shower, just a bit. My hair feels somewhat soft, but also pretty dry. Its about to be winter time so I can't use coconut oil when it's so cold here. I'll keep using my Argan oil, but I'm looking for 1 (or 2) other oils for a coconut oil substitute, as either a pre-poo or out of the shower before Argan

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    1. Usually sunflower oil is a good way to go for finer hair for an oil treatment. Babassu oil is really great for keeping hair soft and flexible, but harder to find - it's very lightweight in the hair, even though it's solid at room temperature like coconut oil. I like a drop of conditioner and a drop of argan oil mixed together on wet (or dry) hair to keep it soft and smooth - it seems to work better than the oil alone.
      Are you using conditioner? A conditioner with humectants might help. If your hair is fine - silky and the strands are almost invisible like "little kid hair" - then you probably need to use a conditioner with some Hydrolyzed protein in it to give your hair some support. Protein is also very good at helping hair feel hydrated (less "dry") - especially when you're already using oils but your hair still feels dry.
      If you don't use conditioner at all - look for a shampoo with hydrolyzed protein. There is more here about using protein in your hair. http://science-yhairblog.blogspot.com/2015/10/protein-101-lots-of-basic-information.html Good luck! W

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  38. I've been using the Pro Naturals' Argan oil and it works really well for my hair ♥♥

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  39. This is exactly what I was looking for! Thank you for taking the time to write up such an informative article!

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  40. Why is jojoba considered a carrier oil if there is no penetration?

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    1. Hello Jerry,
      Carrier oils are oils that an essential oil is mixed into to dilute the essential oil. Essential oils often can't be used on skin straight out of the bottle safely. I don't think "soaking in" is implied or required just to be labeled a carrier oil.

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  41. Thanks for sharing. I am confused why no distinction was made between saturated and monounsaturated. I though coconut and palm oil were considered saturated and not mono like olive and avocado. I was also under the impression saturated fats penetrated better than monounsaturated. Can you please advise why only mono and poly were mentioned and why you consider coconut and palm oil to be mono? Thanks.

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    1. I'm not suggesting that coconut and palm oil aren't loaded with saturated fats, though "saturated fat" is only one way to label those fatty acids. There are a few things that determine whether an oil can "soak in" to your hair. One of them is fat saturation because that dictates the shape of the molecules. Another issue is carbon chain length of the fatty acid. The shorter chains can soak in, but larger-chain fatty acids are too large to do that. A third issue is presence of triglycerides that are small enough molecules to soak in to hair (i.e. medium chain triglycerides in coconut oil). It comes down to 1) There are several things going on that influence whether or not an oil can soak in to hair, and 2) There is more than one way to describe these fatty acids, depending on which aspect of their chemistry you're talking about. Best wishes - W

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  42. How can I hydrate my super dry hair in very dry climate? I don't use hot styling tools, use oils the night before shampooing but still my hair is dry. Please help. Thank you.

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    1. Hello Star Am,
      In a dry climate, you need to use humectants in your cleansers, conditioners and styling products. Some humectants tend to perform well in dry weather, I have a post about those here: http://science-yhairblog.blogspot.com/2014/07/film-forming-humectants-what-they-are.html
      If you deep condition your hair - even for a short time - add humectants to the conditioner, such as warmed honey, aloe vera, a hydrolyzed protein additive if your hair does well with protein like Neutral Protein Filler, a pinch of gelatin dissolved in a tablespoon or two of boiling water, or a little beer allowed to go flat.

      When you condition your hair - add some water to the conditioner while it's in your hair. You should feel your hair become more slippery, more flexible and heavier. That assures the best hydration. I hope that helps! W

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  43. Just so you know palm kernel oil and red palm oil are not the same thing. Red palm oil is from the fruit and palm kernel oil is from the seed of the fruit. I'm sure you're familiar with red palm oil when used for cooking, but when made for cosmetic uses both oils are RBD (refined, bleached, and deodorized). Palm kernel oil as it's made in West Africa is a dark oil with a smoky, nutty aroma that is semi-solid to liquid at a temperature of 75 degrees Fahrenheit or higher; even some Africans can't stand the smell, but it is comparable to coconut oil and Jamaican black castor oil regarding how it looks. However, cold pressed palm kernel oil can be a yellowish white.

    This link is a bit more in depth:
    http://www.curlytea.com/curlblog/reviews/unrefined-palm-kernel-oil2013nov03.html

    This is what it looks like:
    http://www.sheabuttercottage.com/palmkerneloil.html

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  44. THANK YOU for this. I like knowing a little bit more about product ingredients than "trust me, this is good for ____" but I'm not really a science person. The details you give here are awesome and I actually understood all of it. ;)

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  45. So when you talk about sunflower oil - is this the same stuff you can buy at the grocery for cooking oil?

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    1. Hello Sojourner,
      Yes, it's the sunflower oil you can buy for cooking. It should smell fresh and a bit like sunflower seeds.

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    2. Any thoughts about L'anza healing oil product?

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  46. How does one determine the porosity of their hair? What do you think of Monat rejuveniqe products? Where can i find the recipe for the oil mixture that closely resembles natural sebum?

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    1. Hello J Smith,
      If you want to "hack" the "float test" for porosity, see the paragraphs at the bottom of this page: http://science-yhairblog.blogspot.com/2015/02/hair-porosity-float-test.html

      Monat Rejuvenique oil ingredients:
      "Limnanthes Alba (Meadowfoam) Seed Oil, Crambe Abyssinica Seed Oil, Camellia Oleifera Seed Oil, Solanum Lycopersicum (Tomato) Seed Oil, Daucus Carota Sativa (Carrot) Seed Oil, Citrus Limon (Lemon) Peel Oil, Citrus Aurantifolia (Lime) Oil, Citrus Aurantium Bergamia (Bergamot) Fruit Oil, Adansonia Digitata Oil, Mauritia Flexuosa Fruit Oil, Cocos Nucifera (Coconut) Oil, Gardenia Tahitensis Flower Extract, Moringa Oleifera Seed Oil, Caryocar Brasiliense Fruit Oil, Helianthus Annuus (Sunflower) Seed Oil."
      Okay - Meadowfoam oil is a nice oil for lubrication and shine, Crambe Abyssinica Seed Oil (like argan oil for shine and softness), Camellia Oleifera Seed Oil - light, not so greasy. Some of elements of these oils will have a penetrating effect, but it should be nice from a cosmetic perspective - smoothing, softening. It's expensive for a small amount, but at the same time, you couldn't buy those oils and mix them for less - though you'd end up with a lot more oil to use.

      This is the oil blend recipe which is somewhat similar to sebum. Hair that doesn't do well with coconut oil or shea butter would need to reduce or replace those with something else: http://science-yhairblog.blogspot.com/2013/10/whats-cookin-oil-blend-recipe-for-hair.html

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    2. Hi WS. Are you familiar with "the Beauty Brains"? I was reading their blog on silicones and saw a link to this: http://thebeautybrains.com/2007/05/two-natural-oils-that-make-your-hair-shiny-and-strong
      which says in part: "jojoba and sunflower oils don’t penetrate at all. They’re very superficial and don’t really provide any practical benefit." I was confused and disappointed because I thought they were a reliable source being scientists and all. May I get your thoughts on this?  Hopefully you get a chance to review the link. Thank you for all you do

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  47. Love this list, thank you! It has helped me hone in my hair and skin recipes... What about pumpkin seed oil?

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    1. Hello Colleen,
      Pumpkin seed oil looks like it should be somewhat similar to sunflower oil for hair-penetrating qualities. It contains some triglycerides which are not polar (like coconut oil) - but triglycerides tend to lend some nice qualities to an oil. Pumpkinseed oil is very nice in conditioner!

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  48. I'm sorry, I may have sent the wrong link. It's this one:
    http://thebeautybrains.com/2007/05/two-natural-oils-that-make-your-hair-shiny-and-strong.
    Thanks again.

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    Replies
    1. Hello Fret Fire,
      Here's how I re-interpret their answer: Coconut oil and other penetrating oils can "soak in" to hair to prevent swelling in water (especially in porous hair). That swelling weakens hair and washes out hydration-protecting amino acids (proteins) that lie beneath the cuticle. So the end result is hair that is *not* weakened during wetting and washing. Stronger hair. And that's one sort of benefit we can get from oils.
      But just because jojoba oil does not penetrate beneath the cuticle doesn't mean it isn't beneficial. Jojoba oil can be a great lubricant - and lubrication protects cuticles from breakage by reducing friction. Not to mention the cosmetic benefits of properly-lubricated hair.
      I have a study showing that sunflower oil actually does penetrate beneath the cuticle - in fact, it is my favorite oil for oil treatments. The difference between those two studies is in how the researchers chose to measure penetration of the oil into the hair shaft. The way you measure these things can give different results.

      The chemists at Beauty Brains are not wrong. But they do have a different perspective. For one, they are men. Yes, that matters. From their earliest awareness, men think about their hair differently. Secondly, they have many years of experience in cosmetics chemistry formulating. They have written books on the subject. These guys are experts in the chemistry of cosmetics. That is different than approaching the subject as a consumer, and having all the information that is passed between consumers and passed down through generations of women who have successfully cared for their hair.

      But they may not be speaking the same language as a consumer. They are not approaching the subject in the same way as a consumer. There is some translation required. Best wishes - W

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  49. Thank you. I'm glad to know that sunflower oil can be used as a penetrating oil because it's economical.

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  50. Hi I am so confused. Palm kernel oil is different from Red Palm Oil as they are made from two completely different parts of the plant. Everywhere I go it talks about palm kernel oil being beneficial and not Red Palm Oil. But I'm super worried and I really need to know whether Red Palm Oil, on its own, is a penetrating oil, because I have easy cheap access to this (my mum used it to cook), but I have no access to Refined Palm Kernel Oil. Please help I need an answer :(

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    Replies
    1. Hello Faith,

      I need to change that to only palm kernel oil, not red palm oil. I'll do that when I have a chance. Opening up the program that makes charts eats up all the memory on my computer, so I have to save and shut everything down and restart and then usually reformat the whole blog post when I change a graphic - it gets to be a pretty long-winded thing to change a simple chart.
      You could certainly give red palm oil a try - I found it incredibly softening and really interesting to use. It's so orange! It has a lower percentage of the penetrating oils. But my experience was that it has every bit as much softening power as anything else. The red palm oil comes from the palm fruit, the kernel oil comes from the seed. So the oil's fatty acid compositions are a bit different. But not a whole lot different just for using it in your hair.
      In short - go for it. I hope it works splendidly.

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  51. I am just reading and have just realized that I have low porosity hair. I also suffer from dry scalp that can become flaky what are your suggestions to accommodate this. My hair tend to look like a frizz ball majority of the time. Coconut oil is not my friend and jojoba and tea tree oils makes my scalp itch. I have avocado, red palm, basil, walnut, grapeseed, argan, olive, black castor,and sesame oil.

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    Replies
    1. Hello,
      Oils can make an itchy scalp more itchy by providing "food" for yeasts that live on the scalp. You might do better with frequent scalp massages for exfoliating the flakes, and using a medicated shampoo or other treatment for your scalp - and a mild, non-drying shampoo for when you don't use a medicated treatments. In the tabs at the top of the page is a list of products for itchy, flaky scalps. There are shampoos and topical treatments which you can buy over the counter which might help.
      Castor oil is known to have some anti-inflammatory effects and olive oil is sometimes recommended by dermatologists for softening flaky skin before washing. But if oils make your scalp itchy, don't try to force the issue. Use a different sort of treatment that does not contain oils. Good luck! -W

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  52. Guy here with long hair and absolutely no idea about haircare. Untreated, my hair will get super fluffy and not a single hair wants to join another one. It looks silly and dorky. When I get out of the sea and my hair dries, it looks fantastic. Just the right amount of volume and the best, locks of hair. I can't replicate that, the closest I get is using oil based products. I tried coconut oil, the one I bought at a dollar store for cooking, works great, but makes the hair quite greasy and worst of all, super smelly after a day. A bad smell. I try to steer away from silicon based hair products, it just feels weird to put a lubricant in my hair.

    I currently use almond oil. According to your overview, the superior oil. It does exactly what I want, and that is: making the hair soft and shiny, gives me locks of hair and looks best the second day. It is quite greasy and my hands get very oily and it is not really possible to wash it off with dishwashersoap.

    I wonder if there is a product that makes the hair soft, shiny and binds it together in locks of hair making the hair a bit greasy (which is okay)?

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    Replies
    1. Hello R,
      It sounds like you like the "grip" you're getting from the seawater. There are some sea salt sprays that might work, I can't recommend one specifically - Not Your Mother's Beach Babe Texturizing Sea Salt Spray is easy to find - it contains a water-soluble silicone, which is easy to remove and doesn't tend to feel like ordinary silicone ingredients. There are plenty of recipes online, also. But there is more in seawater than salt.
      Flax seed gel might be a product which might work to bind your hair together and add shine. If you make your own, there is a recipe in the "Recipes and Projects" tab at the top of the page. You might add some Epsom salt (Magnesium sulfate) to it to mimic sea water, and perhaps a very small amount of glycerin. You would apply this product to very wet hair.
      I don't know where you live - there is a product called "Jessicurl Rockin' Ringlets" which is flaxseed gel with Magnesium sulfate and glycerin added. You would need to use oil over or under that product.

      Good luck! W

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