Oils and curly hair – Benefits, types and ways to apply

Indians have had an old relationship with oiling hair. Our grandmothers and mothers have done it since their childhood and continue it on us too 😀 With the changing times, we have almost given up oiling our hair. Do we really have to oil our hair the exactly same way our ancestors did? Are there any benefits of oiling curly hair at all? If so, which oils should we be using? And how should we apply oil to curly hair? Let’s find out 🙂Benefits of oils on curly hair

1. For hair growth – Along with a few oils that actually do penetrate hair, another important benefit of oiling your hair is the massage that comes with it. It increases circulation of blood to the scalp thus promoting growth. Here’s another post you may like ! – 7 ways to grow healthy hair

2. As a pre poo protector – They act as a protector before your shampoo (pre-poo). When you have oil on your hair, the shampoo is less damaging to your hair and the little remnants that do remain after shampooing will act as a sealant, sealing moisture in your hair strands.

3. As a deep conditioner – The fatty acids in the oils help restore your hair’s lost lipid layer. So if your hair is very dry and rough, oiling definitely proves useful. They key here is to keep them for a longer duration (like you would do with a deep conditioner).

4. As a detangler – Oils provide a lot of slip and thus make detangling very very easy. Done before your wash, oiling makes, detangling further in the shower while conditioning, a breeze 🙂

5. As a leave in – Light sealing oils can lock in moisture and impart gloss and shine to your hair.

6. To fix your not-so-great conditioners – Do you have a conditioner that you paid a lot for, only to find it does nothing to your dry hair? Mix in a few drops of oil and the conditioner just before you apply it on your hair.

So now the next obvious question that comes is what oils should we be using to get the benefits? And how do we apply oil to curly hair?

Types of oils and how to incorporate oils into your curly hair care routine

Oils can be put into 2 groups based on if or not they benefit the health of your hair.

Moisturizing oils – These oils can actually provide nourishment to your hair by penetrating the hair shaft. Coconut oil is the best at penetration, followed by extra virgin olive oil and avocado oil. The main fatty acids in these oils are really small, thus making penetration easy (That explains why Malayali women (women from Kerala – the land of coconuts) have thick black lustrous hair right?!).

In addition, lauric acid found in coconut oil has a high affinity for hair proteins thus preventing protein loss – Science of Coconut oil on hair(plus brand suggestions)

Let’s see how we can use moisturizing oils on curly hair.

1. Do not use so much oil that you would need extra shampoo or an extra rinse to get rid of the greasiness. That beats the whole purpose of oiling your hair, right? Your shampoo quantity should remain the same. This will help you decide how much oil you need to apply. In fact one benefit of oiling before shampoo is to protect your hair from the shampoo so you don’t want to it to become counterintuitive by adding more shampoo! Also you should leave a little oil on your hair (a very tiny amount) so that it acts as a sealant.

2. Concentrate on the scalp while massaging using your fingertips (not your nails) to ensure a good blood circulation. As you reach the length of your hair, change your technique from massaging to detangling. Approach your hair in sections and very slightly detangle the knots in your hair using the oil as a lubricant.

How long should you leave oil in your hair?

There is a research paper(Quantitative measurement of the penetration of coconut oil into human hair using radio-labeled coconut oil) that shows that hair can absorb around 15% of its weight in coconut oil in an hour. An overnight soaking oil (six hours) increases absorption to around 20% or 25%.

3. Wait for as long as you like (anywhere from a few minutes to a whole hour) and wash it off. Since the above oils actually penetrate the hair shaft, you will benefit more the longer you keep it in your hair.

The above 3 steps can be done every time you feel your hair is super dry, or if you want me to give you a number, I would say probably once a week. The amount of oil, as I said, would be less than what makes your hair look greasy or makes you want to add extra shampoo but just enough to remove dryness.

4. If you don’t have time for a pre poo (oiling before shampooing), mix a little oil into your shampoo before lathering it onto your hair. This helps to keep the shampoo gentle and moisturizing at the same time.

5. Mix a really small amount of the oil with your conditioner. I love using olive oil for this. I find that this method works better then applying oil on dry hair because it works in unison with water to lock in moisture.

The above 2 steps can be done every time you wash your hair.

Sealing oils – They just seal in moisture. That means you need to provide moisture to your hair before applying these oils. These don’t penetrate the hair shaft but they block humidity and impart sheen. Light oils like argan oil or jojoba oil work best as sealing oils.

Mix them with your styling product for the added shine. But remember that you only need 1 or 2 drops for this method to avoid greasy looking hair. You want shine not grease.

Oiling in earlier times used to be solely for hair growth and they wouldn’t wash it off making hair look super greasy. Now we know that new times still call for hair oils. Just the method of applying and purpose has changed 🙂

You may also be interested in this – Difference between Moisturizing and Sealing (Oiling)

If you have any doubts regarding the article, shoot them in comments below 🙂



  1. Hey…anjana!My problem z not related to this article but a confusing one.My hair seems to lose it curls after applying conditioner.I mean really how come?my hair remain curly if i dont apply conditioner but as soon as I apply conditioner and wash it off my hairs become very light and curls vanish😕😣😦

  2. Hi Anjana
    First of all thanks for this blog. It is so hard to find curly girl hair care routine for Indian hair. I have 2b/2c type of curls but they are curly on the end and flat on the crown area. In nutshell I have weigh down curly/wavy hair. What can be done to make those curls well defined and not like they are pulled down.

    1. Hi Saumya! Coincidently, I also face the same problem 🙁 I am doing some experiments with curl clips and gels and I can see some results. I will put a post after I have experimented enough. Meanwhile you can try them too 🙂

  3. Thanks Anjana I will try them too 🙂 but again I will wait for your post regarding this. Could you tell me which is the best leave in conditioner for curly hair. which one do you recommend?

    1. Leave in conditioner is just a light watery form of a conditioner. So you can dilute your favorite conditioner with water and use it as a leave in.

  4. Hi Anjana.. Love your posts.. They are like the holy grail for curly hair :-).. What I want to ask is if I am co washing do I pre poo with oil because its a little difficult to remove with just conditioner

    1. Thanks Priyanka :)) Yes I do pre poo with coconut oils at times before co washing – the trick is to get the balance right – just enough oil to nourish your hair, yet not so much that it makes it look greasy. Decrease the amount of oil you use currently and try 🙂

  5. Thanks for your answer!.. I’ll try that… One more thing though.. The prospect of washing my hair at night is tempting as i can give it all the time it takes to dry… The only thing keeping me from that is I sleep with the air conditioner full blast as its extremely hot where I live.. M worried I might develop a cold by morning.. Hehe… How do u manage?.. And what about during winters?

    1. Hehe 🙂 I have never caught a cold because of sleeping with wet hair whatever the weather is. You could try it for a few days and see if it suits you 🙂

  6. Wonderful article!! I have straight hair though but found it informative nevertheless. Can you please comment on castor oil and sesame oil? Do they moisturize hair or sit on top? Castor oil is supposed to be great for growing out long hair – how does it work? thank you so much.

    1. Both sesame and castor oil sit on top.
      Despite claims of increased hair growth or thickness, there are no scientific studies proving castor oil can help increase hair growth or the thickness of the hair. Castor oil is not a featured ingredient in hair loss shampoos or other products designed to treat male or female pattern baldness. It’s usually the associated massaging that helps with hair growth. Source : http://www.curlcentric.com/using-castor-oil-natural-hair-growth/

  7. Hi.
    I need to ask you about oiling, as you said that shampoo shouldn’t be used that often but oil should be so after oiling my hair should I use shampoo or conditioner?

  8. Hi,
    One of my personal observations is that whenever I prepoo with coconut oil and then cowash, my scalp gets cleaned but the hair length remains greasy inspite of applying minimal oil to the hair length.. And then I’ve to shampoo again.. Any suggestions regarding this.. TIA😊

    1. Ya coconut oil can be quite heavy for a co wash. Either prepoo only before shampooing/decrease the amount of oil you use/try a double co wash(co wash twice and don’t confine yourself to just the scalp but apply condish to the hair length also twice). Hope that helps!

  9. I use sweet almond oil as a pre-poo every time I wash or cowash. It’s very easy to remove for me unlike coconut oil which needs like 2-3 washes. Which makes me wonder… Is it more of a moisturizer or a sealing oil? Thank you!

    1. Hi Asiyah! Almond oil is a sealing oil. It’s fatty acids are not small enough to penetrate hair. It is easy to remove because it is a lightweight oil.

  10. Hi
    My problem is that my hair stays moisturized during the start of the day but becomes frizzy later on. How can I prevent my hair from losing its moisture?

      1. Pantene Shampoo&Conditioner. And coconut oil.
        Also my hair shortens to half of its length after it dries. And it looks like I haven’t grown my hair at all in years. Please help me on that too. 😊

  11. Hi
    My problem is that my hair stays moisturized during the start of the day but becomes frizzy later on. How can I prevent my hair from losing its moisture?

  12. Hi,

    I have 3a/3b curls and currently facing heavy hairfall. However, Ive noticed over the years that whenever I apply coconut oil, I see increased harifall (during both hairfall & non-hairfall periods). Due to this, I have reduced my use of coconut oil in the past 4-5 years (applying once in 2-3 months).

    I realize its not healthy for my hair, but whenever I try to apply oil more frequently, I have increased hairfall for a couple of days :(. What would be your advice?

    1. Coconut oil can bind with the proteins in your hair, which is really good as protein makes your hair strong – but too much protein can make your hair brittle and feel dry. Your hair needs a bit of flexibility and too much protein can eliminate this.

      Try using coconut oil once a month, and a moisturising oil once a week. I like using olive oil because I cook with it too, and Anjana has made a very good list up there of other oils you could use.

  13. hi anjana ! i want to ask why does my hair feels dry and coarse after i do oil treatment? i used coconut oil. is it because i used too much oil?

  14. Hello Anjana, this is the first time I’m on your site and I am in love with your hair! Thank you for your blog and article. When you oil your hair at night before bed, how do you sleep? Is there a special way? With a shower cap on and your hair tied up? I don’t want to get my pillow oily.

  15. Hi Anjana, love ur blog, I have a few questions though…
    Which shampoo is better wow apple vinegar or wow 10 in 1?
    Secondly, I have noticed that after aplying the conditioner as a leave in, my hair is lumpy, as in the curls arent very smooth. Conditioner loreal smooth intense

  16. Thank you so much for these tips!
    Please forgive my ignorance, I am from the Caribbean and I am not familiar with the use of oils for hair. Do you apply the oil on dry hair, or should I wet my hair first?

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