Nourishing Oils for the Hair and Scalp

Discover the best hair oils for every tress type.

Consumers are searching for natural options to fight frizz, breakage caused by moisture-zapping villains such as sun and wind exposure, and a slew of other hair troubles. When a client or customer turns to you for advice, you want to be able to recommend just the right remedy for that person.

And while the body does have its own innate moisturizer called sebum–that unctuous substance naturally produced by skin–it's not a cure-all. Sometimes scalps need additional help combating dryness caused by moisture-zapping villains such as sun and wind exposure, excessive washing, chlorine and hair-coloring chemicals.

Enter hair oils. A dab of the right tincture can tame errant flyaways, nix flakes and quench dehydrated crowns.

We studied today’s top eight hair oils to learn what makes each most effective, and how to get results that won’t leave your customers feeling slimed.

ARGAN

Argan oil comes from an eponymous tree native to Morocco, which explains why the extract is also called Moroccan oil. Its use is long and storied. Berbers culled it circa 600 B.C., drawn by its health- and beauty- enhancing benefits. Today, the North African country’s argan forests are protected by UNESCO as Biosphere Reserve sites. Harvesting must be sustainable–though native goats enjoy free reign, climbing branches and scaling treetops to munch the wholesome nuts.

The Good: “Liquid gold” is argan oil’s third name, for good reason: It’s rich in nutrients, including vitamins A, C and E, loads of essential fatty acids–primarily omega-rich oleic, palmitic and linoleic acids–and a concentrated quantity of other antioxidants such as squalene (a super-saturating lipid), ferulic acid and carotenoids. Argan oil fights dandruff by helping to reduce skin inflammation. Because it is ultra rich in vitamin E, it also helps repair dry, damaged hair and scalps. “Argan naturally increases elasticity, then consistently restores shine to dull, lifeless tresses,” says Kevin Hughes, Moroccanoil’s artistic director.

Suggest that your customers who love swimming and sunning protect their strands from the mean effects of chlorine, salt and UV rays by first combing through a few drops of oil, from root to tip. Argan forms a natural mantle, locking in moisture while blocking free radicals and harsh environmental toxins. Prestyling is a second way to use it. “Infuse damp hair with argan serum to decrease tearing when brushing,” Hughes suggests.

The Bad: Impostor oils have caused acne- like allergic skin reactions, usually around the scalp line, neck or chest. In pure form, argan should have a slightly nutty scent that fades after application. Look for the words “Made in Morocco” or the ECOCERT certified product label to ensure you’re carrying a quality oil in your store.

The Bottom Line: It’s the best oil for dry, frizzy strands.

CASTOR

Previous generations might be traumatized by childhood memories of swallowing a spoon of castor oil to temper indigestion–but there is method to the seeming madness of this age-old remedy. Pressed from the seeds of castor plants, the potent, pale yellow vegetable byproduct promotes digestion, serves as a disinfectant and boosts the immune response.

The Good: This lubricant is antiviral, anti- fungal and antibacterial. That’s why it can battle dandruff and prevent scalp infections such as ringworm, which may lead to hair loss and folliculitis, which manifests as raised red bumps. Ricinoleic acid found in castor oil helps balance scalp pH by lowering alkaline levels that sometimes spike when we overshampoo. It increases circulation, simultaneously stimulating follicle growth while reducing hair loss. Furthermore, castor oil is made of moisturizing fatty acids that penetrate shafts.

“Moisture seals the damaged cracks on hair’s hydrolipidic film, increasing tensile strength and smoothing cuticles to deliver sheer shine,” explains Heather Coughlin, director of product development at Amika.

Castor oil for hair comes in three main types. Cold-pressed, sometimes called organic, is pulled from seeds sans heat; it’s best for curly ringlets and dry, itchy scalps. Jamaican black is roasted, with ashes of the seeds used in elixirs, accounting for its onyx color. Straight manes get the most from this variety. Hydrogenated castor oil is brittle, thus added mainly to pomades.

The Bad: The smell! Some describe castor oil as pungent. Jamaican black is especially smoky. To nix the bad odor, advise your customers to mix in rosemary, lavender or peppermint essential oils.

The Bottom Line: It’s the best oil for fighting fungal or bacterial scalp conditions.

HEMP

Perhaps the most maligned of all oils, hemp gets a bad rap from critics who incorrectly equate it with marijuana. Though both come from the Cannabis sativa plant, the former can’t get you high, as it contains only trace amounts (0.3 percent or less) of THC, the plant's psychoactive chemical. Hemp cultivation for research became legal in 2014, and more than a dozen states have since allowed its commercial production, with talks underway to authorize farming at the federal level. Hemp oil is cold-pressed from seeds, emerging light green with a rich aroma, like nuts mixed with mowed grass.

The Good: Remarkably, this oil is composed of 25 percent protein–a perfect complement to hair’s natural keratin makeup. “It acts as a protein booster, penetrating shafts to make them thick and strong from the inside out,” says Talia Tiram, Ecoco’s vice president of national chain sales. It’s perfectly balanced: Equal parts omega-3, omega-6 and omega-9 saturate without adding unwanted weight. “Continual use of cannabis oil allows its high-value fatty acids to bond with hair, restraining future breakage,” she says. Plus, hemp is a ceramide. These waxy lipids are incredibly hydrating, preventing water loss and injecting follicles with moisture.

The Bad: When stored incorrectly, unrefined hemp oil can turn rancid a few months after opening. Urge your customers to keep it cold and store it out of light.

The Bottom Line: This is the best oil for countering breakage.

SAFFRON

There’s nothing ugly about saffron. It comes from the stigma of the Crocus sativus plant, which smells like honey and flowers bright violet. Originally produced in Persia, the spice was traded for millennia as one of the world’s most expensive seasonings. It’s said that Cleopatra mixed it into her proprietary bath blend before greeting suitors. Maybe that’s because saffron is rich in manganese, a naturally occurring essential mineral that relieves inflammation, boosts vitamin absorption, supports digestion and improves cognitive function, among other things.

The Good: As for hair benefits, manganese boasts antioxidants that fight free radicals in follicles. A force of additional antioxidants makes saffron one of the most-potent known preventers of tress loss, which means it’s good for those with alopecia. Saffron’s second winning trait is attributed to crocin. This carotenoid, or organic pigment, bestows the spice’s stunning crimson hue as well as its anti- inflammatory nature.

Rounding out the list, saffron contains an abundance of vitamins and minerals. “Vitamins B and C, folic acid, calcium, magnesium, phosphorous, selenium and zinc further promote hair growth,” says Shiva Tavakoli, cofounder of Joon Haircare.

The Bad: The spice is fit for sultans–and that’s reflected in its price. Saffron ranks among the most expensive oils.

The Bottom Line: Saffron is the best oil for preventing hair loss.

COCONUT

Call coconut the ultimate multitasker. Cultures throughout the centuries have woven its palm leaves into baskets, turned its shells to cutlery, eaten its meat and gulped its milk. Coconut oil is a natural tooth whitener and, of course, it’s the holy grail of hair treatments. There seems to be no limit to what this gift from the gods can do.

The Good: Part of coconut oil’s power comes from the fruit’s similarity to our hair’s natural lipid structure, enabling it to easily and completely permeate shafts. It’s packed with vitamins (especially E) and fatty acids, so it promotes moisture–then retains it.

Rather than evaporate, the oil stays in strands to both repair and protect it from heat. Carbohydrates fatten–and for tresses, that’s a good thing. What’s more, this oil also contains two saturated fatty acids, lauric and capric, which lend their antimicrobial strength to the fight against scalp infection.

The Bad: Because it seemingly works miracles and smells like piña coladas, the temptation is to slather on this oil. However, overdoing it has the counterintuitive effect of turning hair unresponsive. Coconut oil works best when used in moderation.

The Bottom Line: This oil is best for all hair types.

ALMOND

Almond is not just the name of the seed, but also the tree species native to Middle Eastern regions with temperate climates, such as Pakistan and Turkey. Historically, Greco-Persian healers used almond extract to soothe psoriasis, eczema and other skin conditions.

The Good: The properties that make almond oil an effective dermal rejuvenator apply equally to hair. It’s got antioxidants, including vitamin E, fatty acids and protein, as well as a high dose of magnesium. Deficiency of this element in the body can cause calcium deposits to build on the head, which leads to flaking. As it does for skin, almond oil alleviates psoriasis of the scalp. It’s an emollient, so it fills the gaps in hair at the cellular level. Because it’s among the lightest of all nut oils, it works best on thin, fine strands.

Don’t get confused if you see the words “sweet almond oil” on a bottle. All almond extract used for hair is sweet. There are technically two types of almond oil: sweet and bitter. The latter is pressed from almonds that contain traces of hydrocyanic acid, aka cyanide. This poison gets destroyed when heated and processed, and the bitter stuff typically goes into making almond butter or flavored liqueurs.

The Bad: Its powers are a bit limited. Almond oil may not tame frizz on coarse or textured locks. Advise customers to combine almond oil with a drop of coconut oil to calm flyaways while still reaping this nut’s benefits.

The Bottom Line: It’s the best oil for beating dandruff.

JOJOBA

First, a confession: In consistency, jojoba oil is actually more of a wax, pulled from a shrub that grows in the southwestern segment of the U.S. Native Americans liked it for treating common skin injuries such as bruises, burns and sores.

The Good: Jojoba is unique in that it most closely mimics the molecular composition of human sebum. So scalps drink it up, and it works wonders on most manes. Vitamins E and B enable skin and hair to retain the oil’s moisture. Additional inherent minerals include silicon, zinc and copper, which trigger rapid cell reproduction.

The Bad: Jojoba’s benefits take slightly longer to manifest.

The Bottom Line: In addition to its moisturizing benefits, jojoba is the best oil for promoting hair growth.

OLIVE

Screen siren Sophia Loren once famously
attributed her vitality to olive oil baths– perhaps the only endorsement needed. Olive trees have been cultivated in Asia Minor and Mediterranean countries for thousands of years; they are so ubiquitous as to be considered life-essential.

The Good: Fans of olive oil love how it provides the trifecta of tress blessings: body, softness and resilience. Thank the fruit’s primary chemical elements–oleic and palmitic acid, plus squalene. The oil coats shafts and acts as a heat guard. Its vitamin composition centers on A and E, which help combat dihydrotestosterone (DHT), that pesky hormone that contributes to hair loss by wearing down follicles.

In addition, a mix of antioxidants within help battle free radicals responsible for premature graying. Research shows that antioxidants also improve tresses’ overall shine, color and texture.

The Bad: There can be too much of a good thing. Squalene found in olive oil is also present in scalp sebum, so overuse of this hair oil can quickly equal greasy, weighed-down locks.

The Bottom Line: This is the best oil for baby-soft strands.

[Photo by utkamandarinka/gettyimages.com]