If you're like many, it was a childhood ritual to sit in between your mother's knees and wait (semi) patiently as she parted and oiled your scalp to prepare it for styling. You may have even had that ubiquitous jar of Ultra Sheen sitting in your bathroom. If you're wondering, "Should you put oil on your scalp?" you're not alone. The reality is that it really depends on your preferences as well as the condition of your scalp.
While for some, the feeling of massaging a light oil into a dry scalp pre-styling offers hydration, others may have an oily scalp to begin with and may find applying moisture-rich products to the hair (versus the scalp) a better alternative. To get the details on what ingredients are best for use on the scalp, we reached out to Bridgette Hill, a sought-after colorist turned trichologist. Here, she shares how to properly oil the scalp and best practices for using oil in your haircare routine.
Check out the benefits of oiling your scalp, as well as some expert-approved guidance on how to use scalp oils without buildup.
Meet the Expert
- Bridgette Hill is a colorist and certified trichologist with over 20 years of experience in the beauty industry.
The Benefits of Oiling Your Scalp
Using oil as a pre-poo has many benefits. The practice can prevent hygral fatigue, restore moisture, and protect hair follicles during the washing process. For this reason, Hill recommends a weekly massage with oils that stimulate the scalp. "Peppermint, tea tree, and citrus-based oils can enhance circulation and decongest the scalp," she says. These benefits make oil an optimal pre-shampoo addition.
However, it is important to dilute any essential oil you use with a carrier oil (like jojoba, sweet almond, or coconut oil) to prevent irritation. You can also buy oils that are already diluted with a carrier.
How to Oil Your Scalp
"Start your massage at the nape of the neck, using both hands, work your fingers up the head to the crown," says Hill. "Then work from the base of the ear to top of the head on both sides. There's a lot of area to cover, so take your time. Spend 3 to 5 minutes massaging the appropriate oil into the scalp to soften skin cells, exfoliate, and remove debris to encourage blood flow." We feel more relaxed already.
For protective styles, Hill recommends a proper scalp treatment sealed with a detoxifying scalp oil applied directly to the scalp. "Invest in color applicator bottles that have a nozzle with the proper width and length small enough to pierce through the lace of a wig and netting of the wig cap." She says these tools are essential to be able to care for the scalp and hair properly. "Apply oils that have cleansing, anti-inflammatory, anti-fungal/bacteria properties. As well as scalp serums or tonics that nourish and cleanse the scalp under the wig."
How Often to Oil Your Scalp
How often you use oil depends on your hair and your lifestyle. With that in mind, Hill says, "When properly used, oils should never promote build up on the scalp." So, buildup on the scalp shouldn't worry you too much as long are you're using oils as a pre-poo cleansing, anti-inflammatory option, as our expert mentioned above. If you're still concerned about the potential of buildup or a flakey scalp, try a water-based scalp remedy. We'll share the benefits of water-based solutions in-depth later.
Does Scalp Oil Work For All Hair Types?
"I do not suggest oils for managing dandruff," Hill notes. "A big misconception is that applying oil directly to the scalp relieves dandruff. As previously stated, pre-shampoo scalp oiling may be ok to use when treating dandruff. [However,] it depends on the severity of the problem. Our scalps are a delicate microbiome made up of healthy yeast, called malassezia, and other necessary bacteria."
"Certain oils can feed and disrupt the balance of bacteria, which promotes the development of unhealthy bacteria." As a result of the disruption, Hill says, "The accumulation of rapidly shedding skin cells, dandruff, along with a buildup of excessive oil and sebum, can create a larger dandruff and scalp problem." For those that deal with dandruff, Hill suggests sticking with water-based tonics.
For additional scalp maintenance, use a scalp scrub (try Ouai Scalp & Body Scrub, $38) to remove flaking skin and product buildup.
Now that we know the ins and outs of oiling our scalps, we have a few oil suggestions for your next wash day. Keep scrolling for our top picks.
Shop the Best Scalp Oils
A go-to oil for naturals is coconut oil. Unfortunately, coconut oil, even in all its moisturizing glory, doesn't work on all hair types. If you have low porosity hair, give this oil a try. Made with sunflower, grapeseed, and baobab oils, the inflammatory mixture is meant to be used as a scalp treatment to reduce dandruff and promote hair growth.
Because avocado oil is lighter compared to others, it's quick-absorbing and doesn't feel as greasy—ideal for those just getting their start in scalp oils.
This multi-purpose hair and scalp oil features a formula rich in essential oils to prevent dry scalp.
This organic black castor oil promises to encourage hair growth and repair damaged scalps with its conditioning, strengthening properties.
Gavazzoni Dias MF. Hair cosmetics: an overview. Int J Trichology. 2015;7(1):2-15. doi:10.4103/0974-7753.153450