Have you ever wanted to take defibrillator paddles to your hair and yell, "Clear!" Sometimes our strands enter a dire code blue, and the resuscitation process is a bit more taxing than we expected. Enter hot oil treatments. Yep, we're talking about those little plastic tubes of amber liquid—probably branded Vo5—that you've seen stashed in your grandma's or mother's medicine cabinet. But don't be so quick to dismiss it as an outdated treatment—there's a reason it's been around for several decades, and that's because it works. Just ask dermatologists Dendy Engelman and Rina Allawh, who gave us the DL on everything there is to know about repairing hair with hot oil. So whether your locks are kinky-curly or straight and fine, a hot oil treatment is the answer to your 911 call.
Meet the Expert
Keep scrolling to learn the simplest way to DIY a hot oil treatment for hair—plus, get our picks for next-generation products.
The Benefits of Hot Oil Treatments for Hair
Hot oil treatments seem to be the answer when it comes to reviving dry, damaged tresses. According to Engelman, "Hot oil treatments work by sealing the hair cuticle and protecting your hair from damage. These treatments moisturize and nourish your hair to make it stronger and protect against breakage. Additional benefits include reducing frizz and boosting shine, helping get rid of dandruff, and even potentially aiding with hair growth by tending to the scalp." Allawh agrees: "Hot oil treatments are helpful for dry, thin, and/or frizzy hair. If you are looking to seal in moisture and find you have dry hair, hot oil treatments may be beneficial to help hold onto the moisture and strengthen the integrity of the hair shaft."
Are Hot Oil Treatments Suitable for All Hair Types?
Since hot oil treatments work by restoring moisture to the hair, it makes sense that it would most benefit those whose strands are lacking in that department. "Hot oil hair treatments are especially beneficial if your hair is weak, dry, chemically damaged, or frizzy. This is because these hair types are most in need of moisture and damage prevention," explains Engelman.
How to DIY a Hot Oil Treatment
Click Play to Learn How to Make a Hot Oil Treatment For Healthier Hair
We recommend coconut oil for the best hot oil treatment, as it is super nourishing and has been shown to prevent protein loss in the hair shaft. Both virgin and refined coconut oils work just fine. "Jojoba and almond oil are also good for hot oil treatments because they are usually absorbed quickly and are also very moisturizing," adds Engelman. "Regardless of where your oil is derived, make sure that whatever you’re using is free of any potentially harmful or irritating additives," she emphasizes. Also worth noting: "Not all hot oil treatments are hair and/or scalp safe," warns Allawh. "As a dermatologist, I am always wary of numerous botanical ingredients as these may be irritating to the scalp and trigger allergic skin reactions, and may even cause hair loss and increased shedding. It is important to look for hair oils that contain gentle, hydrating ingredients such as jojoba oil, coconut oil, and shea butter."
Keep in mind that olive oil may work best on very dry hair since it's a heavier oil (Note: Since olive oil is a common skin irritant and may trigger skin allergic reactions, notes Allawh, perform a patch test first). Jojoba is the most similar to the sebum that your scalp naturally produces, so go for that if you tend to be on the oilier side.
Feel free to add lavender or rosemary essential oil, too. Due to their soothing abilities, experts believe these EOs can help stimulate hair growth. Either way, the aromatherapy will make this experience even more luxurious and relaxing. Before getting started, Engelman offers up some advice: "Hot oil works best on clean hair, so you should wash it before beginning your treatment. This allows the treatment to fully penetrate your scalp and hair, instead of just sitting on top of other oils. After letting the oil sit in your hair, rinse it out and finish with your conditioner."
- Create a double boiler situation by adding about an inch of water to a small pot or saucepan, then placing a heat-safe bowl over it.
- Add one tablespoon to a quarter-cup of coconut oil to the bowl (depending on how long your hair is). Heat until melted and warm to the touch. The oil should not be scalding hot, as this could burn your scalp—test a small amount on your wrist first to make sure it's safe.
- Apply generously to clean, and dry or damp hair. Work the oil into your scalp and down to your ends.
- Cover your hair with a shower cap and/or a warm towel. Leave the oil in for at least 30 minutes—even better, overnight.
- Rinse out, then shampoo your hair twice.
- Condition your hair as usual.
Note: You can do this treatment once a week or as many as three times a week.
Another method that doesn't involve a double boiler: Apply the room-temperature oil first to your scalp and hair, and then add heat with a blow-dryer on the low setting.
The Best Ready-Made Hot Oil Treatments
This serum by Shea Moisture can be used as either a leave-in treatment before styling (no rinsing necessary) or as a hot oil treatment worn on the scalp and hair for five to 15 minutes prior to shampooing. Either way, your hair will enjoy a sublimely hydrating, restorative treat.
While this isn't a hot oil treatment, it does get Engelman's praise for being a luxurious oil serum that works. The melange of oils—argan, camellia, and marula, to be exact—works to nourish and strengthen hair, improving its feel and look (read: soft, hydrated, glossy tresses).
If you've got medium to thick tresses, give them some love with this heated oil blend, which counts castor oil, sweet almond oil, and coconut oil, among its ingredients. Use weekly to condition tresses and restore moisture, resulting in silky smooth texture.
If you've got natural hair, chances are you've heard of Pattern Beauty. The brand is dedicated to creating products that nourish, strengthen, and protect your natural texture. Take this self-heating hair serum, for instance. Featuring safflower oil, jojoba oil, and rosehip oil, it will bring you one step closer to healthy, hydrated hair. Did we mention it smells amazing?
The Final Takeaway
Although it's true that any hair oil will hydrate and protect your strands and scalp, a hot oil will reap even more rewards. That's because the heat will help you to better absorb the oil, enhancing its effectiveness and ensuring the promise of strong and healthy hair.
Gavazzoni Dias MF. Hair cosmetics: an overview. Int J Trichology. 2015;7(1):2-15. doi:10.4103/0974-7753.153450
Ezekwe N, King M, Hollinger JC. The use of natural ingredients in the treatment of alopecias with an emphasis on central centrifugal cicatricial alopecia: a systematic review. J Clin Aesthet Dermatol. 2020;13(8):23-27.