For those of us regularly concerned with breakage, it can feel like a constant search for ingredients and products that will help hair thrive. Of course, the search comes with the internal conflict of not wanting to overmanipulate hair to make the breakage worse while also wanting to try new things. Heavy research is key—as well as trial and error—and red palm oil seems to be one of the newest ingredients people are buzzing about.
To find out more about this versatile oil including its myriad benefits, which hair types it performs best on, and exactly how to use it, we tapped experts Jason Emer and Lacy Fields, and Stacy Chimento.
Meet the Expert
Keep reading to learn why red palm oil is a gamechanger for both hair and scalp.
What Is Red Palm Oil?
"Red palm oil originates from the tropical oil palm and comes from the same part of the palm tree as palm oil. The difference is, red palm oil is less processed and retains a red color that palm oil does not," Chimento tells us.
Red Palm Oil for Hair
- Type of ingredient: Hydrator and anti-inflammatory
- Potential benefits: Stimulates a healthy scalp, moisturizes, and strengthens hair
- Who should use it: Those with an irritated, dry scalp and/or damaged hair
- How often can you use it: Weekly to daily
- Works well with: Pretty much everything—It's great as a leave-in conditioner and moisturizer.
- Don’t use with: There are no ingredients believed to interact negatively with red palm oil.
The Benefits of Red Palm Oil for Hair
Like its name suggests, red palm oil is, well, red. In fact, It gets its color from the same carotenes as sweet potatoes and carrots: alpha-carotene, beta-carotene, and lycopene. And as it turns out, these carotenoids contribute to a number of health benefits for the body and hair. In addition, Emer says that red palm oil is a major source of antioxidants, as well as phytonutrients such as tocotrienols, tocopherols, phytosterols, squalene, and coenzyme Q10, all of which exhibit nutritional properties and oxidative stability. This translates to a bunch of hair and scalp benefits:
- Strengthens: "Red palm oil is an antioxidant, rich in vitamin E that benefits the hair by promoting cell growth of the hair follicles, resulting in stronger hair. The carotenes that give red palm oil its color can also help with the growth and division of cells that help prevent hair from becoming brittle and weak," says Chimento.
- Protects: Red palm oil contains vitamin E, tocopherol, which can help shield your scalp from sun exposure.
- Promotes a healthy scalp: Palm oil's antibacterial properties may help the scalp by decreasing inflammation and creating a healthier environment for hair growth.
- Moisturizes: "Red palm oil also contains fats and lipids that can help keep your hair and scalp moisturized while restoring the hair's natural oils that certain shampoos may strip," notes Chimento. It's also got vitamin A and vitamin E, which are excellent moisturizers and skin soothers.
- Prevents premature graying and hair loss: The vitamin E found in red palm oil also decreases the graying of your hair and hair loss, comments Chimento.
Hair Type Considerations
Given all of the hair benefits of red palm oil, it's no surprise that it's a trending natural ingredient in hair care. Still, to determine whether red palm oil is right for you, it's worth considering your hair type and hair concerns first. "If you're looking to strengthen your hair, de-frizz, or even moisturize your scalp, red palm oil may be for you," says Chimento. Basically, anyone who wants stronger hair with less chance of breakage or whose irritated, dry scalp could use some relief might find the oil appealing. However, Fields emphasizes that red palm oil may be too heavy for those with thin or fine hair. She also advises against using it if you've got an oily or acne-prone scalp.
How to Use Red Palm Oil for Hair
With red palm oil, you don't need a lot of it to reap its rewards. Fields advises that you avoid over-saturating your hair with the oil since a little bit will generally get the job done. And when it comes to frequency of use, Chimento says that red palm oil can be used daily but adds, "a few times a week can be more than enough." We advise finding oil that is pure, organic, and sustainable like Nutiva Red Palm Oil ($12) and then determining the best application method for you:
- Pre-shower treatment mask: Before showering, Emer and Chimento recommend treating hair with red palm oil. "You can use red palm oil to the likes of a hair mask before your regular hair wash routine, rubbing a small amount through your hair, starting at the roots and finishing just below your roots. Let sit for about 10-15 minutes, then rinse and continue with your routine like usual," instructs Chimento.
- Leave-in conditioner: It may also make a great leave-in conditioner, helping to reduce hair breakage and split ends. Chimento says, "You can use it as an overnight leave-in conditioner just by taking a small dime-sized amount and rubbing it into the ends of your hair. You can sleep through the night with this in your hair without having to rinse it out."
- Styling product or cleanser: If you're looking for hair care products that feature red palm oil, SheaMoisture makes an entire line using red palm oil and cocoa butter for prime nourishment.
Is red palm oil eco-friendly?
It's important to make sure your red palm oil is ethically sourced, as some producers of palm oil destroy rainforests, contribute to environmental degradation, and an extreme multitude of other issues for the Earth. You can help to decrease potential environmental damage by purchasing certified sustainable palm oil (CSPO).
Will red palm oil stain my hair?
Proceed with caution: "The oil is very red in color and can take up to two weeks to be removed from natural or peeling red blondes," Fields explains. If you have light-colored hair, you might want to test leaving it on a section of your hair first to make sure it doesn’t leave a tint (unless you like it, then go off!).
Will red palm oil make my hair grow?
Because red palm oil stimulates a healthy scalp and contains vitamin E, it may help to encourage hair growth and reduce hair loss. However, if you're experiencing significant hair loss or looking for a hair growth treatment specifically, it's best to consult a doctor.
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