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Hot oil treatments involve coating your locks in heated plant-based oils like coconut oil. This can help nourish and protect your hair.
When your hair is stripped of natural oils (whether as a result of the elements, genetics, bleach, or heat styling), a hot oil treatment can help rejuvenate dry, brittle hair.
Here’s what the pros have to say about hot oil treatment perks, plus how to do it safely.
Improve hair strength
“Because the oils used in hot oil treatments penetrate the hair shaft, they can increase the strength of the hair and relieve dryness of the hair and scalp,” cosmetologist Ghanima Abdullah explains.
Promote hair growth
Having stronger hair may also help you grow Rapunzel-level locks.
“If you’re trying to grow your hair out, a hot oil treatment can help strengthen the hair so it doesn’t break as easily,” says Abdullah. “Natural oils also nourish the hair follicles so that it has the necessary components to grow more hair.”
If you have high porosity or bleached hair, everything from heat styling to shower water can do a number on your hair health. When porous hair absorbs too much water, the strands can swell, which can damage the hair and cause it to look lackluster.
According to hairdresser Zoe Green of the Blonde Help blog, some plant-based oils can penetrate the hair and stop some water absorption, which may help improve texture and reduce damage.
“At the very least, hot oil treatments coat the hair and stop overzealous shampoos from stripping them bare,” she adds.
The secret to mermaid tresses is obvs moisture, moisture, moisture.
“If you intend to bleach your hair or are trying to get moisture back into your hair after bleaching, hot oil treatments are great,” Green says.
Still, there truly can be too much of a good thing. If your hair is already on the oily side, a hot oil treatment can lead to excess oil production. After all, you prob want silky hair — not an oil slick.
Say bye to Ms. Frizzle and hi to Ms. Sizzle. “[When these oils coat the hair] they can reduce frizz and help prevent damage that occurs to the hair cuticle,” Abdullah explains.
This is why the practice is so great for curly, frizzy, or damaged hair types in particular — the oil can literally smooth out those frayed bits.
Hot oil treatments are generally safe for most people. But it’s still possible to have an adverse reaction to heated oil, especially if you have sensitive skin.
To reduce the risk of a reaction, the pros recommend the following tips:
- Do a patch test. Green recommends doing a patch test on a small area of your scalp before coating your whole head. If you don’t have a rash or a negative reaction after 24 to 48 hours, proceed.
- Go for pure oil. You can reduce the risk of a reaction by choosing an oil without synthetic additives. Pure plant-based oils are a safer bet for sensitive scalps than oils with artificial preservatives and other potential irritants.
- Watch the temp. Before applying the oil to your head, test the temperature by applying a drop to your wrist. If you happen to have a hair steamer, Abdullah recommends using room-temp oil and heating it up directly on your scalp instead.
- If you have dandruff or flakes, skip it. If you have seborrheic dermatitis, seborrheic eczema, or seborrheic psoriasis (the most severe end of the dandruff spectrum), hot oil treatments are a big no-no. The oil can be irritating or make overgrown fungus on your scalp even worse. When in doubt, talk with a dermatologist.
According to the experts, hot oil treatments are ideal for lots of people, especially those whose hair is:
- prone to split ends
But a hot oil treatment might *not* work (or be a good idea) if you have:
- colored, toned, or permed hair
- oily or fine hair
- dandruff or other sensitive skin conditions
Look for coconut and other plant-based oils
According to Abdullah, the best ingredient for hot oil treatments is coconut oil, since “it’s proven to absorb well into the hair and prevent damage to the cuticle. … It also moisturizes the hair while keeping out excess water that can bloat the hair shaft.”
But, as Green points out, coconut oil can be too heavy for low porosity hair. Other all-natural oils that work well for hot oil treatments are:
Avoid petrochemicals and additives
Abdullah recommends avoiding petrochemicals like mineral oil and silicone, since they’re often used as a substitute for natural oils and can’t fully absorb into the hair shaft.
She also notes that you’ll likely need to use a harsher shampoo, like one with sulfates, to fully wash these substances out — effectively stripping the hair and negating any hydrating benefits of the oil. Boo, hiss.
While many pros, such as Abdullah, recommend coconut oil as the best pick, the choice is ultimately yours.
Got your oil? Here’s what to do:
- Wash and dry your locks. Hot oil tends to absorb best into clean, dry to damp hair. This allows the oil to penetrate deep into the cuticle. At the very least, towel-dry your hair.
- Heat the oil. Microwave 3 to 6 tablespoons of oil in a microwave-safe bowl for 10 secs or heat it on the stovetop on medium heat for 30 secs to 1 minute.
- Test the oil temp. You def don’t want to apply scalding oil to your scalp. Test a drop on your wrist first to be sure it’s not too hot. It should feel warm but should not hurt or burn your skin at all.
- Prep your hair and bod. Throw a towel over your shoulders to protect your clothes from the oil. Or just strip down and do the process in the shower.
- Brush your hair. Make sure it’s knot-free before oiling.
- Apply the oil. Apply the oil evenly throughout your hair. Massage it into your scalp.
- Shower cap, baby. Toss on a shower cap and wait 20 mins.
- Rinse it out. Thoroughly rinse the oil out of your hair. Follow with your usual conditioner.
Hot oil your hair once a week, or as needed to get your ideal hair moisture and texture. For super dry or damaged hair, every few days might be best.
Since heated oil can be risky, Abdullah actually recommends applying room-temp oil to your hair and then using a hair steamer to help it penetrate. “Bonus: You’ll also get more hydration from the steam,” she says.
Want more specific recs for your hot oil treatment? Forget dropping dollars on expensive hair masks — hot oil ingredients are readily available and relatively cheap.
- $ = under $10
- $$ = $10–$15
- $$$ = over $15
- Price: $–$$$
- Sizes: 15 and 54 ounces
Coconut oil remains the number-one pick for hot oil treatments for good reason: It’s nourishing and proven to prevent hair damage.
This giant tub of organic, cold-pressed, 100 percent virgin coconut oil should keep your hair nourished (at a low price!) for months to come.
If you’re not ready to fully commit to the coconut hair oil life, you can also buy a small tub for a fraction of the price.
- Price: $
- Size: 6 ounces
If you’d rather use a premade blend for your hot oil treatment, this castor oil treatment also includes nourishing oils like avocado, grapeseed, and jojoba. Reviewers rave that this treatment transformed their dry, brittle hair.
Lots of people swear by castor oil for promoting hair strength and growth. There’s limited research to back that up, but some older research suggests that a chemical compound found in castor oil might help reverse hair loss.
But this product also contains palm oil and fragrance, which would make it a nope for some folks.
- Price: $–$$$
- Sizes: 4, 16, and 32 ounces
If your scalp doesn’t tolerate coconut oil or you have low porosity hair that doesn’t absorb conditioners easily, oil may be a better option. Almond oil is an emollient that may help fill in breakage in your hair to make it feel smooth AF.
This plain-Jane almond oil also doesn’t have any additives and comes in small, medium, and large sizes, so you can buy as much as you want to use. Reviewers love using this oil for everything from hair treatments to essential oil concoctions.
Hot oil treatments can be a match made in hair heaven for dry, brittle, or damaged locks. Applying heated oil to your scalp and strands can help hydrate and strengthen your hair and protect it from damage.
If you DIY, be sure to do a patch test first and watch the temp of the oil so you don’t burn yourself. Folks with dandruff or sensitive skin conditions should also consult a derm or a hair care pro before getting started.