Is your scalp itching to try hot oils? We have the 411.

By Daley Quinn
February 10, 2021
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With all the focus on hydrating skincare this season, your dry, damaged hair might have taken a backseat when it comes to getting some much-needed TLC this winter. Colder temperatures can not only do a number on your skin, but can also turn your locks from lovely to lackluster, too. Enter: hot oil treatments for hair, a hairstylist-recommended way to practice self-care and bring life back to your locks. But before you go pouring a bottle of steaming oil over your head, give this a read. We asked hairstylists all the burning questions about hot oil you'll need to know, plus how to execute the treatment safely.

So, how can hot oil hair treatments help hair?

Using hot oil hair treatments has many benefits for dry hair and a dry scalp. "The warm oil seals the cuticle by adding moisture to the hair follicle, which can help repair and prevent split ends," explains Jana Rago, a hairstylist and owner of Boston-based Jana Rago Studios. "A proper hot oil hair treatment, including a scalp massage and allotting enough time for the oil to seep into the hair and scalp, can result in shiny, smooth hair once washed and dried. I like to joke and say that a hot oil treatment is like Botox for the hair—it helps give hair its luster back and strengthens the cuticle from the root."

Can hot oils help with dandruff?

Yes, a hot oil hair treatment can help with dandruff, but only if the dandruff is being caused by having a dry scalp (as opposed to a fungus-related dandruff). That's because applying a hot oil hair treatment to your scalp can help stimulate blood circulation and release flaky, dry skin sitting on top of the scalp, leaving your scalp moisturized and refreshed once it's washed out, says Rago. "Keep in mind that there are other culprits that may cause dandruff-like product build-up, or certain medical conditions like seborrheic dermatitis," adds Leigh Hardges, a hairstylist at Maxine Salon in Chicago. The latter typically requires more advanced dandruff treatments.

Hot oil hair treatments for frizzy, curly, and/or textured hair: do they work? 

Those with frizzy or textured hair actually benefit the most from a hot oil hair treatment, since these hair types are naturally on the drier side. "As someone with textured hair, I'd recommend hot oil treatments, as they can be used for deep conditioning, especially during the winter dryness," explains Jessica Morrobel, a natural hair educator based in New York City. "One of the best perks of hot oil treatment for textured hair is that it protects the hair and makes it softer/more manageable."

Due to the high porosity of curly, textured hair, those hair types will find that their locks drink up the oils from a hot oil treatment faster than someone with straighter hair. "People who have frizzy, curly, and/or textured hair will see better results versus those with straight or thinning hair," explains Rago. "The oil can be overpowering for thin hair, so to use it well, you must apply a smaller amount to the scalp."

Is there anything you shouldn't do when applying a hot oil treatment?

First off, make sure you are paying attention to the temperature of the oil—if you make it too hot, you could easily scald your scalp. Also, "don't apply [a hot oil hair treatment] to dry or dirty hair—when the hair is wet, the cuticle is slightly open, so it's the best time to accept oils and conditioners," says Hardges. "Shampooing the oil out of the hair is a must for best results when styling."

Before applying a new oil to your hair and scalp for the first time, make sure you do a patch test in the area close to your scalp, to see if your skin has any adverse reactions. "It's important to understand which oil is right for your hair type to ensure you don't have any unfavorable reactions to the oil, especially if you have sensitive skin," says Morrobel. "As a natural hair educator, I recommend that anyone new to hot oil treatment check with their doctor or dermatologist before applying hot oil all over their scalp."

How do you know if a hot oil treatment is right for you?

According to Rago, hot oil hair treatments are ideal for anyone with normal to dry, frizzy hair. "The only texture of hair it's not great for is thinning hair or damaged scalps," says Rago. And don't worry about the oils dragging your hair down or making it look greasy. Hot oil treatments are supposed to infuse oil into the hair—not sit on top of it—so that shouldn't happen as long as you're using the right type (and proportion) of oil.

The key is finding an oil with the right molecular weight. Finer hair should opt for coconut oil—in a study published in the International Journal Of Trichology, researchers compared the molecular weight of coconut, sunflower, and mineral oils. They found that coconut oil has a lower weight, which allows it to penetrate the hair shaft. However, certain oils, like sunflower and mineral oils, latch onto the surface of the cuticle, which could leave hair feeling more greasy.

How do you apply a hot oil hair treatment at home? 

Luckily, you don't need to drive yourself to the drugstore. As long as you've got a plant-based oil, like olive, almond, and coconut, on hand, you're already halfway there. 

First, make sure you have enough time to give yourself a hot oil hair treatment. "Depending on how much oil is used, your hair may require two washes for the product to be fully removed from the hair and scalp," says Rago. "It's best to do an at-home oil treatment like this when you have downtime and are not going out right after. Hair always looks the best a few days after a treatment like this."

Next, you'll need to gather your supplies. You'll need:

  • An oil blend (like grapeseed, hemp seed, avocado, olive, or coconut oil)
  • A heat-safe bowl or glass container
  • A larger bowl
  • Hot water
  • A plastic shower cap
  • Shampoo and conditioner

To give yourself a hot oil hair treatment, follow the steps below:

  1. Scoop a small amount of oil into a heat-safe bowl or glass container.
  2. Place the heat-safe bowl or glass container in a larger bowl with hot water, allowing the smaller one to be partially submerged for a few minutes.
  3. Once the oil has reached the appropriate temperature, test the oil on your wrist before applying it to your hair. 
  4. Rub your hands together to spread the warm oil around to the ends of your fingers.
  5. Apply the oil to the scalp, massaging the scalp in small circles with your fingers all over from your hairline to the back of your neck and down to your ears.
  6. Once the oil is distributed throughout the scalp, take a wide-tooth comb and pull the product to the ends of your hair 
  7. Cover your hair with a plastic shower cap and leave the oil in your hair for 15 to 30 minutes.
  8. To remove the oil, wash and shampoo your hair. Finish with conditioner if desired.