We all have oil glands in our scalps (and other areas of skin) that produce natural sebum. As far as the scalp goes, sebum helps make our scalps and hair more waterproof and keeps our skin and hair from drying out. It also helps make our hair more flexible and less susceptible to breakage. While most scientists and cosmeticians have long held that sebum is a natural lubricant, there is a school of thought that it is actually a form of body waste.
The amount of sebum a particular scalp produces varies with age, hormonal changes, and heredity. Also, using certain shampoos can trigger your glands to produce more or less sebum.
Dealing with an oily or dry scalp is a whole subject in itself. I'm focusing in this article on the hair -- particularly for those with longish hair. I will describe a way to use a drop or two of a natural oil to add shine to your hair, cut down on any tendency toward frizz, to possibly strengthen the hair shaft, and to seal moisture into the hair shaft.
Until the twentieth century, most women in most cultures had long hair. In many cultures, fragrant oils were added to the hair to perfume it and to keep it moist and flexible.
In most cultures, people did not wash their hair as often as twenty-first century Americans are used to doing. In some countries, women adopted the practice of daily brushing their hair with many strokes. This moved the scalp oils from the scalp down the shaft of the hair. Thus, this cleaned the scalp of excess sebum, as well as provided the hair with the body's own natural lubricant. While some people still believe in the old "100 strokes a day", most women find that brushing their hair this much actually breaks and damages the hair. Many feel that this technique of moving the natural oil down the hair shaft is not necessary today given our ability to shampoo and condition our hair more frequently and the fact that we do not tend to grow our hair as long as women used to. If you do want to try brushing to see how it works for you, try using a brush made of natural hair, such as boar bristle. Brush gently. Start with ten or twenty strokes and build up to 100. After a month or two, check your hair to see whether the effeccts are beneficial or deterimental for you.
Today, many people still use added oils to keep their hair moist and flexible, particularly if their hair is long or if they belong to an ethnic group which tends toward dry hair. If your hair is on the short side, you probably don't need to add any oiling to your routine, other than to wash and condition as is suitable. However, if you struggle with dry hair or dry ends to your hair, particularly on any length that extends below the bottom of your ear or your shoulders, you might want to consider what adding a drop or two of oil might do for your hair.
Which oils should you use to protect your hair? One scientific study tested the following: avocado oil, meadowfoam seed oil, sunflower oil, and jojoba oil. Their findings were that straight chain glycerides, such as olive oil, coconut oil, and avacao oil, actually penetrate the hair shaft. Other types of oil, including the famous jojoba oil, do not penetrate the hair shaft and remain on the surface.
The oils that will strenghten your hair the most are the ones that do penetrate the hair shaft. So, if you would like to try adding a bit of shine, moisture, and strength to your hair, coconut oil or olive oil would be a good choice. This is particularly true if you have hair strands that are medium to coarse in texture. If your hair is very fine, you might find after experimenting that coconut oil and even olive oil might be too greasy or heavy for your hair's texture. In that case, you might choose a lighter oil, such as almond oil.
Almond oil and other oils, such as jojoba oil, that do not penetrate the hair shaft can still have their place in a hair care routine. They can be used to seal in moisture. In this sense, they act as a conditioner but remain on the surface of the hair shaft.
Whichever oil you choose, here is how to apply it. (If you are using the oil to seal in moisture, apply to slightly damp hair.) If your hair is very thick and heavy or coarse in texture, divide it into sections using clips and apply the following method section by section. Otherwise, you can cover all of your hair simply by moving your hands around.
Place one or two small drops in your palm. Rub your hands together. There should be only enough oil in your palms to make your palms shine a bit, so dab off any excess. Now, gently pat the ends of your hair with your palms or gently slide the palms of your hair down the ends. Next, bring your hands up to no higher than ear length and gently slide your hands down the strands of your hair.
The reason you do not want to apply the oil above chin length is that the hair nearest your scalp is probably already well protected by the scalp's own oil. Adding more oil might weigh down your roots and cause your hair to look dirty. Adding oil here might also interfere with your body's own natural balance of oil production. Some people will find value in oiling the scalp and the hair nearest the scalp as a deep conditioning process, but that's not what we're trying to accomplish with this particular technique.
If you have applied the right amount of oil for your hair's thickness and texture, your hair will shine, look less frizzy, and still have a healthy, clean glow. If you have used too much, the hair will look oilier and will get dirty faster. If you have used too little, you may not see a healthy shine. Experiment until you know the right amount to use.
Oil can also be used as a deep conditioner, rather than as a leave-in conditioner. That's the subject of another article, however!