Oil Pre-Shampoo: Why it Works and How to Do It

Curated by Claudia Shannon / Research Scientist / ishonest

It’s a staple in my kitchen (can you tell I’m Italian?). I pour it over salads, add a few drops to any sauce, and generously splash it over bruschetta.

And when my hair became all dry, brittle and unmanageable after years of dying it blonde, I started bathing my locks in it, too.

Curious to know why? Here’s the complete guide to a pre-shampoo treatment and why olive oil is the perfect choice for your hair:

  • Which Is The Best Oil For A Pre-Shampoo Treatment?
  • How Much Oil Should You Use?
  • Should You Heat The Oil Up?
  • How Often Should You Do A Pre-Shampoo Treatment?

The Science Behind Oil Pre-Shampoo Treatment: Why Does It Work?

This is the boring science bit. I’ll make it quick and easy, I promise.

Did you know that sebum’s your hair’s natural moisturizer? It coats your hair, creating a protective barrier that keeps moisture in. The more moisture your hair has, the softer and shinier it gets.

When you wash your hair, you remove some of that sebum. If your hair’s oily, that’s cool. You still have plenty left to keep your locks in top shape.

Dry, brittle hair? Your skin has so little sebum, it hangs onto it like its life depended on it. It kinda does. When you get rid of the little it has during washing, it becomes even drier. Ugh.

FYI, sebum doesn’t just keep moisture in. It also keeps water out. Let me explain. When your hair comes in contact with water (i.e. every time you wash it), it swells up. As you dry it, it contracts again.

This phenomenon is called hydral fatigue and it’s NO good for hair. All that swelling and contracting makes your hair dry, weak, and prone to breakage.

A pre-shampoo treatment adds oil back into your hair. Sure, it makes it a little greasier, but that’s a GOOD thing.

The extra oil reduces the amount of water your hair soaks up during washing, reducing hydra fatigue. Plus, after shampoo has done its sebum-removing job, you still have enough oil on your hair to keep your locks soft and healthy. Win win.

How To Do An Oil Pre-Shampoo Treatment

Now you know why you need to do a pre-shampoo treatment before washing your hair, let’s find out how to do it right, shall we?

Which Is The Best Oil For A Pre-Shampoo Treatment?

If you want to reap all the benefits from a pre-shampoo treatment, you can’t just use any oil. You need one that can penetrate your hair.

That narrows down your choice to olive oil and coconut oil. Both oils make it through the hair shaft to condition hair from within.

How Much Oil Should You Use?

It depends on the length of your hair and on how oily it is. As a rule, the oilier your hair, the less oil you need. A few drops are more than enough for you. Dry hair? Apply it liberally. Your thirsty locks will soak it all up.

Should You Heat The Oil Up?

When you heat it up, oil becomes less fluid. That means it spreads throughout your hair more easily and evenly.

The catch? Heat can dry out hair. So how do you heat oil up without damaging your locks? Just wrapping your hair with a plastic cap or a warmed wet towel is usually enough.

P.S. Make sure the oil is warm, NOT hot, when you apply it on your hair.

How Often Should You Do A Pre-Shampoo Treatment?

It depends on your hair type and how damaged it is. Back to my blonde days, I did a pre-shampoo treatment every time I washed my hair. Yes, it was THAT damaged!

Now my hair is back to being its oily self, I do a pre-shampoo treatment once every 10 days.

You should also do an oil pre-wash treatment every time your hair starts misbehaving, becoming too dry, too difficult to detangle, or gets too many flyaways.

Do you do an oil pre-wash treatment? Share your experience in the comments below.

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