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Why Olive Oil Deserves A Spot In Your Hair Care Routine

Why Olive Oil Deserves A Spot In Your Hair Care Routine

Stephanie Eckelkamp

While your hair may be the last place you'd think to slather olive oil, hear us out!

We expose our hair to a LOT of stressors on a regular basis. Think about it: Harsh chemicals in hair dye, surfactants in shampoo, excessive heat from blow drying, trauma from daily brushing, and oxidative damage from sun exposure and pollution—all of which can make hair more porous and prone to moisture loss, breakage, split ends, dryness, and frizz.

For hair to remain truly healthy and lustrous, it needs to keep nutrients and moisture sealed inside. The good news: You might not need fancy, pricey treatments like Olaplex to repair, strengthen, and improve the appearance of your strands!

Enter: Olive oil. We know there are loads of health benefits of eating olive oil, but due to its combination of healthy fats, nourishing vitamins, and antioxidants, it can make a great topical DIY natural hair treatment, too. (Fun fact: Ancient Greeks actually used it as a hair conditioning treatment.)

Benefits Of Olive Oil For Hair

So what is it about olive oil that makes it worthy of slathering on your strands? It's all about those fatty acids and bioactive compounds.

  • It’s packed with hair-penetrating fatty acids. Compared to some other oils that just sit on the surface of your hair and contribute to a greasy appearance (like mineral oil), research shows that monounsaturated fatty acids—the main fat in olive oil—can actually penetrate the hair shaft. While it doesn’t act as a moisturizer itself, it does help your hair retain moisture from other sources such as water-based conditioners.
  • It contains natural emollients. Olive oil also contains compounds such as oleic acid (a type of monounsaturated fat), squalene, and palmitic acid, all of which act as natural emollients that help seal rough, scaly cuticles (the outermost portion of the hair shaft). This helps lubricate and detangle strands, decrease friction between strands to prevent breakage, and make damaged hair appear softer and smoother.
  • It’s full of soothing antioxidants. Olive oil contains vitamin E, vitamin K, and other bioactive antioxidant compounds that may help neutralize free radicals and protect hair from the effects of sunlight and air pollution, which contribute to oxidative damage.

But how exactly should you use olive oil in your hair care routine? Is olive oil suitable for all hair types? Should you always use extra virgin olive oil over regular olive oil? And can it actually miraculously promote hair growth as loads of bloggers claim?

Below, we dive into when you should and shouldn't use olive oil for hair and how to make your own DIY home remedies.

3 Annoying Hair Issues Olive Oil Can Remedy

Olive oil isn’t perfect for every annoying hair problem (see: dandruff, which we’ll get to later), but there’s reason to believe it can help in the following situations. Pro tip: It’s also a good idea to use extra virgin olive oil on your hair, since it packs the most antioxidants and healthy compounds.

1. Olive Oil For Split Ends & Brittle, Damaged Hair

When the outer layer of your hair shaft, a.k.a. the hair cuticle, starts to fray and separate, hair loses moisture, becomes brittle, and can develop split ends—or even break off in places. This can happen for any of the reasons outlined above, from hair dye to heat treatments to harsh brushing.

Fortunately, olive oil can serve as a preventative treatment to avoid damage altogether or smooth already-damaged strands to improve hair’s appearance. In fact, research shows that regularly applying oil to hair fills the gaps between damaged hair cuticle cells, which prevents hair from absorbing harsh substances (e.g. surfactants in shampoo) that may lead to more damage.

Try it out: There are a couple ways you can use olive oil to help prevent damage and reduce the appearance of split ends.

  • Apply a bit to damaged ends: Rubbing a few drops of EVOO between your fingers then running them through your damaged ends can immediately up your hair’s shine factor, mask split ends, and protect the most vulnerable strands from further damage.
  • Slather olive oil on before you shower: Sounds weird to apply olive oil to your hair only to wash it off, but it turns out: “Hair is weakest when wet, then when you add in surfactants from shampoo and the scrubbing motion, you cause friction between strands,” according to the popular health and wellness site mindbodygreen. This friction could cause breakage—but evenly coating your strands with olive oil and allowing it to sit for 10-20 minutes before you wash your hair can reduce friction and prevent damage.
  • Try a DIY olive oil hair mask: For a more deeply penetrating treatment, coat your hair with olive oil and let it set under a shower cap for at least 15 minutes and up to overnight. See our hair mask instructions below.

2. Olive Oil For Frizzy Or Curly Hair

We’ve all had frizzed out hair now and then, but what actually causes those annoying flyaways? Turns out, it’s because hair lacks moisture. When your hair is damaged from hair dye, heat treatments, etc, the hair cuticle (outermost layer of hair) frays up instead of lying smooth and flat like shingles, causing moisture loss. When hair is dry and the weather is humid, the outer layer of hair actually takes on moisture from the air and causes hair to swell and frizz.

What about curly hair? This hair type is actually more prone to breakage and frizz, because each  hair strand is most vulnerable and weak at points where it curves.

So what can olive oil do? Essentially it can help smooth those frayed hair cuticle layers, forming a protective barrier that helps reduce the amount of water your hair absorbs and controls frizz.

Try it out: In addition to the tips in the section above, here’s what you can do.

  • Apply a (tiny) bit from root to tip: The key here is to reduce frizz without making your hair appear greasy. So put a drop or two of oil into your hands, rub your palms together, then run your fingers through your wet or dry hair from root to tip.

3. Olive Oil For Hair Loss & Thin Hair

There’s no miracle cure for increasing hair growth and thickness, but olive oil has some promising early research—and how you apply it can make all the difference.

A small study on mice found that topical application of a bioactive compound in olive oil called oleuropein can positively impact the hair growth cycle (specifically, it upregulates genetic pathways that induce anagenic hair growth). But we don’t know if it would have the same effect for human hair growth.

However, gently massaging the scalp with olive oil (or another hair-friendly oil like jojoba oil or almond oil) may have positive effects on hair thickness. One study found that people who gave themselves a daily 4-minute scalp massage for 6 month had thicker hair by the end, and more recent research supports the use of scalp massages for androgenic alopecia, a form of hair loss. Why? Researchers think the gentle force of a scalp massage stretches hair follicle cells, which increases thickness. It’s also possible that increased blood circulation to the hair follicle could promote growth.

Try it out: If thickness and growth is your main goal, definitely try a scalp massage!

  • Olive oil scalp massage: When your hair is wet or damp, gently massage 2 tablespoons - ¼ cup of olive oil into your scalp with your fingertips for up to 5 minutes. You can then let the oil sit for about 15 minutes (optional). Finally, shampoo and rinse your hair to remove the olive oil. (Pro tip: Rosemary and peppermint essential oils may also stimulate hair growth. You can add 1-2 drops of essential oil per 1 tablespoon of olive oil.)

When You Should NOT Use Olive Oil On Your Hair

For all of olive oil’s hair health benefits, it can cause damage if you’re not careful. The main situation you want to avoid using EVOO on your hair:

  • Before heat treating your hair: If you slather your strands in EVOO and then apply high heat (think: using a blow dryer, curling iron, straightener, etc), you’re essentially deep frying them, which causes serious damage!
  • If you have dandruff: Surprisingly, olive oil isn’t the best for soothing a flaky, dandruffy scalp. Dandruff is caused by an overgrowth of yeast on the scalp, and olive oil can actually promote further growth of this yeast if not washed and rinsed thoroughly from your hair. (This is also the reason you shouldn’t use olive oil to treat cradle cap in infants.)
  • For fine and thin hair, use caution: Even a little olive oil can make fine, thin hair appear greasy. It’s not a total no-go, though. Feel free to use olive oil as a hair mask, just make sure to wash and rinse thoroughly after applying.

DIY Olive Oil Hair Mask & Scalp Treatment Recipe

A DIY olive oil hair mask or massage can be a perfect stress-busting self-care ritual. Here are some tips to make it more enjoyable and effective:

What you need:

  • 2 tbsp-¼ cup extra virgin olive oil (warmed ~10 seconds in microwave, optional)
  • 1-2 drops peppermint or rosemary essential oil per 1 tbsp olive oil, optional
  • plastic applicator bottle
  • shower cap
  • towel or old t-shirt

How to apply:

  1. Pour olive oil and optional essential oils into an applicator bottle, or simply mix in a small bowl.
  2. Place a towel over your shoulders or wear an old shirt to protect from the oil
  3. Apply the oil mixture to dry or wet hair in sections, from the root to the tip. (Gently massage the mixture into your scalp for up to 5 minutes if doing a scalp massage.)
  4. Cover your hair with shower cap and allow the mixture to sit for at least 15 minutes and up to overnight.
  5. Remove shower cap and gently comb through your hair with a wide-tooth comb.
  6. Shampoo and condition your hair as usual, and rinse thoroughly.

Bottom line on olive oil for hair.

Olive oil, especially EVOO, is an inexpensive way to improve the health and appearance of your hair. Just remember, a little bit often goes a long way (especially for straight, thin hair types), and you should never heat treat your hair directly following an olive oil application—unless you’ve washed it out first.

Oh, and if you're not the DIY type, don't worry! You can also try reputable store-bought hair care products with olive oil as a main ingredient such as African Pride and ORS Olive Oil.