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Do Oils Soften the Hair?

   Do oils soften the hair? Scientists say the only oils that are beneficial to the hair are coconut, olive and avocado oil because those are the oils that are  proven to penetrate deep into the hair's
cortex. However, When I apply those oils to my hair I do not notice a
difference. When I apply hempseed, castor oil or capuacu butter, my hair my hair
softer, pliable and feels as if it were elastic (it feels more flexible).  I know oils that do not penetrate the hair just leave a coating over the hair, but why is it that a coating of hempseed oil, castor oil, capuacu butter on my hair makes my hair feel soft and pliable while a coating of canola or soybean oil just sits on top and not offering any softening properties?  I know oils do not
moisturize the hair, but does applying non-penetrative oils soften the
hair (kind of like how soaking leather in oil makes it more flexible or lanolin softens wool)? 


  • Oils that penetrate can water proof the hair from the inside which helps prevent breakage. 

    Oils that only coat the surface can still make hair feel softer. 
  •     My hair loves softening oils and I feel like a oddball because I like them more than coconut, olive and avocado oils. Please elaborate. I have many questions:

    1) How does coating the surface make the hair strand feel softer? 
    2)Why do some scientists say that coconut, avocado and olive oils are the only oils that benefit? Do other oils serve no purpose?
    3) Are there any studies on the benefits of non-penetrative oils on the hair. Are some non-penetrative oils proven to enhance the hair's elasticity or something of that sort?
    4)Why do some oil coatings (like castor, almond and hempseed) make my
    hair feel softer than other oil coatings (like soybean and canola)?

  • 1. Oils can lubricate the hair shaft making it feel smoother and softer. 
    2. I never heard scientists say that coconut, etc are the only oils that benefit hair. (Although we have said that not many oils PENETRATE into hair.) Almost any oil can provide some benefit just from smoothing the surface. 
    3. You can search the data base for the Journal of the Society of Cosmetic Chemists. Here are results from one quick search:!
    4. I don't know. It could be due to the viscosity and slip properties of the oils. 
  • edited May 2014
    1)So, It sounds like applying oil to the hair is comparable to polishing a wooden shelf; It only coats the top  
       surface making it appear smoother therefore it reflects light and also appears shinier. Are you saying that
       the softness is just the feeling of the oil coating the hair and the oil has no softening affect the actual hair
       strand? How  can oils make my hair feel flexible/pliable even if they just sit on top of the strand? I apply  
       oils to dry hair if that helps.
    2)Thanks for clarifying
    3) Thanks for the link! There are so many beautifying oils in the world that I wonder how they are different
        from one another.
     4)I have applied shea butter ( a very small amount) and capuacu butter( a very small amount) to my hair
        and they are very similar in slip and viscosity and my hair reacted differently to each one. Shea left my
        hair greasy, but capuacu butter left my hair soft. Do you think that the fatty acid components of the oil 
        affect how softening the oil coating on the hair is? My hair loves hempseed oil and I read some where 
        that it has a lot of omega-3 fatty acids. Or with castor  oil, I read that that it is mainly consist of ricinoleic 
        acid, if I try oils with similar chemical make-ups, do you think my hair would feel the same as it does
        when I apply the other oils?

    I hope you don't mind all the questions...I have about a million more.
  • I've always liked the analogy of using oil to soften an old dry leather baseball glove.

    The glove may be dry and stiff but after you apply oil it becomes soft, pliable, and shiny,

    It's sort of the same way with hair.
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