If you're struggling with unruly, dry or unhealthy hair or you just want to use something with fewer chemicals on your tresses, then olive oil is an inexpensive but effective go-to. Find out why and how the humble olive yields such benefits.
What Does Olive Oil Do for Your Hair?
Olive oil is high in monounsaturated essential fatty acids and vitamin E, as well as common fatty acids such as palmitic acid, oleic acid, squalene and terpenes, says New York-based board-certified traditional naturopath Sally Warren, Ph.D.
Palmitic acid, oleic acid, squalene and terpenes are emollients, she says. “This means they soften and smooth. They do this by forming a film on the surface of the hair to lubricate and decrease snagging and tangling.”
While the emollients act as a natural conditioner, the vitamin E fights off the free-radical damage from sunlight and pollution, says Catherine Davies, M.D., Johannesburg-based dermatologist with a special interest in hair restoration.
And while olive oil provides benefits when applied topically, it also contains health benefits when ingested. A 2008 study published in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that having a daily dose of olive oil helped reduce interleukin-6 (which is a pro-inflammatory) as well as C-reactive protein, which indicates inflammation in the body.
Including olive oil in your diet also helps to increase omega-3 fats, says Warren. “Getting the right kinds of fat on the inside helps both hair and skin’s elasticity.”
Read more: The 12 Best Foods for Healthy Hair
1. Less Dandruff
Dandruff can be caused by many things such as poor diet or a fungus. So it may be worth trying to find the root cause (pun intended). However, olive oil certainly can help soften flakes. And using olive oil on the scalp also helps lessen the itching and inflammation associated with dandruff, says Warren.
“Massage olive oil into your dry scalp and comb out dandruff flakes," says Dr. Davies. "Leave olive oil in your hair and cover with a shower cap for extra conditioning."
2. Helps Precent Split Ends
The best way to get rid of split ends is to chop them off, says Dr. Davies. But olive oil is an excellent first-line defense in keeping split ends at bay by nourishing and softening your hair.
3. Strength and Shine
Olive oil has the ability to penetrate the hair strand, nourishing it from the inside as it locks moisture in, says Warren. As the hair begins to mend and becomes less parched, the shine comes back. The essential nutrients and monounsaturated fatty acids in olive oil also assist in strengthening hair from the root to the tip, says Dr. Davies.
"Many people who use olive oil on their hair will notice that it not only becomes softer and more manageable but that their hair grows in much faster, thicker and denser,” says Dr. Davies. In fact, a 2015 study from PLoS One confirms that oleuropein — a component found in olive oil — helps stimulate hair growth.
Read more: 9 Things to Do for Amazing Hair
4. Hair Manageability and Softness
As the olive oil penetrates the hair shaft, it starts to feel softer, says Dr. Davies. It does this by locking in the hydration.
"As hair softens with the olive oil, it becomes more manageable and easier to style," Dr. Davies says. She adds that olive oil is especially good for naturally frizzy, curly, kinky, damaged or color-treated hair.
Choosing an Olive Oil for Your Hair
"You can use olive oil straight from your kitchen cupboards," Dr. Davies says. This is preferable to commercial shampoos and treatments that contain olive oil as these usually have very low levels (and lots of other added ingredients).
Extra-virgin olive oil, however, is the best type of olive oil to use, as it contains no additives or undesirable impurities, says Warren. "Choose organic, pure extra-virgin, high-quality, unrefined and non-GMO," says Warren. In other words, don't go too cheap or you could end up with an oil that's a blend with some other type of oil.
She advises that if the oil smells rancid, it's probably old. "You can check to make sure your oil is pure olive oil by placing a couple of teaspoons in a small bowl and popping it into the fridge. If it solidifies, it's monounsaturated. If it stays liquid after 24 hours, it's polyunsaturated, or a mix, and therefore not pure olive oil."
How to Use Olive Oil in Your Hair
Dr. Davies cautions that, while olive oil will work wonders for your crowning glory, it's necessary to thoroughly wash it out so that your hair doesn't look greasy. "Add very little water with shampoo to get any oil out of your hair completely," she says. "After working shampoo through your hair, more water can then be added to create foam and rinse out. Wash twice."
Dr. Davies also recommends doing the following for an at-home hot oil treatment: "Warm up a cup of olive oil in warm water or in the microwave," she says. "Transfer it to a small jug or bowl, then section off three-inch pieces of hair and massage the oil from root to tip. Wrap your head in a towel for 30 minutes, then shampoo and condition your hair as usual."
When blended with essential oils, olive oil's hair care benefits can be increased, says Warren. She recommends mixing a couple of drops of lavender, peppermint or rosemary to stimulate growth. If you're finding your hair is falling out, cedarwood and thyme can help prevent hair loss. Lemongrass will help clear up dandruff flakes while clary sage oil helps accelerate hair growth and prevent breakage.
But because there's always a small risk of reaction, it’s recommended you do an allergy test first by leaving a small drop of the essential oil on the back of your hand for 30 minutes before applying to your scalp. Use these oil blends on your hair for about 30 minutes at a time, since they're potent. Rinse off, and then shampoo as normal.
Sholeen Lagadien is a freelance writer and editor, mom and Bikram Yoga enthusiast.