How to Use Hot Oil Treatments for Hair in 2020 According to Experts

Now that you’ve read all about the protective and hydrating benefits of hair oils (think: olive, coconut, and castor oils), you and your scalp are probably itching to give them a try. Don’t know the best way to incorporate them into your routine? Enter: hot oil treatments for hair. Maybe you’ve heard of ’em, or maybe you’re just now learning about all the ways they can improve the health of your strands and scalp.

Either way, there are a handful of things you gotta know before giving the DIY treatment a try, so I turned to cosmetic dermatologist Michele Green, MD, for all the expert advice. Read this before pouring a bottle of hot oil over your head, k? It’s a biiit more in-depth than that.

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What does hot oil do to your hair?

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More like what doesn’t hot oil do to your hair. The reasons for using a hot oil treatment are aplenty, but the basic gist is that they work to seal in your hair cuticles, helping to strengthen, protect, and moisturize your hair. Dr. Green says some potential benefits include increased hair strength, reduced dryness of both the scalp and the hair, dandruff relief, less frizz and flyaways, and fewer split ends.

And if you have color-treated hair, using hot oil treatments and deep conditioning treatments once a week can help restore your hair’s health and shine. All hair types can benefit from hot oil treatments, but Dr. Green says they’re particularly great for protecting and hydrating the brittle strands of those with dry and damaged hair.

Do hot oil hair treatments help with hair growth?

Although ingredients commonly used in hot oil treatments, like castor oil, olive oil, and coconut oil, lack the scientific evidence needed to support use for hair growth, Dr. Green says not all hope is lost. Hot oil treatments not only encourage healthier hair by increasing blood flow to the scalp, but they can also help with hair loss and breakage. Healthy hair = longer hair, so if you’re trying to grow out your hair, it’s definitely not a bad idea to invest in a hot oil treatment to deeply hydrate your scalp and hair.

At the end of the day though, Dr. Green says to keep in mind that “hair loss can seem overwhelming, which is why it is necessary to consult with a dermatologist who will assess your condition and explain all of your treatment options.” She also adds that it’s important to moisturize your dry scalp, depending on how often you wash your hair or if you frequently color your hair, because keeping your scalp healthy ensures that the hair follicles are hydrated and the breakage is minimized.

Which oil is best for hot oil treatments?

Hot oil treatments are typically made of plant-based oils, like almond, olive, and coconut. Coconut oil works best for moisturizing dry hair, enhancing shine, and restoring softness, while those with oily scalps may want to use a less fatty oil like jojoba or almond, which are lightweight and absorb quickly, to avoid an oily residue on your hair and head.

But hot oil treatments aren’t just for your strands. Dr. Green says if your scalp is dry or unhealthy, your hair will most likely be unhealthy too. If you suffer from dry scalp, Dr. Green recommends applying a mineral oil and paraben-free leave-in conditioner to your hair and moisturizing your scalp with natural oils, such as argan oil, tea tree oil, or rosemary. “Using these oils three to four times weekly on your scalp will keep it healthy and moisturized, resulting in healthy hair growth and less breakage,” Dr. Green says.

Can hot oil damage your hair?

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You’ll need to pay careful attention to the temperature of your oil. Dr. Green says before you use a hot oil treatment, make sure it’s right for your hair type and that you understand the safety risks. Because the oil usually needs to be heated, you do run the risk of burning yourself if you don’t let it cool down enough before applying it to your hair and scalp. Once you think it might be cool enough to use, Dr. Green says to first test the temperature by applying a small amount of the oil to your wrist before spreading it all over.

But since we’re talking about both your hair and your scalp, you shouldn’t only be concerned about potentially damaging your hair. If you have any skin condition, such as psoriasis or eczema, ask your doctor or dermatologist if a hot oil treatment is safe to use on your scalp. Although hot oil treatments use plant-based ingredients, that doesn’t mean they’re safe for everyone. “It is still possible to have an adverse reaction to the oil, especially if you have sensitive skin,” says Dr. Green. “To reduce the risk of a reaction, look for oils that aren’t combined with synthetic ingredients and are 100 percent natural.”

If you are unsure whether a hot oil treatment is safe for you, try doing a patch test a few days before using the product. Don’t know what a patch test is? Just apply a small amount of the ingredient or oil at room temp to the inside of your elbow and watch for any kind of reaction. If you don’t develop any rash within 24 hours, then it should be safe to use. If you do have a reaction to the oil, test different hair oils until you find one that works best for you.

Do you put hot oil treatments on wet or dry hair?

Up to you! Dr. Green says hot oil treatments can be applied to both clean and dry or damp hair, and hair experts swear by it both ways. Experiment with different techniques and see which one works best for you.

Can I leave hot oil treatments in my hair overnight?

Sure, if you want! This all goes back to what works best for you. You can leave the oil in your hair for 30 minutes, or for even greater results, you can even let the treatment do its thing overnight. When it comes time to rinse your hair, shampoo twice to get it all out and condition your hair as usual. Dr. Green gives the okay to use oil treatments once a week or even every few days if your hair is very dry.

How do you apply hot oil treatments?

Most salons offer hot oil treatments so you don’t have to worry about figuring it out for yourself, but for a more affordable option, you can also DIY it at home. If you decide to try it yourself, just make sure to use caution and follow the product’s safety instructions, k? Here are a few YouTube tutorials to help walk you through the process:

1. Hot oil treatment for natural hair:

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This YouTuber mixes avocado, olive, coconut, and castor oils to create this DIY hot oil treatment. Combine all the ingredients in an easy-to-use squeeze bottle, then set the bottle in a bowl of hot water to warm up the oils inside. Next, section your hair and apply the treatment from roots to end, making sure to massage the product into your scalp as well. As you finish each section, twist the strands and set them out of the way. Once all the sections are evenly coated, pull your hair back, wrap it under a plastic cap, and sit under the dryer for 30 minutes before rinsing.

2. Hot oil treatment for dry, damaged hair:

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For this recipe, mix coconut oil and extra virgin olive oil together in a heat-safe bowl. Then, place the bowl inside a sauce pan with a few inches of simmering water to heat the oil. Once the oil is warm, rake it through your scalp and ends—you can brush your hair to spread it more evenly before pulling your hair into a bun. Next, thoroughly soak a towel in water and warm it in the microwave. Cover your hair with the steaming towel for 20 minutes and finish by washing your hair with shampoo and conditioner.

3. Hot oil treatment for curls:

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Start by wetting your hair down with a spray bottle, and then detangle and separate your hair into four sections. Mix together equal parts extra virgin olive, avocado, and coconut oils, while heating up a bowl of water in the microwave—you’ll then place your cup of oil into the bowl of hot water to warm it up. Next, smooth the oil through your hair in four sections, using a detangling comb to distribute the treatment all the way through the ends. Twist your hair into a bun or two and wrap your hair in plastic wrap and a cloth-lined shower cap to trap the heat. After a few hours, wash your hair with shampoo and conditioner.

The takeaway

All in all, if you’re dealing with hair that’s dry, brittle, color-treated, or prone to split ends (that makes, uh, pretty much all of us), Dr. Green says hot oil treatments can totally help moisturize and protect your hair. But if you have a reaction to a hot oil treatment or if it doesn’t help alleviate your dry hair or scalp, consult your doctor or dermatologist ASAP to identify and treat any potential conditions that may be interfering with your hair goals.

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