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Tracy E. Robey

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Oil Washing Could Be the Solution to Your Hair Woes

Wash with an emulsifying facial oil cleanser for the best hair of your life

Could oil washing — cleansing your scalp and strands with a facial oil cleanser — be the solution to your dry shampoo fears? Dry shampoo, once an essential beauty staple for busy women, has hit hard times. A Facebook post by Nicole Baxter in Belfast this spring showed a considerable bald spot that her doctor said was caused by dry shampoo. That patch of triangular alopecia seen round the world launched countless articles about the dangers of dry shampoo and got millions of devoted fans shook.


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First: some good news. Unless your scalp is irritated by ingredients in your dry shampoo or you’re using it constantly as a water-washing replacement, you can keep spraying. "I definitely don’t believe dry shampoo is a cause of hair loss — it is certainly possible that individuals may exhibit sensitivities to some of the shampoo’s ingredients, but overall millions of people use dry shampoo without reporting any issues," wrote Dr. Neil Sadick of Sadick Dermatology via email. "I personally believe that 'all good things in moderation' applies 100%," agreed Jackson Simmonds at the Julien Farel Restore Salon and Spa. As for Nicole Baxter’s hair loss, cosmetic chemist Stephen Alain Ko who runs the blog kindofstephen explained that since she noticed blistering and irritation on her scalp, "it's possible that she had an irritant or allergic reaction to one of the ingredients — like a compound in the fragrance." It seems that the enemy likely isn’t dry shampoo overall, but ingredients in a dry shampoo formula that caused a reaction on one woman’s scalp.

Consider using an emulsifying oil cleanser meant for your face as a hair cleanser.

If you’re concerned about removing dry shampoo completely from your hair or if your scalp and strands just hate regular shampoos, consider using an emulsifying oil cleanser meant for your face as a hair cleanser.

Seriously, wash your hair with oil.

To be clear, I’m not talking about foaming shampoos with "oil" in the name such as Shu Uemura Cleansing Oil Shampoo. I literally propose that you take an oil cleanser meant to dissolve makeup from your face and put it on your scalp and roots.

What’s great about oil cleansers is that they contain emulsifiers that cause them to turn milky-colored and runny once they hit water. This means that they’re pretty easy to wash off and most don’t leave behind a noticeable oily residue (see below for my oil washing test results). While testing a dry shampoo that dried my scalp horribly and left a cakey mess in my hair, I had an idea: why not come with the big (but gentle) guns I’d use on my face: one of the many oil cleansers scattered around my bathroom.

Here’s how it works:


Start with totally dry hair and scalp. Next, apply cleansing oil to your scalp and roots, working in sections. Then comb the oil through your roots and as far into your hair as it wants to go. Finally, rinse your hair with lots of water. I like to rinse it in multiple directions, including upside down. Once the water from your hair is running clear, it’s probably clean. I like to finish the whole routine with my favorite conditioner, which helps any remaining oil wash away. My color-processed, thick, wavy hair hair ends up surprisingly fluffy at the roots, my scalp is calm and moisturized, and my battered ends end up smoothed.

Before you grab the bottle of olive oil from the kitchen and start working it into your roots, a word of caution: not just any oil will do the trick here. To have a safe shot at rinsing all of the oil from your hair, the oil really does need an emulsifier — it needs to be an oil cleanser. "An oil will dilute and dissolve some of the grime and dead skin cells, but it won't wash away easily in the shower," said Ko. Instead one needs "a cleansing oil, which contains surfactants which help it rinse away — along with the grime." If you find a product called a cleansing oil or a body oil that contains PEGs (Polyethylene Glycols), he says that it will probably emulsify. While most dry shampoo ingredients are water-soluble, Ko says, "some dry shampoos contain film formers that are less water soluble and more oil soluble," so an oil cleanser could help remove them more effectively than shampoo and water alone.

As with dry shampoo, if an oil cleanser causes irritation, itching, or sores, toss it and don’t look back.

Oil washing may not work for everyone. Ko doesn’t recommend it for those who have dandruff due to bacteria or yeast, since the small amount of oil left behind on one’s scalp and strands by a cleansing oil could serve as a food source for the microbes; a doctor should be able to identify the cause of your dandruff or other scalp issue. Since facial cleansing oils aren’t formulated to protect color-treated hair, they could cause fading — particularly if one has a vivid color that’s supposed to only be washed with conditioner. As with dry shampoo, if an oil cleanser causes irritation, itching, or sores, toss it and don’t look back.

Yet for many people, oil washing could serve as a radical and gentle way to get clean, soft hair. Dr. Sadick wrote, "shampoos contain strong surfactants, which strip hair of its natural oils, therefore cleansing oils, especially those that use essential oils can gently attract and remove excessive oil leaving the scalp healthy and clean," which can help regulate "the scalp’s natural oil production… promote healthy hair growth and prevent excess shedding."

While feedback from people who have tried oil washing after my initial blog post on it has been extremely positive, I was nervous about what Science People would say about using a facial cleanser on hair. I shouldn’t have worried: while asking Ko if he would answer some questions for this article, he let me know that he oil washes in the winter when his scalp gets dry.

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