The Short Answer
While oils do penetrate the hair shaft, they cannot moisturize. As a matter of fact, the molecules in most oils are too large to penetrate the hair shaft and instead coat the hair (which makes them perfect for sealing).
Please be advised that some of the links provided are affiliate links and I do receive a small commission if you make a purchase using those links. This does not cost you any extra when you make a purchase. I very much appreciate your support of this blog in doing so!
The Long Answer On Oils
Let’s talk about the three oils that do penetrate the hair shaft: coconut, avocado, and olive oil. Coconut oil only penetrates the hair shaft when wet and actually acts like other oils when applied to dry hair. According to Audrey Davis-Sivasothy, Author of The Science of Black Hair, these oils are best used as a pre-shampoo treatment and as a sealant. Coconut Oil is special because it bonds to the protein strands in the hair, thus preventing the hair shaft from swelling as much as it would in the normal wash process. The decrease in swelling with help to prevent damage as the hair dries.
Avocado and Olive oil act in a similar manner with a higher molecular weight. So, they do not moisturize, but they do nourish your hair and keep your strands healthy. This nourishment can give hair the feeling of moisture and strength for short periods of time Regardless, oils do not condition the hair enough alone to withstand daily manipulation. However, Oils are perfect for sealing because they coat the strand and protect it from the elements. My favorite sealant is Jojoba Oil because it is the oil that most closely mimics the natural sebum our body produces.
To better understand how oils work let’s use a vitamin analogy. Vitamin’s when taken daily, nourish the body, but they do not nourish like meals. Yes, they are beneficial, but they do not give your body enough food or water alone for your body to survive. You would die or appear very malnourished if you only took vitamin’s to live. Natural hair is similar. If you only applied oil to your hair, it would be nourished and it would act pretty good, but still be dry. Nonetheless, Without the full nourishment of conditioner, it would not flourish.
I pre-poo with oils and create a steam effect with a shower cap and body heat to cause a wet effect, thus getting the full benefit of oils on my hair (one day I may get a steamer). Before shampooing, I use coconut oil because as stated above, it can help prevent damage. During the wash process I use oils that contain Ceramides (like Grapeseed Oil), and I seal with Jojoba or Avocado oil after styling. I still deep condition with conditioner because they give my hair the real nourishment it needs to remain healthy over long periods of time. I hope this makes sense to somebody! If it does, be sure to share, and in the comments box below tell me how you use oils in your hair care regimen.