Everything You Should Know About Using Olive Oil for Hair

For starters, you may want to think twice before using olive oil for hair growth.

Hair Health Hotline: Olive Oil
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Hair Health Hotline is your direct access to dermatologists, trichologists, hairstylists, and other beauty pros. Each story in this series tackles a common hair or scalp concern and offers science-backed solutions to care for your strands.

As a cornerstone of the Mediterranean diet, Jennifer Lopez's favorite skin-care ingredient, and vinegar's soulmate, olive oil has quite the reputation. While the ingredient is best known for its culinary role, it's also a common addition to hair-care products and DIY how-tos.

Before you saturate your hair in EVOO, though, it's key that you not only familiarize yourself with the main olive oil benefits for hair, but also mistakes to avoid when utilizing the ingredient. Here, Anar Mikailov, M.D., F.A.A.D., a board-certified dermatologist and co-founder of Skintensive, spells out what you need to know.

Q: I've seen olive oil in skin-care products, but is olive oil good for hair? What's the best way to use it?

A: Olive oil has moisturizing benefits, but it's not right for every hair type and should not be applied directly to the scalp, according to Dr. Mikailov. When deciding how to add the oil to your routine — if at all — there are a few pros and cons to take into consideration.

Is Olive Oil Good For Your Hair?

One thing that distinguishes olive oil from other oils is that it's especially rich in oleic acid, an omega-9 fatty acid, notes Dr. Mikailov. "Olive oil is rich in fatty acids [such as] oleic acid, linoleic acid and palmitic acid, as well as lipids and antioxidants," he says. "These provide moisturizing properties to help coat hair shafts, which can help nourish hair strands."

Olive oil is able to penetrate hair strands, and oils that are able to penetrate strands vs. just coating their surface may be more effective at reducing the swelling that can occur when hair absorbs water, according to a study published in the Journal of Cosmetic Science. When strands swell they're extra fragile, and so when hair repeatedly absorbs too much moisture and then dries out, dryness and breakage can result, as Shape previously reported.

However, you should avoid trying to use olive oil for hair growth benefits, since applying the oil directly to your scalp can come with ramifications. "Olive oil should not be used on the scalp," says Dr. Mikailov. "The saturated fatty acids in olive oil encourage the growth of Malassezia, a fungus that’s a normal part of the scalp’s microflora." In fact, olive oil is often used in mediums to grow fungal cultures since they thrive in the oil, he says. An overgrowth of Malassezia can lead to dandruff or a tina versicolor a type of fungal infection, he says. "The excess unsaturated fatty acids can lead to inflammation and scaling," says Dr. Mikailov.

Hair Health Hotline: Olive Oil
Courtesy of Dr. Anar Mikailov.

How to Use Olive Oil for Hair Health

Anyone with fine hair may want to steer clear of olive oil altogether. "Those with thinner hair may find olive oil to feel heavy and weigh their hair down," says Dr. Mikailov. "It’s better for dry, thick, or coarse hair." If that's your hair type, you can look out for the ingredient during your next trip to the drugstore. "There are hair conditioners and masks formulated with olive oil readily available," notes Dr. Mikailov.

If you'd prefer to apply pure olive oil to your hair, apply the oil only to the very ends of your hair so that it's nowhere near your scalp, suggests Dr. Mikailov. (To use an oil as a weekly hair treatment, you can apply it to the ends, leave it on for 20 to 35 minutes, then rinse it out.) Similarly, it's best to avoid olive oil when purchasing products you'll be applying on your scalp, according to Dr. Mikailov. "Since fungus really thrives in olive oil, it’s not recommended for any scalp-related use such as shampoos, pre-wash scalp oils, or leave-on scalp products."

While olive oil's benefits in hair care probably won't overshadow its popularity in food anytime soon, the ingredient deserves your attention, particularly if you have dry strands.

Have a hair health question you want answered? Send your Q to hairhotline@shape.com for a chance to have it featured in a future installment of Hair Health Hotline.

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