By Jc of The Natural Haven

How long does it take for an oil to penetrate hair?

In scientific studies, the method used was a copy of the traditional Indian women’s technique where coconut oil is applied to hair the night before the wash (Journal of Cosmetic Science pg 169-184,2001). This overnight time period is useful as oils do require much more time than water to penetrate hair. Water is very small in size and can therefore easily pass under or even through the cuticle. Oils on the other hand need to twist and bend (the scientific term is reptate) in order to slide underneath the cuticle.

Which oils penetrate hair?

The only oil proven to penetrate hair so far is coconut oil. Scientists do suggest that due to its composition, olive oil may also penetrate hair but there are currently no studies that fully confirm that. Many more oils and butters may also penetrate hair (Journal of Cosmetic Science, pg 169-184, 2001). The suggestion is that saturated and monounsaturated oils are more compact in size and therefore can maneuver around and through the cuticle (for example avocado oil, castor oil, shea butter and even ordinary edible milk fat butter). However oils rich in polyunsaturated oils tend to be larger and therefore cannot manoeuvre around or through the cuticle easily (for example sunflower oil, soybean oil and corn oil).

How can you remove a penetrating oil from hair?

If you used coconut oil or a similar penetrating oil and did not like it, how can you get rid of it? There are no studies on this but logic implies that the same path that the oil used to get into hair is the same path that it can use to get out. If you want to get rid of a penetrating oil, simply stop using it and wash your hair as normal using shampoo or soap which can dissolve the oil on the surface. The amount of oil that can be taken up by the hair is very little so I would guess that you will be close to 99% free of the oil within 2-3 washes.

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18 Comments on "How Oil Penetrates the Hair"

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La Starr

Camellia oil also penetrates and works great for a hot oil treatment


[…] Read more about the hair shaft penetration process Here. […]

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^Study on olive oil penetration of hair

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Really great information.

ayankha (@ayankha)

I love that you include science-based information!!!!


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Coconut is GREAT for our dry hair. I use it in my Protein Deep Conditioner, which leaves your hair feeling soft!


Coconut oil is the best! I used to use it in my oil rinses and due finances and possible laziness omitted it and now I am regretting it! Suffice it to say it has once again rejoined my regimen! It really did help reduce my breakage!

Leyanne Morgan

Does it matter what type of Coconut oil i use? I have purhased it before and I just bought the coconut oil that was in the grocery section w/ the other oils. What is the BEST coconut oil to use??


Does it matter what type of Coconut oil i use? I have purhased it before and I just bought the coconut oil that was in the grocery section w/ the other oils. What is the BEST coconut oil to use??


No. As long as it’s 100% natural coconut oil it’s fine.

The Natural Haven

I agree with mangomadness 🙂

I get mine from a vitamin/natural food store. It is 100% coconut oil for cooking but I use it on my hair.


I oil rinse with coconut oil…… my hair doesn’t really like oils but it tolerates coconut really well.


Thanks for the information! This is very helpful. 🙂