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Oils such as coconut oil are known to penetrate hair while others such as sunflower oil simply form a coating on the top of hair. I have noticed a trend of women choosing penetrating oils over those that do not and therefore the question arises, are penetrating oils really better for your hair?

The Advantage of Penetrating Oils

Penetrating oils are good especially during the washing stage of hair. Coconut oil applied to dry hair before washing (allowing a few hours for the oil to penetrate) will prevent the hair from taking up a lot of water. This action helps hair control its expansion and using coconut after the wash can in addition prevent minor breakage and protein loss which comes from cuticle chipping. The analogy I usually give is a rubber band, how many times can you stretch it before it eventually breaks? During washing, hair takes up and releases water which causes the cuticle to lift slightly and then contract back down. Repeat this process several times and eventually some of the cuticle will chip. This is known as hygral fatigue and penetrating oils such as coconut oil are known to prevent this type of damage (Journal of Cosmetic Science pg 169-184,2001).


The Advantage of Coating Oils (i.e non penetrating)

Now, when it comes to moisture, oils that do not penetrate hair are really superior. Oils that can form a film over hair can effectively create a barrier to prevent water that has been taken up by the hair from evaporating quickly. This is the reason why a coating oil like mineral oil which forms a thin even film over the hair is much more effective as a ‘sealant’ than coconut oil ( International Journal of Cosmetic Science, pg135-145, 2007). Penetrating oils naturally will get under the cuticle and therefore do not create an even barrier. Therefore oils which tend to coat hair, in the same way natural sebum does are the better moisturisers.

Ladies, do you use both penetrating and non-penetrating oils? What is your favorite oil to use?

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33 Comments on "Penetrating Oils vs Coating Oils: Which are Better?"

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you can find better alternative to mineral oil


Mineral oil is bad…period!

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This is great info. I have not seen a shower done this way berofe and it makes so much sense. This guy definitely knows what he is talking about. He has lots of these little videos. Check em all out.

Kristle Mayne

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Mariah Clay

But I thought mineral oil (Pink Lotion has that in it) was bad for black hair.


Mineral oil is not bad it just seals the hair from moisture. In and out. It “locks” moisture in & actually helps with frizz because moisture can’t get in (good), BUT added moisture can’t get in as well (bad). After using mineral oil you would have to clarify your hair so that it can be moisturizer again.


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Were do you buy coconut oil at? And what is the product name?

Mrs. Ebonee

My go to for my daughter’s hair is a spray bottle with olive oil and water. I just recently (about a month ago) started and am happy I did. (I am trying to cut down on being a product junkie because we are on one income and paying for a wedding.) I am glad I found this website and article. I didnt even know olive oil was a penetrating oil I just knew it was good, cheap, and helped keep my daughter’s hair manageable 🙂 Great info!

Auset Abena

Well, my favorite penetrating oils are coconut and olive. My favorite coating oils are castor and jojoba. Jojoba is my favorite because it is so light and mimics the natural sebum of the hair. But I just bought some JBCO, so I will see if it replaces jojoba as the go-to coating oil.


i finger detangle and pre poo with a half and half mix of olive oil and canola oil. i shampoo with black soap. and i seal with shea butter that i blend with a little olive oil just to make it easier to handle. has anyone ever tried africa’s best ultimate herbal oil?


I have and still use the Africa’s Best Ultimate Herbal oil. It is a good blend of medium to heavy weight oils which I use to seal and to enrich my oil blends for scalp massage, pre-poo, sealing for twists when using plain water to moisturize, and skin salves.It has a variety of healthy extracts, and contains no mineral oils, or parafins.My only dislike is the fragrance, it is a strong powder like, baby oil scent. Tis all;)


I use Vatika Oil for pre-poos. As Shelli says above, the main ingredient is coconut oil. I also use raw coconut oil to moisturize my hair – like the softness and shine that it gives. I also use Argan oil and olive oil for styling. I own other oils, but those are the 3 that I actually use consistently. I’m beginning to get my product-junkiness under control now that I’ve found oils that really work for me.


Can anyone tell me if olive oil is a penetrating oil or a coating oil? I mainly use that


Avocado, coconut & olive oil are penetrating oils.

Nicole W.

Wow this is really useful advice! I’m gonna start using coconut oil for my pre-poo treatment. But is extra virgin olive oil a coating oil or penetrating oil? I use EVOO as both a pre-poo treatment and as a sealant.

The Natural Haven

Olive oil is thought to be penetrating. There is nothing wrong with using a penetrating oil for sealing though especially if you have good results with it!


I actually use blue magic hair conditioner with coconut oil and live for how soft it made my hair before I cut it. I chose a penetrating oil because I didn’t want something to coat my hair and add to the dandruff that could build up on those off times when hair becomes low priority.

Now that I’m using a styling wax to get waves, I’m not sure how I’ll incorporate washes or oils to maintain hair health. Help please?


Hmmm, the video didn’t embed. Well, I’m going to try again and attach the link in case that doesn’t work. Thanks!


I love Vatika oil, which is primarily composed of coconut oil, for pre-poos and my hair loves JBCO for sealing my ends (I don’t seal all of my hair as it’s fine and all that oil would weigh it down. So, I just try to protect the last 2 inches or so that are the oldest and most subject to damage). I recently started experimenting with olive oil in my pre-poo too (on my ends, which had started feeling crispy) too and it worked great. So, I started mixing it with my JBCO to seal my ends. It helps extend… Read more »

For anything to “penetrate” the cuticle, a certain amount of acid had to be used to open it up. I learned this from Kim Love. She is a VERY well respected person who has researched and given her viewers the power to take control of our kinks, coils, and curls. I use her conditioner. Her screen name is kimmaytube. She has the perfect PH balanced mix and it is AWESOME!! Check her out if you already haven’t! Kim Coles from Living Single also uses her mix!

The Natural Haven
Angela I am a scientist with a PhD and I can tell you that you are wrong. I have seen kimmaytube’s presentations on pH and they are largely accurate, you are misquoting her. Oils are usually not soluble in water therefore do not have a pH. Kimmaytube does have a video on the fact that solids do not have a pH. Coconut oil is proven to penetrate hair and the experiment which is referenced in this article uses a technique known as TOF SIMS (developed in part by Nobel Prize winner JJ Thompson). The technique generates a chemical map and… Read more »



Be sure to use a heat protectant on her hair before blow drying. After blow drying use a moisturizing lotion and seal the ends with an oil. She should also sleep with her hair wrapped in a satin scarf to keep moisture in.

The Natural Haven
I do not know the procedure that you use. However if your daughter’s hair is very dry, you need to consider your process. 1. Do you use a conditioner when you wash your daughter’s hair? 2. Do you blow dry her hair immediately or do you let it air dry a little first ( blow drying reduces the moisture level in the hair permanently until you wash the hair – therefore letting the hair air dry first, using low heat on the blow drier can all help) 3. Do you have to blow dry her hair at all? Can you… Read more »

I tend to moisturize with something creamy containing shea butter (shea moisture products), since they are already thick, I don’t add a coating oil, but seal with coconut oil.

When i am wearing my hair in braids (yarn braids) I use a spritz and seal with thick hair-coating Castor oil.


I love coconut oil as a pre-poo treatment as mentioned in this post. I love to seal with olive oil and whipped Shea butter.I never iAd to seal as my leave on has oils but I have found out that, taking that extra step to seal is helping my hair stay moisturized longer, reducing breakage.


I find it beneficial to use both in combination. I always add castor or wheatgerm oil to my olicoco because I find that those heavier oils seal my hair better, while straight olicoco makes my hair feel stronger but not necessarily softer, and doesn’t help as much with moisture retention.


I like penetrating oils. Coconut oil and I have a love affair that dates back a few years now. I personally don’t like coating oils because of how it weighs my hair down.


I use both. I love love love coconut oil. And I use jojoba oil since it is the closest to natural hair sebum.


My favorite oil is coconut oil and I love it because it penetrates the hair allowing my hair to benefit from all it’s lovely nutrients.

I usually use shea butter or shea moisture curl enhancing smoothie to style, which “coats” and seals my hair.


My favorite oil is a penetrating oil (coconut oil). I use it as a detangler/pre-poo. I like it because it’s light, smells good, gives slip and penetrates my hair.

There are coating oils (shea butter, argan oil, soybean oil, carrot oil, etc) in my staple leave-in conditioner (Shea Moisture DTM). I imagine the coating oils help ‘seal’ the moisture in. I’m not big on sealing so having coating oil(s) in my leave-in conditioner works well for me.


Question: Does avocado oil penetrate hair? If so, I’d like to try some…