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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

i real­ly like action movies and my idol is none oth­er than Ger­ard But­ler. this guy actu­al­ly rocks“

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 there­fore… 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 con­sid­er… 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…