Olive Oil for Hair

May 3, 2021
Updated: August 14, 2022
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Olive oil is a healthy oil for cooking and eating and is used for several topical applications as well.  Rubbing a tablespoon or two of olive oil into your scalp and through your hair has mild benefits, keeping hair healthy and looking nice.  Be careful using olive oil if you have sensitive skin, though.


”olive oil topically applied after UVB exposure can effectively reduce UVB-induced murine skin tumors, possibly via its antioxidant effects in reducing DNA damage by reactive oxygen species" (NIH.gov)


Nutrients in Olive Oil for Hair and Skin Health

Olive oil contains healthy fats, lipid-based vitamins like vitamin E and vitamin K, and flavonoids.  These fats are used to build cellular components and are important for protecting your skin from drying out.  Vitamins E and K are also powerful antioxidants, and are essential for cellular function.  Applying vitamins topically is a great way to nourish the skin cells and hair follicles in your scalp, and to reduce inflammation.  Vitamin E can also enhance blood flow to your scalp, improving skin health and hair growth.1,2 The lipids in olive oil have anti-inflammatory properties and form a water-retaining barrier can help reduce dandruff.3


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Olive Oil Can Help Keep Pathogens and Pollutants Out of Your Hair

Along the length of your hair strands are scale-like structures called cuticles.  The crevices in these cuticles provide a space that pollutants can get trapped in and pathogens like bacteria and fungus can find shelter and grow in.4 When you rub oil into your hair, it gets drawn up into these cuticle spaces through capillary action.  The presence of oil can prevent pollutants from entering and can keep bacteria and fungal spores from invading your hair strands.  Clinical trials have demonstrated that applying olive oil to your hair can prevent the growth of the kinds of funguses that can cause scalp irritation, dandruff, and hair damage.5

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Olive Oil Helps Reduce Frizz

Olive oil is also good at coating your hair strands and holding them together through a mechanism called capillary adhesion.  The lipid molecules in the oil are attracted to each other and tend to form a barrier against water.  This can help keep your scalp and hair from losing too much moisture.  It also causes your hair strands to stick to each other better, keeping flyaway hairs in their place.  Olive oil is able to retain its capillary adhesion when exposed to heat better than other plant oils.6 Oil is also known to reduce breaks in your hear strands, preventing split ends and helping to keep your hair long and smooth.7 

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Use Olive Oil to Dilute Essential Oils

Many types of plants produce phytochemicals that are beneficial for hair and scalp health.  Some are antioxidants, preventing oxidative damage to skin cells and hair follicles, while some have other biological properties that promote hair growth and strength.  Rosemary, peppermint, lavender, and tea tree essential oils have all been found to reduce skin inflammation, improve microcapillary circulation, and boost hair production.8-11 

Essential oils from these plants can be applied topically to deliver these bioactive compounds directly to your skin cells.  However, in their concentrated forms they are too strong to be applied straight, and must be diluted before they are safe to rub into your skin and hair.  Olive oil is a good carrier for diluting these herbal essential oils.  Its lipid makeup is ideal for maintaining the bioavailability of phytochemicals in essential oils and has a neutral smell that does not interfere with the pleasant scents of the other oils.  Try adding one or two drops of essential oil to a tablespoon of olive oil and mixing well before using.

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Scalp Massage with Olive Oil Enhances Hair Growth

Recent studies have indicated that the physical act of massaging your scalp has multiple benefits for your hair. Gently rubbing or stretching the skin on your head stimulates blood flow in the capillaries that feed your skin cells and hair follicles.  Massaging for four minutes per day can also improve hair thickness and growth rate.12 Olive oil is an excellent lubricant to use when treating yourself to a head massage.

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Olive Oil Can Bother Sensitive Skin

While olive oil can provide antioxidant and hydrating benefits to your skin, it can have some detrimental effects as well.  Some studies have found that routine application of olive oil can reduce the stability of the stratum corneum, the top layer of your skin.  So while olive oil itself can help keep moisture in, in the long-term it can reduce your skin’s ability to retain moisture itself.13-14 Some people have also reported redness in their skin after applying olive oil.  So, if you have sensitive skin or a condition like dermatitis, you may want to refrain from rubbing olive oil into your scalp.  It also should not be used topically on infants and children.

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[1]   Richelle M, Sabatier M, Steiling H, Williamson G. 2006. “Skin bioavailability of dietary vitamin E, carotenoids, polyphenols, vitamin C, zinc and selenium.” Br J Nutr. Aug; 96(2):227-238. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16923215

[2]   Evans JA, Johnson EJ. 2010. “The role of phytonutrients in skin health.” Nutrients. Aug; 2(8):903-928. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22254062

[3]   Lin TK, Zhong L, Santiago JL. 2017. “Anti-Inflammatory and Skin Barrier Repair Effects of Topical Application of Some Plant Oils.” Int J Mol Sci. Dec 27; 19(1):E70. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/29280987

[4]   Rajput R. Hair Ther Transplant. 2015 5:1. "Understanding Hair Loss due to Air Pollution and the Approach to Management." http://hairlossindia.com/pdf/publications/Hairloss_due_to_Pollution.pdf

[5]   Bahuguna S, Kushwaha RK. 1993. “Influence of different oils on penetration of human hair by fungi.” Int. J Cosmet Sci. Feb; 15(1):1-5. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19272114

[6]   Keis K, Persaud D, Kamath YK, Rele AS. 2005. “Investigation of penetration abilities of various oils into human hair fibers.” J Cosmet Sci. Sep-Oct; 56(5):283-295. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16258695 

[7]   Gavazzoni Dias MFR. 2015. “Hair Cosmetics: An Overview.” Int J Trichology. Jan-Mar; 7(1):2-15. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4387693/ 

[8]   Lee BH, Lee JS, Kim YC. Toxicol Res 2016 Apr; 32(2):103-108. “Hair Growth-Promoting Effects of Lavender Oil in C57BL/6 Mice.” https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4843973/ 

[9]   Panahi Y, Taghizadeh M, Marzony ET, Sahebkar A. Skinmed 2015 Jan-Feb; 13(1):15-21. "Rosemary oil vs minoxidil 2% for the treatment of androgenetic alopecia: a randomized comparative trial." https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25842469

[10]   Oh JY, Park MA, Kim YC. Toxicol Res 2014 Dec; 30(4):297-304. “Peppermint Oil Promotes Hair Growth Without Toxic Signs.” https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4289931/

[11]   Satchell AC, Saurajen A, Bell C, Barnetson RS. 2002. “Treatment of dandruff with 5% tea tree oil shampoo.” J Am Acad Dermatol. Dec; 47(6):852-855. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12451368

[12]   Koyama T, Kobayashi K, Hama T, Murakami K, Ogawa R. Eplasty. 2016 Jan; 16:e8. “Standardized Scalp Massage Results in Increased Hair Thickness by Inducing Stretching Forces to Dermal Papilla Cells in the Subcutaneous Tissue.” https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26904154

[13]   Danby SG, Al Enezi T, Sultan A, Lavender T, Chittock J, Brown K, Cork MJ. 2013. “Effect of olive and sunflower seed oil on the adult skin barrier: implications for neonatal skin care.” Pediatr Dermatol. Jan-Feb; 30(1):42-50. https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1111/j.1525-1470.2012.01865.x

 [14]   Cooke A, Cork MJ, Victor S, Campbell M, Danby S, Chittock J, Lavender T. 2016. “Olive Oil, Sunflower Oil or no Oil for Baby Dry Skin or Massage: A Pilot, Assessor-blinded Randomized Controlled Trial (the Oil in Baby SkincaRE [OBSeRvE] Study).” Acta Derm Venereol. Mar; 96(3):323-330. https://www.medicaljournals.se/acta/content/html/10.2340/00015555-2279

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