Indian hair oiling is a long standing tradition that many of my colleagues are unfamiliar with. It is a common practice in South Asian cultures that is worth understanding. When my patients of South Asian descent come in to discuss hair loss, they will often request a better understanding of how to integrate this technique into their plan. This is likely based on the comfort in tradition and confidence in its benefits.
I decided to really start to understand this practice for multiple reasons. The first was to learn if any medical literature or studies supported its benefits. I also felt strongly that the only way I could successfully integrate western medicine into a treatment regimen was to develop a deeper understanding of how to include hair oiling in the plan. And, lastly, I really was curious if there was anything I could learn to help people from other cultures by considering this natural technique.
I learned that in the medical literature, scalp massage has been noted to increase hair thickness. This is likely as a result of increased circulation to the dermal papilla cells that are at the base of the hair follicle. The individual hair shafts were noted to increase in diameter- in other words, the barrel of each hair widened or thickened. There was not an increase in the number of hair follicles since we are born with a fixed number of hair follicles and this cannot really change. What can change is the volume of hairs follicles in the growth phase as the quality of hair.
In terms of the precise oils to consider, there is only data to support the potential benefit of lavender oil in terms of stimulating hair growth. Hair oils likely help hydrate and improve the integrity of each hair shaft. The most common oils used tend to be olive oil, coconut oil, almond oil and castor oil. These oils may have some anti-inflammatory effects for the scalp as well. This is important to note since Female Pattern Hair Loss has been shown to be the result of a combination of genetics, hormones AND inflammation. Any component we can address can serve to benefit our patients!
And, lastly, there is an element of self care in this process. So many cases of hair loss are either caused by stress or worsened by stress. Taking a moment once a week, every other week or monthly to enjoy a scalp massage can likely serve as some "me time"!
Bring the scalp oil to room temperature or just slightly warmer.
Part the hair down the midline and apply several drops of oil to the part and massage from the vertex outwards. The massage should be light and enjoyable. Avoid being too aggressive to avoid hair breakage or trauma to the scalp. Part along the midline of the sides of the scalp and repeat.
Apply the oil right down to the ends of the hair to hydrate effectively.
Allow the oil to sit for about 20 to 40 minutes. It's ok to apply a touch of lemon after the oil to help the oil come out easily in the shower. Shampoo as normal. If you feel as though your hair is well hydrated it is ok to skip conditioner on the day an oil is used.