Wait, So We’re Not Supposed To Use Oils On Natural Hair?

Photographed by Olivia Joan.
Coconut oil, caster oil, jojoba oil… you name it, and it’s very likely my hair has been drenched in it. In the everlasting pursuit of moisture, my thick and kinky-coily natural hair is often treated to a feast of hair oils and butters during my washdays and while I’m wearing  protective styles. Using oils to soothe my scalp and lock in moisture is the way I’ve been told to do it, since I was a child sitting on the floor between my mother’s legs as she battled with my thick head of curls. I wouldn’t be surprised if my grandmothers and the generations before have been moisturising (or rather, greasing and oiling) their hair in the exact same way. 
Nowadays, like most Black adults who spend a considerable amount of time online, I get most of my hair care tips from Youtube (because I’m by no means a capable kitchen beautician) and my favourite natural hair care content creators have been delivering a startling and very loud message over the last few years: ‘SAY NO TO  OILS AND BUTTERS.’ At the same time, naysayers are also proclaiming in capital letters that the ‘No Oil And Butters’ method is a lie. As I sit here about to detangle my hair before my next protective style, with too many products and not enough time, I really need to know… who’s telling the truth?

How Did The ‘No Oil And Butters’ Natural Hair Care Trend Get Started?

Ditching or reducing the use of raw oils, heavy butters and creams in natural hair styling is by no means a new conversation, especially amongst curly hair specialists fighting the good fight against dry hair and breakage. Way back in 2013, NYC salon founder Jennifer-Rose Johnson caused a stir when she told viewers across her social channels that heavy use of raw oils and raw butters, and creams wasn’t necessary and actually DOESN’T help seal in moisture like once thought. Instead, she introduced a simple three step routine, and recommended people with afro hair should shampoo often (at least once a week with a sulphate-free product), and simply need one conditioner and a styling product such as gel for moisturised and defined curls and coils. More recently, Camille Janae, a curly hair and loc educator from Sacramento California, went viral in 2021 when her TikTok video claimed “oil and butters are making your hair more thirsty. In the short clip, where she’s drenching a client’s afro, she emphasised “water is the source of hydration, oil and water do not mix… the hair repels the water which leads to dehydrated hair, please stop doing this.”
Like many watching Johnson’s and Camille Janae’s videos, learning that butters and oils could dry hair out rather than nourish it was news to me. The main pushback on the stylist’s helpful tutorials have come from those with the tightest coils who believe a scaled-back wash-and-go routine wasn’t possible on curliest hair types. And yet, many of Camille Janae’s tutorials and videos featuring 4C curls thriving have proven otherwise. 
Admittedly I instinctively joined the naysayers. Just water?! No leave-in conditioner at all?! How do you unlearn techniques that feel just as traditional as cornrows and braids? As Camille Janae explained to Loop Lifestyle last year, “In the Black community it is ingrained in us in our upbringing to grease the scalp, to use oil in our haircare, so when someone, even if they are Black, is telling you to stop doing something their mom did, your grandma did, your great-grandma did it can cause you to have strong feelings because it is a traditional practice.”

How  Do You Add The ‘No Oils And Butters’ Rule To Your Wash Day Routine?

The experts urging curly folk to ditch the oils and butters suggest it isn’t a social media “trend” nor a new fangled method but advice based on actual scientific evidence. The No Oils And Butters three-step method is recommended for wash-and-go days, with experts like Camille Janae suggests using:
 — A clarifying shampoo (free from sulphates and other nasties) used during regular weekly washdays to prevent damaging buildup.
— A conditioner where the first five ingredients aren't oils or butters.
— And, while your hair is still very wet, add a water-based gel to style.
— For healthy hair, trim once a month
Then there’s the 30-Day Detox, pioneered by Black Girl Curls founders Aeleise Harris Ollarvia and Ayesha Strickland, who recommend an entire month without coconut, caster, jojoba, shea butter and any other raw oils and butters that can cause excessive product buildup and hair to feel drier hair than usual.

Do All Hair Experts & Brands Agree When It Comes To Natural Hair, Oils & Butters?

Well, the experts I spoke to agree that there’s no one size fits all answer. For Manchester-based curly hair specialist and stylist, Chloé Elliot, the ongoing conversation around hair oils and natural hair requires “nuance” and stresses nothing is “black and white” when it comes to how you care for your hair and recommends assessing your own personal needs. “If you're someone who likes protective styles,such as twists or you're going to wear a wig or you're going to wear a hairpiece, oils and butters can provide the protection you need for that kind of manipulation. But if you're someone who's trying to achieve a wash and go, if I was to put oils on my hair in this style, my hair would be so much flatter.”
Similarly, British Black hair brand Afrocenchix also says there can be benefits of hair oiling as there are negatives, such as preventing “itchiness and dryness”, “revitalising hair”, “keeping hair shiny” and “protecting your scalp.” “Many of us have fond memories of sitting between our mother's, grandmother's or auntie's legs as she delicately applied oil to our scalps. This ritual has roots back in Africa and using scalp oils is culturally important for many reasons,” says Jeanette Nkwate Content, Community and Comms Manager.

“This ritual has roots back in Africa and using scalp oils is culturally important for many reasons”

“We always recommend that you treat your scalp as an extension of your face and like skin, everyone's hair is different,” explains Nkwate. “It’s not a matter of having strict rules about applying oil to your scalp and hair but more a question of how much and how often you need to use scalp oils.”
Afrocenchix reminds Unbothered that “oils aren’t truly moisturisers” and recommends using a lightweight oil for your scalp rather than the beloved but very thick Jamaican Black caster oil. “Just as you wouldn't smear shea butter all over your face for fear of breaking out in spots and blackheads, you should not use thick oils on your scalp.”

Do We Really Have To Give Hair Oils & Butters Up For Good?

Well, it depends on whether you actually want to. You also have free range to try whatever works. The natural hair care bloggers who have been trialling the three step method and/or “detoxing” their hair from oils and butters on their Youtube pages have had varying results. On her first trial, Youtuber Faye In The City told her followers she was “blown away” by the results but would not stop using oils and butters because she “doesn’t use them excessively”. The creator also stresses that while the three-step process does work, she understands it’s “a deeply personal choice.” Other creators haven’t been so lucky. In one “chaotic” video by Danielle of channel StarPuppy, she tried the three-step method on her 4C hair and said her scalp was left feeling “dry” and “ashy”.
The messages are confusing, and it’s easy to see why many Black people with kinky-curly hair stick to the methods passed down by a generation of women who did the very best they could with what they had.  “If you're trying to decide whether or not oils or butters are for you, only change one thing at a time,” advises Elliot. “Keep your shampoo the same, keep your conditioner the same, keep how you style your hair the same and then try that oil that you want to try. Give yourself a few weeks, say three wash days  to see how your hair feels before you try something else. Don't be the person that throws everything out and starts again. Because you'll never know whether it's the shampoo, the conditioner, the leave-in, or whatever that made the difference.”
With more curly girls learning and embracing no oils and butters in their washday routines,  I can’t help but wonder how haircare brands will respond if suddenly Black women — the biggest consumers of hair care products globally — decide to scale back. After all, the Black hair care market is quite literally saturated with hair oils, butters, creams, gels and leave-in conditioners that claim to give dryer curly hair types the moisture and “slip” it requires to stay healthy, nourished and manageable. Many of us have happily followed suit and have purchased an entire store front of products with no questions asked. By all accounts, Black hair care routines, especially wash days, can be pretty lengthy (and slippery) as a result. The No Oil And Butters movement suggests that things could be a whole lot simpler and far more effective. 
I’m still nervous about trying something that feels, well… risky. Without using a leave-in conditioner at the very least, my fears of a dry itchy scalp are strong. I currently use the LOC Method (a process that uses liquid, oil and cream to moisturise hair) and it hasn’t failed me yet. Yet, as my next washday approaches ever closer this week, I am definitely much more conscious of what I will be using (and how much) before I turn on the shower and I have been romanced by the No Oil and Butter rule’s much simpler, effective washday method. Even though I was initially sceptical, I welcome any evidence based research based on Black hair types because the more we understand how our hair operates the more we’re likely to make informed purchases, have healthier curls AND look amazing; and the proof will always be in the result. 

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