A Curly Girl's Guide To Hair Oils

Photographed by Caroline Tompkins.
When it comes to curly hair, oils are a major key. In fact, almost every single complaint you have about your curls can be resolved with the right oil: from frizz to lack of shine, brittle hair, and even split ends. Curly hair tends to hold less hydration than straight hair. This lack of hydration causes frizz, making hair look dull (read: no shine). A lack of hydration also causes hair to feel brittle, which leads to more split ends. All of this stems from your curl pattern, not a natural inclination that you have for drier hair. The oils produced on your scalp — a.k.a. sebum — are what hydrate hair, adding shine, decreasing frizz, and giving it strength.
For those with straight hair, those oils slip down the shaft rather easily. Brushes help pull oils from the scalp down, and distributes them throughout the hair. Since it's difficult for oils to slide down a spiral or coil, this is why curly hair textures are drier than straight versions. But you don't need a brush or even your natural oils to get a shiny, frizz-free style. All you need is the right hair oil. "They're a wonderful way to moisturize the hair," says Sarah Stevens, a curly-hair vlogger for WaterLily716. "And, they are totally natural. Most pure oils are easy to remove from the hair and they don't contain synthetic ingredients."
There are two main types of oils: sealing and moisturizing. Sealing oils (think jojoba) seal in moisture, meaning that you'll need to apply water or conditioner to your hair beforehand for them to really work. Moisturizing oils (we're talking coconut, olive, or avocado) are heavier than sealing oils and can be used alone to moisturize the hair. Sealing and moisturizing oils are meant to be used at different times — one after a shower, for instance, and the other during a deep-conditioning treatment — and each applied in different ways. You can use an oil to hydrate your scalp, encourage hair growth via massaging, reduce split ends, add in your conditioner, apply a heat treatment (with a heavier oil) — the options go on.
In general, though, most people with curly hair use multiple types of oils to perfect their style and to address their individual needs. Ahead, we've identified some of the most common natural oils, plus tips on how to use them. Read on to find the one for you.
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Olive Oil
You're probably more accustomed to using olive oil in the kitchen, but this moisturizing oil is also a great beauty aid. The added slippage that works so well in cooking also aids in detangling, moisturizing, and adding shine to hair.

"I use olive oil to detangle my hair and for hot oil treatments," says natural-hair blogger Sugar of WhoIsSugar. "When I'm running low on conditioner, I'll add some olive oil to it, too," she adds.

Olivers & Co. Everyday Olive Oil, $25, available at Olivers & Co.
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Palmer's Conditioning Spray Oil, $5.95, available at Palmer's.
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Kiehl's Strengthening and Hydrating Hair Oil-in-Cream, $25, available at Kiehl's.
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Jojoba Oil
When it comes to replicating your sebum to get all-natural shine, Stevens' go-to is jojoba. "I absolutely love jojoba oil," says Sugar. "I use it to seal in the moisture in my hair, to add shine, and to reduce frizz. Also, jojoba oil doesn't clog the pores on my scalp because it is similar to sebum, the scalp's natural oil."

Stevens is a fan of the LOC method (liquid-oil-cream), and says jojoba is the best oil for this popular hair method. "I spray my hair with a water conditioner mixture. Then I apply a few drops of jojoba oil to either side of my hair, and seal everything by applying a small amount of gel or cream," she says.

The best way to use this sealing oil, adds Sugar, is to apply it to freshly washed and conditioned hair. "I apply it to soaking wet hair or on top of a leave-in conditioner. This is how I seal in the moisture," she says. "I tend to focus more of the oil on the ends of my hair because they are the oldest and more prone to breakage and split ends. I also pair jojoba oil with my gel when I do a wash-and-go. The jojoba oil adds shine and it reduces the crunch. When I take out my two strand twists (for twist outs), I use jojoba oil to reduce the frizz and to add shine."

For those with thinner curls, Stevens says jojoba is your best option. "If you have thin hair that is easily weighed down, try to stay away from heavier oils like coconut and olive oil when you are styling your hair," she says. "Try jojoba oil or grapeseed oil instead."

Desert Essence Organics 100% Pure Jojoba Oil, $13, available at Walgreens.
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Coconut Oil
While jojoba oil gets rave reviews from several curly and natural hair bloggers, coconut oil comes in a very close second for its ability to reduce dandruff and help heal a dry scalp.

"Coconut oil is a little harder to work with because it's often a solid at room temperature, but it's worth it," says Stevens. "I use it in deep treatments for the hair and on my scalp as well. It's one of the few oils with small enough molecules that will penetrate the hair shaft."

One downside of coconut oil is that it's solid when at room temperature, so you have to be a bit more careful with it than you would using a lighter oil like jojoba or rose oil. "Coconut oil is great, but during the colder months, it will solidify in your hair and turn your hair white," says Sugar. "So, only use a little bit!"

"If my scalp is feeling dry or flaky, I will apply coconut oil to my scalp for about 30 minutes before I take a shower or the night before," says Stevens. "I might also do a deep treatment on my hair with oil. I will take a regular conditioner and mix in my favorite oils along with some honey, then apply the treatment to wet hair."

Trader Joe's Organic Virgin Coconut Oil, $5.99, available at Trader Joe's stores.
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Moringa Oil

Trying to make your curls or coils even longer? Moringa contains vitamin B, known for its ability to aid in the growth of hair. It's a key ingredient in this fast-absorbing formula, but that's not the only reason we love this particular pick: True to its name, the oil disappears instantly as it's worked through hair, so you never get that too-shiny wet look that's a telltale sign of overdoing it. But make no mistake — it might feel light on the hair, and won't weigh even fine strands down, but when it comes to hydration, it's a heavy-hitter.

Verb Ghost Oil, $14, available at Sephora.
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True Moringa Face Hair Body Oil, $36, available at True Moringa.
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Argan Oil

If you're blowing your curls straight, this stuff gives you blow salon-worthy results. "It works best as a treatment to add moisture and shine — and to help prevent frizz," hairstylist Ryan Richman says. It can also be used after you style: "Simply rub a few drops in the palm of your hand and comb through hair with your fingers for a healthy, shiny finish."

Morocconoil Moroccanoil Treatment, $34, available at Sephora.
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Crème of Nature Argan Oil Treatment, $9.99, available at Target.
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Castor Oil

If growth is your goal, then add castor oil to your routine. "It has been shown to improve circulation, which helps hair growth," Ron Robinson, cosmetic chemist and CEO of BeautyStat, previously told Refinery29. The oil has a thick consistency and is perfect if your scalp (or any part of your body) is dry. No wonder it has been used for centuries in Jamaica as an all-purpose beauty ingredient on hair and skin.
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