I still can remember my mother greasing my scalp when I was little. She would part my hair section by section, gently applying the blue-colored oil throughout my scalp. I would sit still watching TV until she was done. It was an act of love as much as it was a common ritual. At that time we didn’t realize that the hair grease wasn’t the best option. Today, we have exchanged mineral oil-laden hair greases and pomades for natural oils and hair butters. Unlike the heavier greases and pomades, most light hair oils do not clog the hair follicles and accumulate on the scalp causing irritation and potentially hair loss.
The Role of Natural Oils in the Hair Care Regimen
Natural hair oils such as olive oil, coconut oil, and avocado oil have molecular structures which are small enough to be absorbed into the hair increasing moisture retention and preventing hair damage. Jojoba oil, which is not actually an oil but rather a wax ester, closely resembles sebum which is secreted by the scalp making it an attractive agent for lubricating strands to prevent dryness and breakage. Other natural oils impart unique benefits to the hair often through sealing in moisture and adding smoothness and shine varying in heaviness and performance depending on hair type.
Including natural oils in the hair care regimen can aid in the health and manageability of the scalp and hair. This is especially true among curlier textures where the flow of sebum from the scalp down the hair strand is often limited. Additionally, natural oils can replace the sebum lost from frequent washing, harsh shampoos, environmental exposures (i.e. sun, wind, heat) and certain medications such as birth control pills.
What is the Benefit of Using Infused Oils?
An infused oil is a carrier oil in which natural herbs have been allowed to permeate (infuse) over time or under increased heat. By infusing an oil one benefits from both the nutrients of the oil and the herb allowing for the delivery of these nutrients to the scalp and hair. Herbs have been used for centuries for their medicinal properties. Depending on the herbs used, infused oils can help manage various skin and hair conditions such as graying (sage and rosemary), hair loss (lavender and burdock), and dry and flaky scalp (peppermint). Some products even claim to promote hair growth, however, because hair grows at a constant rate it is assumed that the derived benefit comes from the increased health of the scalp which in turn promotes length retention. Additionally, herbs can provide a natural fragrance which makes use of the oil a more pleasant experience.
How are Infused Oils Made?
There are three common methods used to make infused oils – solar, heat, and alcohol intermediary.
- Solar Method – Uses the heat from the sun to extract herbal properties into the oil. It is a slow process which takes approximately 2 – 3 weeks to complete.
- Heat Method – Speeds the extraction process by heating the oil at a low temperature (100 – 140 degrees F) for 1 – 5 hours.
- Alcohol Intermediary Method – Involves soaking ground herbs in alcohol for approximately 24 hours and then blending this material with a carrier oil and straining the finished product. This method is used for dried herbs only.
Simple DIY Lavender Infused Oil
- 4 ounces Jojoba oil
- 1/8 cup Lavender (dried)
- 2 caps Vitamin E
- Gently crush the lavender flowers with your hands to aid the release of nutrients into the oil.
- Using a double boiler, heat oil on low.
- Add crushed flowers to the oil and simmer for 2 – 3 hours, stirring occasionally.
- Remove from heat and allow to cool to room temperature.
- Strain mixture and transfer to a dark amber glass bottle.
DIY Tips & Advice:
- Gently crushing the herbs prior to extraction can help release nourishing properties into the oil.
- When using the heat method, ensure that the temperature remains low by using a double boiler or crockpot to avoid burning the herbs.
- Herbal infused oils can become contaminated with bacteria and mold, especially if fresh herbs are used. Use of the alcohol intermediary method or vitamin E can reduce this risk.
- Despite straining the resulting oil mixture, herbal sediment can remain. Use of a coffee filter to capture additional sediment can result in a cleaner product.
- Multiple herbs can be used to create a unique blend to meet your desired needs.