10 Pre-Shampoo Hair Oiling Questions Answered

You’ve heard about oiling your hair before shampooing and it’s raised a host of questions in your mind. We’re guessing some of the below feature on your list and would love for you to hit us with more in the comments section below.

1. How do I know if I need to oil my hair before washing it?

Pre-shampoo hair oiling is recommended for dry, damaged or frizzy hair. Not sure if yours fits the bill? Ask yourself these questions: do your ends appear thinner and lighter than the upper portions of your hair? Do they tend to fan out? Is it difficult for your hair to keep curls or waves or is it flyaway and very light in texture? Does your hair need more time to dry than it used to? Is it frizzy to an extent that can’t be tamed by styling products? If you answered yes to any of the above, you probably need an oil pre-shampoo, also being referred to as a “pre-poo”

2. Is the pre-shampoo oil massage for the scalp or the hair?

The massage is primarily for the scalp and the oil is primarily for the hair shaft.

Let’s begin with the hair shaft. If you replied yes to any of the questions above, then it probably means that when you wet your hair without oiling it first, it’s porous enough to absorb too much water too quickly. This makes the hair strand swell on the inside, its fragile inner layer bloating with water. The cuticle layer on the outside, however, can’t expand. As a result, the cuticle scales that are meant to be lying flat, are forced to rise up – a position in which they break easily.

What happens to hair cuticles when they absorb water too quickly


Applying the right hair oil (at least a half-hour) before you shampoo your hair allows the oil to soak into your hair shaft and seal that fragile inner layer, making it less likely to get water-logged and therefore less likely to get damaged or break.

Moving on to the scalp, a head massage improves blood circulation, which brings nutrients to the scalp and nourishes the hair from its roots. It’s important not to use too much oil on your scalp as excess oil may block your hair follicles. You need just a few drops or enough to render your fingers friction free as you massage your scalp.

Looking for a step by step pre-shampoo hair oil ritual? Check ours out here

3. Why isn’t a post shampoo conditioner enough to moisturize hair?

‘Cos by the time you get to applying conditioner, your hair has likely absorbed too much water too quickly. Conditioner helps moisturize the surface of your hair but it can’t prevent the damage that was done when you wet your hair.

4. How much oil do I need to use?

For the shaft, it really depends on your hair. A rule of thumb to follow is that even though this is a shampoo-off oil treatment you need just enough to make your hair feel smoother, shinier and less tangled. We find that gently combing our hair post oiling helps spreads the oils out evenly across the hair. We also like to focus on the ends and the top layer of our hair as these are most exposed to the elements and therefore the most damaged and porous.

For the scalp, again, you need just a few drops or enough to render your fingers friction free as you massage your head.

5. Do I need to wet my hair first?

No, because water and oil don’t mix. Apply oil directly to your dry hair and leave overnight, for a few hours or then for at least 30 mins prior to washing.

6. Can I apply oil on hair that’s full of styling goop?

You can! Styling products may prevent the hair shaft from absorbing the oil as well as it otherwise would, but the oil will still help protect the hair.

7. What if I have really fine hair that clumps and tangles easily?

Yep, both Alix and my hubby have fine hair, for which you need to use very little oil. The idea is to not get to the lank, limp and clumpy stage but rather to achieve sheen and smoothness.

Fine hair needs a pre-shampoo hair oil treatment too

8. Will I need to use more shampoo to get the oil off?

If you feel you need to do that, you’ve likely applied too much oil. Ideally, you shouldn't need any more shampoo than what you would normally use.

9. Is this a styling thing?

It’s a nourishing thing that will make your hair healthier and yes, healthy hair styles better!

10. What difference will it make? When?

You should begin to notice less hair breakage early on, but it takes a consistent investment to make dry or damaged hair, healthy and glossy. We’d recommend sticking with this ritual before every wash for at least six months, as you figure out which oil and how much of it works best for your hair.

Send us more questions! We'd love to hear from you.



Tejal Ramnathkar Engman is the co-founder of Malavara. Having left India at 17, she has come full circle to her herb-mixing granny's Ayurvedic beauty traditions. Tejal lives in Washington, DC, and her new year's resolution is to squeeze more hot yoga into a schedule that is currently consumed by a rambunctious 4-year-old, a day job in real estate, and her passion, Malavara.

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