Hair changes through life's phases and at different ages. My journey through thick and thin led me to an Ayurvedic ritual of oiling, massaging and loving my hair
Hormonal hair roller-coaster
My hair-growth was on a roller coaster through my twenties and into my early thirties.
The thickening and thinning of my crown mirrored my waning and waxing (admittedly neurotic) anxieties over bad bosses, worse boyfriends, faking-it-to-make it at work and an unfound life-purpose, to name just a few.
The causality was easy enough to understand: unmanageable stress (often accompanied by a big jar of Nutella) led to the hormonal crazies that made my hair fall out. Got it.
If only the remedies had been as straightforward. My “ah-ha!” to “oh-no!” path through diets, Flutamide, Spironolactone and Minoxidil was a seemingly-endless up and down journey where each new effort began in bright hope and ended in dark despair.
A turning point came in my early thirties, one Sunday evening, when, after I’d given my 10-month-old his bath, I felt an irrepressible urge to oil his hair. That’s when I decided to go back to my roots. Figuratively and literally.
Returning to my roots
My roots are India and an Indian childhood where every other evening found me sitting cross-legged in front of my mother, who massaged oil into my scalp and locks, combing the latter out so each strand was evenly coated, and then firmly plaiting it all up to ensure the oil soaked deeply into my hair shaft (and didn’t smear all over the sofa). The oil itself was a special concoction made by a lady who brewed herbs at home. It smelt burnt, but felt wonderful as the soft pads of my mother’s fingers worked it into my scalp and hair, which she would (always) exclaim “feels so dry!”.
My hair responded enthusiastically to the oiling and massaging and was glorious through my teens: a silky curtain that fell to my waist. But then I left India (to study abroad) when I was seventeen and abandoned that marvelous ritual for fifteen years until life brought me back into its nourishing fold.
You can find the Strengthening Hair and Scalp Massage ritual here, but more than the detailed steps, the hair oil massage is about loving, nurturing and accepting your hair. Just the way it is.
As with most things in life, the oil pre-shampoo massage works through a combination of science and magic as described below:
Sheet-mask for hair
Just as a sheet mask conditions the skin on your face by penetrating it with active ingredients, oil conditions your hair by soaking into your hair shaft.
When you wash your hair without oiling it first, it can absorb too much water too quickly. This makes the strand swell on the inside. 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 very easily.
Oiling before washing prevents your hair from absorbing more water than it needs and helps reduce breakage.
Not all oils soak into the hair. Coconut oil and sweet almond oil are up there on the list of the ones that have lipids with a molecular structure small enough to penetrate the hair shaft.
If you’re asking yourself whether or not your hair needs a sheet mask, ask yourself these questions first: 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 need an oil pre-shampoo, also being referred to as a “pre poo” (ughh)
Scalp facial, anyone?
How often do you stand on your head? The topmost point on your head typically gets the least amount of blood flowing to it. A scalp massage can improve blood circulation, which brings nutrients to the scalp and nourishes the hair from its roots. It’s important to apply only a very minimal amount of oil to the scalp as you don’t want to block your hair follicles. You need just enough to render your fingers friction free as they massage your scalp.
Strengthen your scalp to strengthen your hair
Just like the skin on your face, your scalp needs to protect and repair its collagen and elastin
The skin on your scalp ages and as it does, its collagen content is reduced, which reduces its dermal strength. Reduced dermal strength encourages hair loss. Using a hair oil with ingredients such as Hairy Basil Root may help protect and repair collagen and reinforce the dermal structure on your scalp, which in turn strengthens hair. Hairy Basil Root may also counter the effects of Androgenic Alopecia, which is when hormonal imbalances combined with a hereditary pre-disposition, cause the hair follicles to produce thinner and smaller hair, until the point that the hairs stop growing.
All you need is love
Your hair deserves (and often desperately needs!) oiling before stripping and styling.
The things we do to our hair. From soaking it in colour chemicals that reek of toxins to blow drying it with air so hot that it nearly singes when the hairdresser accidentally blows it on our scalps instead of our hair.
Show yourself some genuine love with by massaging your locks and scalp with a high-quality hair oil (no mineral, rice-bran or Jojoba oils please, as these barely soak into the shaft and instead leave a greasy coat that may leave your hair lank and clumpy).
After oiling, comb out those lovely locks to evenly distribute the oils throughout your hair. Wrap it all up and shampoo a few hours later (seriously, even if you can leave-in for thirty minutes that’s infinitely better than not oiling at all).
My hormones are still a little crazy, but my hair? It’s not what it was when I was seventeen (neither is any other part of me) but I am much happier with it and it is much happier with me. It doesn’t clog the drain anymore and it has recovered its glossy sheen.
My oil pre-shampoo massage is sacred to me. I often postpone washing my hair until I can the find time to do it. Washing without oiling makes me feel as uneasy as hitting the beach without applying any sunblock does. Moreover, it’s deeply satisfying to protect, nourish and above all, to love my hair.