Hair Oiling Is Not Just A Beauty Practice, It's Also An Ancient Ritual

If you've grown up all your life in a Western nation, the few introductions you have to South Asian culture would include yoga, chai, tomato chutney, and paratha. But recent years have also seen an expansive interest in the ancient Indian beauty practice of hair oiling. Even TikTok seems to have broken out in enthusiasm for this Ayurvedic tradition that has existed for more than 5,000 years. 

If you're of South Asian descent, you are more than familiar with the ritual that went with oiling your hair. Your mother or grandmother interrupted something you were doing with an oil of choice in their hands. You would have obediently followed them to the porch steps where you sat facing away from them (cradled between their legs) as they massaged the sweet-smelling liquid onto your scalp and tresses. It was also the time you shared loving anecdotes with one another. Whether you minded the oil in your locks or how you had to carry the scent with you all day didn't matter. Your parents told you it was essential for healthy hair and you believed them. For good reason, apparently. Studies show that oiling your hair can stimulate its growth and combat hair damage. 

The benefits of using hair oil have clearly stood the test of time. But what is behind this ancient practice?   

The holistic tradition of hair oiling is about self-love and connection

Much like with the art of yoga, hair oiling goes back to the principles of self-love and harnessing the power of nature. "Ayu" refers to "life" and "veda" denotes "science." As senior Ayurvedic doctor, Dr. Taruna Yadav, told Newsweek, "Ideally, Ayurveda can be understood as the science of life, as it talks about all the aspects of healthy living in detail and gives tools for everyone to optimize their mind-body health and wellbeing." Hair oiling is a testament to that. You can see this in most South Asian-inspired brands (and even Western ones) that tout the benefits of organic plant-based oils. 

In Sanskrit, "to oil" is known as "sneha" which means "to love." The entire ritual of hair oiling involves connecting with yourself by taking a few minutes of your day to indulge in self-care. In ancient Indian tradition, it also involved engaging with your loved one who took part in the beauty practice with you. Akash Mehta of Indian-inspired haircare brand Fable & Mane told Vogue, "Every summer, our grandma used to come from India with these Ayurvedic ingredients and make these natural hair potions while telling us ancient fables — it was haircare and story time."

If you're intrigued by hair oiling and want to try it out for yourself, the first question in your head might have to do with what kind of oil you should choose. The second might involve how to do it. 

How to choose the right oil and how to practice the ritual correctly

It can get confusing when you see the myriad choices of hair oil out there. The key is to find the best oil for your hair type. You can peruse TikTok for some creative tips or turn to the experts of this ancient ritual themselves. 

According to co-founder of Köppen Ayurveda, Priya Shah (via Editorialist), if you've got a dry scalp that requires some hydration, extra virgin coconut oil is a good bet. If you're looking for anti-aging and inflammatory benefits, coconut oil has those too. Vitamin E-based oils also work wonders when it comes to adding moisture. For heat-damaged hair, try organic sesame oil, per Shah. Sesame oil is also great for tackling dandruff. Neem oil is a good choice for hair growth and re-growth. Castor oil (diluted with a carrier oil) is great for those who want to protect their tresses from environmental factors like pollution and weather changes. Chāmpo founder Kuldeep Knox told Cosmopolitan UK, "I like to use amla oil to strengthen and stimulate hair growth."

Take time with your hair oiling ritual to make it meditative and healing for you. Heat the oil of choice to a warm temperature and start by applying it to your scalp and gently massaging the liquid onto your scalp. Then spread some through your tresses. Leave the oil in your hair for anywhere between an hour to eight hours before washing it off.