Oil Pre-Shampoo: Why It Works And How To Do It

by Gio
pre-shampoo treatment guide

My craziest beauty hack? I pre-shampoo my hair with olive oil.

It’s a staple in my kitchen (can you tell I’m Italian?). I pour it over salads, add a few drops to any sauce, and generously splash it over bruschetta.

And when my hair became all dry, brittle and unmanageable after years of dying it blonde, I started bathing my locks in it, too.

Curious to know why? Here’s the complete guide to a pre-shampoo treatment and why olive oil is the perfect choice for your hair:

The Science Behind Oil Pre-Shampoo Treatment: Why Does It Work?

This is the boring science bit. I’ll make it quick and easy, I promise.

Did you know that sebum’s your hair’s natural moisturizer? It coats your hair, creating a protective barrier that keeps moisture in. The more moisture your hair has, the softer and shinier it gets.

When you wash your hair, you remove some of that sebum. If your hair’s oily, that’s cool. You still have plenty left to keep your locks in top shape.

Dry, brittle hair? Your skin has so little sebum, it hangs onto it like its life depended on it. It kinda does. When you get rid of the little it has during washing, it becomes even drier. Ugh.

FYI, sebum doesn’t just keep moisture in. It also keeps water out. Let me explain. When your hair comes in contact with water (i.e. every time you wash it), it swells up. As you dry it, it contracts again.

This phenomenon is called hydral fatigue and it’s NO good for hair. All that swelling and contracting makes your hair dry, weak, and prone to breakage.

A pre-shampoo treatment adds oil back into your hair. Sure, it makes it a little greasier, but that’s a GOOD thing.

The extra oil reduces the amount of water your hair soaks up during washing, reducing hydra fatigue. Plus, after shampoo has done its sebum-removing job, you still have enough oil on your hair to keep your locks soft and healthy. Win win.

How To Do An Oil Pre-Shampoo Treatment

Now you know why you need to do a pre-shampoo treatment before washing your hair, let’s find out how to do it right, shall we?

Which Is The Best Oil For A Pre-Shampoo Treatment?

If you want to reap all the benefits from a pre-shampoo treatment, you can’t just use any oil. You need one that can penetrate your hair.

That narrows down your choice to olive oil and coconut oil. Both oils make it through the hair shaft to condition hair from within.

But they take their sweet time to do so. I recommend you apply them 4 to 8 hours before washing your hair. I like to slather oil on my hair before going to bed and washing it off first thing in the morning.

Related: The Complete Guide To Coconut Oil In Skincare

How Much Oil Should You Use?

It depends on the length of your hair and on how oily it is. As a rule, the oilier your hair, the less oil you need. A few drops are more than enough for you. Dry hair? Apply it liberally. Your thirsty locks will soak it all up.

Should You Heat The Oil Up?

When you heat it up, oil becomes less fluid. That means it spreads throughout your hair more easily and evenly.

The catch? Heat can dry out hair. So how do you heat oil up without damaging your locks? Just wrapping your hair with a plastic cap or a warmed wet towel is usually enough.

P.S. Make sure the oil is warm, NOT hot, when you apply it on your hair.

How Often Should You Do A Pre-Shampoo Treatment?

It depends on your hair type and how damaged it is. Back to my blonde days, I did a pre-shampoo treatment every time I washed my hair. Yes, it was THAT damaged!

Now my hair is back to being its oily self, I do a pre-shampoo treatment once every 10 days.

You should also do an oil pre-wash treatment every time your hair starts misbehaving, becoming too dry, too difficult to detangle, or gets too many flyaways.

Do you do an oil pre-wash treatment? Share your experience in the comments below.

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Laurie August 22, 2014 - 4:52 pm

Wow, thanks for the info! I’ve heard that Italian ladies swear by olive oil for all kinds of beauty uses. I have two questions:
1. My hair is fine. Will oiling still work with my texture?
2. Do you have an opinion about argan oil as a pre-shampoo treatment?

Gio August 22, 2014 - 7:45 pm

Laurie, we swear by olive oil for anything, cooking, beauty.. it’s a staple in every household. 🙂

My hair is fine too, and oiling works well for me. It just depends on how much you use. I only apply a few drops, otherwise my hair gets too oily.

You know, I have a bottle of argan oil and I hadn’t thought about using that as a pre-shampoo treatment! I’m just so used to doing anything with olive oil lol. I know, though, that it can penetrate hair, even though not as well as other types of oil such as coconut oil, so it should work well as a pre-shampoo treatment too.

Laurie August 23, 2014 - 8:21 pm

Thanks, Gio. I actually learned about argan oil as a pre-shampoo treatment from a French woman! Maybe we should all have an international beauty summit. 😉

Gio August 24, 2014 - 7:53 am

Laurie, my pleasure. And that would be great! 😉

Chic Readings August 22, 2014 - 5:14 pm

This sounds great, I have to try that out:)

Gio August 22, 2014 - 7:35 pm

Helena, let me know how it works for you. 🙂

Allison August 22, 2014 - 7:14 pm

While it is a good idea, in practice, I know I won’t do it. I have a ton of thick, coarse hair that takes a long time to wash & dry & flat iron so I hate adding extra steps. Plus I try to wash about every 4-5 days since I have red color-treated hair and I’m afraid that oil will make it get dirty faster even if applied before rather than after. Lazy, I guess!

Gio August 22, 2014 - 7:48 pm

Allison, I’m pretty lazy too. It helps if you apply it before going to bed. That way, you can wash your hair first thing in the morning and just proceed with your usual routine. And during the night, it won’t attract too much dirt either. You could also only use a few drops only on the outer layer of your hair or on the cuticles, which are the areas that get damaged the most. :)(

kuri August 23, 2014 - 4:50 pm

I moisturize my hair with coconut oil at times since Cosmetic Candy mentioned it was good as a hair treatment, but I didn’t realize it could be good as a pre-shower treatment too. Now I can do this even when I don’t have time for a full deep treatment!

Gio August 23, 2014 - 7:09 pm

Kuri, coconut oil is wonderful, isn’t it? So versatile!

ciembi August 25, 2014 - 2:34 pm

Thanks for the info! I would like to try this, but I usually color my hair with a semi-permanent dye and I have heard that olive oil strips the color away, especially semi-permanent color. Do you know whether there is any truth to that or whether it is just another beauty myth?

Gio August 28, 2014 - 3:04 pm

Ciembi, unfortunately olive oil does strip some of the colour, making the dye fade faster. I found that for me, because my hair was so damaged after years of dying, it was worth having to redye it more often. If your hair isn’t in such bad shape though, you could try doing it every 10/14 days and leave it for a shorter period of time.

Janessa September 3, 2014 - 12:28 am

I HAVE to try this! I’ve been using hair masks about once a week but this is much more affordable and my hair needs shine!

Gio September 3, 2014 - 6:45 am

Janessa, this will make it very shiny! Let me know how it works for you.

Janessa September 3, 2014 - 7:15 am

I couldn’t resist. I put about 2T coconut oil from my scalp to the ends and some honey because I have tons of honey at home. I left it in a bun sitting on my head for three and a half hours and then shampooed and conditioned. I just blew dry my hair and usually, it gets a bit frizzy even with some dry oil I apply onto it. Now, there’s no frizz and my hair is much glossier though not shiny enough yet! I will have to keep this up.

Gio September 3, 2014 - 2:06 pm

Janessa, it’s wonderful, isn’t it? For even more shine, try keeping it on your hair for longer than three hours, if you can. I like to apply the oil right before going to bed and then I wash my hair first thing in the morning. Works a treat. 🙂

Janessa September 3, 2014 - 7:33 pm

I’ll leave it in overnight next time and let you know how that goes!

Gio September 3, 2014 - 8:01 pm

Great! I’m sure you’ll love it even more. 🙂

Alita November 22, 2017 - 1:24 am

Hi Gio.. After applying the coconut oil to you hair for 4-8 hrs. What kind of shampoo should be used. Sulfate free or not? I was told sulfate free shampoo doesn’t get all the out the coconut oil because it’s a heavy oil and it blocks your hair from getting the moisture and hydration it needs. Is this true?

Gio November 26, 2017 - 2:03 pm

Alita, I’m not a big fan of sulcate-free shampoos because they’re too gentle to remove excess oil (if you have oily hair) or buildup from styling products. A shampoo with gentle detergents like cocamidopropyl Betaine works best.

Zoha December 14, 2017 - 9:13 am

I have oily scalp and dry ends which oil should i use and should i put oil on my scalp

Gio December 16, 2017 - 10:40 pm

Zoha, I wouldn’t put oil on your scalp but you can use some on your ends. Coconut oil or extra virgin olive oil work well for dry hair.

Lucinda March 26, 2018 - 9:36 am

I always oil my hair before I wash it every single time. I had really bad hair at some point, always dry, frizzy and breaking, it was so depressing. Then I heard mayonnaise works so I started applying that in the shower before shampoo (I was desperate), and it actually worked, my hair dramatically improved, but it made me feel sick, the smell etc, urgh yuck, so I thought about the ingredients and why it would work – egg yolk and oil – I didn’t want to use egg yolk so I opted for oil, I’ve never looked back. I can’t believe I used to have so many issues with my hair, now it’s always silky, floaty, soft and clean, and of course shinny. I use organic coconut oil, usually on damp hair. I don’t bother putting it on and leaving it over night or even for an hour, I’m just to lazy. Once in the shower, I use quite alot of oil all through my damp hair and then carry on with my shower, shave etc, after all that is done, I vigerously shampoo my hair twice (one must experiment with this, some shampoos are not strong enough to remove the oil) I use sulphate free from L’Oreal by the way, then I use a heavy treatment conditioner, comb my hair and rince it thoroughly. My hair is amazing and I’ve never been happier with it. Olive oil works just the same way too but I tend to stick with the coconut oil out of laziness. A note though- I tried a processed unscented coconut oil once (something I had been using for massage, since not all people like the smell) and it didn’t work very well, the hair felt bad afterwards, so I only use organic coconut oil, or you know, just unprocessed would probably work too. Just thought I would share my hair story incase it helps someone and my stats- I’m 25, caucasian female with medium thick, wavy, dry brown hair. Already getting greys ( !! ) So dye my hair regularly and yet, it’s in perfect health 😉

Gio March 31, 2018 - 8:15 am

Lucinda, thanks so much for sharing your experience. I’m sure it will help other people in your same situation. I’m so glad you’ve found something that works so well for you and I agree, the keys is experimenting. 🙂

Clara August 25, 2018 - 10:41 pm

Hi Gio, I’ve just found this article and I’m gonna try it out soon. I hope it works, may hair is awful. It’s thick, dry, puffy and frizzy at the same time… So thick the only hairstyle I can do is a messy bun. I’m not a fan of heat irons, even though it makes my hair look decent. I remember going to hair salons, they all told me it was damaged, but one told me it is my natural hair pattern, which is hard to believe since I remember having nice hair when I was a kid. My question is, will this also help my hair depuff (if that is a word lol)? Great article, I’m cheering you all the way from Canada 🙂

Gio September 7, 2018 - 12:18 pm

Clara, what changed since you were a kid? How did you take care of your hair then and did you have any treatments done that could have damaged it? But yes, this will help you depuff your hair too.

Ellie November 7, 2018 - 2:55 pm

I’ve found olive oil to have saved my hair and scalp. I was suffering from dry scalp and no shampoos made any difference. I massage about 2 tablespoons of olive oil into my hair before I wash it (it’s only left in a few minutes) then shampoo out (with paraben and sulphate-free shampoo). My scalp is so much healthier and I can get away with washing my hair only once a week. I have thick, frizzy hair so would suggest for thinner hair to use less oil. My hair is dyed dark and I’ve not found the oil to make much difference to the duration of the dye.

Gio November 10, 2018 - 7:05 pm

Ellie, thanks for sharing your experience. Olive oil is one of the few oils that can penetrate hair and nourish it from within. A total hair saver!

Sonja June 3, 2019 - 2:35 pm

I’ve started using an Argan Oil product in my hair just before washing (as in, a couple of minutes before jumping into the shower), and same as LUCINDA, my hair is in immaculate condition, not dry and frizzy, and no need to cut the flyaway, broken strands! I think it’s even making my hair grow longer, faster!

Gio June 4, 2019 - 5:48 pm

Sonja, that’s amazing! So glad to hear this is working so well for you. Thanks for sharing your experience.

Sam July 15, 2019 - 2:48 pm

If you need to wash your hair every day should I apply the oil every night?

Gio August 8, 2019 - 3:09 pm

Sam, I do it once a week but you can do it more often if your hair is drier and needs more conditioning.


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