Experiment: Washing Hair with an Oil Cleanser

I’m working on a really cool story for Racked (here’s what I’ve written there so far) and going on a work trip in a few hours, but I wanted to write a quick post about something I’ve been experimenting with. There’s nothing like a new beauty experiment to keep one’s mind off the stress of unwanted travel — but apologies if this is rushed and disjointed because I’m editing at the airport between a full-body scan and attempt to track down an express manicure! ahaha

Washing Hair with an Oil Cleanser

I’ve come to feel that shampoo is basically the work of an evil god. My skin hates surfactants, making facial cleanser shopping difficult (I’ve since found two low-pH cleansers that I like). That hatred extends to my scalp, which gets itchy and peely when I use shampoos. I’ve found some I like, but even then, my scalp was in poor enough condition when I went to get my first facial that I couldn’t get microdermabrasion done. 🙁

I tried to use dry shampoo to give my scalp a break, but it seemed to make my scalp itchier and drier. Add to that concerns about dry shampoo leading to possible hair loss and I’m wary.

The whole thing came to a nasty breaking point when I used a dry shampoo on my hair and it looked like major, cakey dandruff. I was grossed out and no amount of brushing could dislodge it. I was out of scalp shampoo, and I was concerned that even my heaviest shampoo hitters couldn’t get all the particles out of my hair. The last thing I need is more hair loss (I had alopecia areata around this time last year–steroid shots cleared that up, but I’d rather not have more fall out).

The light bulb went off when I thought about what I’d do to my face when confronted with a similar issue: I’d oil cleanse. Mixing oily hair with oil cleanser seemed like a great way to loosen up nasty stuff and get the gross dry shampoo out. Given that I tested 15 oil cleansers for a comparison review and I’ve since bought many more to try, I had a lot of extra bottles hanging around for my experiment.

I decided that I’d use a spare oil cleanser that I didn’t like enough for my face, but that emulsified well when mixed with water. Kbeauty oil cleansers contain emulsifiers that cause them to turn milky and runny when mixed with water. I thought that if an oil cleanser emulsified well on my face and rinsed very clean, it might do the same on my scalp. I have straight-wavy, thick — oh let’s just cut to the chase — white person hair. It’s not the thinnest, but I can’t put regular oils like coconut or olive oil on it without there being a major, oily problem. A ‘real’ oil cleanser, with emulsifiers, is key for this experiment.

It worked. And how it worked omg. My hair, rather than being residually oily, was clean and bouncy far longer than usual. My scalp didn’t itch–it took five days for an itch to set in. I didn’t see dryness on my hairline or when I used my little scalp close-up cam. My ends felt less dry than usual.

When I shared my discovery with beauty writer Cheryl Wischhover, she pointed me to a Byrdie article from about a year ago that talks about oil cleansers specifically made for hair — I’m not breaking new ground here. But the oil shampoo that attracted me, Shu Uemura’s Cleansing Oil Shampoo turned out to have a ton of surfactants such as SLES that my skin hates. It’s shampoo…with oil in it wtf. It’s also $57 plus tax and shipping for a bottle, so fuck that.

I’m still experimenting and this could go horribly wrong, but it’s my thought that regular cleansing oil (I wouldn’t recommend cleansing balms like Banila Co’s Clean It Zero because I doubt they rinse clean enough) that emulsifies could be a real game changer for people with grouchy scalps or who use dry shampoo. So far I’ve been using bottles of spare oil cleansers that haven’t made the cut for my face, but I’m going to test some drug store cleansing oils to see if I can find a way to oil wash more cheaply. Hello Pretty Bird has a review of 7 cleansing oils you can find at a U.S. drugstore, so I think I’ll try those in a quest to make this more affordable.

Washing Hair with an Oil Cleanser — How I do it:

  1. Your hair should be dry. Dry dry. No sweat. Get out of the shower. DRY.
  2. Section your hair like you’re coloring your roots. I do 1-inch parts.
  3. Squirt the oil down your part. Generously. Rub it into your scalp with your fingers and move on to the next section. Don’t stress about getting oil on the rest of your hair. It’s ok if you do, it’s ok if you don’t.
  4. Do your whole head.
  5. Use a scalp brush to massage your scalp (but take care not to tangle your fur). I comb my scalp like I’m combing my hair, paying special attention to itchy zones. This step may not be necessary for everyone, but it seems like a good idea for dry shampoo aficionados.
  6. Rinse that shit out. RINSE IT. Like, flip your head upside down and work it out. Pay attention to the water running off your hair–if it’s milky, that’s the oil cleanser running out.
  7. Keep rinsing.
  8. Apply conditioner. This La’dor conditioner is my favorite. Since the oil doesn’t contain stuff to smooth your hair, I find this step very necessary. It also makes my hair easier to work with, which allows even more oil to flow out.
  9. Dry and style as always.
  10. Report back to me, if you want, on whether this worked for you! I’m terrible with keeping up with comments, but I’m pretty good with Twitter.

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