The rich history behind hair-oiling traditions

Hair oiling may be trending on TikTok but it’s nothing new, and that’s exactly where its allure lies – few beauty treatments come with tried-and-tested validation as weighty as this ancient ritual. The concept of soaking strands in richly nourishing oils may be 5000 years old, but it remains a prominent beauty ritual for many South Asian women today.

The rich history behind hair-oiling traditions

“In India, massaging the hair is called ‘champi’ and it stems from the origins of Ayurveda,” explains Anita Kaushal, founder of Mauli. “While yoga is the journey of the self, through the self, to the self, Ayurveda is the practical knowledge of how to live a healthy, full life,” she says. According to Kaushal, using oil to massage the scalp and hair not only nourishes dry skin and strands, but works to replenish the body too.

“We are working on the marma points (the body’s energy points, where two types of tissue meet) which in turn heal the body, release tension and rejuvenate,” she explains. “The point being, our body is a brilliant, complex interconnected web and when we work on one area, we work on all parts.”

Kaushal believes that hair oiling also delivers tangible benefits, in the form of longer, stronger hair growth. “There is truth in the idea that certain oils can encourage hair growth, and indeed there have been countless studies comparing the effects of herbs such as bhrami and amla with pharma hair-growth products, with the natural ingredients producing better results,” she says, divulging that certain big-name brands have previously attempted (and failed) to patent certain oils for their growth-boosting properties.

Of course, the quality of your oil is also important. “Another key factor is how the oils are matured and the percentages of oils or herbs used,” says Kaushal, whose own oil elixir is made the traditional Ayurvedic way, with 14 steps taking over three months. “In a world of instant gratification, we have lost sight of the value of simple steps to wellness – you have only to look at an Indian women’s hair to know that these treatments work.”

The different types of hair oils

While certain oils do offer bolstered benefits to different hair types (nut oils are great for thick and dry hair, while the lighter abyssinian is ideal for fine strands), Kaushal suggests the key to success lies more in the technique of hair oiling. “Don’t saturate the scalp, but part the hair in sections and put a few drops through each. Then, a little through the ends. Give hair a really good but gentle massage as that too brings great results, even without oil.”

Today, the traditional ritual of hair oiling has given way to a host of new products, designed to benefit all hair types by imparting hydration, increasing elasticity, and promoting healthy growth. Some are intended to be slathered and massaged into hair in the traditional style, before being shampooed out, whereas others are designed as a leave-in tincture, with a couple of drops delivering all the protection and moisture dry strands demand.

How do hair oils differ to hair serums?

Finally, a note on silicones: a pure, high-quality hair oil should not contain silicones, which is how they are distinct from a hair serum. Where hair oils are designed to penetrate the strands, imparting nourishing benefits to both the hair and scalp, a silicone serum mostly slips over the surface to create smoothness and shine. To distinguish whether you’re holding an oil or a serum (product names can be misleading), check the ingredients list for chemical ingredients ending in ‘-cone’. Both can have a place in your hair routine, but the benefits they deliver are different.

Below, see the eight pure hair oils the Bazaar team are calling on this summer..

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