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Hot Oil Treatments are the Natural DIY Way to Get Smooth Hair

ELLE logo ELLE 9/28/2021 Ariana Yaptangco
Your best hair ever, no chemicals required. © LaylaBird - Getty Images Your best hair ever, no chemicals required.

Mirror, mirror on the wall, what hair treatment will give me the smoothest strands of them all? By now, you've probably tried products like leave-in conditioners and hair masks or shelled out some cash for salon-level keratin treatments. Professional hair oils are great for reviving dull hair but can be pricey. Thankfully, there's a DIY way to incorporate natural oils into your beauty routine (that won't break the bank.) But, of course, we're talking about hot oil, and before you start rubbing your head with it, there are essential facts you need to know.

Hot oil treatments use common oils found at your local grocery store to hydrate strands for smoother and shinier hair intensely. According to Board Certified Dermatologist and Medical Director of Pacific Skin and Cosmetic Dermatology Dr. Tracy Evans, the hot oil is the simple, at-home way to treat your hair. "Hot oil can help to moisturize and smooth the hair by coating the hair shaft and allowing it to appear smoother and shinier," she says. "Commonly, oils such as coconut, olive, avocado are used."

Ahead, Dr. Evans breaks down everything you need to know about hot oil treatments, including the benefits, process, and how it works.

How does it work?

Unlike regular oil treatments, the heat from hot oil helps hair absorb nourishing benefits like vitamins and fatty acids. "Technically, an oil treatment does not penetrate the cuticle and just coats the hair, but heat helps to open the cuticle," says Dr. Evans. "So a hot oil treatment might penetrate the outer layer of the cuticle more than a regular oil treatment, but it wouldn’t go super deep into the cuticle of the hair." Oils like coconut, olive, and avocado can be used with oils created for hair use. "It is important to note if you have any allergy to the plant from which the oil is derived to avoid this type of treatment," Dr. Evans adds.

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How hot should the oil be?

NOT hot enough to burn yourself! "It is important to be careful with the temperature of the oil," Dr. Evans cautions. "Do not overheat it and always test the temperature on an area of your skin such as your forearm so that you do not burn the scalp when applying."

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Is there any aftercare?

Dr. Evans suggests a cold rinse of water immediately after your hot oil treatment. "Following the hot oil treatment with a cool rinse to close the cuticle again helps to seal the treatment into the hair," she says. "Finishing with a cold water rinse can help to close the cuticle of the hair, locking in the treatment."

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Are results permanent?

No. You will have to use hot oil treatments for continued results consistently. "Heating the oil does help to penetrate the cuticle, but it is not the same as hair treatments that break through the cuticle to change the hair color or process the hair in another way such as a permanent," says Dr. Evans.

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How does hot oil differ from keratin treatments?

A keratin treatment uses formaldehyde to make hair smooth and shiny, with results lasting up to four months. Hot oil treatments use natural oils, though the treatment should be done three to four times a week to keep your hair and scalp healthy. If you're looking for a non-chemical treatment, the hot oil is for you. If you want something long-term, consider keratin. "Hot oil is not the same as a keratin treatment, which has a much longer-lasting effect," Dr. Evans says.

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