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Olive Oil: The ultimate hair conditioner

Over at WiseBread, Nora has been holding forth on some unexpected ways to use powdered milk and toothpaste, ranging from softening your skin to filling holes in the wall. This entertaining discussion reminded me of something I learned from a dorm-mate in college. She had long, spectacular, radiantly shining black hair, the envy of every woman and the ruination of every man who saw her. One weekend she showed us how she used plain olive oil to condition her hair to a high pitch of beauty. Here’s her secret:

You need:

  • about a cup of olive oil (less, if your hair is short)
  • shampoo
  • plastic wrap
  • three old, clean bath towels
  • paper towels
  • a bonnet hair dryer, a gooseneck lamp or other incandescent lamp that you can move close to your head, or a warm, sunny day
  • a clean utility or kitchen sink in which to wash your hair

Prepare your tools: Pour about a cup of olive oil into a measuring cup, if your hair is shoulder length or longer; for shorter hair, you can use a half-cup or so. Place this, the paper towels, and the bath towels near at hand where you will wash your hair. Pull out a couple of lengths of plastic wrap, about two or three feet long, and lay them out neatly on the countertop.

Don’t use the shower for this process! Olive oil dripped on the floor of a shower is extremely slippery and dangerous. Bend over a large sink to wash your hair and apply the oil.

First, wash your hair and thoroughly rinse out all the shampoo. Don’t apply commercial conditioner. When your hair is clean and well rinsed, towel dry it until it’s just damp. Set the wet towel aside. Now, again bending over the sink, apply the olive oil to your hair. Gently rub it in well, so that all your hair and your scalp are bathed generously in olive oil.

Grab a few paper towels and wipe the oil off your hands. Now take the plastic wrap and wind it around your head, turban style, so your hair is firmly covered. Grab the dry bath towel and wrap it around your head over the plastic wrap. This towel should be an old one, not your favorite guest towel!

What you want to do now is keep your hair warm for at least a half-hour; better, for an hour or so. One strategy is simply to keep the towel wrapped tightly over the plastic wrap and let your body heat keep the hair warm.

Another is to drape the towel over your shoulders to absorb leaks and sit beneath a lamp with an incandescent bulb. A gooseneck lamp is good for this purpose; some floor lamps can be adapted to work, too. A third strategy is to sit outside in the sun for a while, allowing the sunlight to warm the wrapped hair.

But the best technique is to use an old-fashioned bonnet hair dryer. Wrap another couple layers of plastic wrap around your hair to try to minimize drips as much as possible. Slide the hair dryer over the plastic-wrap turban and turn the dryer to “high.” A half-hour or forty-five minutes of this treatment is extremely effective.

Whichever approach you choose, after your hair has marinated in olive oil for 30 minutes to an hour, it’s back to the sink, shampoo bottle in hand.

Shampoo your hair twice. If it’s very long, you may want to shampoo three times. If your hair still feels like it has any olive-oil residue, shampoo it again. Rinse well after each shampooing. Now towel-dry your hair with the third towel you set on the counter, and voilà! You’re ready to proceed with your regular styling and grooming routine.

If your hair looks at all limp or oily after you’ve styled it, you’ll need to shampoo again to remove the last residue of olive oil. One more shampooing should do the trick. To avoid this, be sure to shampoo and rinse thoroughly the first time around.

The effect of an olive-oil conditioning is amazing. It utterly does away with any dryness and frizzies, and it seems to last a long time—at least a month.


Olive oil, not surprisingly, is…well, oily. The towel used to wrap your plastic-wrap turban and keep drips off your shoulders will end up with a lot of olive oil on it. Wash thoroughly, preferably by itself in the washer. Sprinkle the absorbed oil liberally with Spray’N’Wash or a similar product and allow to stand for at least an hour. Then apply some liquid clothes detergent or a paste made of dry detergent and water to the areas that took up the oil. Finally, wash in warm water on a long cycle. It may take a couple of washings to completely remove the oil from the towel. This is why it’s best to use an old, tattered towel for the purpose! The other two towels, if you used them only to dry clean hair, should be fine—just don’t wash them in with the oily towel.

If you enjoyed this post…

Explore the way olive oil works as a facial cleanser and conditioner.
See an update on the olive-oil cleanser experiment.
Find out how lemon juice and vinegar can bring out your hair’s highlights.

50 thoughts on “Olive Oil: The ultimate hair conditioner”

  1. Why does this work? Can you use cheaper oil, like canola oil, in the same way?

    On the subject of hair, the very expensive hairdresser I went to once told me that I should only shampoo every other day. I’ve tried that, and my scalp definitely feels greasy at the end of the second day, but my hair looks fine. (If I let it go for a third day, though, it looks wet from grease.) That tip has definitely let me save on shampoo.

  2. LOL! Actually, it’s not easier! It’s quite a project, especially by the time you’ve cleaned up after yourself.

    But it’s worth the extra work.

  3. Here is a tip I learned when I worked in the garment industry. The best way to remove the oil from the towels (or your clothing) is to sprinkle powdered cornstarch onto the soiled area. Pat the starch into the soiled area, making sure the oily spots are well covered. Add more starch if you see the it begins to look clumpy (that means it’s working). Plain cornstarch works best, but if you don’t have that, any powder that is primarily composed of cornstarch (i.e., baby powder), will do — plain cornstarch is cheaper than baby powder. Leave it on at least overnight, then brush it off with a clothing brush or shake it off into the sink or the trash. Wash item once as usual, but not with dark-colored clothing, because the residual starch will transfer to other fabrics in the washer and you’ll have to re-wash your clothing. It is non-toxic, soaks up all of the oil, and really works wonders. This is the best way to remove oils from anything: fabric, leather, suede, paper, etc.

  4. I use a little jojoba oil on my hair after shampooing. I don’t use much cuz it’s expensive. Olive oil is cheaper. I’m wondering if it’s ok to use on hair after shampooing as a daily moisturizer?

    Also, does anyone know a method of washing the hair with oil? I would like to stop using shampoos altogether if possible. How would you get all the oil out without shampooing?

  5. I would love to know the response to the question if cheaper oils can be substituted. How do I see that reply or can someone post the answer! Thanks! It does work wonderfully and I find I need to get hair cuts less often…so saving money there!

  6. I just finished, and (I don’t know if this is possible?) my split-ends look loads better. My hair is pretty long, about mid-back, but it only took me a little over a half of a cup of olive oil. I washed my hair three times, the last time concentrating on my roots and the edge of my hair, and there is no residual.
    This is a great thing to try.

    • @ Madeleine: Glad to hear it worked! Sometimes after your hair is dry, the effect is a little oily. It can take a fair amount of shampooing to get the olive oil out. I find the split-end improvement seems to last for a while. Don’t know why that is, but what the heck: whatever works, works.

  7. This is one of the best hair treatments I give myself if my hair is very dry. I’ve tried numerous other hair masks and expensive treatments but somehow “olive oil” works best on my hair, it’s naturally frizzy/curly so I have to use a heat straightener everyday before oing to work. It really works!!!!

  8. I love this Olive Oil treatment. i’ve read about it in various magazines and tried it for the first time last night. But what i did differently was that I put in the olive oil first on my dry hair, since water becomes a barrier between your hair and anything you put on it, left it in for about 10 minutes, then thoroughly shampooed it out. it was just a little experiment but it worked amazingly. before my hair was becoming dry and felt damaged due to all the straightening i do to it, now it couldn’t be anymore silkier!

  9. Seriously, this is the dumbest thing I ever heard. Do you know by time you have to wash your hair for the hundreth time because your hair still feels like a grease bucket you’ve already stripped your hair of all of its potency. olive oil should be rubbed in the same time as the shampoo then you wouldn’t even need the conditioner really.

    • LOL! Seriously, you might want to come up with some more gracious nom-de-plume, no matter what you think of yourself.

      If washing the oil out of my hair had left it “stripped” (heh!), I wouldn’t have written this post. Would I have?

  10. Tried this several times and experimented a little too. Result–works great both ways–on fresh shampooed hair and on dry hair. Also tried Grapeseed Oil as well as Olive Oil. Grapeseed oil was cheaper if purchased at a mediterranean market.

    • That’s very interesting! I wonder how the grapeseed oil worked in comparison with olive oil?

      It would be interesting to know, too, if anyone has experimented with ordinary cooking oil. Would Mazola (corn oil) or safflower oil do the same thing?

  11. Olive oil has been from several years for healthy hair. In any spa or hair stylist salon you find olive oil. It is because of it’s medicinal values that it is used so much.

  12. My middle name is Olive; I am named after my wise grandmother; I figured if both of us sported the name, then olive oil must be good. My hair is ‘short’ and professionally colored; however, dry winter air has been drying it out, causing the color to appear less intense and attractive. I had no conditioner on hand……………….I tried the olive oil, which I’d seen somewhere on tv; used only a couple tablespoons oil in a coffee cup of warm water, poured it over freshly shampooed hair, let it set for a minute. Then washed as normal with mild shampoo. My ‘color’ returned! Granted, it is a little ‘heavier’ than usual, but will shampoo better the second time in a couple days. And I love it!!! Returns the sheen, the color, and tames my natural curls. So cool

    • @ Sandy: My goodness! My grandmother’s name was Olive, too! And even more amazingly, my dearest childhood friend was named Sandy. 🙂

      What a good idea for using olive oil as a conditioner. Thanks for sharing.

  13. What happens when u mix the olive oil with a commercial conditioner?
    Is it a good or bad idea, most conditioner claim to have different Types of oil inside their product anyway.

    • @ Terry: Interesting idea! I’ve never thought to try it. It would be hard to mix them together smoothly. If it worked, presumably you’d either have olive oil that smells like the industrial perfume of hair conditioner or hair conditioner that smells like olive oil!

      Remember that olive oil needs to be shampooed out of your hair thoroughly. Conditioner is meant only to be rinsed out with water. So the two products might work at cross-purposes.

  14. It works, Olive oil is great for helping repair the outer sheath, but it’s not a full substitute for the oils of your scalp. Be sure to try to brush the oils from your scalp down to the ends of your hair at least once a week, and use vitalizing vitamin enriched shampoos if you can. Remember the proteins inside your hair can break and die, and if that happens everything down from their breaks and dies. There’s no circulation in your hair, so the nutrients have to be added or come from the oils on your scalp.

  15. I used olive oil last night but I mixed it with honey egg and a few drops.of ginger and i added a bit of my condioner to it as well. I saw a few different recipes online and decided to mix it up a bit. I put it all on dry hair. I melted the honey and olive oil togetehr for 15 sec. Then added the ginger and condioner. Then added one egg. My hair was really fried. And this helped out a lot. I wouldnt wash my hair excpet for every 3 days because of how damaged it was. Now with olive oil. I think ill be able to wash it every day. I love t!

  16. I wash my hair with a natural shampoo from Whole Foods then just before my hair is dry I rub a very small amount of olive oil into it instead of a commercial product. I do this because because I have psoriasis on my scalp and I noticed that the typical products make it worse. Anyway, been using olive oil to “finish” my hair everyday for over a year and it works perfect for what I need and a side benefit is I’ve saved a lot of money by not having to buy hair products.

  17. Just wanted to throw my 2¢ out there. 2days ago I put about a cup or so of olive oil all over my dry not washed hair left it for about 20 minutes. Shampoed my hair… twice… put a little conditioner in left that in for a few minutes and rinsed it all out. My hair is VERY long and I never get it professionally cut, they always mess it up so I just trim the ends hair WAS beyond damaged but after the olive oil its SO soft!!! TWO DAYS LATER!!! Love it!!!

  18. I am so going to try this. I was wondering a couple of things. Does the grade of olive oil make a difference, virgin, extra virgin so on? and would this work for facial hair? would you leave it in longer since the hair itself is much coarser and thicker?

    • @ Ronald Hampton: I’ve always used virgin, which I get at Costco.

      If you’ve used anything like a hot oil treatment (do men have those for their beards, even?), presumably it would be similar. The main caveat is that it’s a job to wash olive oil out adequately. You’ll need to be willing to wash your beard thoroughly with shampoo, and maybe have to do two or three shampoos. And you’d want to avoid getting either the olive oil or the shampoo in your eyes.

    • @ bettetters: I have no idea — I don’t color my hair & never have. If a salon does your coloring, ask your stylist; if you do it yourself, read the information that comes with the product.

  19. @ bettetters I dye my hair black and I do an oil treatment because of how dry my hair gets. My hair is naturally reddish brown and I’ve never had a problem with the oil effecting the color. I use the Herbal Essence color Jet Black 200. Hope it helps 🙂

    • @ Karin: Thanks for the advice to bettetters!

      Another suggestion: if your hairstyle will allow you to trim off a lock of hair, why not try soaking a small sample of your hair in olive oil, then washing it well in your shampoo. After it’s dry, compare it with your untreated hair. If there’s no difference in color, then you’ll know the olive oil is probably OK. If there is a difference, you’ll know not to use it.

  20. I began using olive oil on my hair because of damage from my flat iron. Olive oil worked like a miracle and my curly hair is never frizzy. I normally applied the olive oil to my dry hair, but after reading this I am going to try this method for sure. thank u 🙂

  21. It works 😉 But i do it a lil different. I dump the olive oil in a bowl and heat it up… my hair is usually dirty when i do this. Then i rub it in, all over. Then i pull it up in a bun and put a bandana on and sleep in it. The next morning i wash it out. i only shampoo once. maybe my shampoo just rocks? LOL my hair is way shinny & relaxed but still styles well. “must be the different hair types”

  22. Using a spray bottle, I spray apple-cider vinegar (the orange stuff NOT the clear) onto my hair while shampooing. My all-natural shampoo usually has a really tough time with the olive oil; the ACV gives it a boost and acts as a clarifying agent. So it cuts down on wash time! It leaves your hair squeaky clean but does NOT undo the effects of the olive oil – don’t ask me how or why! If the apple-cider vinegar starts to tangle your hair (while washing), simply run some conditioner through it. You don’t need to let it sit, you’re just using it as a de-tangler.
    I also use ACV on my hair once a week, to get rid of any oil or product buildup – works better than any expensive clarifying shampoo!

  23. I just tried this and my hair feels amazing! I washed the olive oil out in the shower and now my skin feels soft as well because the oil got onto it. Thanks so much!

  24. Wow this looks interesting! A bit messy though! 🙂
    I’ve been using argan oil and my hair and woooooow it really makes a difference. My hair is usually dry and frizzy but argan oil gets its so soft and smooth!!! But I warn you people, the brand matters. I got a cheap bottle and it was like 90% silicones. I had to fork out a lot and order a Pro Naturals Moroccan Argan oil online from Beyas and it was actually worth it. BIG difference. Love it and I’ll be mixing it up with a once a week olive oil treatment now 😀

  25. I have now used olive oil for now 4 weeks once a week and the forth hair result was absolutely amazing. I have spent so much money went to salons and they told me to us all different types off stuff and never work one bit. OLIVE IS PERFECTION FOR VERY DAMAGED HAIR JUST BRILLIANT 😉

    • Glad it worked for you, blonde baby!

      About 90 percent of the stuff salons want to do to your hair is either not very good for it (dye, bleach, permanent lotions, and curling irons) or ineffective.

  26. I love using olive oil in my hair! My hair is so much shinier and healthier since I’ve started doing just what’s described here about six months ago. I normally do it every one to two weeks and my hair loves it. The only thing I do differently is I use conditioner to get the oil out. I read about using conditioner to get oil out of hair on a long hair care forum. I can’t use shampoo… it’s too damaging to my hair because I end up having to wash it four or five times just to get the oil out (which, for my hair, basically negates anything good the olive oil might have done). I was googling and trying to find out other ways to get the oil out of my hair without using so much shampoo when I found the thread I mentioned -that seriously changed my hair-life. Apparently it’s a like-attracting-like thing where if you saturate your hair with conditioner and let it sit (while you still have the oil in your hair) for at least five minutes or longer and then srub it in really well and then rinse it clear it should get most of oil out of your hair. You should also “wash” your hair with conditoner after doing this (saturate your hair -especially by your scalp) and then scrub it in the way you would shampoo (but of course there will be no lather) and after this second process of conditioner you should be good to go –no shampoo needed! You can repeat the conditioner wash if you need to, but most of the time I don’t need to for my hair.

    This actually changed my entire hair-life because I no longer use any shampoo (ever) anymore and have not had ONE day with greasy hair (not one, it’s amazing!). I only use conditioner now (and not the expensive Wen stuff). The trick is that you HAVE to let it sit in your hair for at least 5 minutes before rinsing (and scrub it in, as if washing your hair with conditoner).

    The salon I go to -I’ve been to several people at the same salon -but they’re all a little bit baffled by my hair now. The woman who has cut my hair the most is the one who is REALLY baffled -not only is my hair healthier and I don’t need as much cut when I do go (because I don’t get split ends like I used to), but I have ZERO grease. My hair actually used to get greasier when I did actually use shampoo (I’d have to wash my hair every day or it WOULD get really greasy by the end of the night). Also, I have just as much volume if not more now with my hair… It’s kind of amazing. I still have to “wash” my hair with conditioner every other day, but considering that before I had to wash my hair with shampoo every day (and it would still be kind of greasy by the end of the day) I love it… I will never go back.

    Anyway, sorry for the long comment -this is just something I love doing to my hair (olive oil treatment) and I just had to put the long part in about conditioner -it has changed my life so much when it comes to my hair. Sometimes I read about people trying to do the no-poo thing and talking about greasy hair and I literally just want to talk to them through the computer and let them all know that -hey, it doesn’t have to be that way. Throw out that shampoo and buy a big bottle of good (cheap) conditoner. I used to use Nexxus or Redkin and now only have a big bottle of Tresemme ($4 -I usually go through one every two weeks with as much conditioner as I use) and my hair seriously has never looked better. And again, the women at my salon are seriously baffled. I too, was a little bit baffled at first, but I seriously feel like when I stumbled on that thread I stumbled onto some kind of great-hair-care-secret.

    Hopefully I help someone else out by sharing this. Conditioner is the way to go! I have super long hair that no longer needs constant dusting or dry shampoo on the “next day” after washing. And I’m 100% sure that the EVOO treatments I do on my hair also has a lot to do with why it’s so healthy (and growing so fast) now.


    Oh and P.S. Coconut oil is also awesome for hair I’ve found, except it WILL fade any dark-over-light hair color you have (it won’t fade bleached or lightened hair, but will fade dark colors). Castor oil is a drying oil but is great for the scalp and stimulating hair growth (or so I’ve read) and argan oil is great a frizz tamer (but can’t be used to saturate hair because it’s uber expensive, unless your wallet likes pain ;)). Jojoba oil is another oil that would probably very good for hair (I love it as a face oil -it soaks in quick and has virtually no scent) but it too is a wallet-killer if you want to use it to saturate hair). My favorite oil for hair is the Extra Virgin Olive Oil (I’ve already written a ton here so I won’t go into the manufacturing process of olive oil and why it’s so much better, but it can be googled pretty easily -believe me it is much better). I’m not sure about Canola oil. It’s not an oil traditionally used in any kind of beauty/health application. From what I know Canola oil started out as an industrial oil that was used extensively during WWII. It’s not really something I’d try when there are so many other great oils out there (that have been used for thousands of years for beauty purposes and are known to contain vitamins and things that are good for hair and skin). Also, I know that most Canola Oil sold here in the U.S. is genetically modified… GMOs cause cancers, especially breast cancer and tumors (google GMO France rat study and just click on images…). I wouldn’t put it in my body or on my body in any capacity unless I absolutely had to… But that’s just me. 🙂 I try to avoid anything and everything GMO that I can.

    Sorry my comment is so super-long. Wishing all of us healthy, happy hair. 🙂

    • Interesting about the hair conditioner idea. I also have heard that you can clean your hair, at least occasionally, with conditioner. But if that’s all you’re using, doesn’t it build up in your hair? Hair conditioner is basically the same stuff as liquid fabric softener, which will goop up the inside of your washer over time.

    • Hi Funny 🙂 I have wondered the exact same thing about buildup and I’ve actually worried that I might be causing some heavy buildup that isn’t good for my hair or scalp, but honestly… my hair looks so good now that I’m not ready to change anything just yet. Maybe it’s the type of conditioner I’m using? It’s not a deep conditioner or anything like that -so maybe the oils and things in it aren’t as heavy? I’m not sure. I’ve used a variety of conditoners over the last few months (travelling and staying with family, etc) but at home I use the same one pretty consistently… I might start doing an Apple Cider Vinegar rinse every once in a while to help with any buildup that might be happening, but so far things have been good and I’ve been doing the same conditioning “washing” for quite a while now. 🙂 It may not work for everyone… but for me… this has been like the Holy Grail for hair 🙂 my hair hasn’t looked this good since before I became a teenager and started dying, highlighting, straightening, curling my hair, etc. And I have to think that I’m not the only one this method would work for 🙂 which is why I feel so compelled to share… it has changed my hair so much and I am sooo much happier with it now.

    • Well, if it works, it works! All those beauty chemicals take their toll on your hair over time, so it may be that the conditioner counteracts their effect.

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