Regardless of your hair porosity, there may come a time (or multiple times) when your hair is drier than usual, frizzy, poofy, or just plain tangly. When this seems to be the case for you, oil pre-poos or pre-wash treatments can help. Oil pre-poo treatments, when applied correctly, add flexibility and softness to hair, giving your hair the appearance of healthy, moisturized hair.
What is a Pre-poo and why should you do it?
Just like washing your hands regularly can make them dry and chapped, washing your hair has the same effect, even if you’re not using soap. When we wash our hair, we typically use shampoos. Shampoos are intended to clean your hair and scalp from dirt and product build-up. But they also strip your hair of oils that your scalp naturally produces, leaving your hair dry and sometimes brittle. Even those of you with low porosity hair can get hair that becomes dried out because of over washing. Pre-poos are treatments used on the hair prior to shampooing using oils, butters, or conditioners. Today, we’re going to focus on oils for pre-poo treatments. Oils have so many incredible effects on our hair. Most all oils have the ability to keep water out of our hair shaft. They are able to surround our hair cuticles to repair broken pieces and provide our hair with protection.
Which oils should I use for my pre-poo?
Not every oil and the amount used is right for each individual. The types of oils you use for your pre-poo on natural hair are all dependent on your hair porosity. If you don’t know your hair porosity type, I suggest you take our easy quiz to help you discover your type before choosing your pre-poo oils.
For those of you with low porosity hair, your cuticles lay flat so they don’t let water in at all. These porosity types can easily suffer from “weighed down” hair if the right oils are not selected. Oils like Babassu, almond, apricot, and moringa are relatively lightweight but are still considered penetrating oils and help soften hair.
Medium porosity hair types, such as myself, are usually good with a combination of lightweight and heavier oils. I use a combination of castor, kukui, grapeseed, almond, and many other oils in my Perfect Blend Oil. I love this stuff because when left in my hair overnight, my hair is noticeably softer after washes, without leaving my hair heavy or greasy looking.
High porosity hair types have cuticles that are open, so they let water in easily and let it escape easily. This porosity type is typically very dry and brittle. Those with higher porosity types do well with penetrating oils like avocado oil, olive oil, and sunflower oil. This type of hair porosity can usually do well with heavier oils like castor oil as well. For a complete list of oils and when to use them in your hair, check out our post about which oil is right for your hair.
How much oil should I apply to my hair?
The amount of oil you apply during your pre-poo treatment varies depending on your hair porosity. Some people are able to apply a lot of oil, making their hair look greasy, while others may only be able to apply enough to make their hair shine.
Low porosity hair types are those that might benefit from a light application of oil for their pre-wash/pre-poo treatment. When hair strands are not porous (little to no holes in the cuticle), the product tends to sit on top of the hair shaft giving your hair a greasy, weighed down appearance. If you happen to apply too much oil during your pre-poo, don’t worry. That just means you’ll probably have to wash your hair more than once to get rid of all of the oil from your hair. It’s a lot of trial and error, but to start, I suggest coating your hair lightly to give it a nice sheen.
Medium porosity hair types have an adequate amount of raised cuticles and flat cuticles so it actually is a bit easier to figure out the right amount of oils to use. In my experience when using the Perfect Blend Oil, I am able to apply a generous coat of the oil to my hair during my treatment. Again, because this oil is formulated with a combination of lightweight, heavy, and penetrating oils, it could really be used for any hair porosity.
High porosity hair types are generally more porous (lots of holes in the cuticle) and can handle a more generous amount of oil in their hair. Some can even incorporate butters in their pre-wash/pre-poo treatment. But be advised, butters tend to lead to a lot of build-up in the hair, which could lead to more unnecessary washes.
How to apply oil to hair and how long to leave it on?
When applying oil as a pre-wash/pre-poo treatment, I recommend applying the oil directly to dry hair. This gives the oils a better chance of penetrating your hair shaft without water getting in the way. Remember, water and oil don’t mix, so we don’t want water in our way for this. If you already have styling products in your hair, that is okay, just apply the oil right on top of it.
The application method is completely up to you, however, if you are someone with thinner hair I recommend sectioning your hair into 2-3 parts. Next, place 3-5 drops of your preferred oil/s into your hands and rub your palms together. Rub your hands into one section of your hair from the middle to the ends of your hair. Please be sure to show special attention to your ends because they are the oldest and most fragile part of your hair. You’ll repeat this process with the other sections of your head. For those of you with moderately porous or very porous hair, you might find 3-5 drops to be too little for you. I recommend sectioning your hair and applying a generous amount of oil into your hands; rub your hands together and run your hands through that section of your hair from mid-length to the ends of your hair. You may also use an applicator bottle or dropper bottle for your oil treatment for easier application. For easy spreadability, you might find heating your oils prior to application beneficial.
If you are using a lot of penetrating oils in your oil treatment, it’s best to let the oils soak into the hair for 4 to 8 hours or even overnight. This will allow the oils to make their way in to surround broken cuticles and protect your hair from swelling then drying out after washing your hair. If the only time you have is 30 minutes, that’s fine, just don’t expect tremendous results.
Remember, if this is your first time doing an oil treatment and you didn’t get the results you expected, don’t write off oil treatments for good, simply adjust your method (more or less oil, more or less time) and try again.
How to wash out?
The goal in oil treatment is to use enough oil so that you get awesome results without having to use tons of shampoo to remove all the oil from your hair. If you find yourself having to shampoo more than once to remove extra oil, that means you’ve used too much oil and now you’re doing more harm than good with the oil treatment because you have to strip your hair with shampoo.
How often should you do an oil treatment?
Once you figure out the method of application that works for you, feel free to use the oil treatment as much as you think your hair needs it. If your hair tends to feel dry and lifeless by the time you get to your wash day, you may need to do an oil pre-poo every week. If you suffer from tons of frizz, an oil pre-poo before you wash your hair will help. If your hair is more tangled than typical, it might be time for another oil treatment. If your hair has been exposed to some harsh environmental factors (sun, wind) or you’ve recently colored or relaxed it, then it's time for an oil treatment before your wash. Are you due for a protein treatment? Well, make sure you prep your hair with an oil treatment prior to that protein treatment.
Oil Treatments vs. Deep Conditioning
Oil treatments are not the same as deep conditioning and should not be used in place of deep conditioning treatments. Deep conditioners typically happen at the end of your wash routine (although some people do this as a first step) and are used to add intense moisture or protein to hair. The deep conditioners that add moisture are made with oils, butters, and conditioning agents like behentrimonium chloride. Deep conditioners for repair and strengthening are made with protein. Oil treatments are created with just oils and though they can help protect your hair strands, give shine, and flexibility, they cannot provide moisture or repair and strengthen hair.
Oil pre-poos are so beneficial to your hair and are an amazing way to help maintain the moisture you’ve established during your wash day. They help with frizz, can keep your curls defined and bouncy, or give your straight hair life again. If you didn’t master the oil pre-poo on your first time, don’t stop practicing. All you need to do is make some adjustments. Maybe you need to choose a different combination of oils for your hair, or perhaps you applied too much, or didn’t leave the treatment on your hair long enough before you washed it out. Whatever the reason, keep trying. I know you’ll love the way your hair looks and feels once you get it!