Hair oils: Exactly which one is right for you?

With benefits ranging from conditioning and adding shine to treating dandruff and stimulating growth, hair oil has become like liquid gold for our tresses. And forget all those drippy, sloppy, sticky after-effects: the big beauty players are creating a completely new generation of oils for the hair. They’ve swapped sachets for sleek pumps, heavy textures for featherweight silkiness and potent blends that do a zillion things at the same time. In fact, I would contend that hair oil is the new hair serum.

choose-hair-oil4How? While it creates a glossy, swishy shine, the humble hair oil also provides protection and nourishment for your strands. And where serums simply coat tresses with silicone, oils add shine in a far more hair-friendly manner by calling on essential fatty acids, vitamins and antioxidants that penetrate the follicles to treat and condition simultaneously.

And that’s not all: hair oil tames frizz and leaves strands manageable, while also protecting against the harshness of heat styling. Plus, it speeds up drying time as the oil reacts with heat to repel water from the hair. And the good ones even create a barrier against the environment: slip some on to protect your hair from sun, salt water and chlorine, or use it as a mini-shield against the effects of pollution.

However, before you dive into the world of hair oil, it’s vital to know exactly which one will work for your strands. There is a hair oil for all textures and types – including the most baby-fine heads of hair. You just need to pinpoint your best fit!

Hair oil for coarse, dry or chemically processed tresses

Hair becomes coarse and dry when it’s damaged, hence you need nourishing oils to repair its structure. One of the top hair oil choices here is virgin coconut oil, which penetrates the hair shaft to patch and protect it from the inside-out. Besides this, it is also lightweight, non-greasy (making it great for fine hair) and helps prevent dandruff.

Then there is avocado oil, which is rich in proteins and amino acids, along with high levels of vitamins A, D and E. All these are vital for hair’s health: for instance, proteins help fill in the cracks in the cuticle, so each strand becomes stronger. However, since avocado is a heavier oil, it works best on medium to thick hair.

Argan fruit and oil

Argan fruit and oil

Argan oil is loaded with vitamin E, omega-3 and omega-9 fatty acids that provide rich nutrition for your hair. It also contains linoleic and oleic acid to moisturise the strands. Plus, argan oil’s small molecular structure allows it to penetrate the hair shaft, repair damaged hair follicles and restore lost moisture. Using it as a hair oil puts back lost lustre from hair straightening and other chemical treatments, helps keep colour vibrant, prevents dryness and acts as a shield against harmful UV rays and environmental pollution.

Hair oil for dull tresses

Sweet almond oil has high amounts of vitamins A, B, and E. As a hair oil, it heals split ends, improves scalp circulation and adds shine to dull hair. The fatty acids provide UV protection by reflecting harmful rays, while vitamin E makes strands grow longer and stronger.

Or try pomegranate seed oil, which contains punicic acid to revitalise dull strands and increase flexibility. It also safeguards your tresses against environmental pollutants, thereby helping keep them in optimal condition.

Hair oil for thick tresses

While everyone is reaching for argan oil these days, the exotically fragrant oil is more suited to thicker heads of hair. It is sticky and can be hard to get out of fine hair – you’ll need to shampoo two or three times to fully rinse it out, or else you’ll get build-up. Yet for richer locks, argan oil can strike the perfect balance of shine, scent and manageability.

Hair oil for fine tresses

Thin or fine strands get weighed down very easily, so look for a light oil that can give them some texture. The structure of jojoba oil is closest to that of our scalp’s natural oils. This allows it to absorb immediately, making it the lightest and most non-sticky of all hair oils. Yet it also packs a hefty nutrient punch with anti-bacterial properties to keep the scalp healthy, stimulate hair growth and moisturise the strands.

choose-hair-oil2Oil for hair loss

Extra virgin olive oil is rich in high levels of mono-unsaturated fatty acids, which are terrific for moisturising, protecting and nourishing the hair. It also has B vitamins (niacin and biotin), vitamin D and vitamin E to help banish bald patches. If that’s not enough, olive oil helps in battling dandruff, which can be one of the reasons for hair loss. Other benefits include deep conditioning, sealing split ends and strengthening hair from the inside out. However, because of its heavier texture, olive oil is more suited to thicker hair.

For fine hair, there is coconut oil. This is made up of saturated fatty acids that soothe the scalp and keep it hydrated. A hydrated scalp promotes hair growth because there are no dead or dry skin cells to clog the hair follicle. Coconut oil also helps reduce hair breakage by strengthening the hair shaft.

Or try out rosemary essential oil. It contains over a dozen antioxidants, vitamin B, iron and calcium, so its application works to strengthen brittle hair and treat scalp problems that hinder hair growth. At the same time, it easily penetrates follicles and delivers the essential nutrients, thereby making hair grow faster and thicker.

Hair oil for dandruff & itchy scalp

Thyme essential oil is antimicrobial, so its usage as a hair oil can help treat itchy scalps plagued by bacteria and fungus. It is best used with grape seed oil as a carrier, since the former also contains Vitamin E and linoleic acid to nourish the scalp and help prevent dandruff.

Thyme oil

Thyme oil

Oil for ALL hair types

Still a bit puzzled? You won’t go wrong with rice bran and hemp seed oils, which suit all types of hair. Rice bran contains vitamin E and creates a harder shell around the cuticle so your strands suffer less breakage; while hemp seed oil is packed with amino acids, omega-3 fatty acids, proteins and minerals that make hair stronger and healthier.

Mix-and-match your hair oils

You can also custom-blend various hair oils according to your needs. For example, if you have coarse hair that’s also afflicted with dandruff, mix coconut oil and thyme essential oil. Similarly, you can use a nourishing oil for scalp and a light oil for hair strands. So, use your own experience of your hair and create a personalised oil blend for yourself. Or pick a blend off the store shelves – just read the ingredient list to know whether it suits your strands.

Do you use a hair oil? Which one? And will you be making any changes after reading this post?

Beauty DIY: A hair mask that will make your strands feel like spun silk. Guaranteed.

There are few things I love more than the scent of jasmine flowers. It’s soft and sensuous in equal measures… heady and soothing, intoxicating and purifying, soulful and exotic… so many contradictions, all bundled into tiny white buds that have the power to evoke cooling summer breezes and languorous, chilled out afternoons with a single whiff.

In fact, my first blog was called Sandalwood & Jasmine, and I am a sucker for any fragrance with these two ingredients. Which has a bonus effect on many, many days, since science has proved that the aroma of jasmine flowers is as calming as Valium. Seriously.

So, imagine my happiness at stumbling upon this jasmine-based hair mask while visiting Grasse – the jasmine capital of France, where legendary perfumes like Chanel’s No. 5 and Jean Patou’s Joy get their notes. My hair has never looked so soft and… so… swishy, I may say… and the beautiful scent lingers long after the mask is washed away.

No wonder this hair mask is a cult favourite amidst those chic French women, who would rather take care of the basics – like the health of their hair – than resort to measures such as complicated blow dries and chemical-laden styling products.

How does it work?

The natural oils in this hair mask will relax and purify the scalp, along with stimulating blood circulation and encouraging hair growth. They are also great for nourishing dry and frizzy strands, turning them smooth, sleek, and glossy with regular use.

jasmine-hair-maskIngredients

1 cup fresh jasmine flowers
1 cup yogurt
1 tablespoon coconut oil

How to make the jasmine hair mask

1. Crush the jasmine flowers to release the oils

2. Add the yogurt and coconut oil; and mix well

3. Apply this paste to dry hair, pre-shampoo

4. Put on a tight bathing cap (or wrap your head with plastic film) and cover with a hot towel; let this remain for half an hour, then shampoo as usual

PS: You can enjoy more French beauty recipes in The Paris Bath & Beauty Book, which is a distillation of everything I’ve learned in this glorious country!

Do you love jasmine as much as I do?

How to fix split ends (without cutting your hair!)

Blonde. Brunette. Redhead.

Long. Short.

Straight. Curly. Wavy.

Young. Old.

Thick. Thin.

If there is one thing that ties all these diverse types together, it’s this: Split Ends. Horrid, ghastly, hair-destroying split end. Which turn your strands into straw and make it impossible to either grow or style them into any half-decent ‘do. Yup, there’s no hair enemy as fierce and unyielding as the much-dreaded split end. In fact, hairstylists tell me those frazzled ends are the number one complaint clients cite when they come in for a cut.

What is a split end? When hair is damaged, its cuticle (outer layer) starts cracking and exposing it’s inner cortex. Once this internal structure of a hair strand is exposed, it rapidly becomes weak and dry, leading to split ends. Depending on where it is situated on the hair shaft, a split end can unravel and travel quite some way up the hair shaft.

split endsWhile the only true way to rid yourself of split ends is to have them snipped off, there are several things you can do between salon appointments to improve the look of damage and prevent more splits from occurring. And no, a serum that is supposed to bind the ends back together is not the best idea – it can end up in depositing residue on strands that may actually make them weaker and more brittle. On the other hand, a deep conditioning split end hair mask can help strengthen the hair shaft and reduce damage.

Split ends rescue remedy #1

Ingredients: 1 papaya (de-seeded and skinned), ½ cup plain yogurt

Method: Mash up the papaya and mix it with the yogurt; whip until you obtain a smooth consistency. Apply this mixture all over the hair. Cover with a shower cap and leave for 45 minutes, then rinse thoroughly.

Why it works: Both papaya and yogurt are rich in proteins and amino acids, which help make hair stronger.

split ends 2Split ends rescue remedy #2

Ingredients: 1 avocado (pitted, skinned and mashed), 2 tablespoons egg whites, 3 tablespoons olive oil

Method: Mix together the avocado, egg whites and olive oil; whip till creamy. Apply this mixture all over the hair. Cover with a shower cap and leave for an hour, then wash hair with a mild shampoo.

Why it works: Avocados are full of vitamins and other nutrients that repair the hair cuticle, while olive oil provides an incredibly moisturizing boost to dry, damaged tresses. Combined with protein-laden egg whites, they make a wonderful treatment for split ends.

Split ends rescue remedy #3

Ingredients: A cup of flat beer

Method: Simply pour the beer into a spray bottle and spray evenly over your hair. Leave on for an hour, then rinse thoroughly and wash with a mild shampoo.

Why it works: The proteins and sugar in beer bonds to your hair, helping to strengthen and mend damaged follicles.

Because prevention is better than cure… !

Imagine wearing a silk blouse every single day – indoors and outdoors, in the heat, cold, rain… everywhere. It would get pretty beat up, right? This, essentially is what’s happening to your hair, which is delicate, fragile and needs looking after on a regular basis. Treat your hair like an expensive fabric, and it will last longer and look good. Treat it roughly and it will seem battered, torn and frayed into split ends. The best way to get rid of split ends is to prevent new ones from occurring. And this is how to do that:

1. Cut out the chemicals

Chemical processes like hair color, highlights, straightening and perms cause trauma that can break down the cuticle. When the cuticle is weakened, split ends are bound to appear at all points along the hair shaft. Try to limit chemical treatments to just one major hair concern and refrain from washing strands for at least 48 hours afterward, when they’re most porous and likely to break and split.

2. Reduce the heat

Heat is often the main cause of split ends as it drastically reduces the hair’s natural moisture balance. Heat also temporarily alters the hair’s protein structure, thereby causing physical trauma. Hence, repeated use of heated tools like flat irons and blow dryers should be avoided. If heat styling is a must, first spray hair with a thermal protectant to prevent split ends.

split ends 33. Preserve the moisture barrier

Deep conditioning with hydrating products is great for split end prevention. These products lubricate the hair fiber and keep it soft and supple. They also shield hair from the harsh sun and other environmental stressors like wind and humidity. Protein treatments, in the meantime, reinforce the cuticle and hair shaft so they can resist premature chipping, peeling and breakage.

4. Use a wide-tooth comb

After you’ve applied conditioner, slowly run a wide-tooth comb through hair until all the tangles are out. This prevents the snaps and breakage that can incur when you try to brush out hair that’s roughed up from a towel-dry.

5. Take folic acid and biotin

It’s true – you are, literally, what you eat. Nutrients are what sustain the structure of your hair strands. Two B-vitamins in particular – folic acid and biotin – have been shown to supplement hair health, length and thickness. Folic acid (green leafy veggies, oranges, soybeans and wheat) helps the production of red blood cells, which power the growth of hair. Biotin (brown rice, lentils, peas, sunflower seeds, walnuts and soybeans) strengthens both hair and nails through its metabolism of fats, carbs and proteins.

6. Get regular cuts

Whatever your hair type or style, experts recommend you get a cut or trim every 6-8 weeks. The longer you wait to trim, the greater chance you have of split ends worsening and traveling up the shaft.

Do you have any tried-and-true remedies for split ends?  Share them in the comments!

Beauty recipes from my Indian wedding (that work EVERYWHERE in the world!)

Nine hours. That’s how long it took to apply the mehndi at the Indian part of my wedding, exactly 8 years back. I still remember waking up at 6 in the morning and sitting still for 9 full hours, while 4 women worked simultaneously on my hands and legs (so, that’s 36 woman-hours in total), sketching intricate designs from the tips of my fingers to the shoulders, and from the tips of my toes to the knees – both sides! And then waiting another 4 hours for it to dry, followed by the mandatory lemon-and-sugar rinse and leaving it overnight to assure a rich and dark colour. I think that’s when it finally dawned that I was about to get married – me, the girl who saw India as a cultural fantasy and had openly declared marriage to be the least sane of all institutions know to mankind. Well, love and all that… !!!!

My wedding mehndi

My wedding mehndi

Anyway, coming back to the mehndi (or henna), it’s so crucial to an Indian wedding that the two have become synonymous with one another. Mehndi brings luck to the new couple, while its colour is supposed to indicate the strength of the husband’s love: the deeper the hue, the stronger the love! And, most importantly, the bride is not allowed to work in her husband’s home until her mehndi fades completely (thereby making up for those 9 hours!).

And it’s not just about the mehndi, either. Today, it’s been 8 years since I got married and in true beauty junkie fashion, what I remember most about the wedding are those long, lush and totally indulgent hair and skincare rituals that I got to enjoy as a bride in a culture that elevates its beauty heritage to a ceremonial pedestal. My mother is still convinced that the only reason I traded my raggedy skinnies for a traditional Rajasthani lehenga (that weighed 41 pounds!) was to enjoy all the beauty goodies that hold ritualistic centre stage in an Indian wedding. She may well be right.

Thankfully, though, you don’t need to be a bride to enjoy some of these timeless beauty recipes that make you look good and feel good… the perfect combination, where I am concerned!

Indian beauty recipe #1: Sandalwood & almond face scrub

Rose water is purifying, while almonds and saffron represent fertility. But that’s just the ritualistic part. The reason Indian women have revered this scrub since the times of Ayurveda is because almonds contain essential fatty acids for smooth and super-supple skin. They are also packed with antioxidants, including vitamin E, to neutralise environmental toxins and keep skin healthy.

Rose water and saffron, in the meantime, are packed with skin soothing and complexion perfecting ingredients, like Vitamin C and polyphenols, which can erase fine lines, boost collagen, clear blocked pores, soften the complexion and hydrate cell tissues.

4-5 almonds
3-4 strands of saffron, dissolved in a few drops of warm water
few drops of rose water

1. Rub the almonds on a coarse stone with rose water till you get a paste

2. Mix this paste with the saffron water

3. Apply the mask to your face; let it dry, then rub it off with wet hands. Weeks of accumulated grime and dead skin will come off with the paste

Indian beauty recipe #2: Heal chronic acne

Sandalwood has potent antiseptic, astringent, anti-inflammatory and disinfectant properties that make it a treat for flawlessly glow-y complexions. It’s also superb at reducing skin scarring of all kinds. Vetiver is antiseptic and very effective in treating chronic acne. Added bonus: this paste smells divine!

1 small bunch vetiver
few drops of vetiver essential oil
2 tsp sandalwood powder
 

1. Soak the vetiver in a little water overnight

2. Next day, strain the water and mix it with the sandalwood powder

3. Add few drops of vetiver essential oil to the paste

4. Apply this paste on your face, paying special attention to the affected areas; wash it off once dry. Repeat daily till for 2-4 weeks; the left over paste should be kept refrigerated

This day, that year!

This day, that year!

Indian beauty recipe #3: Stop seeing spots

Masoor dal (whole brown lentils) is superb for lightening acne scars and hyper pigmentation, tightening the pores, nourishing the skin and bringing about a natural glow. Ghee (clarified butter) is an Ayurvedic staple used to deep cleanse and moisturise, while being one of nature’s most potent skin healers. In fact, Ayurveda calls upon ghee for everything from healing burns and tackling bruises or rashes to closing the skin post-surgery.

2 tbsp masoor (whole black lentils)
1 tbsp ghee (clarified butter)
 

1. Soak the masoor in filtered water for an hour

2. Throw away the water and grind the lentils and ghee together, till they reach a paste-like consistency

3. Apply this paste on freshly washed face; gently scrub off with wet fingers after half an hour

4. Repeat daily for a week and then once-weekly for best results

Indian beauty recipe #4: Traditional body polish

Used by women all over India, this gently body scrub literally shucks the dead cells and buffs skin to silky smoothness. How? Milk contains hefty amounts of lactic acid to loosen dead cells and grime; chickpea flour sloughs off dead skin; while turmeric is a natural cleanser and disinfectant.

2 tbsp chickpea flour
pinch of turmeric powder
enough milk to make a paste
 

1. Blend all the ingredients into a thick paste

2. Apply on slightly damp skin, then rub off in gentle, circular motions. Finally rinse skin clean with plain water

Indian beauty recipe #5: Whole body mask

This traditional body mask (called an ubtan) is applied to both bride and groom for seven days before the wedding. It’s messy but superb for making skin smooth, flawless and glow-y. Turmeric cleanses, disinfects and glosses; sandalwood is antiseptic, astringent and anti-inflammatory; gur (jaggery) is packed with glycolic acid for exfoliation and humectants to keep everything moisturised; yogurt’s lactic acid helps slough off dead skin cells; chickpea flour busts grime and toxins; and ghee deep cleanses, moisturise and heals.

2 cups besan (chickpea flour)
1 tbsp sandalwood powder
2 tsp turmeric powder
2 tsp gur (sugar cane jaggery)
2 tbsp yogurt
2 tsp ghee (clarified butter)

1. Mix everything together to form a paste

2. Apply the paste to clean skin; wait till it dries (approximately 15 minutes), then rub it away with wet fingers. Finally, rinse clean with lukewarm water

Playing dress up

Playing dress up

Indian beauty recipe #6: Sexy strands

It’s a well accepted fact that there couldn’t be anything better for your strands than coconut oil (read more about the beauty benefits of coconut oil right here). Add in amla (Indian gooseberry), one of the highest natural sources of vitamin C and powerful antioxidants that can penetrate the scalp to strengthen hair follicles right at their roots, and you have a potent potion to stop hair loss and promote the growth of stronger, healthier strands.

1 cup amla juice
1 cup coconut oil
 

1. Mix the coconut oil and amla juice; pour into a heavy bottomed pan and bring to a boil

2. Let it simmer for 5-10 minutes on a medium flame, till all the water has evaporated and you are left with a light brown paste

3. Take off the heat, cool and strain; store in a glass bottle

4. Massage well into your scalp, leave on for at least half an hour and then wash hair with a mild shampoo

Indian beauty recipe #7: Smooth & glossy hair oil

Every ingredient in this fragrant hair oil is chosen because of its blood-circulation-boosting and hair-root-nourishing properties. Try it once a week and you will see your strands getting thicker, smoother, stronger and way glossier than ever before.

half cup sesame oil
2 cloves garlic
small piece of dry ginger 
2 tsp cumin seeds
2 tsp black pepper
 

1. Coarsely pound the garlic and ginger; you don’t need to crush it too fine, just a couple of whacks is enough to release their oils

2. Heat sesame oil in a small pan; once it’s hot, add the cumin and black pepper

3. Add the crushed garlic and ginger; let everything simmer together for a few seconds (the spices shouldn’t burn)

4. Let the oil cool and store it in a glass bottle

5. When you want to use the oil, warm it up to lukewarm (take care that it’s not hot enough to burn your skin) and massage it in your scalp. Let it soak for at least 15 minutes (an hour is ideal!), then wash it off with your regular shampoo

What’s a favourite memory from your wedding? Let’s share!