Hair Oils vs. Hair Moisturizers, What’s the Difference?

Hair oils and moisturizers – Are the two interchangeable? Are hair oils and hair moisturizer one and the same?

I was confused because whenever I used ordinary hair oil it just sat on my hair and didn’t make it feel as soft and silky as I know it should. It made my hair shiny but if my hair was dry it remained dry, albeit oily. It didn’t make sense, so of course I went and did some research and also experimented on my own hair until I found the perfect formula for my hair.

The Good and the Bad – Hair Oils

I found out that there are good oils and there are bad hair oils. Good oils are the ones that are obtained from natural plant sources like coconut, olive, castor bean, jojoba, almond etc. Bad oils are petroleum-based oils and mineral oils. Good oils are very beneficial to hair growth; coconut oil for instance is one of the best ways to naturally nourish your hair. It helps in healthy hair growth, ensures that scalp is dandruff free, is an excellent conditioner and it helps in the re-growth of damaged hair.

Olive oil is a natural hair moisturizer that packs a wallop as far as hair care is concerned; it helps in preventing as well as curing hair loss. The presence of antioxidants in olive oil makes it an appropriate hair oil that promotes overall scalp health, it also acts as a natural conditioner by making hair shiny and soft.

Another great oil is castor oil, this oil thickens hair, even hair that is starting to thin out and it reduces and prevents hair damage. It  makes the hair fuller and shinier and prevents dry scalp. This is the oil that I personally endorse because it works for me without fail. The best form of these oils to use is the least processed variety, cold press (extra virgin) oils is ideal.

Moisturizers vs Oils

Water is the best moisturizer for hair. However, the type of water is important . Hard water (water with added chlorine, calcium and magnesium etc.) is  not necessarily good for your hair, it makes the hair dry after extended use. Therefore, the best moisturizers are generally those that are water-based as these more easily penetrate the hair and creates a suppleness in the hair shaft.

Whilst, oils (apart from coconut oil) coats the hair shaft and seals in or out moisture. The best indication that a moisturizer is water-based is if water is the first or second ingredient listed in the ingredients list.

Oils and oil-based moisturizers should only be used to seal in moisture after a water-based moisturizer is applied.

How to Moisturize Hair

Oils are very important to seal in moisture. Hence, if you use water or a water-based moisturizer, use an oil based product or the natural oil itself to seal in the moisture from the water based product.

The bad oils like mineral oil and petroleum-based moisturizers actually blocks the movement of moisture. So if your hair was not moisturized in the first place, when you add oil it will literally block out the moisture for your hair by just coating the strands. This is not good especially if your hair is dry.

The only oil that penetrates the hair shaft is virgin coconut oil.

There are some good examples of water-based hair moisturizers on the market. I use one or more of them occasionally: Organic Root Stimulator Carrot Oil, Triple Moisture Silk Touch Leave-in, Cantu Shea Butter Grow Strong, Ultra Black Hair and Elasta QP Mango Butter. Sometimes when I am really in need of moisture I use S-Curl Activator very lightly and then seal with my castor oil or you can make your own moisturizer.

Hair Care Tip:

1. Moisturize hair with a water-based product and then seal with a good oil.


  • Leillah said:

    Thanks for the article. saved my hair week after a bad salon experience. I hope you do not mind, but I shared it on with a link back to you of course.

  • denice jones said:

    Hi Brenda, what shampoo would you recommend for dry hair my hair is mostly natural with maybe 2 inches of the ends relaxed. Also the best daily moisturuzer.

    • Brenda Barrett said:

      I recommend shampoo bar soaps made with cold press oils or liquid soaps like Castile soap to wash the hair. They are the best soaps to use for dry hair because they do not contain the drying chemicals that many shampoos have. However, if you can’t find these soaps in your area, you can mitigate the drying effects of regular shampoos by doing a pre-shampoo treatment before washing your hair. I have several recipes under the recipe bar.

  • Ronnell said:

    Where can I find the shampoo sop bar? Also, when I use the Apple Cider Vinegar I do not dilute it with water, am I supposed to? Also, I find that when I use vasoline after I wet my hair it keeps my hair verymoist, I do it daily. Is this good for my hair?

    • Brenda Barrett said:

      Hi Ronnell,
      Shampoo bars, you can find some good ones one Amazon here’s a link Jojoba and Peppermint Shampoo Bar
      or you can use Castile Soap which is liquid and looks more like shampoo. Yes you are supposed to dilute the ACV. If you wet your hair first, then Vaseline will seal in the moisture. But just remember, that it will build up on your scalp overtime and stifle your body's own natural oil. Eventually this build up will stop your hair from growing. I recommend that you use organic oils as a sealer.

  • zaji said:

    This was very helpful. Thank you.

  • zaji said:

    Thank you for this information. It is very helpful.

  • zaji said:

    Thanks for this article. It is very helpful.

  • Kristina said:

    My daughter has Seborrheic dermatitis and her hair is thinning and breaking. Since she’s at a tender age of 14 she doesn’t want her hair cut. She’s been getting her hair trimmed shorter and shorter to hide the breakage and she gets a deep conditioner weekly. The derm gave us a steroid and anti fungal cream to treat the SD. I’d like to put her hair in pinky width braids because I’m thinking that this will help me apply the meds directly to the scalp without the hair getting in the way. Also, since she plays sports and cares about her appearance, her hair will be neat. My question is, are the braids a good idea? I know keeping the scalp moisturizered while in braids is a must…your thoughts please?

    • Brenda Barrett said:

      Hi Kristina,
      I would not recommend braids with SD. With SD the scalp needs to be cleaned regularly and the braids will hamper a proper washing. Fore go the braids for now, maybe you can consider them when she does not have a flare up.

  • Sabrina said:

    Dairy and gluten caused my SD to flare up or caused it all together. The doctor said it was a type of autoimmune disease, I compared it to being allergic to my own hair and she said I was correct my body was fighting it as if it were foreign. Like Brenda said, I had to get serious about keeping my scalp clean (I’m natural with a short fro), sleeping in a bonnet every night and taking vitamins at night. Not sure why doing everything at night was such a big deal but it worked. I take Raw One for Women, a calcium supplement and Vit D3. Probiotics have helped my body breakdown those foods that I’m allergic to but sometimes can’t avoid. Kristina do your own research on the vitamins I’ve mentioned I came up with it from a food allergy standpoint and it’s worked for me. If I remember correctly D3 is an i anti inflammatory. I remember the pain and bleeding caused by the slightest touch of the scalp and how hard it was not to scratch. The doctors will only prescribe the antibiotics for a little while. Good luck! Glad I found your site Brenda. Great info.

  • Diane said:

    I loooooove your articles and consider finding your site a serious BLESSING and NOT luck, as I have been praying about how to properly take care of my natural hair and my mom’s permed hair. I still have trouble figuring out how to mositurize permed hair. Won’t it then revert and make the curls go limp? Does the moisture for permed hair come from the DC with EV Olive oil before one washing and with EV Coconut oil the next? Can I over do the DC in trying to repair her once VERY damaged hair? I have been doing it for her for aout 5 months now and it is slowly but surely “coming back this way,” as the old folks would say.

    As for me, I am about 26 months ALL natural since the BC down to 1/2 inch so I have no permed hair at all. I just finished my last drop of MJ Baby Buttercreame and thought my hair loved it but saw your warnings on using mineral oils and petroleum on our hair…which are MAIN ingredents in their products! Now I need to find really good (C) creamy butter to put over my LO (liquid and oil) to insure my cottony soft, thick, fine strands of 3s & 4s textured hair stays hydrated. I know…sounds like a hot mess but my hair is soooo curly that when I used to ger perms the hair dressers would “fuss at my hair” because it would start to curl just after a drying it (and getting a NEW touch-up)!!! 🙂

    • Brenda Barrett said:

      Hi Diane,
      You are welcome. No the hair won’t revert. It might go limp if you use too much moisturizer but not revert. Once every week is fine for the DC. Congrats on your big chop. All the best.

  • Toytoy406 said:

    I’m having a problem when I comb my hair alt is combing out what should I do

  • es said:

    Hi as can you give examples of oil moisturizer? Also what can be used to moisturize the the scalp (olive oil does not work for me period for my skin or for my relaxed hair).

  • Rob 12 said:

    I need to know how to prevent hair from becoming white @ young ?

  • La Neka said:

    Hi Brenda,

    I have a 15 month old little girl and I can’t seem to find the right product to keep her hair moisturized I’m currently using kids organics products, and I really don’t know what to look for to make sure the products are helping her hair… can u please offer me some suggestions.

  • elaine said:

    hi ? is can you mix these four very important oil together and used on the hair. thanks

  • diana said:

    My daughter(8years) and I have very dry scalp with lots of dandruff. Both our hair is relaxed I started using raw Shea butter mixed with doo gro oil really to mask out the scent, is this a good idea? what would you recommend.

  • Arianna said:

    Thanks for the tips. Had a bad experience with chemicals and a lack of hair moisturizer last week. i’ve been using carrot oil recently. This will definately fix my problem. Thanks.

  • pam said:

    isnt it the best feeling to know that some1 some how will get to read everything you researched and find that it helps them so much? ,wel i read everything and would like to thank you for the infor.. . . .knowledge

  • Tammy said:

    Hi, I love your articles soo much. But I have one question. How do you recommend I apply oils to my hair if I’m supposed to keep by scalp free of products to prevent buildup? Thank you in advance!

    • Brenda Barrett said:

      Hi Tammy,
      Don’t apply the oils to your scalp, unless you are doing a hot oil treatment and will wash it out soon after. As a matter of fact, don’t apply anything to your scalp unless you are going to wash it out soon after. When using products only apply to your hair shaft, not your scalp. The scalp should be free so that your hair sebum can do its own thing.

  • jenn D said:

    can extra virgin olive oil be used as a LEAVE IN moisturizer? or do I need to add anything to it.

  • mary dunn said:

    can I mix the extra virgin olive with the castor oil?

  • Leanne said:

    Water based moisturisers make my hair frizzy. Does sealing with and oil help to prevent that?

  • Michelle Chambers said:

    Hi Brenda, Your knowledge and understanding of hair aught to be commended. I need your feedback on some question; I have been relaxing my hair since I was 20 years old and I am inching towards 40. But from day one, whenever I comb my relaxed hair there is always hundred of strands falling out, most notably from the root and sometimes breaking. I have always gone to the hairdressers seeking a solution but todate no full proof solution. Can you help me in determining what shampoo is best for black permed hair? After shampooing, do I condition, then moisturise and then oil? Should the moisturizer be washed out or stay in? How best can I take care of my hair myself and go to the hairdresser only when my hair needs to be relaxed/permed. Also, which relaxer would you recommend is best for virtually any kind of black relaxed hair? Thanks…

  • lila said:

    I have coconut oil but I use it for my tooth and sometime skin. It’s running out. I have put it on my hair before its nice. Is coco butter bad for your hair and skin

  • Venice Williams said:

    great article. I moisturize my hair with water and follow up with Haute Hair and Skin Butter to seal it in.

  • Daisy said:

    kindly give me a few examples of good hair moisturizers for relaxed hair. Am shocked to learn that hair polisher is not a moisturizer. Kindly name a variety. both water based and oil based.

  • Frances Simon said:

    Hi Brenda,
    We live in Yorkshire, England where the weather is very cold here. I am 39 and have been doing Weaves and braids since l was 12 and never learned how to manage my own natural hair. Before my mum used to braid our hair with thread. Now I have a daughter who wants long hair. I keep using thread and the sides and back snap short. She wore her hair in a little pompom for school today and was embarrassed as she doesn’t normally have her afro showing. How can I do simply styles that will bring moisture, shine and stop the breaking please? I am going to go natural next year without extention twists as I now have length. How couldI best manage my own hair in these cold climates without extensions. Thanks. Frances

  • Trudyk said:

    Hi Brenda,
    Thanks for the advice and many recipes for keeping healthy hair. It’s my first time relaxing my hair so am all new to caring for it. That’s when I started researching and found your site. I want to try your regimen to see if it will work for me, however, I am not aware of where in Jamaica I can get products like liquid castile soap, shea butter or vegetable glycerin. I am living in the St. Catherine area.

    • Brenda Barrett said:

      Hi Trudyk,

      Veg glycerin can be found in most pharmacies, Castile soap is a bit harder to find though. You can use the Argan Oil Sulfate free shampoo instead, it can be found at major hair care suppliers. Shea butter is surprisingly not hard to find in Jamaica, some specialty stores have it in Kingston. I typed in Shea butter Jamaica in Google and got some results. I hope the regimen will be of some help. All the best.

  • Dedee said:

    Hey does argan oil from morocco help hair to grow?

  • yvonne said:

    Hi Brenda, I am diabetic and my my hair keep breaking especially in the center I have just starting using cream of nature shampoo sulfur free and conditioner and groganic ice oil do you think that is a good move. I also use dark and lovely relaxer for color treated head.

    • Brenda Barrett said:

      Sounds good Yvonne. A mild shampoo is winning half the battle. Maybe you can do a hot oil treatment every other week with castor oil.

  • yvonne said:

    I have no comment so far when you apply the oil to the hair shaft don’t it still get on the scalp

  • Vladimir said:

    Thank you for confirming the same that I heard about castor oil. I live in Alaska (dry and cold) and, no matter how much water I drink or products I apply (recently was using argon oil hairspray with little results), this winter is the worst to my scalp. So, I will try castor and I also have all natural coconut oil too. Maybe a hybrid of the two for my fifteen years of natural locs.

  • Kayla said:

    Can you use coconut oil to seal hair?

  • Sky said:

    Hi, since dying my hair over 4 years the area around my eyes are constantly dry. Is there any oil I could use to counteract this? I am at a stage where I think I should just stop dying it.

  • Sarah said:

    Great Article!
    I have been washing/blow drying/ flat ironing my hair every week for years and I’ve started to use OKAY 100% coconut oil in place of hair grease. My hair has been stuck at the same length for years. What else do you reccommend I do to maximize hair growth?

  • Hope said:

    Hi Brenda
    Is it oky if I just oil my hair while its in a protective style with olive oil and coconut oil?

  • brittani said:

    What are some good hair care products for a baby 13 months…trying to get a regimen so her hair can grow

  • emeronce said:

    Hi brenda!
    I love the article!
    But i need see my hair is very dry and i have started using the vatika natural extreme moisturizing creme and seal with the coconut oil so i was wondering is this good or should i find another moisturizer?

  • faith said:

    hi brenda i relaxed my hair and it can’t stop from becoming brown… what are ways to reduce my hair from becoming brown

  • B said:

    B said:
    Hi.Brenda since I stopped the salons for a minute my hair is trying to grow, whenever I do the salons some are not gentle on my hair, so I’ve read different articles and do it myself although it’s slowly growing,not fast like I won’t it,It’s seems like it can’t go past my neckline for some reason, can you help.

  • Ruby said:

    Hello Brenda. Thank you for this blog. I have really bad hair fall from getting hair rebond. My hair is pretty dry. I wanna know if virgin coconut oil can help to moisturize my hair? And also if you can help me to how to thicken my hair and grow fast. Really appreciate your help.Thank you so much

  • preciosus ogbaide said:

    Am precious,ur article has helped a great deal, pls wen doing hot oil treatment can onion juice be added 2 promote hair growth?

  • preciosus ogbaide said:

    PlS still on hot hair treatment, after doing hot air treatmentn should warm water or cold water be use 2 rinse the oils out? Thanks

  • Niah said:

    OK so I have a question. If I were to start using this extra virgin cocunut oil would I have to use a water based moisturizer first or would the cocunut oil be enough?? Also which do you think is better for relaxed hair extra virgin cocunut oil or extra virgin olive oil? Thank you.

    • Brenda Barrett said:

      Hi Niah,
      I cannot say generally, that any is better. Some persons hate one or the other for their hair. Some people hate both and prefer to use other carrier oils like sweet almond oil or avocado oil. Yes, you need to put water or a water based product on your hair before you use the oil.

  • Melissa said:

    Hello Brenda,
    You mention some good examples of moisturisers above. I’ve looked at Triple Moisture, ORS Carrot Oil and UBH but I’m a little confused because do these contain silicones? I’m reading to avoid silicones because they block out moisture and require sulphate shampoos to remove from the hair but then I’m reading recommendations about products that contain ingredients I’m doubtful over. I’d love to give the above mentioned products a try as I’m still searching for a moisturiser which is right for me but I’m confused with the mixed information.

    • Brenda Barrett said:

      Hi Melissa,

      Thank you for stopping by. You are going to find cones in most moisturizing commercial hair preparations. There are of course exceptions, I see many more cone free options on the market now than I saw in 2011 when this article was written. Please bear in mind though that this article was not written to emphasize silicone or non silicone moisturizers.

      You can remove silicones from the hair without using sulfate shampoos- clay, baking soda, ACV and sulfate free shampoos work just as well to get rid of silicone build up.

      Silicones serve their purpose by preventing moisture from leaving the hair. They are perfect for sealing moisture in, that is why most of these products will tell you to use it on damp or wet hair and why when moisturizers with cones are used on dry hair it feels wrong. Remember water is the real moisturizer. If you have high porosity hair, this is a good thing, if you have low porosity hair this may not be such a good thing because there will be rapid build up. Not all silicones are bad though, there are some good ones, some that are not as heavy for moisturizing purposes and are quite easy to wash out with regular mild shampoo. My current regimen is silicone free, however, I am not swearing off them just yet.

      If you are looking for no cone products, maybe you can try the Kinky Curly line or Tresseme Naturals. I didn’t even ask, are you natural or relaxed?

      • Melissa said:

        Hi Brenda,

        Thank you so much for your reply. It really was helpful and has quashed some of the doubts and confusion I had.

        To answer your questions, I am transitioning from relaxed to texturised (using a texturising kit). I only started my hair journey 5 months ago. I have my hair regime but still needs a bit of fine tuning until I’m completely happy.

        At the moment I am using silicone free products with sulphate free shampoos. I haven’t even given silicones (the good ones) a chance. I currently use Jane Carter Solutions hair cream for my moisturiser and World of Curls for when I’m nearing the end of my stretch as this really keeps my hair moisturised and stops breakage.

        I would like to try the Triple Moisture or Ultra Black Hair. Do these contain silicones that are ok and can be rinsed out with a sulphate free shampoo or even with a co wash?

        • Brenda Barrett said:

          Hi Melissa,
          If your current moisture regimen works, why are you changing it? I have never used Triple Moisture or Ultra Black Hair but I hear that both products work very well for some people. My current moisture regimen involves, spritzing my hair with warm water (I have low porosity hair) until it is lightly damp, sealing with an oil (not a lot to be greasy and yucky) putting a plastic cap over my head and then a satin cap and then sleeping with that overnight. It is simple and silicone free. After doing it for a couple of months, I heard that there is a name for it-green house effect. You can google it. Try it for a while and let me know.

  • Karen said:

    Hi Brenda,
    Are you supposed to moisturise and seal with an oil on a daily basis or moisturise daily and seal less often
    Thank you

  • melissa said:

    My hair is relaxed and fine, how do I keep my moisturized and oiled with weighting it down and having it too oily?

  • Lovely said:

    Can I have a hair routine please? I find your blog very useful. When I use water to mosturize and I seal with castor oil, do I wash out the castor oil? And how many times a week do I have to do that? How howw many times do I have to deep condition? Please I just need a routine from you and also with products. Just starting my hair journey. Thanks

  • Lorenzo said:

    hey, I use Shea moisture black Jamaican castrol oil
    one of them are strengthen , grow & restore styling lotion , and the other one is a strength grow & restore hair serum (that’s the oil )

    what do you prefer ? or how you think I could use them, or should I put both on ?? and last is this even a good product ??btw I’m a black African American boy

  • Poonam said:

    Hi Brenda,I have a question that if EVCO can penetrate the shaft then it should also block the hair follicle .As I suffered hair loss due to dht now using capixyl serum .I have been using vco for years as hair mask before shampooing.

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