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OIL ABSORPTION VS. OIL PENETRATION: WHAT IS THE DIFFERENCE FOR SKIN AND HAIR?

Some carrier oils absorb quickly into the skin and the hair, and some slowly. Depending on your hair and skin type and your goals, you may want to use a combination of fast and slow-absorbing oils – but how do you know which oils are best for you?


In this blog, we will discuss the different types of slow vs. fast-absorbing carrier oils for the skin and the hair, because not all oils are the same. We'll also take a look at the difference between oil absorption and oil penetration, as they are not the same thing!


In addition, for those of you who think you have an "overactive scalp" that produces too much oil, we will also show you that sometimes this can happen due to the facial products you may be using: from your face cleansers to your face serums.


Lots to discuss, so let's get right into it!


woman with slow and fast absorbing oils for the face
Some carrier oil will be absorbed quickly into the skin and hair, while others will be absorbed slowly. Do you know which one you need?


Have you ever tried a pea-sized amount of coconut oil on your skin? You rub it on, it melts quickly, and sort of... "sits on top" for quite a while, making your skin look glossy and moisturized. But after 2 hours it still sits there on top, yes?

That's what a slow-absorbing oil will do: It will seep into your skin slowly.


In comparison, a fast-absorbing oil – like rice bran oil – can be slathered on and it seems to be immediately gone. Why does this happen?


Different carrier oils have different properties, depending on their fatty acid profile and the structure of their molecular composition. We went through this step-by-step in our previous blog post: "Penetrating vs. Sealing oils" [HERE]:


In the blog, we showed how some oils are excellent to use for hair, "nourishing it" as they penetrate faster and deeper into the hair and replace some of the lost fats a hair needs to be healthy, which can be lost due to damage from styling methods like bleaching, perming, stretching, harsh shampoos, or even by brushing roughly. We also explained why some carrier oils can lightly sit on top of the hair, coating beautifully to provide a light protective barrier and shine.


But that was for oil penetration. This blog post is about oil absorption.


Is oil penetration the same as oil absorption? The answer is YES... and also NO.

What's the difference between oil absorption and oil penetration?

An oil's penetration rate refers to how deep into the skin the oil can go (depth).

An oil's absorption rate refers to how fast the oil seeps into the skin (speed).

And to penetrate, oils must be absorbed first, yes?


Penetration and absorption of oil will depend on many factors, like:

  • the health of your skin's acid mantle (the thin film that covers the skin, protecting it against pathogens and unwanted microbes),

  • the skin's thickness and layers (as these can be different in each of us),

  • how efficient your skin is at absorption,

  • how dry it is already,

  • the humidity in the air – among other factors.


So it's not a question easily answered as each person's interpretation of how an oil penetrates, how it feels, and how they express this feel, will vary: an oil may feel light to me, but not to you.


Generally speaking, the more saturated an oil, the slower its penetration into the skin; however, this can also vary depending on the oil's essential fatty acid profile.

Oils with longer carbon chains are typically slower-absorbing, like in the case of avocado, castor oil and coconut oil, and those with shorter carbon chains are faster-absorbing. But the oil's composition can make it penetrate deeply into the skin, like in the case of coconut oil, which, although it may take quite a while to penetrate, it can do so deeply into the skin.


If you're curious to get into more in-depth science-y research, there's more info in this blog post from SpringerOpen [HERE].

How does this affect an oil used on the hair?

Hair and skin are different. With hair, which is dead matter, the application of oil will either penetrate to "nourish" the hair, or sit on top to provide shine – just like we explained in the blog post linked above. So it's not so much about the acid mantle, but about whether or not an oil can penetrate or seal, depending on what you are aiming to fix on your hair.


Those oils with longer chains of fatty acids will sit on top, sort of "floating" and coating the hair as they form liquid "bridges" between the hair fibres that may have been broken or damaged. Oils with shorter chains of fatty acids will penetrate deeper, helping to lock in moisture inside the hair shaft and replacing fatty acids lost during hair styling or colouring. This is typically what we refer to when we suggest an oil "nourishes the hair".


We created our OBLOOM Hair Oil Elixir with this very goal in mind: A combination of both penetrating and sealing oils, without the greasy after-feel and the use of eco-toxic silicones. It not only offers beneficial properties to the hair of those who struggle with dry, brittle and dull hair, but it smells magnificent due to its beneficial hair-specific essential oil combination:



Which oil is best? Can you use just one?

Because plant-based carrier oils and essential oils have different properties, again there will not be a one-size-fits-all for all body parts. What your face needs, versus what your elbows or feet may need, will vary from what your hair needs. So it's important to choose your products depending on what you're trying to resolve:


  • For oily skin (and yes, you can use oil on your oily face!): camellia seed oil will be lovely, jojoba is light and smooth, rosehip seed oil has a ton of properties, and olive squalane is soft like a cloud! A favourite nowadays, which seems to pop up everywhere is prickly pear oil.

  • For more dry skin, argan is lovely and light but penetrating at a medium rate, marula, jojoba, and even avocado which is typically heavier but combined with the others make a very nice facial oil.

  • For ageing skin: Our favourites are rosehip seed oil, cranberry seed and pomegranate oil. Try papaya oil as well, it's lovely!

  • For scarring, stretch marks, redness and acne: Sacha inchi is one of our favourites, also blackseed oil, hemp seed, chia oil, and coconut oil for its many unmatched benefits (just use it lightly and combine it with other oils – don't overdo it!)

  • For massage oils: We love marula oil, combined with jojoba, sunflower and almond oil.

  • For lips: Castor oil is traditionally used, although it has been said it can be too dry when used on its own, so it's best to combine it with jojoba, raspberry seed oil and marula.

  • For the hair: We have a whole blog post dedicated to using oil on your hair, depending on your hair type, hair issues, and what you want to achieve, [HERE]:

If you want to use just ONE oil for all purposes, we would suggest starting with jojoba, as it's a mid-range penetration oil that can absorb into the hair and skin at a medium rate.


Face products and hair oiliness:

Using facial products – from cleansers to lotions and serums can result in oilier hair due to a phenomenon called capillary action.


Capillary action is a term used to describe a liquid that travels in a narrow space due to cohesion and adhesion against the force of gravity (so basically, gravity is not necessary – the liquid can still travel upwards).


You can see capillary action in the OBLOOM Instagram reel we shared [HERE]:







Similarly to how water travels up a plant's roots through capillary action, oils applied to the skin can migrate to the hair, and then up to the scalp.


When we apply skincare products to our face, the oils they contain migrate to the hair and scalp through capillary action, especially if we touch our face (which many of us do all day long!) and to our hair. In addition, our fingers are quite oily naturally, and we are constantly touching our hair to get it out of the way – and we know you are doing this too!


This transfer of oils can lead to an increase in oiliness on the scalp and hair, particularly if the products we're using are rich in slow-absorbing carrier oils like coconut oil or olive oil. To prevent this from happening too much, it's important to choose hair and skincare products wisely, opting for lightweight formulations that absorb quickly without leaving a greasy residue behind. Once the face product has been absorbed, you can apply more and layer it on as needed. Touching your hair less often will help a lot too!


Using facial products that contain oils is unavoidable, and quite the opposite, very healthy for your skin; yet, depending on the face products you use, you may want to pull your hair back for a while to allow some time for the oils to absorb into the skin, before letting your hair down again. 


Slow-absorbing oils

Choose these oils if you have dry skin that needs an extended period of time with an oil on top, or if you want to feel the effects of an oil on a more dry section of your skin, like on the elbows or feet:

  • Coconut oil

  • Avocado oil

  • Castor oil (typically not on its own, but combined with others

  • Pomegranate seed oil

  • Sesame oil


Fast-absorbing oils

Choose these oils if you like your skin to be protected but don't want to feel greasy – such as if you work with your hands a lot, need to handle tools, or if you're using them on your face:

  • Hemp seed oil

  • Camellia seed oil

  • Rice bran oil

  • Grapeseed oil

  • Evening primrose oil


So as you can see, the choice of carrier oils in hair and skin products plays a crucial role in determining their absorption properties and overall effectiveness. By understanding the differences between slow and fast-absorbing oils, you can tailor your hair care routine to meet the unique needs of your hair and skin.

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