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9 best hair oils that lock in moisture, prevent damage and add shine

They promote strength and growth, but which should you choose? We’ve found the top contenders

Louise Whitbread@LouiseWhitbread
Monday 21 December 2020 17:21
<p>If you’ve been avoiding a hair oil through fear of being left with greasy locks, allow this round-up to change your mind</p>

If you’ve been avoiding a hair oil through fear of being left with greasy locks, allow this round-up to change your mind

No matter your hair type, from fine and poker-straight to tight coils, it’s worth adding an oil into your routine. While shampoo and conditioner are great for overall maintenance, a hair oil is a treatment that can have a multitude of benefits with regular use.

“Hair oils lock in curls, add in moisture, rehydrate the hair, add shine, moisture, prevent split ends and protect from pollution,” says Anita Rice, co-founder of East London sustainable salon Buller & Rice.

If you have fine hair, and not that much of it, you may well have steered clear of anything oil-related for fear it would weigh hair down and leave it looking greasy. On the contrary, Rice recommends all hair types use a high-quality, lightweight one – especially something that is protective and acts as a split-end sealant.

How you apply it makes all the difference in its effectiveness, she explains: “For finer hair we often recommend applying it to wet locks, as the moisture in the hair slightly dilutes the oil and gives you a much more even result. If you have dry, brittle, broken, or highly textured hair we often say that using an oil on dry hair will give you a much more shiny, de-frizzing, moisture-locking result.”

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We put a range to the test, from high-end options to budget beauty buys, and were left with our top picks of products that promote hair growth, heal split ends, tame flyaways and are an essential blow-drying aid for adding a healthy shine. These are our must-haves for your tresses.

You can trust our independent reviews. We may earn commission from some of the retailers, but we never allow this to influence selections, which are formed from real-world testing and expert advice. This revenue helps to fund journalism across The Independent.

The best hair oils for 2021 are:

  • Best overall – Oway nurturing drops: £35.99, Amazon.co.uk
  • Best for fine hair – Olaplex no7 bonding oil: £26, Spacenk.com
  • Best for dry hair – Moroccanoil treatment: £32.85, Lookfantastic.com
  • Best for damaged hair – Neighbourhood Botanicals age of aquarius hair oil: £29, Neighbourhoodbotanicals.com
  • Best for frizzy hair – Michael Van Clarke 3 more inches magic oil: £24.50, Vanclarke.com
  • Best for growth – Fable and Mane holiroots hair oil: £29, Fableandmane.com
  • Best for Afro hair – Charlotte Mensah manketti hair oil: £48, Charlottemensah.com
  • Best for thick hair – We Are Paradoxx hangover hair elixir: £30, Lookfantastic.com
  • Best budget hair oil – L’Oréal elvive extraordinary oil: £12.99, Superdrug.com

Oway nurturing drops

Best: Overall

This oil feels closer to a gel in texture – thick, but not gloopy – with not a hint of grease. One pipette is all you need before running through wet strands. We saw a significant improvement to dry ends damaged from styling tools and overall our hair looked healthier with fewer split ends. The formula is rich in marrubium, black quinoa, amla and ethically produced marula and gave our tresses a hint of shine and left them feeling super soft. We found it to be an essential companion during the first lockdown when salons were shut and we were left to fend for ourselves on the hair front. 

Olaplex no7 bonding oil

Best: For fine hair

Once exclusive to salons, Olaplex has fast become a must have for haircare fiends at home and its range of treatments is a go-to for anyone looking to give lacklustre tresses a new lease of life. Its oil comes in a small package (no bigger than your palm), but we found it to be well worth the splurge. The texture is weightless, making it perfect for use on dry hair, and the stopper ensures you never over apply, with only three pumps needed for our medium-length strands, meaning it will last ages. With regular use it added shine, left locks soft and got rid of flyaways in seconds. Travel-friendly and lightweight, it’s another winner from the well-loved hair brand. 

Moroccanoil treatment

Best: For dry hair

We can’t include this product without mentioning the incredible scent from the formula packed with argan oil. Once applied, the fragrance lasts all day too, and we can’t get enough of it. It comes with a handy pump dispenser that helps to control application, as too much could cause finer hair types to become greasy. It’s a brilliant product to suit all hair types in need of a moisture boost without weighing it down and comes in handy to detangle if you’re prone to knots. It’s versatile too, doubling up as a body oil for a post shower treat that will leave you smelling luscious. 

Neighbourhood Botanicals age of aquarius hair oil

Best: For damaged hair

While in an ideal world we’d give up our curling wands and straighteners, the next best thing is ensuring you have a routine that’s as protective as possible. Describing itself as a hair serum, this formula features camellia oil, jojoba wax and shea butter. It’s a heat protectant that’s super silky to touch, helping repair damage. Working best on damaged, wavy and coarse hair, we loved the glossy shine and curl definition it added, and the spray atomiser makes careful and even application a breeze. It’s a vegan-friendly and gluten-free formula with no synthetics and, best of all, the bottle and cap are easily recyclable. 

Michael Van Clarke 3 more inches magic oil

Best: For frizzy hair

Small but mighty, we loved the dropper applicator which makes it almost impossible to use too much of this product. Using the right amount is key to the effectiveness of hair oil, as using too much on fine hair can make it feel limp and greasy. This silicone- and paraben-free serum, created by renowned hairdresser Michael Van Clarke, is lovely and lightweight and doesn’t leave a sticky mess on the palms of your hands. Three to four drops is plenty – simply apply through mid-lengths and ends and it delivers a glossy, healthy-looking shine. For the best results, we’d recommend using it on damp locks before blow-drying.

Fable and Mane holiroots hair oil

Best: For growth

Unlike the other oils we tried, this one is a scalp treatment designed to be applied to dry hair overnight and washed out the following morning or five minutes before you shower. It easily became part of our weekly routine. If you have fine, naturally straighter hair, we’d recommend keeping it to once or twice a week, while curly or thick tresses should use more regularly. We didn’t just love it for the head massage we gave ourselves to ensure it was fully absorbed – we noticed that after just two weeks our hair was noticeably softer, particularly around the roots, and lasted longer in between washes. The pipette dropper also allows it to be applied directly onto your scalp without being left with oil-covered hands. 

Charlotte Mensah manketti hair oil

Best: For Afro hair

Charlotte Mensah, an award-winning afro hair stylist, created this luxury hair oil that’s been tried and tested on her clients. It’s a blend of manketti nut and ximenia oils that are sustainably sourced and a cocktail of vitamin E and essential nutrients like calcium and protein. Preventing moisture loss, it’s a dull, dehydrated hair saviour that we loved for its weightless feel in our curly hair. While pricey, it's worth the splurge, smelling gorgeous but not overwhelming. Keep it close by if you regularly use heated styling tools. 

We Are Paradoxx hangover hair elixir

Best: For thick hair

Irish beauty brand We Are Paradoxxhas fun packaging that’s not too gimmicky, and it creates effective products using vegan, locally sourced ingredients, all while being 90 per cent plastic-free. The formula, housed in packaging inspired by a hip flask, is thicker in texture than other oils, but easy to evenly distribute through wet strands, which we found most effective. It gave hair that lovely glossy shine that you usually only find after a salon visit thanks to its formula enriched with Irish whisky, coconut and soya oils. Just be careful not to use too much, as it dispenses quite quickly, running the risk of weighing hair down if applied to dry hair. 

L’Oréal elvive extraordinary oil

Best: Budget hair oil

This is an excellent option if you’re new to hair oils and want something simple and inexpensive. It’s part of L'Oréal’s elvive range, designed to treat hair issues across all hair types, whether you’re hoping to protect your coloured locks or focus on improving split ends. This oil can also be used in a variety of ways: you can use it pre-shampooing to hydrate a dry scalp, add a moisture boost to wet hair or as a styling product to tame flyaways. It has a very subtle scent, luxurious-looking bottle and non-greasy feel that doesn’t cling to strands. Just be careful with how much you apply — for finer hair types, we found half a pump was more than adequate. The thicker your hair, the more you can apply. 

The verdict: Hair oils

We can’t fault the fast-acting Oway nurturing drops that improved our split ends within a few days of use and left us going back for more throughout lockdowns. A haircare companion worth keeping close no matter what your hair type is like, it’s a surefire way to prevent further damage and extend the time between your salon visits. 

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For more haircare recommendations, read our guide to the best scalp massagers that promote hair growth

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