A few weeks ago I was challenged to use jojoba oil as part of my daily hair routine. The idea was to experience first hand how this product works and then write a review about the results.
I wasn’t entirely convinced that adding an oil to my greasy scalp would work, so I decided to do a little research about this oil first. It turns out that jojoba is a common ingredient in shampoo, conditioner, and other hair care products because of its numerous properties that benefit hair health. Surprisingly, this oil seems to work with all types of hair, from dry with split ends to greasy or dandruff.
At the moment my hair is looking quite dull and lackluster, so I’m hoping that jojoba oil can rejuvenate my hair and make it shinier and more voluminous. I’ll be using jojoba oil, massaged directly to hair and scalp, as well as mixing a few drops into my conditioner.
I have purchased some jojoba oil, as well as hair conditioner with this oil, and I’m ready to start!
The History of Jojoba Usage
For years, Native Americans extracted oil from jojoba seeds to treat wounds and sores, as well as colds and inflamed throats (1). Spanish missionaries became familiar with its uses and attempted to introduce it to other parts of the world, but it wasn’t until the 1970s that jojoba oil became popular.
As a consequence of the ban on the importation of sperm whale products in 1971, manufacturers started looking for alternative products and jojoba oil was just too good to miss. In fact, it turned out jojoba oil was superior to sperm whale oil in many applications, including cosmetics.
Today, over 40,000 acres of jojoba are produced in the United States alone, with the oldest commercial farm established in the late 1970s. Other producing countries include Mexico, India, Chile, Argentina, Australia, Tunisia, Saudi Arabia, and Egypt (2).
Over the years, jojoba has attracted much interest due to its ability to survive in harsh and dry conditions. This means it can be used in land that is not good enough for mode delicate crops and has become a major asset in the economy of these countries (3).
Uses of Jojoba Oil
I wasn’t really surprised to find out that most jojoba produced now is used in the cosmetics industry with more than 300 products containing this oil appearing in the market in recent years (4, 5). To cover for this demand, this industry consumes around two thousand tons annually, which is more than three-quarters of the total jojoba production (6).
However, I stumbled upon some novel and exciting uses now that supply is steady and prices are dropping.
For example, jojoba oil is more viscous than petroleum oil which means it can be used as a lubricant at high temperatures (7, 8). The stability of jojoba oil also makes it very attractive to the computer industry. As the cherry on top of the cake, using jojoba oil as a lubricant is a much better option for the environment than traditional petroleum-based products (9, 10).
Other uses include the production of plastics, detergents, fire retardants, candles, leather, and even as biodiesel (11, 12). Additionally, the leftovers from the extraction process can be used as a cheap feed for farm animals (13).
And the seeds aren’t even the only part of the plant that can be used. Leaves have recently attracted much attention in the scientific community due to their high antioxidant content. Preliminary studies show positive results using jojoba leaves to treat conditions such as asthma, inflammation, and cancer (14).
About Jojoba, the Plant
Also known as coffee berry, wild hazel, and goat nut, jojoba (Simmodsia chinensis) is a drought-resistant, evergreen, desert shrub bearing fruits similar to acorns. It needs very low levels of irrigation and soil fertility and can tolerate elevated temperatures (up to 55 °C) (15).
The plant is native to the semiarid regions of Arizona, California, and Mexico. In fact, it’s a perfect choice for these areas, where traditional farming practices are not always viable. (16)
It may grow to three meters in height (classed as a tree) or as low as half a meter (shrub), depending on its conditions. The plant can grow roots up to 40 feet that catch water and minerals from deep in the soil. It’s an incredibly long-lived plant, with a life span over 100 years and many even exceed 200 years (17).
About Jojoba, the Oil
I’m stating the obvious here, but jojoba oil is produced from these seeds, which make up to 50 percent of the seed’s dry weight (20). Curiously, although it’s often referred to as jojoba oil, from a chemical point of view, its correct name is a wax ester.
Jojoba oil contains only a small amount of triglyceride esters (common in true oils, such as soybean, corn, olive, or peanut) but is composed mostly (over 97 percent) of mono-esters of long-chain fatty acids and alcohols. This explains its long shelf-life and resistance to high temperatures as described earlier (21, 22).
Jojoba oil also is very resistant to oxidation and doesn’t become rancid as some other plant oils. In fact, it can be stored safely in a dark bottle for a few years without degrading (24).
In its purest form, jojoba oil appears as a golden colored liquid with a slightly nutty odor (25). Jojoba oil contains essential fatty acids, vitamin E, biotin, niacin, silica, zinc, copper, and many other important antioxidants. This is one of the reasons why it has become an important natural oil used in the cosmetic industry.
At this stage, I learnt a very interesting fact: the composition of jojoba’s wax esters is very similar to the natural oils (called sebum) that are found on our skin. It turns out that consistent use of jojoba oil “convinces” the skin and scalp that it has enough oil, preventing excessive oil production (28, 29). I may have been a little suspicious at first, but this gave me some confidence that jojoba oil could be a great product even for my oily scalp.
What Do Researchers Know About Using Jojoba Oil for Hair?
Before I started my experiment using jojoba oil, I wanted to find out what researchers know about this plant. I’ve read a lot of different claims online, but I soon found out that not all are supported by scientific evidence. Here’s what I found out:
Jojoba oil helps to get skin and scalp hydrated: TRUE
The main use for jojoba oil in the cosmetic industry is as a skin and scalp moisturizer. This is actually substantiated by research, and given how it mimics human sebum present in the skin, it should not come as a surprise (30). Jojoba oil has been shown to increase hydration in the skin, with participants reporting a “nice feel” in skin and hair (31).
Supported by this work, there are many different patents which include jojoba oil as an ingredient in shampoos and conditioners and has even started to be used in microemulsions in hair care products (32). The idea for microemulsions is to use jojoba oil as a carrier to transport the active ingredients in the product.
Curiously, this effect is achieved without penetrating very deep into the skin. Similar to almond, soybean, and avocado, jojoba oil stays mostly at the surface of the skin, creating a layer of protection and keeping the skin hydrated and soft. (33, 34)
Nevertheless, there are some components that can be absorbed. This is done with a little help from Free Fatty Acids (FFAs), mostly monounsaturated FFAs – present in high amounts in jojoba oil – which can disrupt the skin barrier (35).
This small disruption makes it easier for compounds like antioxidants to penetrate the skin, and have their positive effects much deeper (36, 37, 38). For this reason, the high content of wax esters in jojoba oil makes it a good product to treat skin conditions, such as seborrheic dermatitis, eczematous dermatitis, AD, and acne (39).
Jojoba oil prevents scalp infections: TRUE
Many studies have also shown that jojoba extracts have anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial abilities against some pathogens, including Staphylococcus aureus (which causes skin infections), E. coli (causes digestive problems), Klebsiella pneumoniae (causes pneumonia and urinary tract infections), and Pseudomonas aeruginosa (causes urinary tract infections, respiratory system infections, dermatitis) (40).
When it comes to hair, jojoba’s antimicrobial activity – combined with its moisturizing nature – is ideal to soothe the scalp and stop any irritation or inflammation which, left untreated, may lead to conditions like dandruff, or even eczema and psoriasis.
Jojoba oil works as an antioxidant: TRUE
Finally, jojoba oil extracts contain many different types of antioxidants. (46, 47). Interestingly, detecting the presence of such compounds in jojoba oil was one of the first studies ever conducted on this product, but it wasn’t until recently that all the antioxidants present in jojoba plant (seeds and leaves) were identified (48, 49).
Some of these newly identified compounds actually have a strong antioxidant activity, including vitamin E, a well-known antioxidant (50). These are so potent that researchers are trying to extract the best ones present in jojoba oil and use them to develop new treatments for multiple conditions like diabetes, for example (51).
Jojoba oil helps prevent hair loss: FALSE
You may have read about how jojoba oil can promote hair growth. In theory, jojoba oil is supposed to dissolve the dirt and build-up on the scalp (which it does – see above), reduce oxidative stress (which it also does – see above), and nourish hair follicles, to promote hair growth. Sadly, this is where the theory fails.
This reputation to promote hair growth is simply not backed by science. Despite the positive results in terms of cleaning the scalp and reducing stress, there is no evidence that jojoba oil helps hair growth (52). This means jojoba oil should not be used as a therapy for pattern baldness, alopecia, or other hair loss disorders.
Ways to Use Jojoba Oil
There are different ways to use jojoba oil.
Purchase jojoba oil shampoo or conditioner
The easiest way to start using jojoba oil for your hair is to purchase a shampoo and/or conditioner that contains this oil. This method doesn’t need much planning, and it’s a good way to start if you aren’t sure what you need. Any good market will have a variety of products from different brands containing jojoba.
Add jojoba oil to products
The second option is to add a few drops of jojoba oil (3 to 5 drops) to your favorite shampoo or conditioner and use as normal. This requires you to purchase the oil separately, but once it’s added to your products, there is nothing else to worry about. Again, good stores will have jojoba oil, or alternatively, online shops offer a wide choice.
In fact, it can be overwhelming to decide the best product to use. I used cold-pressed jojoba oil, which is the first extract when seeds are pressed. This is often called “unrefined”. Refined options involve a chemical extraction from the seeds and the final product is usually of lower quality.
Massage with jojoba oil before shampoo
The third option is to apply jojoba oil on its own, directly to the scalp. There are several ways to achieve this, but this is the one I followed:
Step 1: Warm a small amount of oil in a bowl. I found it easier to do this on the microwave, but a clean pot over the hob would work the same. I used about 1 tbsp. jojoba oil for my short hair, but you may need a little extra if you have long hair. Warming up the oil is not essential, but heat increases blood circulation and makes it easier for scalp and hair to absorb the oil, avoiding a greasy residue.
Step 2: Gently dip your hand into the heated oil and massage it into your scalp. Don’t overdo it at this stage, as too much oil may clog up the pores.
Step 3: Work your way down to the tip of your hair.
Step 4: Massage scalp and hair gently for a few minutes
Step 5: Leave for 20 minutes
Step 6: Shampoo and wash as normal
Step 7: Repeat twice a week.
It can be tricky to find out how often you should try this treatment. I would say if your hair is particularly damaged or dry, try it once or twice a week until you start to see improvements. If your hair is normal, repeat treatment about once every two or three weeks. The trick is to keep an eye on your hair. If you start noticing your hair getting oily, do treatments less frequently. On the other hand, if your hair is still dry and showing no signs of improving, maybe try the treatment more often.
A fourth option, which I also tried, is basically the same as before, but in this case, I left jojoba oil overnight. This was actually my first time using jojoba oil and I wanted to make sure there was enough time for the oil to penetrate and soften my hair, as well as dissolve and clean any sebum blockages on my scalp.
As you can see from the picture, your hair will look a little greasy after you apply jojoba oil. Word of advice: if you try this, be prepared to change your pillowcase the following day or wear a cap to protect your bed from stains!
This approach may be particularly useful if your hair is dry, to give jojoba oil plenty of time to soften and nourish the cuticles.
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How Did Jojoba Help My Hair?
As I mentioned before, I wasn’t particularly keen to apply an oil to my already oily hair, but after learning how jojoba oil works, I was willing to give it a try. Luckily, I didn’t have to wait long and after only a few applications, I started to feel my hair softer and look shinier. Even some of my friends noticed!
These are the main two ways in which jojoba oil helped with my hair:
Scalp less itchy
Before starting the experiment, I read that jojoba oil could help me balance sebum production and solve my oily scalp issue, but I wasn’t entirely convinced. How was it possible that applying more oil to the hair was going to solve the problem?
It turns out that, because jojoba oil is quite similar to natural oils in the skin, it actually stopped my overactive sebaceous glands from producing too much sebum.
After a few applications, I felt my scalp less itchy, as jojoba oil removed sebum deposits and build-up created by hair products, leaving the pores clean. These deposits are a consequence of producing too much sebum, which in time accumulates and hardens. In extreme conditions, it can block hair follicles and even limit hair growth.
I can’t tell for sure what would happen if my scalp was dry, but I imagine that jojoba oil would be able to control the activity of the sebaceous glands in a similar manner. The only difference would be that, in this case, jojoba oil would stimulate their activity to produce more sebum. The end result would still be a balanced amount of natural oils and a healthy scalp.
I don’t have any skin conditions but, given what I experienced with my mildly itchy scalp, I think people suffering from psoriasis and other skin/scalp conditions may benefit from regular jojoba oil applications on the scalp to remove dead cells and improve skin hydration.
For some patients, jojoba’s ability to promote a balance in terms of the production of natural oils in the skin could be a step in the right direction to control their skin condition. If you’re thinking about using jojoba oil for your skin condition, however, I would advise checking with your doctor before starting any treatment.
Jojoba oil is not only good for the scalp but also worked wonders for my hair. I noticed much shinier hair, as well as less breakage when brushing. This is all thanks to jojoba’s ability to form a thin, protective layer around the hair shaft to help hair retain moisture, as well as fight oxidative stress, minimizing damage to the hair. I even noticed less split ends in my hair as the oil prevented damage during shampooing.
What Should I Know Before Using Jojoba Oil?
How do we know that jojoba oil is safe to use? A study from 1992 showed that there is very little to worry about, with low rates of any type of allergic reaction (53). You may say that this was done over 20 years ago, but products like jojoba oil don’t really change over time and the conclusions from this study as just as valid now as they were when the study was first published.
Nevertheless, always be vigilant, especially for pregnant or breastfeeding women. There have been reported cases of allergy to jojoba oil in patients using shampoo and hair conditioner containing this oil. Symptoms include redness and inflammation of the skin, as well as a rash in the affected area, which typically develops within 24 to 48 hours after the application (54). If you have other allergies, I would recommend using just a small amount at first or use commercially available products with jojoba oil. After this initial period, if all is well, then you can move on to using pure jojoba oil.
I started a little skeptical about applying jojoba oil to my hair but it turned out that – somewhat counterintuitively – oil on a greasy hair works!
Well, maybe technically it isn’t an oil in the true sense of the word. From a chemical point of view, jojoba oil is a wax. And, as a wax with a close composition to scalp sebum, it’s the perfect product to ensure the right balance of fat in the skin.
At the end of this experiment, jojoba oil has become a great addition to my regular hair care regime. I found that it can strengthen my hair, leaving it shiny and easy to brush. Not to mention a much less itchy scalp not driving me crazy anymore!
However, don’t believe all the hype about using jojoba oil to prevent hair loss. Unfortunately, there is no evidence to support this application. Jojoba oil can prevent oxidative stress and ensure a healthy scalp, but there is no reason to rely on this oil as a therapy for baldness.
Is jojoba oil already a part of your daily routine? Are you planning to use it? Tell us about your experience in the comments section below.