Why I Use Oil on My Skin and Hair

Neeti Mehra makes the case that it's time to soak in the benefits of grease.

African American Woman Applying Serum On Damaged Dry Hair In Modern Bathroom At Home.
Prostock-Studio / Getty Images

Barima, my paternal grandmother, had a well-oiled morning routine. Before her bath, she would slather on thick, pure coconut oil on her body. After her shower, she would oil her beautiful curly uncolored black hair, which had just a few strands of white, with the same perfumed oil she had used for decades. She'd then comb her oiled hair into a tight bun, held together with double pins and bobby pins. As the years went by, the bun was replaced by a girly pigtail, which bobbed below her shoulders, saturated with oil. 

Oil has been an inescapable part of my life in India. Since childhood, food has been cooked in plant-based oil, be it sunflower seed, groundnut, sesame seed, coconut, olive, or mustard seed oil, depending on what was being whipped up in the scullery that day. Every weekend or so, someone or the other at home got a head massage or a champi with their preferred oil. If not, they decamped to a masseuse for a "maalish" or oil massage, with coconut oil or a specially concocted herbal oil to knead out aches and pains. From babies to grandmas, oil has been greasing, soothing, and fueling our bodies for centuries. 

But it’s only a few years ago that I started reapplying oil once again on my face (with caution), on my hair (occasionally), and on my body (liberally)—a habit which I had given up after my childhood. Mainly, to simplify and bring consistency to my beauty routine. 

Oils like olive oil, sunflower seed oil, coconut oil, and jojoba oil come with a host of benefits when applied topically. Over the years, I’ve tried and tested oils that have worked beautifully on my skin and hair. Sharing a few of my favorite oils that have helped me embrace a no-fuss beauty regimen.

  1. Apricot kernel oil: My traveling companion for years is a bottle of golden-hued, cold-pressed apricot oil from the mountains. My neck-to-toe choice, I do an occasional pre-shower (with a medicated Ayurvedic oil) and an essential post-shower (with cold-pressed apricot kernel oil) stress-reducing Abhyanga or an oil massage. Apricot oil soaks in quickly, without leaving my skin greasy even in the tropics. It leaves my skin feeling nourished without being cloying. 
  2. Almond oil: Though I mostly steer clear of slathering oil on my face, the one which makes the cut is almond oil. Chockfull with proteins, amino acids, and antioxidants, it’s great for hair and skin, helping to improve skin tone and complexion. If your skin, like mine, tends to break out, use it sparingly. I apply it occasionally just half an hour before I shower, massaging it in gently with upward, outward strokes, and then washing it off thoroughly.  
  3. Bhringraj oil: This classic Ayurvedic hair oil has always found space on my bathroom shelf. Bhringraj oil’s main ingredient is False Daisy (Eclipta alba that’s traditionally been used to promote hair growth), along with other ingredients such as amla oil (Indian gooseberry), licorice root, Brahmi oil (Bacopa monnieri), depending on the preparation. Anti-inflammatory, stress-reducing, and sleep-inducing, it keeps hair lustrous and lush. Heat the oil, massage it in well and wash gently after an hour (Read the instructions on the bottle or what your Ayurvedic doctor prescribes.)
  4. Coconut oil: It’s rare to find an Indian household where a bottle of coconut oil isn’t just lying around. The oil is so versatile, you can incorporate it into your beauty routine in many more ways than just simple application for your skin and hair. I always have a bottle at home, either freshly pressed coconut oil from my visits to the coastal state of Goa or cold-pressed organic coconut oil, which I use in food or in a DIY scrub. 
  5. Rosehip oil: Made from the fruit of rose bushes, rosehip oil is a recent discovery for me, and I use a blend with a few strands of saffron. Like almond oil, I apply it on my face before my bath, massaging a few drops in. Said to improve skin tone, add hydration and stimulate regeneration, it’s a simple luxury that I indulge in occasionally.