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The Dark Truth: Is Baby Oil Good for Your Hair? Top 5 alternatives

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We were one of those families with a tub of Vaseline and a bottle of baby oil in our bathroom. Vaseline was used for chapped lips, burns, cuts, scrapes, you name it. Baby oil, along with its sister product, baby lotion, was used for slathering on skin and hair to lock in moisture. I distinctly remember my grandmother oiling up with baby oil before heading out to the backyard pool to lay in the sun. I know, right? As I grew up, I followed suit. I used baby oil as a suntan lotion, smoothed it into my hair to keep frizz down, and applied baby lotion religiously after every shower as a teenager. All my friends had similar beauty cabinet stocks. I had no idea it was a part of American culture until I started watching films that harkened back to the good old days (the 80s) and saw baby oil made enough of a mark to appear on the big screen. It was not until I had my children that I started to question whether baby oil was good for your hair and skin. Turns out, the answer is... kind of. 

Table of Contents:    

  • What Is in Baby Oil?  
  • Physical and Moral Objections 
  • Top 5 Alternatives to Baby Oil for Your Hair 
  • Hair Oils to the Rescue 

What Is in Baby Oil? 

Why the ambivalence? According to recent data, almost 76 million Americans use baby oil each year. What is the problem? Well, it turns out, baby oil is mineral oil. Mineral oil is crude oil made from petroleum. Remember Vaseline? Yes, it is the same thing. Baby oil is basically a highly refined liquid Vaseline. Recently, studies have shown that, far from actually moisturizing your skin and hair, petroleum products sit on your skin and hair and “trap” moisture inside. It does not absorb into your skin or hair, nor does it improve the hydration of your follicles or your skin’s outer layer.  

Physical and Moral Objections 

As a result, many people have begun to question the value of applying a crude oil to your skin and hair that does not do any real long-term good, and it may do long-term harm. In terms of harm to your physical health, baby oil can clog your pores and cause increased irritation, depending on your skin type. It can also leave your hair greasy and slick if you apply too much. Note: it is really easy to apply too much.  

In terms of moral objections, petroleum is crude oil, a fossil fuel. It is not renewable. And quite often, large swaths of our environment are disrupted to acquire this fossil fuel. It can kill wildlife, destroy habitats, and pollute multiple food chains. All for a product that does not technically accomplish what it promises to.  

Now, when I was a kid, I had no idea about any of this. I am sure my grandmother did not either, nor did the millions of families with baby oil on hand. The age of information can be a blessing and a curse, right? The upside is, today many alternatives exist that not only moisturize your hair and scalp, but also do not draw on precious fossil fuels.  

Top 5 Alternatives to Baby Oil for Your Hair 

1. Hydrate Hydrate Hydrate!  

If you read my self-care blogs and articles, you know hydration is always going to have a place in any conversation about moisture. Drinking plenty of water and eating fresh fruits and vegetables will do wonders for your hair and skin. We apply baby oil to smooth out frizz and lock in moisture. Drinking water will get you much of the way there.  

2. Watch Your Conditioner 

Like baby oil, a lot of conditioners claiming to moisturize your hair actually block moisture from getting into your follicles and to your scalp, ultimately drying your hair and skin out more. Check your ingredients lists for petroleum-based products and avoid them at all costs. This same effect can also occur when you over-condition your hair and get product build-up.  

3. Cut Down the Washing 

Remember, you only need to wash your hair once, maybe twice, a week. Anything more will erode your natural hair and scalp oils, causing the dryness you are trying to defeat with baby oil.  

4. Leave-In Conditioner 

If you find your hair still dry after applying all the above steps, you can add a leave-in conditioner to your routine. It goes a long way toward calming down flyaways and hydrating your locks.  

5. Hair Oils! 

And finally, lo and behold, there are actual hair oils made specifically to aid in the hydration and moisturization of your hair. Find ones made from all-natural, plant-based products, and you can feel good about your purchase on all fronts.  

Hair Oils to the Rescue 

Hair oils have been around for a long time, though they are relatively new to the western world. Women in India, at a loss as the extreme heat sapped away hair moisture, began hair oiling with vegetable-based oils, and the trend has grown from there. As always, look for all-natural products derived from renewable sources like abundant and fast-growing plants.

10 in 1 Hair Oil 

10 in 1 Hair Oil


Wow Skin Science offers a combination of 10 super oils, including tea tree and extra virgin olive oil. This hair oil can be a great start to your new routine. Click the link above to explore the whole list of ingredients. 

Moroccan Argan Hair Oil 

Moroccan Argan Hair Oil


Argan oil is one of my favorite moisturizers. I use it on my face, my body, and my hair. It is super nourishing, and it smells great. Click the link to read more.  

Ultimately, while baby oil is not necessarily “toxic” or even “bad” for you overall, given what we know now, it might be prudent to switch to a more effective process and product. It worked for us in the past, at least we thought it did, and that is okay. It is also okay to admit that perhaps we now have better options and that we can choose them. We do not have to save the world in one fell swoop or change out everything in our cabinets every single time we hear troubling news about a company or ingredient. But we can make small steps toward being more mindful with our bodies and with our wallets. It certainly cannot hurt to try something new, and maybe make one of those small steps today.

Shanna Mendez

Shanna Mathews Mendez is a freelance writer and blogger on topics related to self-care, naturopathy, female empowerment, and motherhood. She lives in the Pacific Northwest with her husband and children, where she enjoys traveling, being active outdoors, and studying herbalism and plant-based remedies in her free time. Drawing on her graduate degree in comparative literature and her own life experiences, she is currently writing her first book. She can be found online at her website thewordywitch.com

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