Shiro Abhyanga (head oiling) : not just a cosmetic practice

Many people write to us asking how long they should continue oiling the head. When we say it should be done “Dina” (daily” and “Nityam” (always),  they are alarmed!

Shiro Abhyanga - an ayurvedic practice to be done daily

Oiled hair is not aesthetically pleasing today and for those who have hair issues, they expect that we will ask them to stop oiling the hair once their problems are resolved.

After all, a Hair oil is purely cosmetic, right? What else can it give us besides cosmetic benefits ?

The Need for an Ayurvedic Dinacharya: To balance the body’s constant state of flux

Ayurveda tells us everything we eat, do, think and behave can affect the doshas and the dhatus in our bodies.

When we eat foods, which are rich in Pitta dosha i.e. foods which are sour, salty and spicy, we add to the Pitta volume in the body. When we work late into the night, over work the brain or do frequent air travel, we can aggravate Vata dosha. When we eat sweet foods, sleep in the afternoon, and do little exercise, we can over aggravate Kapha dosha.

Our body is constantly in a fluid and dynamic state, reacting to the food we eat, things we do and life we lead. When we over stimulate one or the other Dosha, our balance shifts and we become keyed up with an aggravation in levels of a particular dosha in the body. This upsets the body’s natural rhythms, overturns our balance and also causes conditions for dis-ease / ill health to creep into the body.

Body is constantly in a fluid dynamic state interatcing with the inputs we give it

Therefore, Ayurveda recommends a set of routines to be done “Dina” to balance everyday, the imbalance we could cause due to our activities. These collective set of daily routines are called “Dinacharya” – daily routines / daily activities.

Shiro Abhyanga: A Key Dinacharya

An important “Dinacharya” activity we should do everyday is to do a Shiro Abhyanga / Oil the head. Yes, you read that right – we said, “oil the head” and not “oil the hair”. Therefore, this prescription holds, whether you are a man / woman, whether we have long hair or short hair, or whether we even have hair or not, we are supposed to oil the head.

Shiro Abhyanga is recommended daily in Ayurveda

Many of us are obsessed with hair growth. Any advertisement of any kind of hair oil, including commercial Ayurveda hair oils only shows hair growing long, black, strong and thick. Yet in Ayurveda, the shlokas on Shiro abhyanga not only mention hair growth but go onto mention many other benefits of regularly applying oil on the head. We are told that when we do Shiro Abhyanga / head oiling regularly , we get improved eye health, reduction of anxiety and stress, improved bone strength in head region and cheerfulness apart from the expected hair benefits.

Head (and feet) oiling is also a good method in Ayurveda to nourish many dhatus (organ systems) of the body which are present elsewhere. So, a common recommendation in senior citizens by vaidyas is to daily or regularly apply oil on the head. This may also be suggested if the senior citizen is bald or has very little hair.

As we can see in the above shloka, the purpose of this head oiling is to nourish the eyes, calm down anxiety, improve bone strength and vitality (besides hair benefits). So this practice of regular oil application is very useful for senior citizens who often have difficulty sleeping, and may have mild to moderate age -related anxiety. Using a properly formulated ayurvedic hair oil, therefore has an excellent therapeutic effect in this case.

What herbs should go into an ayurvedic head oil and why?

The Acharyas tell us that hair oils must be processed with Pitta and vata alleviating herbs like Bhringaraj, Amla, Haritaki, Vibhitaki, Mushta, Madhuka, Brahmi, etc. Many herbs can be used for each kind of hair oil depending upon geography, season and nature of the problem we are trying to address.

Ayurveda recommends using specific herbs for Shiro Abhyanga

At Krya, we have separate formulations that are designed to balance pitta both in moderate state of aggravation and high stage of aggravation, 2 formulations for balancing vata both moderate and high stage of aggravation (where there is excessive stress and anxiety), a formulation exclusively designed to treat dandruff, a formulation designed to treat chemically processed hair, and a formulation that suits high hair fall due to severe and long term illness. Besides this, we also have a special baby and toddler hair oil and hair oils designed for Children with both straight type and curly hair.

Ayurveda recognises the special lifestage needs of each individual and also understand how your prakriti can determine the quality of your hair and balance / imbalance in your scalp.

For babies and children, we are asked to focus on nourishing the growth of the brain and helping strengthen the bones in the head. Hence, the Krya baby hair oil and Kids hair oils are formulated with sweet nourishing ayurvedic herbs that are specially mentioned in the texts to support healthy brain growth.

Krya formulates different oils for Shiro Abhyanga for different needs and lifestages

The formulation story behind each Krya hair oil is interesting . We will write more posts separately on each oil in the future.

The Shiro Abhyanga: How it supports the working of the Brain and the Eyes

The head is the seat of both the brain and the eyes. In the activity of the brain and the eyes, we see the strong influence of Pitta and vata. Pitta is the dosha most dominant in the eyes: it adds Tejas / lustre, heat and the ability to perceive to the eye. In the brain, Pitta dosha helps organise thoughts, focus, and classify and order things neatly.

The proper functioning of eyes, brain and overall head is by the action of the 3 doshas

Vata dosha helps move these impulses of the eye and the brain. In the brain it helps retain memory, generate options, multi task and multi-focus and bring in creative solutions.

But the combination of air and fire dries the head and the secretions of the eye. As both the eye and the brain are made of Fatty matter (related to Kapha dosha), we have to keep the air and fire from going over board and affecting the structural composition of both these organs.

To help keep the head in balance everyday we are asked to oil the head using pitta and vata balancing herbs processed in Taila (oils). When we do this everyday, we keep Air Fire from going overboard, continue to nourish the Fat based structure of the eyes and Brain and keep this area in a state of Balance.

Effects of Regular Shiro Abhyanga on the Eyes and Brain

Regular head oiling helps draw out and balance excess Pitta and vata in the head region.

Those who have excessive Pitta will literally notice heat / vapour emanating from the head after oiling as Ushna is released through the small Srotas (channels) in the scalp. They may find that the eyes water profusely at first, indicating that the oiling is bringing some much-needed balance and aggravating tear secretion to release pitta + vata. You might find thick mucous like secretions after you wake up indicating that moisture / kleda is being restored to this area, allowing Mala (waste secretions) from the eyes to be excreted.

Shiro Abhyanga helps balance aggravated Pitta dosha

For those with excess / aggravated Vata dosha, the scalp feels cool and calm immediately after oil application. Anxiety and stress is reduced, and you are able to focus and bring in more depth to tasks. Hair and scalp may feel better moisturised and less dry.

After a month of regular oiling you might start seeing a different kind of change. You might find that you are able to focus longer. That you are calmer and balanced for longer. That you are less anxious or less freaked out by things. Sleep might be deeper with better quality and less shallow. The eyes may feel cool and rested instead of dry and scratchy.

Shiro Abhyanga strongly balances aggravated vata in the head region

All these changes point to the Tridoshas being balanced in the head region .

Effects of regular Shiro Abhyanga on scalp and hair

We have spent most of this post talking about the benefits of Shiro Abhyanga apart from scalp and hair growth. This is because we have done many posts earlier talking about the scalp and hair benefits of regular Shiro Abhyanga / head oiling.

But just as a re-cap:

The same shloka on head oiling also says that regular hair oiling strengthens the skull bones, reduces premature greying and keeps the sense organs cheerful and the face peasant. This is because premature greying, in Ayurveda is linked to a build-up in Pitta dosha.

If you have Agni in excess in the body, it literally thins down hair (like fire burns things to ash) and bleaches out its colour (like the sun bleaches hair if you are out in it for too long). So, when you oil the head every day using an Agni / Pitta balancing hair oil, you help bring down this effect of excess Agni and reduce premature greying and hair thinning.

Regular head oiling slows down pitta aggravation reducing hair thinning and premature greying

When vata is out of balance and aggravated, Ayurveda Hair becomes dull, rough, dry and brittle. It is more prone to breakage and split ends. It loses its natural lustre and colour and becomes weak and dull. Therefore, when you oil the head regularly with a Vata balancing Hair Oil, you help bring down this effect of excess Vayu and reduce hair dryness, roughness and breakage.

Regular head oiling helps dry, rough hair that breaks easily

Similarly, when we regularly oil the head, we bring down mental vata related aggravation like anxiety, worry and stress. We therefore get better sleep. At a physical level we avoid build up of vata in the skull area and help strengthen the bones and help them remain dense and strong.

But my Salon specialist / Doctor told me not to regularly oil the hair as it could promote dandruff!

There is a misconception spread by many modern Beauty workers, Hair stylists and even allopathically trained Dermatologists that hair oiling should not be done regularly and if it is done, it can lead to clogging of scalp and conditions like dandruff.

To examine the reasons behind this statement we must understand who is issuing these statements and what their basis is of comparison / information. Hair stylists and those in the Cosmetics industry, especially in beauty salons are paid to endorse cosmetic hair products like styling gels, serums, etc. Also the aesthetic that is promoted in such circles is of dry, flyaway hair that can then be “sculpted” into various looks using synthetic hair fixers and holders. Many practices promoted by Salons like Hair colouring, Hair rebonding are bad for hair and even dangerous for health.

Hair oiling is in conflict with modern salons and their aesthetics

Traditional practices like hair oiling takes away from this aesthetic and also in some cases, their commercial business. So it stands to reason that such experts will ask you to stay away from traditional hair oiling. Having said this, I am happy to note a growing trend of natural salons, which are strongly recommending such traditional practices like Ayurvedic hair oiling across the world. I hope this trend reaches India soon. I also hope more and more Salon professionals are educated more about Ayurveda and how Ayurvedic head oiling can strongly support good hair growth.

When it comes to Dermatologists and allopathic Doctors, the reasons are quite different. Most hair oil users use commercially available market hair oils. There is a very high usage of Light Liquid Paraffin or Mineral Oil in commercial hair oils. Even  brands marketed as “natural”, “containing the goodness of famous herbs like Badam” mix a very high proportion of LLP (Light liquid paraffin) in such formulations.

Mineral oil – and concerns behind applying this on your skin and hair

A study published by the American Journal of Dermatology found that moisturizing creams containing mineral oil were tumorigenic when applied topically to UVB pretreated high risk mice. These creams increased the rate at which tumors form.

Mineral oil is a problematic addition to commercial hair oils

Occupational exposure to mineral oils may occur among workers in automobile manufacturing, airplanes, steel products, screws, pipes and transformers, brass and aluminium production, engine repair, copper mining, and newspaper and commercial printing.
The National Cancer Institute says that occupational exposure to untreated or lightly treated mineral oils is strongly associated with an increased risk of nonmelanoma skin cancer, particularly of the scrotum.

Mineral Oil – Forming an occlusive barrier on skin

Contrary to the claims of most mineral oil using hair oils and skin moisturizing products, mineral oil does NOT penetrate skin. Its molecular size is too big to slip into the skin’s pores. So what it does do is form a barrier layer on skin preventing trans-epidermal water loss through evaporation. While this may be useful in a few cases, for most of us, this means that the skin’s normal function is interrupted by this barrier layer. Plus , it does not work with the skin like vegetable oils do by penetrating it, cleansing it or nourishing it any manner.

Given these concerns around Mineral oils, it is no surprise that the regular use of Mineral oil containing commercial hair oils is NOT recommended by Dermatologists and Doctors. Even if they are unaware of how much of Mineral Oil the formulation contains, they can easily see the effects of using such products on scalp.

Because of the property of creating an occlusive barrier, Hair oils that contain Mineral oil form a barrier layer between the scalp and the atmosphere. This traps heat in the head. It also traps dust and dirt very effectively leading to fungal dandruff and pitta related heat boils on the scalp.

Hence if you have been receiving advice from either your salon stylist or your Doctor about Hair oils, please try and understand their context. It would also be obvious that neither piece of advice is valid when it comes to a properly formulated Ayurvedic hair oil that uses cold pressed pure vegetable oils and herbs where the oil is cooked in the traditional Tila Paka method. Such an oil NEEDS to be applied regularly on the head and will give you many health benefits including improved scalp and hair health.

To Sum up: The Shiro Abhyanga – so much more than just hair oiling

At Krya, we spend a lot of time educating our customers on the many many benefits of the Dinacharya practices like Abhyanga, Shiro Abhyanga, Pada Abhyanga, etc. Each of these Dinacharya practices are self care tools to give us better health. Each of these practices work at very subtle levels and influence the body in various ways.

Even if the practice is physically done at one spot, it has the capability of influencing other points in the body or related organ systems. So also with Shiro Abhyanga we saw innumerable benefits like eye care, clarification of sense organs, calming down of anxiety and stress, promoting deeper and better sleep along with scalp and hair benefits.

We hope this post inspires you to adopt a regular Shiro Abhyanga . If you would like to use one of Krya’s hair oils for your Shiro Abhyanga and are not sure which one to choose, please write to us or call us on (0)75500-89090.

6 thoughts on “Shiro Abhyanga (head oiling) : not just a cosmetic practice

  1. You ar of course educating us a lot.. what surprised me is that this gen ppl shd ve got this msg from prev gen but somehow it’s lots or not heard. Thanks for your efforts in reviving

    1. Thanks Rajalakshmi – yes I agree – there is a missing link somewhere in knowledge transmission here.

  2. Hello Preethi,
    Reading your posts have opened our eyes to many truths and lifestyle choices which have been slowly fading away. So many thanks for the same.
    I have a question regarding daily Shiro Abhyanga. I do rigorous workout post which there is a lot of sweating especially in the head. Post which there is a desir to wash the hair with shampoo the next day. If I have oiled the hair with basic coconut oil and have done my workout, the hair tenda to get very clumpy oily and in need for wash. How do I manage that with daily oiling?

    1. Hi Hina,
      You might need a specialized hair oil to cope with pitta aggravation – sometimes plain coconut oil can be too sweet and nourishing and can combine with sweat secretions to cause clumping, itchiness and in some cases fungal dandruff.
      If pitta aggravation is balanced, it is possible that head sweating may reduce somewhat. Also, do you gym every day? This might be a bit aggravating for vata dosha.

      1. Dear Preethi, I actually do Kung Fu. Thrice a week.

        1. Ok – then I advise Abhyanga on balance 3 – 4 days to help the body recover. This will also balance excess pitta and vata dosha. Combination of head oiling with correct hair oil + regular abhyanga will help the body overall.

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