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Rita Hayworth’s $5 Kitchen Oil Trick Made Her Hair Extra-Lustrous — How to Make It Work For You!

A hair scientist gives you the strand-smart update that will work for your particular texture of hair

Often called the most glamorous screen star of the 1940s, Rita Hayworth was a triple-threat actress, dancer and producer. And she was ahead of her time regarding haircare, as she dyed her naturally black locks to achieve her iconic red-haired look. 

Coloring one’s hair didn’t become commonplace till the 1960s, but Hayworth (whose real name was Margarita Carmen Cansino) was coloring hers well before that, reportedly to mask her Latin ethnicity and maintain her image.

Helen Hunt, Hayworth’s longtime stylist, also reported that the silver screen star had painful electrolysis treatments to move her hairline back and make her forehead appear higher. And even though her hair was naturally curly, the Gilda star had her hair styled in pin curls for every appearance.

Portrait of actress Rita Hayworth in 1944
Rita Hayworth shows off her signature red hair in a 1944 portraitHA/Cinema Publishers/The Hollywood/Shutterstock

Rita Hayworth’s hair-conditioning hack

While her hair was iconic, Hayworth had a simple trick for keeping it looking lustrous despite all the drying hair dye — olive oil.

“Women of every era covet the hair of those found on the big screen and in magazines,” explains Connecticut hairstylist and salon owner Michelle Jacoby. “Besides Hayworth’s gorgeous hair, her method of maintaining it was something you could DIY with an item found in your kitchen, making her look much more accessible than the average Hollywood starlet’s.”  Which explains why the all-natural method is still being talked about today.

Her easy trick: The Cover Girl star kept her oft-colored tresses healthy and shiny by saturating them with the popular cooking oil after shampooing. She then wrapped her hair in a towel and after 15 minutes rinsed it with hot water and a tablespoon of lemon juice to eliminate greasy residue.

Is copying Rita Hayworth’s hair oil trick a good idea? 

“Rita Hayworth was on to something — oils are healthy for the hair — but we now know the kind of oils we put into our hair is very important,” says Tiffany Anderson, trichologist and author of Hair Therapy (Buy from Amazon, $15.95). “The molecules in olive oil are too big to penetrate the hair’s cuticles, so it essentially just sits on top of the hair, which can cause it to look greasy,” explains Anderson. Of course, if you’re dying to try this hair oil hack and that’s all you have lying around your house, it isn’t going to harm the hair.  But, other oil varieties may do a better job.

Portrait of actress Rita Hayworth in 1952
Hayworth’s locks were simply lustrous (1952)Columbia/Kobal/Shutterstock

What type of oil should we be using on our hair? 

With hundreds of oils to choose from, which are the best? “Essential oils are the most beneficial oil to use on the hair because the molecule is small enough to penetrate the hair’s cuticle, which allows the hair to absorb the nutrients it needs,” explains Anderson. “I prefer watercress or avocado oils because both cater to the pH level, which is key to maintaining a healthy scalp and hair.” But you can use any one you prefer. In fact, some essential oils, like rosemary oil and sandalwood oil have been proven to help reverse thinning!

Another great oil for hair? Argan oil. It’s high in antioxidants, essential fatty acids, and vitamin E making it ultra-hydrating and reparative, but it won’t leave hair greasy.

In short, these oils seal the hair’s cuticle, making it look smoother and shinier overall, and prevent the dryness that causes breakage — without weighing it down. 

How to replicate Rita Hayworth’s hair oil trick

Experts say the amount of oil you use and how you use it depends on the texture pattern of your hair. For example, “straight hair that has a smoother texture does not need a lot of oil because the oil will reach the cuticle faster,” advises Anderson. Conversely, “thicker and curlier hair like Hayworth’s will need more oil because the cuticle is rougher and tighter.” 

Regardless of your hair’s texture, Jacoby says applying oil as a treatment does double-duty for those who suffer from dandruff and other scalp irritations, as it is hydrating, calming and anti-inflammatory. 

Here’s an easy five-step recipe to getting it right. Doing it once a week or once every two weeks should do the trick to keep tresses in tip-top shape.:

  1. Start with clean, damp hair. 
  2. Section the hair into six to eight sections using a rat tail comb (Buy from Amazon, $3.52), clipping each one. 
  3. Apply the oil of your choice to each section by massaging using a circular motion with your fingertips. 
  4. Cover your head with a shower cap and wait 15 minutes. 
  5. Rinse well and style hair as usual. 

Jene Sena

Jené Luciani Sena is a veteran journalist and internationally-renowned bestselling author of The Bra Book: An Intimate Guide to Finding the Right Bra, Shapewear, Swimsuit, and More! and Get It!: A Beauty, Style, and Wellness Guide to Getting Your #It# Together. She’s also a style, bra and beauty expert regularly seen on shows like Access Hollywood and NBC’s Today.

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