This Silky Camellia Hair Serum is a wonderful combination of a leave-in hair conditioner and an oil serum. It helps reduce frizz, add shine, prevent breakage, and even provides a touch of heat protection along with making your hair smell pretty. A drop or two is more than enough to smooth down fly-aways and perk up dry-looking ends. I’ve designed it to be customizable on a use-by-use basis, so if you happen to need a more potent or more dilute product at any given time, you’ve got it! Its also easy to make and I’ve provided a big list of substitutions and alternatives at the end of the recipe so you can tweak it to use what you’ve got on hand 🙂
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Camellia seed oil is one of the first more luxurious oils I purchased. I was intrigued by the description, which said it was very lightweight and absorbed into the skin quickly, leaving it silky smooth—I feel like I’m always on the hunt for lighter, faster-absorbing oils, especially for my hair, which doesn’t tolerate much oil before looking pretty awful. I was also intrigued by the history. I remembered seeing a comb on display at the Royal Ontario Museum in an exhibit about Japan, and the nearby placard mentioned how Japanese women and geishas had used camellia seed oil in their hair for centuries.
There are three well known members of the Camellia family; C. sinensis, C. oleifera, and C. japonica. These three variations have proven a bit frustrating to research. C. sinensis is the plant that gives us tea, and for that it will always have my undying love. C. oleifera is the oil I have, “is mainly used for the production of edible oils, such as camellia oil, tea seed oil, or oil-tea camellia seed oil in China” (source). C. japonica “has a long history of traditional cosmetic usage in Japan as a protectant to maintain the health of skin and hair” (source) as well as being a lovely ornamental flower. Depending on the source, C. oleifera may or may not be a traditional cosmetic oil; it’s definitely a traditional cooking oil, but from what I can find, it seems C. japonica is the traditional beauty oil. That said, C. oleifera is still a lovely carrier oil, and there’s no reason not to use it! If you happen to know where I can find some, I would love to get my hands on some C. japonica to compare them.
Since I’m working with C. oleifera, let’s talk about it! It’s rich in oleic acid (also common in olive oil), with linoleic acid, palmitic acid, and stearic acid rounding out most of the rest of the fatty acid profile. I got mine from New Directions Aromatics, and you can review the precise fatty acid profile in the CoA here. It’s pale yellow, doesn’t smell like much of anything (just sort of vaguely oil-like), and it’s rich in antioxidants (though just how rich does vary with the extraction method). It has a lovely, silky slip on the skin and sinks in quickly, leaving your skin feeling velvety soft and not at all greasy.
Despite how lovely and light camellia seed oil is, it still isn’t all that light in the hair department—at least not for my hair. I remember excitedly massaging perhaps 1/4 tsp of oil through my hair when I got my first bottle back in 2011, and instead of being rewarded with luscious, flowing locks, I got stringy, sad-looking hair that needed to be promptly washed. Sigh. So, I’ve taken a few steps to lighten it up.
Step one: dilute it with something even lighter! Two common choices for that “something lighter” are water and cyclomethicone, both of which are very light, evaporate quickly, and won’t leave your hair looking greasy. They’ll dilute the oil so you can better distribute it through your hair and then vanish, leaving a minuscule amount of oil in your hair, doing its thing, but not forcing you to take a shower. For this serum, I’ve selected something a bit different—Neossance® Hemisqualane (USA / Canada) (full disclosure: I was sent a bottle of this, but I’m using it because I love it). This stuff is pretty amazing. It’s incredibly silky and lightweight. Sometimes called “Squalane Light”, it’s made from plant sugars and is unbelievably lovely to work with. Lotion Crafter has an amazing list of great things it does for hair, including reducing frizz, protecting it from heat (though I wouldn’t count on this too much if you heat treat your hair extensively), preventing breakage, and making it easier to comb through. I also love it in cosmetics—especially foundation!
Step two is giving the oil the ability to self-dilute in water. I’ve made hair things that are a small amount of oil dispersed in a large amount of water before, but here I wanted to avoid fussing with an emulsion and preservatives, and I wanted to create something that was more customizable on a per-use basis. To do this I included some BTMS-50, which does two neat things. First off, it adds some conditioning goodness to our serum, so I really don’t recommend using a different emulsifying wax instead. Second, it makes the serum self-emulsifying in water, so if you want to blend it with a few drops of water in your palm before application or massage it into wet or damp hair, it’ll work brilliantly. The BTMS and cetyl alcohol also work together to give the serum a bit of body so it’s not too drooly, making it easier to control dispensing and application.
Since this is a simple oil-based concoction it comes together really easily with a bit of time in a water bath and some stirring. I think you’ll love it!
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Silky Camellia Hair Serum
Prepare a water bath by bringing about 3cm/1″ of water to a bare simmer over low to medium-low heat in a small saucepan.
Weigh the BTMS, cetyl alcohol, camellia seed oil, and Neossance™ Hemisqualane into a small heat-resistant glass measuring cup. Place the measuring cup in your prepared water bath to melt everything through.
Once everything has melted, remove the measuring cup from the heat and dry the outside of it off with a dish towel. Set the measuring cup on a towel or hot pad to insulate it from the counter and stir the mixture with a flexible silicone spatula to combine everything. Remove the towel and leave the serum to cool for about 20 minutes—it’ll appear milky and thicken up a bit.
Once cool, stir in the vitamin E and essential or fragrance oil. Decant into a 30mL/1fl oz bottle; I used this one from Voyageur Soap & Candle. I would recommend using a container that allows you to dispense small amounts of the product as you don’t tend to need much at any given time. If you don’t have something like a treatment pump, which pumps out really small amount of product, I would recommend a bottle with an eye dropper top as a good alternative.
To use, take a drop or two of the product in your palms, and disperse it across your hands before running it through your hair from about the ears down. Go slowly—you can always add more, but if you overdo it you’ll need a shower sooner rather than later. Enjoy!
Shelf Life & Storage
Because this serum is 100% oil based, it does not require a broad-spectrum preservative (broad spectrum preservatives ward off microbial growth, and microbes require water to live—no water, no microbes!). Kept reasonably cool and dry, it should last at least a year before any of the oils go rancid. If you notice it starts to smell like old nuts or crayons, that’s a sign that the oils have begun to oxidize; chuck it out and make a fresh batch if that happens.
I made a 25g batch—that’s what the gram amounts will create, and I found that to be a great amount of product. I’ve included the percentages if you’d prefer to scale otherwise, though, as I know not everybody has a scale accurate enough for those fiddly little measurements!
- You can use BTMS-25 or BTMS-50. Using a different emulsifying wax removes the conditioning element of this serum and is not recommended.
- You can use more BTMS or more camellia seed oil instead of the cetyl alcohol. More camellia seed oil will make for a thinner product.
- If you don’t have camellia seed oil you can replace it with another lightweight carrier oil, like squalane, macadamia nut oil, rosehip oil, or hazelnut oil
- You’ve got a couple options if you don’t have Neossance™ Hemisqualane:
- You can use more camellia seed oil, keeping in mind this will make for a heavier final product
- You can replace it with half camellia seed oil, and half cyclomethicone, adding the cyclomethicone with the cool down phase
- You can replace it with another lightweight carrier oil, like squalane, macadamia nut oil, rosehip oil, or hazelnut oil, keeping in mind this will still make for a heavier final product than the version made with Hemisqualane
- You can scent/fragrance it however you like, or leave it unscented; I used 1 “blob” labdanum, and 2 drops oak moss absolute