If you’re seeking soft and lustrous hair, you might try reaching for a jar of coconut oil. This natural oil is suited to nearly all hair types and is packed with fatty acids that are good for your skin and hair.
This article explains why coconut oil may help repair everyday damage, improve texture, and restore health and shine to your hair. It also describes how to use it and how to choose a good oil.
Healthy hair depends on protein. However, dyes, bleach, shampoos, and styling products can damage that protein and leave hair dull and fragile.
In a 2015 report, researchers reviewed several studies testing the effects of plant-based oils on human hair. The authors noted that coconut oil is similar to natural hair proteins and has a unique ability to penetrate the hair shaft (the part of the hair that shows above the scalp).
By penetrating the hair, the coconut oil can reduce the amount of water absorbed into your hair. This helps limit everyday hair damage.
In addition, one of the reviewed studies determined that coconut oil was the only oil capable of reducing protein loss. This was true for undamaged and damaged hair when participants used the oil as a pre-wash and post-wash grooming product.
This study also sized up the effects of mineral oil and sunflower oil on hair. Neither helped reduce protein loss.
Dry Scalp, Dandruff
There is evidence that you can use coconut oil to treat a dry, itchy scalp and accompanying dandruff.
A 2021 study of 140 people in India—70 with dandruff and 70 without—found that topical applications of coconut oil to the scalp had antibacterial and antifungal benefits. It also fought scalp flaking.
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Other research shows that coconut oil may help repair the skin barrier, the top layer of your skin. This would make it a good treatment for both dandruff and dry skin.
Evidence also suggests that coconut oil has anti-inflammatory properties. This can stimulate the production of collagen, the chief structural protein in skin and other tissues. Collagen may, in turn, be useful for boosting keratin, an important building block of healthy hair.
While there isn’t any scientific research on the link between collagen and hair, personal testimonies and theories claim that collagen treatments are beneficial. Until there’s evidence that collagen supplements are helpful, eating a healthy diet is the best way to get collagen.
Ways to Use
One of the most versatile haircare oils around, coconut oil can work wonders as a pre-shampoo treatment, conditioner, styling aid, or mask.
Here’s a look at four simple ways to revitalize your haircare routine with coconut oil:
- Pre-wash protector: When applied before shampooing, coconut oil can stop your hair from soaking up too much water and, in turn, stave off damage and dryness. Try applying coconut oil about 15 to 30 minutes before you wash, focusing on the midsection and ends of your hair.
- Conditioner: Like any good conditioner, coconut oil may help strengthen the hair shaft and prevent breakage. You can use coconut oil as an alternative to standard conditioners. Or add a few drops of the oil to your usual conditioner to boost its smoothing power.
- Styling aid: Just a dab of coconut oil can go a long way when it comes to taming frizz. For easier absorption and styling, make sure to apply the oil to damp hair.
- Hair mask: For super-nourishing hair treatment, massage a teaspoon or two of the oil through your hair. Wash it out after a few hours, or leave it on overnight if you have extra dry or damaged hair.
Tips for Using Coconut Oil in Hair Care
Coconut oil may benefit all hair types. It is especially good for dry, damaged, or color-treated hair.
However, there’s some concern that repeated use of coconut oil may lead to stiffness for those with coarse hair textures.
To make the most out of using coconut oil in your hair care regimen:
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- Warm the oil first. Coconut oil may be easier to use if you warm it before applying it to your hair. Put a teaspoon of the oil into a bowl and place it into a container partially filled with hot tap water. The coconut oil will become liquid in a few minutes. You can also simply place the solidified oil in your palm and rub your hands together to melt it. Avoid microwaving the oil to prevent it from becoming dangerously hot.
- Make a blend. Add a few drops of essential oils like lavender or peppermint to your coconut oil for extra aromatherapy benefits. You can also blend coconut oil with hair-nourishing natural ingredients like yogurt, honey, or avocado.
- Use it at night. It takes time for hair to absorb coconut oil, so if you use the oil in the morning, your hair can wind up looking and feeling greasy. Instead, apply it at night, then shampoo in the morning.
- Apply lightly. Even though it’s relatively light, coconut oil can weigh your hair down if you use too much. To avoid buildup, start with a small amount—no more than a teaspoon—and gently massage the oil through your hair, starting at the midsection and continuing to the ends. If you have thick hair, you may be able to use a bit more without issue.
- Don’t clog your scalp. Some people find that applying coconut oil directly to the scalp can alleviate dryness. On the other hand, others struggle with issues like irritation and clogged pores. If you’ve never used coconut oil on your scalp, start with a minimal amount until you know how your skin reacts.
- Shampoo twice. When it comes time to remove coconut oil from your hair, keep in mind that a second shampoo application may be necessary to eliminate slickness.
Choosing Coconut Oil
When shopping for the best coconut oil for hair, select the unrefined variety (a.k.a virgin or extra-virgin oil). If possible, opt for organic, sustainably harvested products.
Cold-pressed products are a good choice because these oils do not use heat or chemicals for extraction.
Look for products such as The Garden of Life Raw Extra Virgin Coconut Oil or Dr. Bronner's Organic Virgin Coconut Oil. These carry symbols on their labels guaranteeing high-quality oil (e.g., Fair Trade Certified seal or a non-GMO verified seal).
Coconut oil may help moisturize and repair damaged hair. It has also been shown to prevent dandruff. You can use it as a pre-wash treatment, conditioner, or hair mask.
Use a small amount at first to see how your skin reacts. If there are no issues, apply the oil about two to three times weekly.
Remember, a little goes a long way, so use just a teaspoon, focusing on your hair's midsection to the ends. Choose unrefined coconut oil for the best results.