Should You Use Coconut Oil for Dandruff?

Dandruff occurs when excess skin cells flake off the scalp. Some people notice it as white flakes that they see in their hair or on their clothes. Dandruff can also cause itchiness, but if you scratch it, it can cause scalp irritation, which can worsen the condition. 

There are a number of remedies for dandruff, including over-the-counter (OTC) and prescription shampoos. Some people prefer to use natural remedies to treat dandruff to avoid chemicals as well as scalp irritation and drying.

Coconut oil is rich in vitamins and fatty acids. While you might know that you can eat or cook with it, coconut oil is also an alternative skin care product that provides moisture to dry skin, including your scalp.

Is coconut oil effective at treating dandruff? Read on to learn more. 

A clear bottle with white liquid next to half a coconut.

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Causes of Dandruff

Dandruff is a common condition and can have several causes. A few of the most common are:

  • Malassezia: This yeast-like fungus is a common cause of dandruff. The fungus itself is a normal part of the human microbiome (colony of organisms), and it thrives on the oils in skin and hair. But too much Malassezia can lead to scalp dryness and itchiness that is commonly associated with dandruff. 
  • Seborrheic dermatitis: This skin condition can affect the scalp. Research has found that the condition could be caused by an overgrowth of Malassezia, which is often found in high amounts on the skin of people with seborrheic dermatitis. The condition can affect any part of the body that has oil glands. On the scalp, it can cause the skin to become oily and scaly, and cause itchy, powdery yellow or white flakes.  
  • Xerosis cutis: This medical term is used to describe abnormally dry skin. It is more common in people who live in cold, dry climates and in older adults. Xerosis cutis may cause dandruff if you are washing your hair too frequently, taking extremely hot showers, or getting prolonged sun exposure, and/or develop dehydration.

Dandruff can also be caused by other forms of dermatitis (such as psoriasis or eczema) or nutritional deficiencies. It can also be an allergic reaction to hair products. 

When to See a Doctor

Most cases of dandruff are not serious, and you can manage it on your own at home. However, there are some cases where you might need to see a doctor who specializes in the health of your skin (a dermatologist).

You might need to make an appointment with a dermatologist if:

  • Home remedies such as coconut oil have not helped.
  • You’ve tried over-the-counter (OTC) anti-dandruff shampoos for several weeks and they have not helped.
  • Your dandruff is severe and/or your scalp is extremely itchy. 
  • Your scalp is red, swollen, or has open sores
  • You have a weakened immune system.

Your doctor will examine your scalp to determine what is causing your dandruff, and come up with a treatment plan based on the diagnosis.

How Well Coconut Oil Works

Coconut oil can be used to hydrate the scalp, prevent dandruff, and promote hair growth. Research has shown that it has the potential to offer more than one benefit for people with dandruff.

Boosting "Good" Bacteria

A 2021 study found that coconut oil can help maintain a healthy fungal scalp microbiome (the colony of bacteria and fungi that keep your scalp healthy).

The study also found an increase in the fungus M. globosa, which is associated with a healthy scalp, after coconut oil application. In that same study, coconut oil application significantly reduced the presence of dandruff. 

Reducing Inflammation

Another study found that coconut oil may reduce pain and inflammation, which can help reduce the itchiness and pain that can come with dandruff caused by certain skin conditions, such as seborrheic dermatitis and psoriasis.

Moisturizing

A 2014 study on people with atopic dermatitis who used coconut oil on their scalp found that coconut oil effectively moisturized the scalp and prevented moisture loss.

The fatty acids in coconut oil combat the irritation and flakes associated with dandruff. The lauric acid in coconut oil provides microbial balance properties that help soothe a dry, flaky scalp and rebalance the scalp’s microbiome.

How to Use Coconut Oil for Dandruff

There are many shampoos and hair products that contain coconut oil. Try these products and see which ones help reduce or eliminate dandruff and dry, itchy scalp.

You can also apply coconut oil directly to your scalp.

  1. Scoop out 1 to 2 tablespoons of coconut oil.
  2. Rub it directly onto the scalp, ensuring all areas of the scalp are covered.
  3. Let it sit for 30 to 60 minutes.
  4. Rinse and remove thoroughly with a gentle shampoo to prevent greasy, oily hair. 
  5. Comb out your hair from the base of your scalp to the tips of your hair to make sure all the flakes are removed.

To get the best results, repeat this process one to two times a week.

Potential Side Effects

Coconut oil is generally considered safe to use on your skin and scalp. However, there is a slight risk of side effects, particularly if you have sensitive skin or eczema.

Since it's an oil, coconut oil may cause more irritation to the scalp in some people. For example, if your dandruff is caused by seborrheic dermatitis, coconut oil could make your scalp even oiler and worsen dandruff.

Before applying coconut oil directly to your scalp, test a small spot on your skin (such as on your arm) to check for any sensitivity. Wait a day to see if you experience side effects before applying to your scalp, as reactions might take some time to show up.

If you experience a rash, itchiness, or hives, do not use coconut oil on your scalp.

You should also avoid coconut oil if you have tree nut allergies, as it can cause an allergic reaction.

Summary

Coconut oil is a natural way to treat dandruff. While it's usually safe to use hair or skin care products made with coconut oil—or even straight coconut oil—on your scalp, it's a good idea to test it first on another area of your skin to make sure you do not have any sensitivities.

You also want to avoid using too much coconut oil or using it too often. Doing so might worsen certain skin conditions and make your dandruff worse.

A Word From Verywell

Coconut oil might help reduce your dandruff naturally. There are also other at-home herbal and dietary remedies for dandruff, such as tea tree oil and omega-3 dietary supplements. 

If coconut oil or other natural products do not work, there are other ways to treat dandruff, such as over-the-counter (OTC) shampoos that contain ingredients such as zinc pyrithione. Your doctor might also prescribe a medicated shampoo to eliminate stubborn dandruff.

Frequently Asked Questions

How do you put coconut oil in your hair for dandruff?

Coconut oil can be applied directly to your scalp to help eliminate and prevent dandruff. The hydrating properties of coconut oil can help reduce itchiness and dryness and may eliminate flaky, dry skin on the scalp.

Start with 1 to 2 tablespoons of coconut oil, and gently rub it in. Thoroughly shampoo and rinse all the oil out of your scalp and hair approximately an hour after applying. 

How many times do you use coconut oil for dandruff?

Some people may find that one application of coconut oil is effective at eliminating dandruff, while others may need to apply it once or twice a week for a few weeks before the dandruff is gone.

If you are still experiencing dandruff after three to four weeks of using coconut oil, you'll want to talk to your doctor. They can determine the cause of your dandruff and recommend the most effective treatment.

How often should you use coconut oil for dandruff?

Coconut oil can be applied to the scalp up to two times a week to eliminate and prevent dandruff.

However, using it too often may cause oily, greasy skin and can worsen some skin conditions. Use it only once or twice a week until dandruff has been eliminated. 

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7 Sources
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