What You Need to Know About Using Coconut Oil for Your Hair

A natural solution for hair and scalp health

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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 the right oil.

Coconut oil and a coconut half sitting on a tray
Asha Sathees Photography / Getty Images

Benefits

Healthy hair depends on protein. However, chemicals and everyday activities can damage the protein in your hair. Dyes, bleach, shampoos, and styling products can wreak havoc on your hair. So, what can you do?

There’s some evidence that lauric acid—a type of saturated fat abundant in coconut oil—may benefit your hair by protecting against protein loss.

Damaged Hair

In a 2015 report, researchers reviewed several studies testing the effects of plant-based oils on human hair. The authors noted that coconut oil had a high likeness to hair proteins and a unique ability to penetrate the hair shaft. This penetration is essential for limiting how much water is absorbed in your hair, a key factor in everyday hair damage.

In addition, one of the reviewed studies determined that coconut oil was the only oil capable of reducing protein loss. This capability 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 in the hair.

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 and 70 without dandruff—found that topical applications of coconut oil to the scalp had antibacterial and antifungal properties. It also fought dandruff. 

There is also evidence that coconut oil has anti-inflammatory properties and can stimulate the production of collagen, the chief structural protein in skin and other tissues. It may also play a beneficial role in skin barrier repair.

These findings suggest that coconut oil can effectively treat both dandruff and dry skin. 

Ways To Use

One of the most versatile hair-care 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 hair-care routine with coconut oil:

  • Pre-wash protector: When applied pre-shampoo, 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.

For best results, some hair-care experts suggest using coconut oil about two to three times a week.

Hair Types

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.

Tips for Using Coconut Oil in Hair Care

Here are a few more helpful hints for making the most of coconut oil in your hair care regimen:

  • 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 on dry hair. 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 or lead to a dull, greasy appearance 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 the oil.

Choosing Coconut Oil

When shopping for the best coconut oil for hair, select the unrefined variety. If possible, opt for organic, sustainably harvested products.

Unrefined Coconut Oil
  • Unrefined coconut oil comes from the first pressing of fresh raw coconuts.

  • No chemicals are added to unrefined oil; also called virgin or extra virgin oil.

  • Unrefined coconut oil has a distinct aroma of coconut.

Refined Coconut Oil
  • Refined coconut oils are produced from dried coconut kernels.

  • Refined oil is deodorized and bleached in a series of processes.

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).

Summary

Coconut oil may be able to help moisturize and repair damaged hair, as well as help with 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 mid-section to the ends. Choose unrefined coconut oil for the best results.

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6 Sources
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