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 a good oil.

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

Benefits

Hair is made of protein, particularly keratin. Dyes, bleach, shampoos, and styling products can damage this protein and leave hair dull and fragile.

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 is similar to natural hair proteins and that it 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 prewash and postwash 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 help manage 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 reduced scalp flaking. 

Other research shows that coconut oil may help repair the skin barrier, which is the top layer of your skin. This would make it a good treatment for both dandruff and dry skin

Coconut oil has also been found to combat scalp yeast infections.

Evidence from one study suggests that coconut oil has anti-inflammatory properties, and study participants also had increased production of collagen, the chief structural protein in skin and other tissues. 

While there isn’t any scientific research on the link between collagen and hair, personal testimonies and theories claim that collagen treatments are beneficial. And there’s no evidence that collagen supplements are specifically helpful—eating a healthy diet is the best way to get collagen. 

Recap

Using coconut oil on your hair stops protein loss, which prevents hair from looking and feeling damaged. Coconut oil also provides a barrier for the scalp. This reduces the risk of dandruff and itchiness.

Ways to Use

Coconut oil is one of the most versatile haircare oils around, and it 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:

  • Prewash protector: When applied before shampooing, coconut oil can stop your hair from soaking up too much water, which helps stave off damage and dryness. Try applying coconut oil about 15 to 30 minutes before you wash your hair, focusing on the midsection and ends of your hair.
  • 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 effect.​
  • 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 haircare experts suggest using coconut oil about two to three times a week.

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 hair stiffness for those with coarse hair textures.

To make the most out of using 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 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 little more than that.
  • 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.

Recap

Since everyone’s hair is different, the best way to use coconut oil can vary from person to person. You may have to adjust the timing and amount to avoid greasy hair or build-up on your scalp.

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.

Unrefined Coconut Oil
  • Comes from the first pressing of fresh raw coconuts

  • No chemicals added

  • Has a distinct aroma of coconut

Refined Coconut Oil
  • Produced from dried coconut kernels

  • 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 help moisturize and repair damaged hair. It has also been shown to prevent dandruff. You can use it as a prewash treatment, conditioner, hair mask, or styling aid.

Use a small amount at first to see how your skin reacts. If you like the results and you don’t develop any problems, 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.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Is coconut oil good for hair growth after chemo?

    There is a lack of evidence to suggest coconut oil is good for hair growth. Fortunately, in many cases, hair will grow back on its own after chemotherapy treatment is finished. This can take between four to six weeks after treatment, but this length of time will differ between people.

  • Can you use coconut oil for curly hair?

    Yes, you can use coconut oil for curly hair. It can be beneficial for any type of hair, as well as damaged and undamaged hair. When it is used as both a prewash and post-wash, coconut oil is the only tree oil to lower the loss of proteins in hair. This helps with hair repair and possibly helps prevent further damage.

  • Are there benefits to using coconut oil on skin every day?

    There is a lack of scientific evidence on the possible benefits of using coconut on skin every day. As long as your skin does not have a bad reaction to the oil, applying it two or three times each week should do the trick. It is worth mentioning that coconut oil does not serve as a suitable replacement for sunscreen and is not effective in blocking UV rays.

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