Coconut oil is one of the most versatile carrier oils out there.
Packed full of benefits for your complexion, lips, body, nails, and even your brain, there's no denying the power of this all-natural remedy in your daily routine - and use in your hair is no exception.
Chances are you've owned at least one beauty product with coconut oil as a primary ingredient, and that boils down to all the many applications this nourishing oil has to offer. In fact, some claim there's no greater asset for covering all the bases of your self-care regimen.
So, how exactly does it work once applied to your hair? Using coconut oil for hair is certainly not a new practice, with Ayurvedic medicine noting its successes as far back as 1500BC, but it is one that is creeping into the limelight as many of us strive to move away from chemical-based beauty supplies.
With that in mind, we'll be breaking down exactly what coconut oil is, what its benefits are, and how to use coconut oil on hair.
What is coconut oil?
Extracted from coconut trees all over the world, but native to Malaysia, coconut oil is a type of carrier oil revered for its versatility.
Like all carrier oils, coconut oil can be used to dilute essential oils for safe use on the skin, hair, and body, and can also be used by itself as an effective wellness tool.
There are many types of coconut oil available, with refined versions being the most common.
Fractionated coconut oil, however, is generally preferred in certain wellness circles as it remains a liquid in colder temperatures, meaning there's no need to heat it up prior to use.
Coconut oil is naturally packed full of healthy, fatty acids that are said to help moisturise the body as well as enrich it with nutrients.
It is also a great source of medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs) which have been known to help protect the body against diseases and other ailments, as well as help boost cognitive functions.
Is coconut oil good for your hair?
There are many benefits of coconut oil for hair, and most of these derive from the oil's natural chemical makeup.
Its rich fatty acids and moisturising abilities are said to help tackle everything from dry, brittle hair to a flaky, itching scalp, and many are even starting to use it as a natural way to tackle frizz.
What are the coconut oil benefits for hair?
Coconut oil contains lauric acid, a type of saturated fat that is said to help protect the hair against protein loss.
As hair is made primarily of proteins, particularly keratin, this factor is said to be one of the main reasons behind coconut's impact on the hair.
In fact, a 2015 report on plant-based oils for hair noted these benefits as plausible due the similarities between coconut oil and natural hair proteins.
Coconut oil can uniquely penetrate the hair shaft and enrich it with damage-preventing nutrients that can repair and protect against dyes, bleach, shampoos, and other protein-stripping products that are commonplace in styling.
This penetrative ability also allows coconut oil to act as a sealant, minimising the amount of excess water absorbed by the hair. This can limit hair damage over time as well as help reduce frizz levels after drying.
Furthermore, the same 2015 review discovered that coconut oil was the only plant-based oil capable of replacing protein loss in the hair - both for damaged and undamaged hair types.
Ultimately, this influx of protein is what many researchers believe is responsible for softening and moisturizing the hair to such an immense degree.
What are the coconut oil benefits for scalp health?
While adding protein and nourishment to the hair shaft is all well and good, the true key to unlocking healthy hair is a healthy scalp.
Our scalps are responsible for ensuring our hair grows thicker, stronger, and shinier, so looking after it is essential if you want to see results.
Thankfully, coconut oil is well-known for its ability to heal dry, itchy, and cracked skin - including on our heads. This is due to its strengths in repairing the skin barrier, or the top layer of our skin.
Coconut oil has become an increasingly popular remedy against skin conditions like eczema and psoriasis for this exact reason, and these same benefits extend themselves to the prevention of dandruff and irritation on the scalp.
A 2012 study conducted on 140 dandruff and non-dandruff sufferers concluded that topical application of coconut oil to the scalp provided anti-fungal benefits that helped tackle the root cause of dandruff, as well as reduce signs of flaking.
These same antifungal properties have also been known to combat scalp yeast infections in some.
One 2017 study further suggested that coconut's strengths against dandruff lie in its anti-inflammatory properties, preventing irritation and itchiness on the surface of the scalp.
Study participants were also said to have experienced an increase in the production of collagen, a primary structural protein in the skin. While research has been back and forth on collagen's effectiveness for hair, most agree it is beneficial overall.
Does coconut oil help with hair growth?
While there is no direct scientific evidence to support using coconut oil for hair growth, all the benefits certainly suggest the possibility.
A healthy scalp environment is key to hair growth, and achieving this with coconut oil will undoubtedly improve your chances.
Coconut oil's ability to prevent against breakages may also allow for faster hair growth.
How to use coconut oil for hair
There are numerous ways to incorporate coconut oil into your routine - whether you're looking for a full-blown hair treatment or a simple anti-frizz remedy.
Here are some of the most popular ways to use coconut oil for your hair:
1. As a pre-wash treatment
Fed up of dry, damaged hair? Applying a bit of coconut oil to your locks before shampooing can help stop them from soaking up too much water, which in turn can prevent damage overtime.
Try smoothing the oil across your midsection and ends around 15 to 30 minutes before showering.
2. In a hair mask
If you're wanting to up your hair care routine with a little bit of extra indulgence, a nourishing hair mask with coconut oil may be just the key.
Brush your damp hair out with a wide-toothed comb to get rid of any tangles, and then proceed to apply the oil from the midsection of your hair to the ends.
For targeting issues in your scalp too, try massaging the oil in gently at the roots before smearing it across the rest of your hair.
Then, proceed to leave the mask on for at least 30 minutes to feel its full effects, before rinsing out as normal. Some people opt for an overnight treatment as a more effective alternative, so feel free to do this too - but remember to wash it out in the morning!
3. As a conditioner
Coconut oil has been proven as a great alternative to commercial conditioners, as it helps to strengthen the hair shaft as well as prevent breakage.
If you don't feel like throwing out your conditioner right away, you can also add a few drops of coconut oil to your existing bottle.
4. When styling your hair
Since coconut oil works so well for reducing frizz, it could be worth your while to include it as a styling aid when getting ready for a big night out.
Dab a drop or two of oil onto your hand and comb through damp hair, but be careful not to use too much! An excess amount of oil could lead to greasy-looking locks instead.
What are some other tips and precautions for using coconut oil in hair?
Using coconut oil for hair is very safe and fairly simple once you get into the routine, but do make sure you're not over-doing it with the amount you use.
Too much coconut oil at any one time could lead to heavy, weighed-down hair that could end up appearing greasy, so always use a light hand.
It is also important to limit the amount you apply to your scalp as to avoid clogging up the pores on your head.
For best results, most experts recommend using coconut oil around two to three times a week to avoid these issues and keep your hair looking healthy.
If you opt for a refined or virgin coconut oil, always remember to heat it up before use, especially in the height of winter.
It's also a good idea to limit your coconut oil treatments to the evening, as some methods may require more than one quick wash to fully rinse the oil out - not ideal if you have some place to be!
Coconut oil can work wonders on the hair and scalp with regular and appropriate use, and its seemingly limitless applications elsewhere on the body mean it's likely never to go to waste.
However you choose to use your coconut oil, your hair will surely thank you for its nourishing benefits.