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Coconut oil for your hair

Benefits, uses, and tips

This article explains everything you need to know about coconut oil and hair: why you might want to try it, how to use it, and more.

Evidence-based
This article is based on scientific evidence, written by experts, and fact-checked by experts.
We look at both sides of the argument and strive to be objective, unbiased, and honest.
Last updated on June 5, 2022, and last reviewed by an expert on February 5, 2022.

Coconut oil is an extremely versatile health and beauty product.

People use it for all sorts of things, from cooking and cleaning to moisturizing their skin and removing makeup.

Others often use coconut oil to help improve the health and condition of their hair.

This article explores the pros and cons of using coconut oil on your hair.

Daily grooming practices can damage your hair

Daily grooming practices like washing, brushing, and styling can cause damage to your hair and leave it looking frizzy, broken, and dry.

To better understand why this happens, you’ll need to know more about your hair’s structure.

Your hair is made up of three layers:

Washing, styling, and coloring your hair can damage the cuticle, making it unable to protect the central parts of the hair shaft.

This causes you to lose some of the fibrous proteins that make up your hair’s cortex, making your hair thin, fragile, and prone to breakage.

Summary: Washing, brushing, coloring, and styling your hair can damage its structure, leaving it more prone to breakage.

Why coconut oil is better at protecting your hair than other oils

Coconut oil is often said to be the best oil to use on your hair to reduce protein loss and keep it looking healthy.

Given the current popularity of coconut oil, this would be easy to dismiss as a trend.

However, there is some evidence behind this claim.

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One older study published in 2003 examined the effects of applying coconut, sunflower, or mineral oil to hair before or after washing.

To see which oil was best for protecting hair health, the researchers measured the amount of protein the hair lost after each of these treatments.

They found that coconut oil was better at preventing protein loss than both the mineral and sunflower oils when applied either before or after the hair was washed.

Coconut oil came out on top in all of their studies and reduced protein loss in hair that was undamaged, bleached, chemically treated, and UV exposed.

On the other hand, both the mineral and sunflower oils did not have this effect and weren’t found to be effective at reducing protein loss from hair.

It’s thought that coconut oil’s chemical structure is behind its superior ability to protect hair.

Coconut oil is predominantly made up of a medium-chain fatty acid called lauric acid. This gives coconut oil a long, straight structure, which is more easily absorbed deep into the hair shaft.

Sunflower oil contains mostly linoleic acid, which has a much bulkier structure, so it’s not as easily absorbed into the hair.

This means that oils like mineral oil and sunflower oil can coat the hair, but they aren’t absorbed as well into the hair shaft.

Summary: When applied to the hair before washing, coconut oil has been shown to reduce protein loss more than sunflower and mineral oils.

Rubbing oil on your hair before or after washing helps prevent damage

There are a few ways you can apply oil to your hair to help protect it from damage.

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First, applying oil to your hair before it’s washed can help reduce the amount of damage it sustains during washing and while it’s wet.

Interestingly, hair is most vulnerable to damage when it’s wet. This is because of subtle, structural changes that occur when it absorbs water.

When you wet your hair, the thick, central cortex soaks up the water and swells, causing a structural change in the cuticle.

The hair cuticle is made up of flat, overlapping scales that are attached toward the root end of your hair and point toward the tip.

When the cortex of your hair absorbs water and swells up, these scales are pushed outward so they stick up. This makes wet hair much easier to damage, especially when brushing or styling.

Applying oil to your hair before you wash it can reduce the amount of water absorbed by the hair shaft and the degree to which the cuticle scales “stick up.” This makes it less prone to damage while it’s wet.

Second, coating your hair in oil after you wash it helps make it softer and smoother. This reduces the amount of friction caused by styling, making your hair less likely to snag and break.

Summary: Your hair is most vulnerable to damage when it’s wet. Applying oil to your hair both before and after you wash it helps protect it from damage.

Coconut oil could help you grow your hair longer

Many people want to grow long, sleek, and shiny hair.

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However, day-to-day wear and tear on your hair caused by styling, grooming, the weather, and pollutants can damage it.

This can make growing longer hair difficult, as your hair can become more worn and tired the longer it gets.

Coconut oil could help you grow your hair longer by:

To get the most out of coconut oil, you’ll probably need to make it a regular part of your beauty regimen.

Summary: Coconut oil reduces damage to your hair caused by day-to-day wear and tear. Using coconut oil in your hair care routine could help you grow longer, healthier hair.

Other benefits of coconut oil for hair

Coconut oil may also have other benefits for your hair. However, many of them haven’t been examined in properly controlled studies.

Possible benefits include:

It’s also claimed that consuming coconut oil can be beneficial for hair health due to the nutrients it provides. However, there is little evidence that this is the case.

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Summary: Coconut oil could be helpful to get rid of lice, protect your hair from the sun and reduce dandruff, but more studies are needed.

Does coconut oil have any negative effects on hair?

Coconut oil is generally considered safe to apply to your skin and hair.

However, using too much could cause a buildup of oil on your hair and scalp.

This could make your hair greasy and dull, especially if you have very fine hair.

To avoid this, make sure you start with only a small amount and begin by rubbing the coconut oil through your hair, from the midsection to the ends. People with very fine hair may want to avoid putting coconut oil on their scalp altogether.

Furthermore, while it’s normal to lose about 50–100 hairs a day, many people also report losing lots of hair when they use coconut oil.

But coconut oil is not usually the culprit. Simply applying the oil allows hair that has already detached from your scalp to fall away.

Summary: Using too much coconut oil can make your hair greasy. It usually doesn’t cause hair loss, but it can cause previously detached hair to fall away from your scalp more easily.

How to use coconut oil for beautiful hair

Here are a few ways to use coconut oil to help improve the health of your hair.

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These techniques can be used regularly or once in a while (depending on your hair type) to give you beautiful, healthy, and shiny hair.

The amount of coconut oil you’ll need will depend on your hair length and type. Most people use just enough to cover the midsection to the ends of their hair to avoid their hair getting greasy.

The best approach is to start with the smallest amount you think you will need and gradually increase from there.

If you have short or very fine hair, you may need as little as one teaspoon. However, people with long, thick hair may want to use as much as two tablespoons.

There are also many different types of coconut oil to choose from. Some people prefer to choose virgin (unrefined) coconut oil, as they also use it in their diet.

However, there aren’t any specific studies on whether one type of coconut oil is better for your hair than another. Additionally, both unrefined and refined coconut oil have the same moisturizing properties.

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Summary: Coconut oil can be used as a conditioner, hair mask, or scalp treatment to give you shiny, healthy hair.

Summary

Coconut oil is an excellent moisturizing product for your hair.

It can be used both before and after you wash your hair to help prevent damage and keep your hair looking shiny and healthy.

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