When to Use & When You Shouldn’t

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I’ve been a fan of coconut oil for a really long time. It is a highly nourishing oil with hundreds of uses, and lately I’ve run across many sources touting the benefits of coconut oil for hair. It can certainly be beneficial for certain hair types when used correctly, but many sources recommend using it in ways that may do more harm than good.

Before you go pour coconut oil all over your head, make sure to know how to use it correctly to get the benefits without harming your hair!

Why Use Coconut Oil for Hair?

The idea of putting oil directly in the hair can seem counterintuitive, especially to anyone with naturally oily hair. Yet nourishing hair oil treatments have been used for thousands of years.

By using a certain ratio of beneficial oils, hair oil can add life and moisture into hair. It is also not meant to be an everyday product.

But why coconut oil?

Coconut oil is the richest natural source of medium-chain fatty acids (MCFAs), special types of fatty acid with antibacterial and antimicrobial properties that are very nourishing to the body. It is especially high in the C12 chain of MCFAs known as lauric acid.

Coconut oil’s properties allow it to penetrate hair in ways that other oils are not able to, which is why some people notice amazing results relatively quickly when using coconut oil for hair.

This is because of its low molecular weight and straight linear chain structure, which reduces the protein loss for both undamaged and damaged hair.

For best results, studies suggest coconut oil is best used before or after shampooing.

Could Coconut Oil Harm Hair?

There is no doubt that certain oils can be beneficial to hair. Yet many of us strip out beneficial oils from over-shampooing, leading the body to increase natural oil production to compensate. This is one reason for the rise of so-called no-poo methods.

Due to over-shampooing and poor diet, many of us are also missing vital nutrients we need to build healthy hair in the first place, but is adding oil to the hair the solution?

Not necessarily!

Certain oils do seem to be pretty much universally beneficial for hair, but coconut oil isn’t always one of them. For instance, castor oil is an age-old beauty secret for increasing hair growth. I use it on my hair and eyelashes and have seen amazing results, and hundreds of commenters have had a similar experience.

Coconut oil, on the other hand, gets mixed results. Some people report immediately healthier and smoother hair, while others claim that their hair fell out by the handful after using it.

So so how can a person know if putting coconut oil on their hair is going to be beneficial or cause problems?

Coconut Oil Isn’t for Every Hair Type

Not surprisingly, different types of hair respond to oils differently. Coconut oil won’t work for every hair type.

Because it helps the hair retain its natural protein, it can be helpful for those who lack enough natural protein in hair follicles.

Typically, those with fine to medium shiny hair will see good results from coconut oil and notice stronger, shinier hair with more volume.

Those with coarse or dry hair may not struggle with low protein at all and coconut oil may lead to more brittle hair and hair loss.

These people may benefit more from other types of oil like marula oil or argan oil.

It should go without saying, but anyone with an allergy or reaction to coconuts or coconut oil should not use these products in hair either, no matter what hair type.

How to Safely Use Coconut Oil for Hair

Those who think that coconut oil may be beneficial for their hair types can benefit from using it, but there are some best practices when using coconut oil for hair:

  • Avoid the scalp: Though coconut oil seems to be beneficial for those who struggle with dandruff that has a fungal component, others may see negative effects from using coconut oil directly on the scalp. Coconut oil may clog pores and cause irritation for some scalp types (just as it does on certain skin types), and is best used directly on the hair and not the scalp (of those with the right type of hair).
  • Start with small amounts: You’ve probably heard the saying “too much of a good thing,” and this absolutely applies when it comes to using coconut oil in hair. Start with a small amount and see how your hair responds. For best results, try just rubbing a small amount of coconut oil between your hands to warm it up and work through hair gently. This should help tame frizz and make hair shiny without the negative effects.
  • Add other ingredients: Adding other oils can change how coconut oil affects hair. For instance, coconut oil doesn’t seem to make hair dry or brittle when combined with the monounsaturated fatty acids from olive oil or when mixed with argan or marula oil (both great for hair). The simple sugars in honey can nourish hair and make it naturally smooth and frizz-free. As a deep treatment, blending coconut oil with honey and yogurt may offer more benefits than coconut oil alone.
  • Combine with the right hair products: Many homemade hair products do not contain the chemical detergents and surfactants that many commercial shampoos and products do, making it difficult for them to remove excess oils from the hair, especially in large amounts. I recommend a store-bought clarifying shampoo for this purpose, like my Wellnesse Shampoo for All Hair Types or this organic clarifying shampoo.

Best Hair Care Tip: Eat Coconut Oil Instead!

Hair doesn’t have the ability to digest or metabolize coconut oil like the digestive system does. For this reason, try eating coconut oil instead of putting it on your hair for the most benefit. Coconut oil’s natural health benefits can help improve the rate of hair growth from the inside out.

Finally, just like the skin, hair is a reflection of internal health. Hormones can affect it (one of the reasons women lose hair after pregnancy). Focus on balancing hormones and nourishing the body to improve hair. Address factors like diet, supplements, and sleep and you may find your body thanks you with healthier, stronger, shinier hair!

This article was medically reviewed by Madiha Saeed, MD, a board-certified family physician. As always, this is not personal medical advice and we recommend that you talk with your doctor.

Do you use coconut oil on your hair? What results have you experienced? Share below!

Sources:

  1. Rele AS, Mohile RB. Effect of mineral oil, sunflower oil, and coconut oil on prevention of hair damage. J Cosmet Sci. 2003;54(2):175-192.
  2. Wallace TC. Health Effects of Coconut Oil-A Narrative Review of Current Evidence. J Am Coll Nutr. 2019;38(2):97-107. doi:10.1080/07315724.2018.1497562
  3. Keis K, Persaud D, Kamath YK, Rele AS. Investigation of penetration abilities of various oils into human hair fibers. J Cosmet Sci. 2005;56(5):283-295.
  4. Mhaskar S, Kalghatgi B, Chavan M, Rout S, Gode V. Hair breakage index: an alternative tool for damage assessment of human hair. J Cosmet Sci. 2011;62(2):203-207.
  5. Gavazzoni Dias MF. Hair cosmetics: an overview. Int J Trichology. 2015;7(1):2-15. doi:10.4103/0974-7753.153450