Coconut oil is an extremely versatile health and beauty
People use it
for all sorts of things, from cooking and cleaning to
moisturizing their skin and removing their 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
To understand why this happens, you need to know more about
your hair’s structure. Your hair is made up of three layers:
The medulla: This is the soft, central part
of the hair shaft. Interestingly, thick hair contains large
amounts of medulla, while fine hair has almost none.
The cortex: This is the thickest layer of
your hair. It contains lots of fibrous proteins and the
pigment that gives your hair its color.
The cuticle: The cuticle is the tough,
protective outer layer of your hair.
Washing, styling and coloring your hair can damage the cuticle,
rendering it unable to protect the central parts of the hair
Bottom Line: 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
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.
One study examined the effects of applying coconut, sunflower
or mineral oil to hair before or after washing (4).
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.
In fact, 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 (5).
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
Bottom Line: When applied to 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
There are a few ways you can apply oil to your hair to help
protect it from damage.
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
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 actually made up of flat, overlapping
scales that are attached towards the root end of your hair and
point towards 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
Bottom Line: 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
Lots of people want to grow long, sleek and shiny hair.
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:
- Moisturizing your hair and reducing breakage
- Protecting your hair from protein loss and damage when wet
- Protecting your hair from environmental damage like wind,
sun and smoke
To get the most out of coconut oil, you’ll probably need to
make it a regular part of your beauty regimen.
Bottom Line: 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,
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
Possible benefits include:
Lice prevention: One small study found that
when combined with anise in a spray, coconut oil was 40% more
effective at treating head lice than the chemical permethrin (7).
Sun protection: UV filters can help protect
your hair from sun damage. Some studies have found coconut
oil to have a sun protection factor of 8, so putting it on
your hair could be useful (8, 9, 10).
Dandruff treatment: Dandruff can be caused
by an overgrowth of fungus or yeast on the scalp. While no
studies have examined coconut oil specifically, it has
antimicrobial properties and could be useful for treating
dandruff (11, 12).
Hair loss prevention: Excessive grooming can
damage the hair shaft, which in extreme circumstances can
cause hair loss. Coconut oil can help keep your hair in good
condition and prevent this.
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 (13).
Bottom Line: Coconut oil could help 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 (14).
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
But coconut oil is not usually the culprit. Simply applying the
oil allows hair that has already detached from your scalp to
Bottom Line: 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.
As a conditioner: Shampoo your hair as
normal and then comb coconut oil through your hair, from the
midsection to the ends.
As a post-wash detangler: After shampooing
and conditioning your hair, rub a little coconut oil through
your hair to protect it while you brush it.
As a hair mask: Rub coconut oil through your
hair and let it sit for a few hours (or even overnight)
before washing it out.
As a pre-wash hair protector: Rub coconut
oil through your hair before you wash it.
As a scalp treatment: Before bed, massage a
small amount of coconut oil into your scalp. Leave it
overnight and wash it off with shampoo in the morning.
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
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 a 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.
Bottom Line: Coconut oil can be used as a
conditioner, hair mask or scalp treatment to give you shiny,
Take Home Message
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.