What Does Coconut Oil Do for Your Hair?

September 20, 2016
by Emily Murphy for Thrive Market
What Does Coconut Oil Do for Your Hair?

I called my hairstylist in a panic—a mere 48 hours after she’d bleached the ever-living daylight out of my hair, I had strands breaking off and falling out. It was a sharp turn of events from two days prior when I left the salon looking fabulous after my stylist had done the impossible—transforming my naturally dark brown color into a shiny platinum blonde.

While it still looked good after a couple days, it suddenly didn’t feel good at all. When I went to tighten my ponytail, I accidentally tugged out an entire tuft of newly brittle, blonde strands and panicked. This was definitely not the chic, edgy look I was expecting.

First, the stylist recommended a pricey conditioner to use in the shower as well as an equally expensive hair mask for overnight. I decided against them because the prices were out of my ballpark, and I wanted something more long-lasting that could naturally repair my hair. I expressed my concerns, and then she paused and said, “You could try coconut oil. I know a lot of women that have tried it on their hair and they say it works wonders.”

I thanked her and quickly hung up the phone, dashing to the nearest grocery store. As soon as I got home I unwrapped the bottle as if I was opening my first Christmas present. I lathered the oil all over my scalp and throughout my hair. After letting it soak for an hour, I rinsed it out with water and then continued this process for an entire week.

Turns out, the coconut oil did not disappoint. It revived all the crispy strands, and after a few months (and one dye job) later, my hair was shiny and healthy again. While many people, like myself, are no strangers to the miracle of coconut oil in the kitchen or even in skincare routines, when it comes to hair care, it’s even more revolutionary.

Benefits of coconut oil

The beauty of coconut oil is that 50 percent of it is pure lauric acid, which is a medium-chain fatty acid that contains antibacterial as well as antifungal properties. While this oil is easily absorbed by the body for a great source of dietary energy that helps maintain weight, it also works at fighting bacteria and fungi that can cause a number of skin and hair problems. Additionally, coconut oil does wonders for the hair since it acts as a natural moisturizer thanks to a heavy concentration of vitamin E, vitamin K, and iron.

In fact, coconut oil can naturally replace all of your regular haircare products and even inspired some pretty cool DIYs. Here are just some of the ways using it regularly can lead to long, lustrous locks.

Ultra moisturizing hair conditioner

Coconut oil doesn’t contain any of the harsh chemicals that appear in commercial haircare products such as sodium lauryl sulfate, phenoxyethanol, and polysorbates, to name a few. Instead, it’s all natural and gentle, making it a great conditioner for all hair types. According to the Journal of Cosmetic Science, coconut oil performs better than even sunflower oil and mineral oil for nourishing hair, particularly because it’s the only oil that reduces protein loss, which is important.

Protein loss is why many people face dryness and breakage in their hair (and spend a lot of money on protein-boosting keratin treatments). But, the lauric acid inside coconut oil has a low molecular weight that gives it the ability to penetrate deep into the hair follicle and nourish strands with all the naturally occurring vitamins, minerals, and MCTs. Coconut oil is also safe for children to use and helps prevent hair damage caused by combing and brushing their sensitive scalps. It can even be used as a leave-in conditioner overnight—but be aware a little goes a long way!

Effective dandruff remedy

People have used coconut oil to battle dandruff for many years. This scaly, flaky, and itchy condition is often caused by dry skin, sensitivity to harsh chemicals that lurk in haircare products, and common yeast-like fungal infections that also affect the scalp.

Because coconut oil has medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs) and lauric acid, it gives off strong antiviral, antimicrobial, and antifungal components that battle the fungus that can cause dandruff, as well as help kill other harmful viruses and bacteria. While there are many over-the-counter dandruff shampoos, many times they fail to work because they don’t get to the root cause. If the problem is fungal, or even if it’s simply dry skin, topical use of coconut oil will be a game changer and have your scalp back to its normal state in no time.

Gentle styling tool

Believe it or not, coconut oil is great for styling hair, and is a more natural option than many commercial products. It’s filled with vitamin E, vitamin K, and iron, which help to nourish the scalp, increase blood flow, and stimulate cell turnover, so as you’re using it to style your hair, you’re also helping hair to grow.

Vitamin E is great for the hair because it’s full of antioxidants that help repair and build tissue. When you apply vitamin E to your scalp, it reduces inflammation and repairs damaged follicles—and healthy follicles means healthy hair growth. Second, vitamin K is needed for the formation of certain proteins in the body—these proteins are ones that help maintain healthy skin and hair cells and give them strength. Lastly, iron is critical to hair growth because it promotes healthy red blood cells, which transports oxygen to the cells in your body and gives you energy. What fuels your body also fuels your hair growth, so keeping iron in your diet and on your scalp is extremely beneficial.

As you use vitamin-rich coconut oil it will soak deep into the hair shaft, keeping the strands conditioned from within the follicle. This forms a protective layer around the hair strands and shields the hair from environmental pollution and hot tools such as hair dryers, flat irons, and curling irons. Because more moisture is in the hair, it also helps to prevents brittle split ends and the nasty tangles that are so often the result of thermal damage.

Additionally, coconut oil can be used to tame flyaways and frizz and provide a touch of shine to your hair. Start with a small amount of a quarter to a full teaspoon (depending on the thickness of your hair) and rub onto your palms. With wet hair, run your fingers through from root to tip, then blow dry and style as desired. Some people (including myself) fight frizz on the daily, especially in humid climates. This technique, however, is proven to work and, for me, has made sure my curls are not out of control.

Easy lice treatment

The use of coconut oil for lice is often overlooked, but it’s known to be one of the best treatments available. According to the European Journal of Pediatrics, applying coconut oil to affected areas is more effective than the commonly used prescription lice treatment, permethrin. The study found that the coconut oil–based spray had an 82 percent success rate, whereas the permethrin had only a 42 percent success rate. Additionally, 33 of the 50 participants claimed their scalp was irritated when using the conventional treatment. Wonder how it all works? Because coconut oil is able to permeate deep into the hair follicle and scalp, it helps repel lice and keeps their eggs from attaching to the hair strands.

Try this DIY coconut oil lice remedy:

-Coat your hair thoroughly with coconut oil

-Cover with shower cap

-Blow dry your hair over the shower cap for 3-5 minutes to activate the treatment

-Leave on for 2-4 hours

-Wash hair, and repeat if needed

Stimulating hair growth

Have thinning hair? Coconut oil is a safe, effective, and affordable solution. When applied to the scalp and hair, the lauric acid binds to the hair protein and strengthens each strand. This helps stop breakage and thinning, and helps eliminate split ends, which encourages the growth cycle. When the nourishing coconut oil is applied, it seeps down into the hair shaft and allows the hair to soak up the nutrients, becoming stronger and helps in hair growth.

One important note: Coconut oil is known to fade colored red hair. For other colors, it is safe to use.

Making a DIY coconut oil shampoo and conditioner

Try Thrive Market’s favorite DIY tricks to make a coconut oil shampoo and conditioner that will leave your hair feeling soft and healthy. Since everyone’s hair is different in texture, natural oils, and length, play around with the measurements in the following recipe and adjust the amount of coconut oil to fit your needs.

Coconut oil shampoo

You’ll need:

-1 cup of liquid castile soap

-⅓ cup of canned coconut milk

-⅓ cup coconut oil

-20 drops of your favorite essential oil (e.g. lavender, eucalyptus, lemongrass, rosemary)

Melt the coconut oil and coconut milk together on low heat (avoid any high or medium heat since this can damage the nutrients). Allow to cool and pour the mixture into a 12 oz. bottle or jar with a secure lid, then add in the castile soap. Shake well and then add in 20 drops of your favorite essential oils, and shake again.

Note, this homemade shampoo will not have a thick consistency like other store-bought shampoos, but that doesn’t mean it works any less effectively. In fact, it’s probably much better for your hair than other products with added chemicals.

Coconut oil conditioner

You’ll need:

-⅔ cups coconut oil

-1 tablespoon vitamin E oil

-1 tablespoon Jojoba oil

-10 drops of your favorite essential oil (e.g. lavender, eucalyptus, lemongrass, rosemary)

Mix all the ingredients into one bowl with a hand mixer. This will take several minutes since the texture needs to be smooth and creamy, just like a normal conditioner.

Wash your hair at least once a week with these DIY treatments for the best results.

Overall, using coconut oil for your hair is one of the best decisions you can make. Not only are you skipping the added chemicals in most haircare products, but you’ll gain so many extra benefits that can help to lock in moisture, support hair growth, help with styling, and prevent dandruff and lice. Coconut oil is one product that can do it all, and will leave you with shiny, manageable, nourished hair from the inside out.

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This article is related to: DIY, Healthy Hair, Skincare, Hair Tips, Natural Hairstyles

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  • Zara

    The conditioner is a great idea. I stopped using conditioner years ago, because of the ingredients in most store-bought conditioners, it can cause split ends, unless you buy a more expensive conditioner. I haven't had any split ends since I stopped using conditioner. Yes, I get dry ends, but split ends look frizzier than dry ends. Once a week, I use coconut oil for a deep conditioning treatment.