We only work with and promote products from companies that we trust and feel are good for our consumers to use. We are reader-supported. If you decide to make a purchase through one of our links, we may earn an affiliate commission. Please read our disclosure for more info.
Leo possesses more than 17 years of valuable experience as a researcher and lecturer within the fields of Biology and Genetics. Holding a PhD in Biology from the University of Buenos Aires, Argentina...
Debates have arisen regarding the impact of coconut oil on curly hair health, with some individuals of different hair types reporting issues such as dullness, dryness, and brittleness after use. We believe that this remarkable ingredient may suffer from misconceptions and improper application, which can vary depending on different hair types.
Coconut oil for curly hair is widely recognized as a natural remedy with distinct advantages. Its exceptional ability to deeply penetrate hair strands sets it apart from conventional oils, typically creating only surface-level coatings.
There are specific conditions in which it may not yield the desired results. It is crucial to understand these circumstances before incorporating them into your hair care routine.
In today’s discussion, we will delve into the science behind coconut oil, exploring its potential benefits and addressing any misconceptions surrounding its use on curly hair.
To ensure the accuracy of our information, we’ve partnered with my hair scientist friend, who brings his expertise to shed light on the topic.
Coconut oil is a versatile, edible oil that is extracted from the flesh (copra) of coconuts, the large seeds of the coconut palm (Cocos nucifera).
Using various techniques, coconut oil, extracted from wet or dry coconut kernels, consists primarily of glycerol esters of long-chain fatty acids.
It’s rich in saturated fatty acids (about 80%), mainly lauric acid, which comprises 12 carbon units with a straight saturated chain length.
This composition gives it a high melting point (24°C), affecting its texture and shelf life, making it resistant to oxidation.1
Coconut oil has a long traditional history in hair and skincare.2 Cosmetic researchers have recently investigated its effectiveness and advantages through cutting-edge and modern analytical methods.
Achieving healthy hair goes beyond water; it involves incorporating natural ingredients, such as oils, butter, or specialized haircare products into your hair routine.
The primary objectives and coconut oil benefits are as follows:
Let’s delve into a detailed examination of specific literature that has extensively studied the advantages of coconut oil.
Researchers Rele and Mohile conducted a comprehensive study to investigate the role of coconut oil in preventing protein loss and maintaining hydration in hair fibers.
Their research revealed:
In their second report, Rele and Mohile compared coconut oil with mineral oil and sunflower oil as hair treatments.
Once again, coconut oil demonstrated its superiority in improving hair quality, even when subjected to harsh chemical treatments.
Their research revealed:
Additional research conducted by renowned hair scientist S.B. Ruetsch and collaborators utilized the precise mass spectrometric technique to provide conclusive evidence of coconut oil penetration.5
These findings align with earlier publications and reinforce the understanding of how coconut oil penetrates hair fibers.
The spectroscopic data clearly indicated that mineral oil lacked the ability to penetrate hair fibers.
In contrast, coconut oil, with its smaller molecular size primarily due to lauric acid, demonstrated its capability to penetrate hair fibers effectively.
To summarize the scientific studies, they reveal the following benefits of coconut oil for hair:
To maximize the benefits and achieve the best way of utilizing this remarkable natural ingredient, here are a few different ways to do it:
If raw coconut oil doesn’t work well for your hair, you might want to try coconut oil hair masks. These masks are emulsions that distribute evenly along the hair shaft, offering better results.
Opting for these masks instead of raw natural oil can be more beneficial for your hair. These masks are emulsions that consist of small oil droplets dispersed in a water phase. This formulation ensures a balanced application, covering the hair shaft uniformly.
Remember, your hair requires a multi-dimensional hair care strategy, it should include emollient, humectant, and conditioning polymer.
Here are a few coconut oil hair products to incorporate into your hair routine.
My favorite coconut oil is the one by Nutiva. It’s pure coconut oil goodness in a jar. I’ve been using this brand for years and love it! all you have to do is emulsify a small of coconut oil in your hands and voila. A little goes a long way!
If you prefer coconut oil in its liquid state, try this one by Pure Body Naturals.
Another coconut oil I love is the one by Dr. Bronner’s. This one is organic certified virgin coconut oil that undergoes expeller pressing, extracting oil from meticulously dried coconut kernels.
I picked mine up from Publix, but you can also get it from Amazon or your local market.
While there’s scientific evidence supporting the positive effects of coconut oil,2 concerns have arisen in blogs and on social media regarding its use for hair.
Online forums have become platforms for consumers to share their experiences, with some expressing disappointment in using coconut oil.
To be fair, some of these reports are valid and understandable. However, the issues often stem from how coconut oil is applied and the specific circumstances of its use.
We’ll delve deeper into these matters shortly, but first, let’s explore the mystery, myths, and misunderstandings surrounding coconut oil.
“Coconut sensitivity” is a term used by bloggers. The claim is that all chemicals having “lauric” or “laurate” or even “laureth” may lead to similar adverse results and should be avoided.
In pursuit of clarity, I consulted my friend, a Hair Scientist with a PhD in Organic Chemistry and Physical Organic Chemistry. According to his professional assessment, this claim lacks scientific validity and is not accurate.
Read on to learn more about what he shared with me.
First, we know that coconut oil is a green eco-friendly natural ingredient. Just like other oils and butter, it is gentle and mild.
Dermatological studies have shown minimal incidence of allergic or adverse effects when applying the oil on the skin or scalp surface. 3
Furthermore, coconut oil boasts a well-established and time-tested history, spanning thousands of years. This long history has cultivated global consumer trust in natural products.
Today’s consumers seek skincare solutions that are not only effective but also sustainable and environmentally friendly while remaining gentle on their skin.
Coconut oil is extensively used as a feedstock for the synthesis of various chemicals.
It stands as the second-most sought-after source of carbon chains, serving as a vital component for manufacturing various ingredients.
Lauric acid ester, a lightweight molecular ester, is frequently incorporated into personal care formulations to provide emollient properties.
Compounds like laurates serve as effective emulsifiers when creating creams and lotions.
For instance, sorbitan laurate serves as an excellent example of a favored emulsifier, offering not only emulsification but also notable moisturizing properties.
“Lauryl” & “Laureth” are chemical family derivatives of coconut oil. There are multiple ingredients with this term utilized in various formulations.
For example, we find these ingredients in shampoo formulations, like sodium lauryl sulfate and sodium laureth sulfate, as both are popular surfactant, cleansing agents.
Both are synthesized using a 12-carbon chain obtained from palm kernel oil or coconut oil with the sulfonation process.
However, this does not mean they are the same and equivalent to their starting material, i.e. coconut oil.
The chemical modification (sulfonation) gives us a new molecule with significantly different physical and chemical properties.
For example, we cannot clean our hands using coconut oil. It will not remove dirt or greasy stuff from our hands, skin, and hair, whereas lauryl and laureth are the cleansing agents.
Also, coconut oil does not generate any foam in the water, while these cleansing agents produce significant foam volume in the water solution.
Therefore, this is a misconception that every ingredient having lauric acid, lauryl, or laureth can induce coconut sensitivity, as they are different chemicals and have different properties.
It’s important to address the misconception and misunderstanding because we must substantiate our narrative scientifically.
The truth is, no single hair treatment (single active), be it oil, butter, or any other chemical conditioner, can universally satisfy the preferences of every individual.
In essence, personal preferences vary, with each person favoring specific brands, classes, or types of products.
For example, I might prefer shea butter for my hair, while someone else might opt for mango butter.
From a scientific standpoint, these preferences largely hinge on factors such as:
We acknowledge that some individuals may have experienced adverse effects or negative outcomes when using coconut oil on their hair.
So, let’s examine some potential reasons behind these negative effects of coconut oil on hair.
Some consumers use oils as a treatment mask and apply too much oil to their hair and or scalp with a sense that “more is better.”
However, the golden rule is always “Less is more.” Start with a small amount of coconut oil and apply more as needed.
To ensure that the oil is evenly distributed, some fingerwork is required.
The effect of outside temperature and humidity level is a well-known issue in the curly hair community.
Coconut oil has a melting point of 24-25 C, and it solidifies during winter. Applying coconut oil to hair during winter conditions is tricky.
Coconut oil would melt on the skin as our body temperature (37 C) is higher than its melting point; however, this may not be the case for hair.
When applied excessively in cold winter conditions, coconut oil can solidify into small flakes or pellets. These minuscule solid particles can lead to dull, lackluster, and brittle hair.
Also, chemically treated hair is dry, difficult to comb, and at times damaged compared to natural or virgin hair due to the loss of the cuticular layer, which means that this would alter the hair’s response to different hair conditioning products.
For excessively damaged and dry hair, coconut oil is an excellent remedy; however, we must remember that damaged hair has large-sized pores.
Hence, coconut oil penetrates easily and in large amounts, potentially leading to an excessive buildup of oil within the hair strand.
Additionally, an excessive amount of oil within the hair can leave little room for water molecules, potentially causing the hair to feel even drier. This might explain why some consumers have reported negative outcomes with coconut oil.
Coconut oil is an excellent natural hair conditioner.
It is one of the few natural oils scientifically proven to improve hair fibers’ quality for every type of hair. However, you need to figure out how and when to use it.
Don’t be scared of it; remember it is natural and time-tested with proven efficacy and results.
Explore it, and try mixing it with different other oils and humectants; this may enhance your hair quality and offer you even better hair manageability.
The lauric acid found in coconut oil has the ability to nourish the hair by penetrating the hair’s cuticle and scalp, where it gets absorbed. There is no definitive evidence to suggest that it promotes healthier hair growth by supporting hair follicles.
Yes, you can apply coconut oil to the roots of your hair. However, it’s essential to use it sparingly and focus more on the lengths and ends, especially if you have naturally oily hair, as using too much oil on the roots can make your hair appear greasy.
Coconut oil can benefit curly hair by providing conditioning, lubrication, and reducing protein loss.5 However, using excessive amounts, may lead to greasiness. It’s essential to tailor coconut oil usage to your hair type and needs for the best results.
Leave coconut oil in curly hair for at least 30 minutes to an hour, or overnight for deep conditioning. Wash thoroughly afterward. The duration depends on your hair’s needs and preferences.
Yes, coconut oil can help with frizzy hair. Applying a small amount to the lengths and ends can reduce frizz and add shine. Adjust the quantity based on your hair’s needs and texture.
Yes, applying coconut oil to your hair before washing is beneficial. It can act as a pre-shampoo treatment to protect against moisture loss during washing and enhance hair health.
Coconut oil can be beneficial for low-porosity hair, but it should be used with some considerations. Low porosity hair has a cuticle layer that is tightly “closed”, making it less porous and resistant to moisture absorption.
Coconut oil benefits low-porosity hair by sealing in moisture, acting as a conditioner and working well as a pre-shampoo treatment. Use it sparingly to prevent product buildup, apply with warmth for better absorption, and manage frizz and dryness.
Both olive oil and coconut oil can be beneficial for curly hair, but their effectiveness depends on individual preferences and hair needs.
Olive oil is heavier and can provide deep lubrication, making it suitable for very dry or thick curly hair. Coconut oil is lighter and can penetrate the hair strands and may work better for fine hair. It’s essential to experiment and determine which oil suits your specific hair type and goals.
To use essential oils with coconut oil for hair, blend a few drops of your chosen essential oil (like lavender, tea tree, or rosemary) with coconut oil.
Apply the mixture to your hair as needed. Essential oils can complement the benefits of coconut oil for hair and add aromatherapeutic advantages. Ensure proper dilution and perform a patch test before use to avoid any adverse reactions.
I had to listen to what my hair needed...my curls are finally ready to take in some moisture again!!!
- renee, Stylist Liaison
“I truly couldn't have gotten through this without her knowledge, advice and support...after suffering from Hygral Fatigue and getting tons of advice @themestizamuse.”
“@themestizamuse: for ESSENTIAL information you will NEED TO KNOW in order to see results.”
See how easy the topics are to find on her page (a few posts screenshot)? There is no topic Verna hasn't covered.
- dominique P, wavy hair enthusiast
“I have learned a whole heap of knowledge from @themestizamuse.”
Inspiring hair tutor, grateful for what she offers the Curly Community in authenticity, passion, and knowledge.
- zoe F, Producer & Host of The Curl Squad
“I was so excited to embrace my curls and take better care of them. As I started to dive in, I immediately became overwhelmed with the information.”
I read books and tried doing things because "that's what I'm supposed to do," but it didn't always work and I didn't understand why. I'm so grateful for Verna and her blog. Her info. actually helped me understand more of the science of why some methods helped and what products or ingredients to use and why. Anyone that compliments my hair and wants to start a curly journey, I tell them to start here. My hair is so much healthier and I'm so happy with it.
- stephanie, Curly hair enthusiast
One day you will wake up and there won't be any more time to do the things you've always wanted.
Do it now.
- Paulo coelho