Sometimes, the most standout beauty solutions are also the simplest. Using coconut oil for hair that’s hydrated, lustrous and flake-free may sound like too easy a fix, but for many, the naturally-occurring, fatty oil rivals even the most cultish of products. “During COVID, I started experimenting and using natural products and I was using coconut oil on my hair once a week,” says celebrity extensionist Priscilla Valles. “The hydration and shine it provides is beyond amazing.”
Applying coconut oil to tired strands makes sense. The oil is derived from the raw, mature coconuts and is comprised of 100%, predominantly unsaturated fat. Coconut oil’s fatty acids (principally lauric acid) that can improve hair health when employed correctly. There are of course caveats and limits to what coconut oil can offer, but its all-natural status and the affordability factor make testing the treatment for yourself entirely worthwhile — especially for those whose lengths have been looking lacklustre. “Coconut oil has benefits for all hair types, but is best used on dry, damaged, or colour-treated hair to lock in moisture and prevent breakage,” says celebrity hairstylist Andrew Fitzsimons.
Whether you’re already a convert or just coconut-curious, here’s what you need to know about coconut oil for hair health — and how to incorporate it into your hair care routine.
What are the benefits of coconut oil for hair?
For fans of natural products and ingredients, coconut oil is close to magic. The oil is commonly used topically to moisturise skin and calm dermatitis, swished around the mouth to the benefit of gums and teeth, and is easily incorporated into a healthy diet. And, of course, the efficacious oil’s mane benefits are myriad.
“Coconut oil is a great ingredient to implement into your hair routine because it has nourishing fatty acids, which help moisturise, prevent breakage and strengthen the hair,” says Fitzsimons. According to research, coconut oil actually reduces protein loss in both damaged and undamaged hair. Its make-up allows it to penetrate the hair shaft, to better deliver hydration, leading to softer and shinier strands and enhanced texture.
In addition to boosting your mane itself, coconut oil’s moisturising and anti-fungal and anti-inflammatory properties make it a scalp health hero, too. The oil helps to treat fungus and subsequent flaking in the short term, and some research says that it can help to repair the scalp’s moisture barrier over time.
And finally? “Coconut oil can also be used in your styling routine as a natural heat protectant to reduce hot tool damage,” says Fitzsimons. He’s right: coconut oil’s penetrative properties condition hair, seal the cuticle, and lock in moisture, protecting hair from potential damage that comes with your go-to dryers and irons. The oil also helps to tame frizz, resulting in sleeker, softer styles.
Can coconut oil damage hair?
Though coconut oil is cure-all for many’s hair woes, it’s not necessarily a universal ingredient, and certain application factors should be considered before you start slathering strands in the fatty oil.
“As a person with a fine texture of hair, it’s actually my arch nemesis,” says Illeisha Lussiano, hairstylist and owner of New York’s The Way. “It often causes fine hair to become brittle and break.” These undesirable results occur when coconut oil is unable to penetrate the hair, whether due to natural texture or too much of a good thing. “Be careful not to use it in excess,” cautions Fitzsimons. “Coconut oil will sit on top of your strands, which will not allow essential nutrients to penetrate the shaft and cause your hair to feel dry and brittle — the opposite effect of what you’re looking for.”
Even if breakage does not occur, coconut oil applied too liberally or sans strategy can result in hair that looks greasy and grimy rather than well-tended.
What kind of coconut oil to use
When selecting a beauty-ready coconut oil, choosing an unrefined (or virgin) option is your best bet. Unlike refined coconut oil, a processed iteration derived from the dry kernels of the coconut, unrefined, pure coconut oil is crafted from the fruit while it’s fresh and is largely chemical-free.
Think of coconut oil as you would green juice: a cold-pressed option will be much closer to the source (and its benefits) than one made from dried, chemically-treated ingredients.
How to apply coconut oil to hair
Applying coconut oil to hair is all about finding what works best for you, a process that will likely involve some trial and error. One person’s high-shine hack may be another’s hyper-greasy hair day, so be sure to start with diminutive amounts, and allot time for potential restyling.
For most treatments, experts recommend rinsing coconut oil out post-use — though a small amount used as a styling oil offers an exception. We suggest starting with an overnight mask or scalp treatment to see how your hair responds. Here, five easy ways to start incorporating coconut oil into your mane routine.
Coconut oil hair mask
Rather than relying on coconut oil as a finisher, Fitzsimons opts to use the ingredient — or products containing it — as an easy, DIY mask that works while you sleep.
“One of my favourite ways to use coconut oil is to use it as an overnight leave-in to nourish and condition dehydrated locks,” says Fitzsimons. “Take a coconut oil mask and distribute a small, even amount throughout your hair and scalp and leave it on overnight. Rinse in the morning.” Fitzsimons recommends repeating the process once a week for strong, hydrated hair. (Pro tip: coconut oil can stain fabric, so opt for a shower cap when masking overnight.)
Coconut oil is also effective for pre-wash hair treatment. “Hard water and washing can sometimes strip the hair from natural oils and cause dryness and breakage,” says Fitzsimons. “To avoid this, you can add a small amount of coconut oil to your hair pre-shower to avoid damage and dryness.” The oil does this by infusing and coating strands, guarding against over-absorption.
Though coconut oil does work in lieu of leave-in conditioner and is an effective detangler, rinsing it out eventually is a must to avoid greasiness and build-up. Apply warm (aka liquified) oil to lengths post-shampoo, let sit for two hours, and wash again. The double-wash means that this process is best for those with thick, hearty strands.
Massaging coconut oil into the scalp increases circulation, quells fungus and inflammation, and bolsters your moisture barrier. While masking or conditioning, use fingers or a scalp massager to coax the oil into the roots for a natural dry scalp and hair treatment.
As noted above, coconut oil works well as a natural heat protectant. Additionally, a touch of coconut oil is ideal of calming frizzy hair and flyaways, increasing shine and obscuring split ends. Apply a pea-sized amount to wet hair or dry lengths as a shield or finisher (or both!), adding more as your hair allows.
This article was originally published on Vogue UK.