Hair Oil Series: Coconut Oil –The Benefits
If you’ve seen any memes recently, you know that coconut oil is jokingly thought of as the cure-all for life’s many woes. Relationship problems? Pour some coconut oil on your significant other. Got a tough exam to study for? Pour some coconut oil into your notes. (Don’t actually do this, you won’t be able to read them!) But where coconut oil really comes in handy is as an addition to your hair care routine. Coconut oil is a catch-all for many of the struggles that plague natural hair including dryness, damage, and hair nutrition.
Nutrients in Coconut Oil
Considered the richest source of medium chain fatty acids (MCFAs), according to Wellness Mama, coconut oil has antibacterial and antimicrobial characteristics. This oil also has the highest position in the chain of C12 MCFAs, also known as Lauric Acid. Lauric Acid, in particular, encourages cell and hormonal health and can prevent protein loss in hair. The molecular structure of the oil also gives it unique penetration capabilities that other oils don’t have, which is why it isn’t uncommon for users to notice results sooner when using coconut oil. While it's benefits in this regard are hard to match, they may not work for everyone. If you are protein sensitive or have a protein allergy, coconut oil's protein retention qualities may cause your hair to feel dry or brittle and may produce an allergic reaction on the scalp.
Like many hair oils, coconut oil is a sealant and when applied to thoroughly moisturized hair can lock in moisture. This oil melts and spreads easily from its solid state and can be applied evenly throughout hair. In particular, coconut oil is excellent as a pre-shampoo treatment due to its ability to partially penetrate the hair in its dry state. During washing, hair is prone to damage due to the constant swelling and shrinking that water and the washing process can cause, also known as “hydral fatigue.” The oil can prevent some of this damage by serving as a barrier against excess water, according to Black Girl with Long Hair. The oil combines with the proteins in the hair to make the hair less susceptible to swelling. This will protect the cuticle from splitting and breaking as the hair reverts to its dry state.
Coconut oil’s penetrative power is also beneficial when it is applied directly to the scalp, where it can get deep into hair follicles and stimulate growth. It defends the scalp from bacteria, protozoan parasites, dandruff and other fungal infections. It can also protect against head lice and bug bites. If you are struggling with split ends, use coconut oil. Applying a small amount to the ends of your hair temporarily seals your ends. While it is still beneficial to get regular trims to ensure that split ends don’t cause further damage to your hair, it is a quick fix if you’re unable to make it to the salon or trim them yourself. In the same vein, coconut oil can preemptively stave off hair loss as a result of breakage.
In addition to adding sheen, softness, and lustre to hair, coconut oil can also aid with the detangling process. Adding coconut oil to wet hair will make tangles and knots in hair easier to manage and get through without tugging. This oil also works as a holding agent and minimizes frizz on styled hair.
Coconut oil can work wonders on dry, brittle or damaged natural hair. Its nutritional benefits and versatility make it an excellent addition to your arsenal of hair products, while its natural qualities and price (it’s only $6.99 for 14 oz. at Target) make it an easily accessible secret weapon for any naturalista. Whether you need it as part of your “save my hair” regimen or as a final touch to a winning style, it is unlikely that coconut oil will leave you dissatisfied.
In case you’re looking to start your natural oil journey quickly, remember these four best practices:
- CurlyNikki recommends only using unrefined coconut oil–that means no additives and no chemical alterations.
- Use it as a pre-poo treatment to better the chances of it fully penetrating your hair and preventing damage.
- For a quick deep conditioner, use with a heating cap.
- Apply coconut oil to your ends after applying your leave in conditioner and hair cream to lock in moisture (note: all oils are sealants so they will seal the hair in whatever condition it is in, i.e. applying oil to dry hair will seal in the dryness).