As a pantry staple, coconut oil may not seem like the first thing you’d reach for to add to your beauty routine. But as a thick, nourishing oil, it actually makes a great substitute for many of your favourite beauty products. If you’re looking for a natural alternative, coconut oil can effectively take the place of your make-up remover, body moisturizer and lip balm (just to name a few). With such an abundance of health benefits and uses, it’s no real surprise that coconut oil can replace many of your hair care products, too! Whether your hair is dry or tends to be more oily, coconut oil can provide your hair with some serious benefits.
The everyday impact of washing, styling and heat products affects the health of our hair over time, causing damage to the structure of our hair follicles. Our hair follicles are made up of three layers. The cuticle, which is the protective outer layer, is the most affected by our everyday washing, brushing and styling. When this layer of our hair breaks down, it makes it easier for the other layers of our hair follicle to become damaged, making our hair thin, more coarse and prone to breakage.
Oils play a protective role in preventing hair damage, and although it may seem counterintuitive to apply oils to an already oily scalp - they can actually help regulate the production of oils from our hair follicles. Much like the skin on our face, if our scalp is dry, it may overproduce oil to compensate for the lack of moisture. By keeping your hair moisturized, coconut oil may help regulate the production of oils from your scalp. It’s even been suggested that the composition of coconut oil may help to lift excess oil from the scalp, preventing the production of excess sebum.
In comparison to polyunsaturated oils, coconut oil has been shown in studies to strengthen the hair follicles by preventing protein loss. One 2015 review analyzed the effects of applying coconut oil, sunflower oil or mineral oil to the hair, to determine which oil was the most protective treatment. It’s no surprise that coconut oil came out on top, and was found to be superior in preventing protein loss than both sunflower oil and mineral oils. The lauric acid found in coconut oil is thought to be responsible for these hair protective properties, being a fatty acid with a low molecular weight and unique composition. As a medium chain fatty acid, the lauric acid content of coconut oil means that the oil is easily absorbed by the hair to penetrate to the deeper layers of the follicle. In comparison to other oils like sunflower oil which isn’t easily absorbed, coconut oil seems to be a much better option to lock in moisture.
Packed full of omega-3 fatty acids and nutrients like vitamin E, coconut oil has an impressive nutrient profile that may support dry skin conditions like eczema, by soothing irritation and providing those essential fatty acids. Plus, the easy absorption of coconut oil means that our hair reaps all the benefits of the important nutrients it provides. By effectively reaching the deeper layers of our hair, coconut oil has also been shown to prevent protein loss in hair that has been chemically treated and UV exposed. It’s even been suggested that coconut oil is an effective way to promote hair growth, since it protects the structure of our hair and prevents day-to-day damage. One study found that participants who regularly used coconut oil topically on their hair experienced 65% less weakness and breakage than those who used no oil. As a conditioner, hair mask or scalp treatment, there are plenty of ways to use coconut oil to support healthy hair.
As for which type of coconut oil to use, virgin coconut oil seems to be the most effective and nourishing oil to use when it comes to our hair. The solid structure of virgin coconut oil also makes it easy to apply as a thick hair mask!
Like any new addition to your skin care or hair care routine, you’re better to start slow. It’s been suggested that the best way to use coconut oil for your hair is to start with a minimal amount while trying one of the methods above, and work your way up depending on how your hair responds. Although using a moisture rich oil like coconut oil is a great way to prevent a dry scalp, like everything it’s best to use it in moderation to avoid excess oil build-up.
Naturopath & Medical Herbalist