Coconut Oil – Thick Hair’s Best Friend
Coconut oil has been extensively used for edible and non-edible purposes all over the world. Detergent industries depend mainly on coconut and palm kernel oils as a source for lauric acid.
Apart from the health benefits documented in many papers, coconut oil is used for skin, lips and hair care. In some cultures, women use extensively coconut oil to treat their hair, especially thick and highly texturized hair, and chemically treated hair as well. When talking about the best hair benefits of using coconut oil on their hair, they mentioned it is a good detangler and with continuum use hair becomes more hydrated and easy to manage.
I honestly never used pure coconut oil on my hair and I was curious to know why all these benefits from such an oil which has a composition so different than the other vegetable oils. And because I have thick and dry hair, and wet combing is a nightmare, I decided to try it.
HOW TO USE IT: Use it as a shampoo pre-conditioner
First of all, some of you might be surprised to find out that coconut oil is actually solid at room temperature. Before treatment, heat the jar with coconut oil in hot water (bain-marie) for 1-2 minutes so the oil melts. Coconut oil melts between 25 – 28C (77 – 82F). Place the oil all over the hair and massage your scalp very well. Leave it overnight in a hair cap. Next day wash it out with shampoo.
I repeated the treatment 3 times per week for 2 weeks and indeed my hair was easier to comb, was manageable and overall looked healthier.
WHY IS IT WORKING: The science behind coconut oil
In one study (2) cosmetics scientists measured the protein (keratin) loss of the hair strands after treatments with coconut oil, mineral oil and sunflower. The research showed that Among three oils, coconut oil was the only oil found to reduce the protein loss remarkably for both undamaged and damaged hair when used as a pre-wash and post-wash grooming product. Both sunflower and mineral oils do not help at all in reducing the keratin loss from hair.
Another study (3) was conducted for the duration of 16 weeks of normal grooming practices in order to assess the effect of coconut oil on the hair brakeage. Researchers used 60 clients, 30 of them using daily coconut oil treatments and the other 30 using no oil. They showed that the hair brakeage index (higher index, increased hair brakeage) decreased by almost 50% for the clients’ hair who used coconut oils. For the other clients, the hair brakeage index actually increased with 20%.
Both these studies show that coconut oil increases the strength of the hair. And this could arise from the composition of the coconut oil:
Coconut oil contains 92% of saturated fatty acids (in the form of triglycerides), most of them (about 70%) are lower chain saturated fatty acids known as medium chain fatty acids (MCFAs). MCFAs are not common to different vegetable or seed oils (such as argan oil) with lauric acid at 45- 56% (1). Because of the triglyceride of the lauric acid, coconut oil has a high affinity for hair proteins and, because of its low molecular weight and straight linear chain, is able to penetrate inside the hair shaft.
So, when applied as a pre-wash treatment, a small amount of the coconut oil is able to penetrate deeper into the hair shaft during the wash, when the hair fiber swells slightly.
This can also explain why so many rave about the oil’s ability to prevent “the frizzies” in humid weather.
Mineral oil, being a hydrocarbon, has no affinity for proteins and therefore is not able to penetrate and yield better results. In the case of sunflower oil, although it is a triglyceride of linoleic acid, because of its bulky structure due to the presence of double bonds, it does not penetrate the fiber, consequently resulting in no favorable impact on protein loss (2).
In contrast to argan oil, coconut oil has very low amounts of tocopherols (vitamin E), with a concentration averaging 50ppm (1).
- Detangler for thick hair, dry hair, curly hair, and chemically treated hair.
- Increase hair strength for all types of hair
1.Gopala Krishna A.G. et al., “Coconut Oil: Chemistry, Production and Its Applications”, Indian Coconut journal 2007.
2. Rele AS, Mohile RB. “Effect of mineral oil, sunflower oil, and coconut oil on prevention of hair damage.” Journal Cosmetology Science 2003 March-April 54(2):175-92.
3. Sudhakar Maskhar et. al., “Hair breakage index: An alternative tool for damage assessment of human hair”, Journal Cosmetology Science 2011 March-April 62:203-207.