For many years coconut oil has been touted as a one size fits all product. Coconut oil has been hailed for its nutritional benefits and naturals around the world have been cooking with it and applying it all over the body. Many seek answers as to just how does coconut oil benefits the hair and with any product it all depends on your hair type.
Coconut oil is rich in antioxidants and fatty acids, it has been observed to have antiviral, anti-fungal, and antibacterial properties. Many have reported that coconut oil is able to improve hair dryness, improve scalp health, protect hair from protein loss, protect hair from UV exposure, fight infections and fungus, supports hair growth, and add volume and shine to the hair. Coconut oil is the richest natural source of medium-chain fatty acids. It has many c12 chains which are commonly known as lauric acid. The structure of these fatty acid chains allows the molecule to penetrate hair in ways that many other oils do not.
Nourishing oil treatments for hair have been used and proven beneficial for replenishing hair after stripping activities like shampooing and heat styling. Many of the commonly used oils are found to be universally beneficial but coconut oil is not always as beneficial to every hair type.
Just as there are different types of hair, ranging from curly to straight, there are different levels of porosity. Porosity refers to the ability of the hair to absorb and retain water. There is a range of porosity that the hair can be, ranging from low to high.
To determine the porosity level of the hair there are generally three methods to try:
1) Examine different hair from varying areas of the head by sliding the thumb and fingers up the hair shaft. If the hair feels very hard and dense the hair is most likely low in porosity, but if the hair feels rough or breaks then the hair is high in porosity. Normal porosity allows the fingers to glide up the strand with no issues.
2) Place a hair that has shed into some water. If the hair floats the hair has low porosity if the hair sinks the hair is high in porosity.
3) To assess the hairs overall porosity, spritz small sections of the hair and observe the reaction of the hair. If the water is absorbed quickly the hair has high porosity, and if the water sits on the head then the hair is low in porosity.
Understanding the hair’s porosity is important to determine what amount of coconut oil works best for your hair type. The porosity levels of the hair correlate with the hair’s ability to absorb the protein loving lauric acid. Highly porous hair can’t take too much of the lauric acid causing a buildup within the hair shaft which will, in turn, block the hair shaft’s ability to absorb moisture. The hair over time will become even drier and brittle, directly deflecting from the original intention of adding the oil to the hair. If the hair becomes more brittle and stiff the hair loses its elasticity making the hair more prone to breaking and damage.
Determining the porosity of the hair directly correlates to the amount of the coconut oil that should be applied to the hair. For hair that is highly porous, coconut oil should be applied very sparingly, and mostly within products. It is not recommended to apply pure coconut oil to highly porous hair. When purchasing products, coconut should be near the end of the ingredient list and be used in conjunction with products specifically designed to address highly porous hair. Hair that is low in porosity may find that coconut oil is very beneficial and helpful in moisturizing the hair. This hair type can use coconut oil directly on the hair or within products. Products found on the store shelves that have coconut oil as the main ingredient most likely work well for low porous hair.
There are best practices to consider when utilizing coconut oil. Coconut oil has been thought of as beneficial to those experiencing issues with dandruff. Coconut oil’s ability to penetrate skin barriers makes it more prone to clogging the pores of the scalp and skin. It isn’t recommended applying coconut oil directly to the scalp. Users should start with very small amounts of coconut oil and then add more if the desired effect isn’t achieved. The addition of coconut oils to other ingredients like honey or yogurt has demonstrated a more beneficial effect than using the oil alone. Coconut oil is overwhelmingly concentrated in nutrients and other beneficial compounds that help greatly with digestive health and overall health. Healthy hair is not isolated from the rest of the body. The state of the hair is contingent on the state of the person’s overall health.
Sources: ROBBINS, CLARENCE R. Chemical and Physical Behavior of Human Hair. 5th ed., SPRINGER, 2016. Leidamarie, Leidamarie. “Helix Magazine.” The Science of Curls | Helix Magazine, 20 May 2014, helix.northwestern.edu/blog/2014/05/science-curls.