All the Benefits of Coconut Oil for Hair, According to a Dermatologist

Plus, how to use coconut oil for hair care, depending on your hair type because it's not a one-size-fits-all approach.

Hair Health Hotline: Coconut Oil For Hair
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Hair Health Hotline is your direct access to dermatologists, trichologists, hairstylists, and other beauty pros. Each story in this series tackles a common hair or scalp concern and offers science-backed solutions to care for your strands.

Of all the plant-based oils out there, coconut oil has to be one of the most controversial varieties. Nutrition experts have gone back and forth on whether it deserves the label "healthy" due to its saturated fat content. Skin experts are divided as to whether the ingredient is useful or detrimental in the fight against acne, and oil pulling with coconut oil is either unproductive or the secret to white teeth, depending on who you ask.

The topic of coconut oil as a hair-care ingredient is just as polarizing. While some people slather their strands in the stuff, others claim that it's really unsuited to hair. Before you take sides, find out what Joyce Park, M.D., a board-certified dermatologist at Skin Refinery and creator of Tea with MD, has to say about potential coconut oil benefits for hair.

Q: I've noticed that a lot of people use coconut oil for DIY hair recipes, but I thought I remembered hearing that it's actually bad for hair. What does coconut oil do for your hair health, if anything?

A: Coconut oil has moisturizing, anti-inflammatory, and anti-microbial properties that make it beneficial to hair, but it's not suited for all hair types, according to Dr. Park.

The makeup of coconut oil sets it apart from other oils. "The special combination of fatty acids in coconut oil make it unique," says Dr. Park "Palmitic and myristic acids help with moisturizing the skin, and the lauric acid helps with anti-inflammatory and anti-microbial benefits." Coconut oil's molecular structure makes it better able to penetrate hair strands compared to mineral and sunflower oils, according to an article in the Journal of Cosmetic Science.

Hair Health Hotline: Coconut Oil For Hair
Courtesy of Joyce Park

Is Coconut Oil Good for Your Hair?

Like other oils, coconut oil can help lock in moisture, which is key for avoiding dry hair. Applied to the lengths of your hair, coconut oil can strengthen and condition your strands, according to Dr. Park. Due to coconut oil's ability to help trap moisture, it's commonly used in the Ayurvedic tradition of hair oiling, which TikTok users have started referring to as "hair slugging." The practice involves coating hair in oil ahead of washing it to lock in moisture and prevent split ends from worsening.

Applying coconut oil to your scalp can be beneficial as well, according to Dr. Park. "It is great at locking in moisture, even for those with eczema-prone, dry, or sensitive skin," she says. The antimicrobial properties of the lauric acid in its composition may benefit the microbiome of the scalp skin, she says.

A few caveats: Some experts caution that applying coconut oil to the scalp could worsen dandruff, since a type of yeast that can cause dandruff feeds off of lauric acid, as Shape previously reported. Coconut oil also has a tendency to clog pores and may create a build-up that can result in scalp acne.

And if you're looking for an ingredient that can promote hair growth, it's best to look elsewhere, according to Dr. Park. "While [coconut oil] can help to strengthen hairs and reduce breakage, there are better remedies that grow thicker, fuller hair," she says. They include "oral or topical medications such as Minoxidil or spironolactone, ingredients such as rosemary oil or saw palmetto, and procedures such as PRP [platelet-rich plasma]." It's best to visit a dermatologist if you're experiencing hair loss to figure out the underlying cause, she says.

The properties of coconut oil make it best suited for those with dry or curly hair, says Dr. Park. It's less suited for people with oily scalps or fine hair, who tend to find that the oil weighs down their hair or leaves their scalp feeling greasy, she explains.

How to Use Coconut Oil for Hair

Depending on your preferences, you can opt to buy a hair product containing coconut oil or use pure coconut oil. To choose the best coconut oil for hair, look for the word "virgin" on the label, recommends Dr. Park. "These forms [of coconut oil] contain a higher content of medium chain triglycerides [e.g. lauric acid] than processed products, and have more nutrients and are less prone to oxidation," she says.

The best way to use coconut oil will depend on your hair type. "If you tend to have [a] dry scalp and hair, I recommend using coconut oil two to three times per week, massaging a thin layer into the scalp and hair and letting it sit for 20 minutes prior to washing it off," says Dr. Park. If you have an oily scalp, on the other hand, avoid your scalp and apply the coconut oil to the lengths of your hair when it feels like it's in need of moisture, says Dr. Park. "Apply one to two teaspoons of coconut oil to your hair inches away from your scalp and massage through the strands to the ends," she recommends.

There are a slew of other types of oils with their own unique properties to consider if you're still not sold. But given that coconut oil is so convenient — it's cheap and easy to find, and a little goes a long way — you don't have much to lose by trying it.

Have a hair health question you want answered? Send your Q to for a chance to have it featured in a future installment of Hair Health Hotline.

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