DIY ways to use the pantry staple—plus products that make use of coconut oil for healthy, shiny locks.
Photo: Getty Images / Povareshka
It's no secret that spending 10 bucks on coconut oil can go a long way in the kitchen. But even if you're not a fan of eating it (after all, the jury is out on just how healthy it really is), when it comes to your beauty routine, you can keep on keeping on because this stuff is the ultimate luxury for your strands. (And yes, we've been known to slather it all over our bodies, too!)
Why? Coconut oil has fatty acids that are more easily absorbed into hair, providing essential moisture more naturally. Recent studies, including this one, show that coconut oil helps protect hair because it's able to seep into the hair cuticle (the hair's outermost layer) and cortex (the hair's middle layer). An older study also concluded the sweet-smelling oil was better than sunflower and mineral oil at strengthening hair—one of the reasons it makes this list of five natural ingredients that can work wonders on your hair.
"Coconut oil can have a range of benefits for scalp and hair because of its unique range of natural lipids," agrees Beverly Hills dermatologist Ava Shamban, M.D. "But it's not for everyone," she adds. For one, just like applying oils to your face, too much directly on your scalp may clog pores and cause an oily scalp. (Related: Why You Should Treat Your Scalp to a Detox)
Additionally, while its conditioning properties can make hair more resistant to breakage, over-using food grade coconut oil may weigh down your hair and leave it feeling "brittle and hard," cautions Philip Berkovitz, founder of Philip B. Botanicals. In most instances, "coarse, thick, dry, or unruly strands" will see the most benefit, he says. (If your hair is on the fine side, check out the coconut oil–based products below.)
To make sure that coconut oil is right for you, Dr. Shamban recommends trying a patch test, and "using moderate amounts once a week to measure your reaction." Once you're in the clear, try these hacks to get the most out of your jar of coconut oil:
Start a weekly Indian-inspired hair oiling ritual.
Coconut oil is a staple for women in South Asia and throughout the Middle East and is often used prior to washing with shampoo. Try a version of the traditional hot oil massage (sometimes called champi or shiro abhyanga) by massaging oil into your hair rather than the scalp. To do the Ayurveda-inspired ritual, rub oil into your hair while massaging your scalp. Use your palms and fingers to do a deep scalp massage for about 10 to 15 minutes. Leave on for another 15 minutes. Then rinse out the oil with conditioner before washing your hair the next day. In some instances, coconut oil's soothing properties help prevent dandruff and dry flakes, says Dr. Shamban.
Use it to tame frizz.
Coconut oil is made almost entirely from saturated fat, which makes it effective against frizz in even the tiniest amounts. If using as a styling product, stick to applying it on your ends for a midday de-frizz or apply throughout your hair before heat styling. "Oil can be used to restore the ends, which receive the least nourishment from the natural oils of the scalp," adds Dr. Shamban. Skip the roots to prevent hair from looking weighed down.
Try a DIY hair mask.
Try an at-home treatment by blending coconut oil with a carrier oil such as olive almond oil and a few drops of French lavender. Then add yogurt, which has lactic acid to get rid of dead skin cells, says Berkovitz. "It's great at helping to clean the scalp, clearing away dead cells and paving the way for optimal growth," he adds. (Related: DIY Hair Masks to Treat Dry, Brittle Strands)
Sleep on it.
If your hair (and scalp) are on the dryer side and need deep conditioning, use coconut oil as an overnight treatment. Separate combed hair into sections and coat with coconut oil from roots to ends. Keep hair braided or wrapped in a towel and sleep on an old pillowcase in case of oil stains. Just be sure to shampoo twice in the morning so strands aren't left looking greasy and to ensure that the residue doesn't irritate or clog your scalp, Dr. Shamban adds.
Products to Try
Skittish about using the coconut oil straight from the supermarket aisle? Luckily there are a host of new products where coconut oil is one of the main ingredients but are formulated in a way that won't weigh down hair or clog the scalp. Conditioners, shampoos, and leave-in creams can all take advantage of coconut oil's moisturizing properties without leaving hair oily.
Briogeo's Scalp Revival Charcoal and Coconut Oil Micro-exfoliating Shampoo is basically a scalp scrub and cleanser in one. The scrub cleanses your hair of impurities with charcoal while coconut oil has a moisturizing effect. (Buy It, $42, sephora.com)
Leave-In Treatment: OGX's Quenching Coconut Curls Curling Butter makes for a lightweight conditioning treatment that smells just like a beach vacation. It also works as a styling product in a pinch. (Buy It, $8, ulta.com)
Hot Oil Bliss: St. Tropica's Coconut Hot Oil Hair Mask comes in single-use pouches to cut down on the oily mess. The cold-pressed oil is blended with biotin, hibiscus, and green tea to give hair a boost. Heat up the mixture before applying. (Buy It, $15 for 3 masks, amazon.com)
Sleeping Treatment: Sephora Collection Coconut Hair Sleeping Mask is designed to be left in overnight so you can wake up with softer tresses in the a.m. The mask comes with a cap so the oil can be absorbed into hair while you sleep. (Buy It, $5, sephora.com)