While some of the most potent hair care ingredients are developed in laboratories, many others are the product of nature. Organically powerful treatments are often pioneered by local communities and passed down through the generations. Many begin as medicinal ingredients and are later found to provide cosmetic benefits as well. Babassu oil is one such ingredient.
The babassu palm tree is native to South America and most commonly found in Northern Brazil. All parts of the plant are used for medicinal purposes, including the leaves, roots, and fruit. The healing power of babassu oil comes from its hydrating and anti-inflammatory properties, which also make it an excellent addition to hair and skincare formulations.
We turned to board-certified dermatologists Morgan Rabach, MD, and Lindsey Zubritsky, MD, for their take on this Brazilian superfood.
Meet the Expert
Could babassu oil be the answer to hair hydration and scalp irritation? Keep reading to learn the benefits of babassu oil for hair.
Babassu Oil for Hair
Type of ingredient: Hydrator and anti-inflammatory
Main benefits: Soothes inflammation, hydrates the hair and skin, and promotes skin healing
Who should use it: In general, anyone with damaged, dry, and brittle hair. Those with acne-prone or oily scalps typically should avoid applying oil to the hair and scalp, however, the lightweight nature of this oil makes it an exception.
How often can you use it: It’s safe to use a few times a week as needed for moisture. Monitor the scalp for greasiness and irritation.
Works well with: Other anti-inflammatory ingredients, such as tea tree oil
Don’t use with: There are no known ingredients that negatively interfere with babassu, but research has shown that babassu may interfere with thyroid function, so those with thyroid issues may want to consult their endocrinologist before use.
Benefits of Babassu Oil for Hair
In the parts of Brazil where the babassu tree grows, its harvest is the primary source of income for more than 300,000 people. The leaves and roots are used in a tea for pain and wound healing, while its fruits are used to help treat many ailments, including gastritis and conjunctivitis. Its medicinal powers are due largely to its antimicrobial, anti-inflammatory, and hydrating properties that lend themselves to healing skin cuts and infections.
When applied to the hair and scalp, babassu oil is able to bring moisture and healing to dry skin and strands. "When used on the scalp, it can reduce inflammation as well as soothe, protect, and moisturize," Zubritsky explains. She goes on to share that babassu oil is able to provide this as it is rich in healthy fatty acids like lauric and myristic acids. Rabach adds that it contains a high amount of vitamin E and other antioxidants, which help the scalp and hair repair damage from everyday toxins and stressors.
- Provides moisture to the scalp and hair: Both of our experts agree that babassu oil is a great natural hydrator for the hair and scalp. Zubritsky says it is actually a better alternative to the more widely known coconut oil, as it leaves hair less greasy and doesn't have an odor to it. She also shares that it is less comedogenic and thus less likely to induce scalp acne.
- Antioxidant and antimicrobial properties: Zubritsky points to babassu oil's antimicrobial properties as the reason it can help with wound healing and aid in hydrating the skin. One study even found that microemulsions of babassu oil can help to improve human immune system function.
- Reduces inflammation: Babassu oil has both cosmetic and medicinal uses due to its anti-inflammatory properties, says Zubritsky. Research has proven the anti-inflammatory power of babassu oil when applied topically. This is beneficial to the hair and scalp because inflammation of the scalp can contribute to many hair issues.
- Protects the scalp and hair: Babassu oil contains a high amount of vitamin E and other antioxidants which help the scalp and hair repair damage from everyday toxins and stressors, says Rabach. Zubritsky agrees, adding "when used on the scalp, it can reduce inflammation as well as soothe, protect, and moisturize."
- Boosts shine: The hydration provided by babassu oil helps to add moisture to the hair, resulting in shinier, healthier-looking locks, says Zubritsky.
Hair Type Considerations
Our experts agree that babassu oil is safe for all hair types, including color-treated hair. Both of our experts say that babassu oil is great for those with damaged, dry, and brittle hair.
However, they do mention consulting a doctor before using babassu, especially if you plan on ingesting it, as it does have the potential to interfere with thyroid function. "Eating babassu may impair thyroid function, so people with thyroid imbalances may want to check with endocrinologists about interactions," says Rabach.
How to Use Babassu Oil for Hair
As a lightweight oil, it is possible for almost anyone to use babassu oil without issue. Allergic reactions to babassu oil are uncommon, but a patch test should always be conducted before applying to the entire head. Babassu oil can be safely used once a week, or more often if needed for moisture. While some products do contain babassu oil, both of our experts said applying the oil directly to the hair and scalp is a great way to use it.
- Upgrade your existing shampoo: Give your current favorite shampoo a boost with a few drops of babassu oil. Simply mix a few drops in your hand with your shampoo before applying to the scalp.
- Use as a leave-in treatment: Due to its lightweight nature, Zubritsky says you can leave the oil in your hair. "I personally prefer to apply the oil directly to clean hair after washing and when hair is dry. It’s super lightweight so no rinsing is necessary and it takes about an hour to absorb. Apply a few drops to the hair shaft and work through."
- Use products that contain babassu oil: There are several products on the market that contain babassu oil. Zubritsky recommended the following:
What Is Babassu Oil?
Babassu oil comes from the babassu palm tree, which is native to South America and most commonly found in Northern Brazil.
Is Babassu Oil Heavy?
Reis MYFA, dos Santos SM, Silva DR, et al. Anti-inflammatory activity of babassu oil and development of a microemulsion system for topical delivery. Evid Based Complement Alternat Med. 2017;2017:3647801.
Gaitan E, Cooksey RC, Legan J, Lindsay RH, Ingbar SH, Medeiros-Neto G. Antithyroid effects in vivo and in vitro of babassu and mandioca: a staple food in goiter areas of Brazil. Eur J Endocrinol. 1994;131(2):138-144.
Santos JAA, da Silva JW, dos Santos SM, et al. In vitro and in vivo wound healing and anti-inflammatory activities of babassu oil(Attalea speciosa mart. Ex spreng. , arecaceae). Evid Based Complement Alternat Med. 2020;2020:8858291.
Barroqueiro ESB, Prado DS, Barcellos PS, et al. Immunomodulatory and antimicrobial activity of babassu mesocarp improves the survival in lethal sepsis. Evid Based Complement Alternat Med. 2016;2016:2859652.
Pessoa RS, França EL, Ribeiro EB, et al. Microemulsion of babassu oil as a natural product to improve human immune system function. Drug Des Devel Ther. 2014;9:21-31.