I recently went on a family vacation to the Hawaiian island of Kauai, where I couldn't help but notice that the local women had the most stunning hair I'd ever seen. Perhaps I'd been staring at the bleach-blond lobs of Los Angeles for too long, but it was hard not to double-take at the blindingly shiny, waist-length hair of Hawaiian women. Hawaii has an incredibly rich, unique culture that I admire due to its reverence for art and nature, and I figured this had to inform the islands' haircare traditions, so I got in touch with a few Hawaiian beauty experts to learn how.
"In the Hawaiian culture, long hair is considered feminine and sexy, and it’s not out of the ordinary to have hair past your waist," explained Kiana Cabell, co-founder and creative director of Hawaiian beauty brand Kopari. To get there, Hawaiian women primarily use natural ingredients sourced from the islands. They also keep in mind that "whatever is good for your skin tends to be good for your hair," said Hawaiian-raised model Vanessa Armenio. "And food plays a massive role."
Keep reading to learn exactly what Hawaiians do to get their long, healthy, glossy hair.
1. Coconut is a multitasking miracle
Every Hawaiian I spoke to agreed that coconut is at the center of their beauty routine. "It's rich in fatty acids to help keep hair hydrated, strong, and glossy," said Cabell. Coconut oil or milk can be used as a conditioner, overnight treatment, nourishing oil, and beyond. It's basically a miracle of nature. "After a long day spent in the sun or in the salt water, I scoop out a very generous amount of coconut oil, massage it into my hair from root to tip, and then sleep with it overnight," said Cabell.
Armenio does a similar thing with coconut milk whenever her strands need a pick-me-up. "For a deep treatment, I massage warm coconut milk into my hair and scalp, tie it up, and leave in on overnight," she told us. "I rinse it out the following morning, and my hair feels amazing!"
2. Brushing your scalp stimulates hair growth
Hair that falls past your waist is highly sought-after in Hawaii, and massaging your scalp each night is one way to get it. "A simple tip Hawaiians use to help get long, gorgeous locks is scalp brushing," said Cabell. "This technique helps to stimulate hair growth, giving girls the coveted look of long, shiny strands."
According to blogger Clair Christine of the Hawaiian Beauty Diaries, you can even have your scalp brushed professionally. "My favorite place to do this is at Ulupono Academy, a Paul Mitchell beauty school salon, in Kaimuki, Oahu," she said. "It's really inexpensive. … Students will use a hair brush to brush your scalp in sections… [This will] invigorate your scalp and hair follicles and exfoliate the skin."
3. Fresh herbs make the best hair treatments
According to Maryna Kracht, founder of Hawaiian skincare brand Mahalo, many of the most beloved haircare ingredients on Hawaii are "derived from the nature and botanicals available on the islands." (Kracht uses many local ingredients in her skincare line, as well—her hydrating The Petal Mask, $95, is divine.)
Looking for a foolproof Hawaiian haircare recipe? Hawaiian blogger Ms Toi swears by a DIY hair tonic that her mother used to make from the ingredients in her garden. "Each of the ingredients she used have been shown to promote hair growth and nourish the scalp for strong, healthy hair," said Toi.
To create Toi's tried-and-true hair growth tonic, simmer one tablespoon each of sage, horsetail, nettle, and lavender in a pot of boiling water for 30 minutes. Let the solution cool, and then strain it. Add eight drops of lavender essential oil ($12), and then pour the liquid into a spray bottle. Store it in the fridge between uses.
4. Awapuhi is the key to glossy strands
Awapuhi is a plant from the ginger and turmeric family that "helps keep hair glossy and frizz-free," said Cabell. Hawaiian women have been using the plant for hundreds of years, but it's now widely available thanks to Paul Mitchell's Awapuhi line. We recommend the brand's treatment oil, which enhances shine and controls frizz.
5. Protecting your hair from the elements is essential
To Hawaiians, sun protection is as important for the hair as it is for the skin. Apply conditioner to your hair and putting it in a braid before heading outside, especially if you're going to the beach, to block UV damage.
Hawaiian blogger Earth Andy says, "the purpose is to shield your hair from the water and salt to keep your hair from drying out! Nothing dries your hair out faster than salt water and sun."
6. Kukui oil is haircare's unsung hero
Everyone's heard of coconut oil, but what about kukui oil? Hawaiians say it's one of the most versatile, treasured beauty oils on the islands. "The kukui oil nut tree is the official tree of Hawaii and used for both hair and skincare nourishment," Kracht told us. "It offers protection and recovery from sun damage and has been used in beauty rituals for women for hundreds of years." Kukui's fatty acids strengthen and nourish the hair shaft, leaving it ultra shiny. "Massaging kukui oil into the hair will also protect from long days in the sun and salt from the ocean," said Kracht.
7. Strong, fast-growing hair starts from within
Above all else, a whole food diet full of plants and fresh seafood is the key to Hawaiians' healthy hair. "A diet full of nutrients and hydration is going to do wonders for hair just like it does for your nails, your glowing skin, and bright eyes!" said Earth Andy. "My hair has never grown faster, been stronger, or healthier since being consistent with a healthful diet."
The island girl's diet is especially rich in tropical fruits, like "coconut (both the meat, as well as the coconut milk), papaya, and pineapple," added Armenio. "Those foods are excellent at moisturizing and adding lots of shine to hair."
Poljšak N, Kočevar Glavač N. Vegetable Butters and Oils as Therapeutically and Cosmetically Active Ingredients for Dermal Use: A Review of Clinical Studies. Front Pharmacol. 2022 Apr 25;13:868461. doi: 10.3389/fphar.2022.868461