We can sing coconut oil's praises for days. When it comes to the hardest-working multitasking oils in the game, not many can compete with its reputation for solving so many ailments. You can apply coconut oil to swiftly remove makeup, revive brittle hair, hydrate your dry skin, strengthen your nail cuticles, whiten your teeth, grow out your brows, and more.
I've kept a bottle of Trader Joe's Organic Virgin Coconut Oil close by for years. Growing up with severe eczema, I relied on this all-natural oil to soothe my inflamed, dry skin and haven't been able to put it down since. I also love slathering it on my lips at night (especially in the winter) and waking up to a supple, smooth pout.
To no surprise, coconut oil is equally effective on your hair and is featured in some of our favorite dry shampoos. I have naturally curly, textured hair, so coconut oil has saved my dry strands many times. When it comes to natural hair, the biggest ailment is dryness year-round. Coconut oil is ultra-moisturizing and soothing to the scalp. According to a review of the health effects of coconut oil published in the Journal of the American College of Nutrition, "Coconut oil products may also be useful in preventing hair damage due to protein loss during grooming processes and ultraviolet (UV) exposure; however, more studies are needed to confirm this effect." Want to know more? We reached out to the experts for their take on this precious oil.
Meet the Expert
- Shari Marchbein, MD, is a board-certified dermatologist in New York City who specializes in adult female acne. While operating her practice, Marchbein also lectures on acne and rosacea and is an Assistant Professor of Clinical Dermatology at NYU School of Medicine.
- Elizabeth Tanzi, MD, is a board-certified dermatologist and the founder and director of Capital Laser & Skin Care.
- Nunzio Saviano is the owner of Nunzio Saviano Salon in New York, NY. With over 20 years of experience, Saviano has been featured in New York Magazine's "Best of New York" for his personalized and innovative approach to hair.
Keep reading for all the tricks for applying coconut oil to hair. You're going to want to know this for the next time your locks need a re-up.
Coconut Oil for Hair
Type of Ingredient: Hydrator
Main Benefits: Moisturizes and may strengthen the hair
Who Should Use It: Those with extremely dry and/or curly hair will most benefit from using coconut oil.
How Often Can You Use It: Depending on how dry your hair is, you can use coconut oil one to three times per week.
Works Well With: Coconut oil works well to restore moisture to the hair after a protein treatment.
Benefits of Coconut Oil for Hair
Of the thousands of supposed uses, coconut oil has been crowned the beauty ingredient of the century. That's because of its many benefits.
- Moisturizing: Besides the fact that it's so accessible (and attainable), coconut oil is packed with healthy omega-3 fatty acids along with vitamin E, making it an ideal ingredient for treating dry hair (or skin).
- Repairs damage: As proven, coconut oil is deeply hydrating for your hair. I swear by massaging a dollop of coconut oil into my roots down to the ends of my naturally curly hair. It leaves a subtle shine, and my hair feels moisturized for long periods of time.
- Improves the overall health of the hair: "Coconut oil can help to strengthen hair and nourish the scalp (as well as reduce oil buildup," Marchbein says.
Hair Type Considerations
Anyone with dry, dehydrated hair may benefit from applying coconut oil. But keep in mind that coconut oil is, well, oily. If you have particularly thin or naturally oily hair, coconut oil may weigh your hair down or further overwhelm your scalp and hair with oils. Our experts agree that those with extremely dry, curly, or natural hair will most benefit from using coconut oil.
Can You Use Coconut Oil for Hair Growth?
According to Marchbein, coconut oil doesn't directly affect hair growth, though it might provide benefits that improve the health of your hair overall. "We've all heard about how good coconut oil is for our health, hair, and skin. But can it actually be useful for growing hair? The answer is both yes and no," she says. "There are no credible studies at this point linking the use of coconut oil to faster hair growth."
However, she notes that while it won't have the same effects as Minoxidil (which is more colloquially known as Rogaine), coconut oil can help to strengthen hair and nourish the scalp. "By reducing hair breakage, the hair is less brittle and can appear healthier," she says. This may indirectly expedite the lengthening of your hair, as less breakage might result in longer strands over time.
How to Use Coconut Oil On Your Hair
Saviano recommends using coconut oil before washing—so you can reap the benefits and still get all the residue out. More specifically, don't try it in the morning because it takes time to soak up, and your hair can end up looking greasy. "The best time to use coconut oil is at night, and it works best on dry hair," Saviano says. "I recommend warming the coconut oil so it becomes liquified and rubbing it in your hands to lather on the ends of your hair. You want the coconut oil to be warm (not hot) to open the hair cuticles, which allows the molecules to penetrate the hair."
Ways to Use Coconut Oil in the Hair
There are several ways to use coconut oil in hair. You can work a very small amount of it into the ends of your hair after showering as a detangler or daily moisturizer for very dry hair. Alternately, you can use coconut oil as a refresher. On day two or three of curly styles, when you don't have time to start all over with wash day, just lather a generous amount from root to tip of your curls. The shine and hydration factor is next-level.
One of the most preferred ways to use coconut oil, however, is as a hair treatment. Just follow the steps below.
- It's best to part your hair and apply the coconut oil in manageable sections to be sure that every hair is coated.
- Apply more coconut oil to wherever your strands are the driest and most damaged (typically on the ends) and less where your hair is healthiest (mid-shaft and scalp area). If your hair is thin or gets greasy easily, you can skip the scalp so the oil doesn't weigh your hair down.
- Allow the coconut oil to sit on your hair for 20 to 30 minutes after application. If your hair is very dry or porous, you can leave it on longer; some people like to use it as an overnight treatment.
- To increase its effectiveness, cover your hair with a shower cap, and wrap it up in a hot towel fresh from the dryer, or apply heat with a hairdryer for a few minutes to open up the cuticle and help the oil penetrate deeper into the strands.
- If using the coconut oil as a hair mask, you'll need to thoroughly rinse the oil out of your hair after the treatment, which might take a couple of wash-rinse cycles. For best results, you'll need to experiment with the amount of coconut oil you use and how long to allow the oil to penetrate. If the coconut oil leaves your hair feeling weighed down or greasy, try using less of it or shampooing more at the end of your treatment.
Coconut Oil vs. Other Oils
Coconut oil is extremely nourishing, so it's better at repairing dry, brittle strands than some other oils, like argan or rosemary (which have their own benefits). Plus, you can use it on dry or wet hair, depending on whether you want a finishing product or something more moisturizing.
The ability to deeply penetrate the hair shaft comes from the many fatty acids found in coconut oil, like lauric acid. Some studies have even shown that coconut oil can be an effective agent in terms of increasing the strength of hair fibers, so regular use could yield less breakage and shedding.
The Drawbacks of Using Coconut Oil in Hair
The downside of using coconut oil in the hair is that, well, it's oily—so strands might be getting much-needed moisture, but they could feel weighed down in the process. The trick is to not use it too often and to thoroughly rinse it out after you've applied and let it work its magic. This could require several washings, so maybe don't do a coconut oil treatment right before a big event.
Our Favorite Coconut Oil Products for Hair
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How do you apply coconut oil to your hair?
Rub coconut oil between your hands to warm it up until the viscosity becomes spreadable. Focus on applying the product to your ends as a leave-in treatment or a moisturizing mask.
Can coconut oil help with hair growth?
According to Marchbein, coconut oil will not stimulate hair growth. However, coconut oil may make your hair stronger and less prone to breakage, which can lead to the appearance of faster growth.
Do you put coconut oil on wet or dry hair?
If you plan on just using a little (and only enough to smooth out flyaways), you can apply coconut oil to dry hair. Otherwise, if you want to use it as a conditioning treatment, apply it to damp hair, so it can better absorb the oil.
In vitro anti-inflammatory and skin protective properties of Virgin coconut oil. Journal of Traditional and Complementary Medicine. 2019;9(1):5-14.
Wallace TC. Health effects of coconut oil-a narrative review of current evidence. J Am Coll Nutr. 2019;38(2):97–107. doi:10.1080/07315724.2018.1497562
Rele AS, Mohile RB. Effect of mineral oil, sunflower oil, and coconut oil on prevention of hair damage. J Cosmet Sci. 2003;54(2):175-192.