This Niche Culinary Oil Makes My Hair Look and Feel Amazing


Liz deSousa for BYRDIE

For nearly a decade now, coconut oil has been touted as the answer for health issues ranging from boosting metabolism to fighting candida. While some of its claims hold up considerably more than others in relation to ingesting it, it has become a mainstay in hair care, where it’s applied topically, for its proven ability to penetrate the hair shaft. There’s some pretty complex math and science about the exact extent to which coconut oil is absorbed into hair, but the TLDR version is, simply, a lot

What exactly are the benefits of an oil that lands inside hair strands, versus other oils that sit on top of them? Oils that sit on your hair make your hair feel greasy pretty quickly, whereas oils that absorb into it add shine without you actually feeling it when you run your hands through your hair. What this leads to is manifold: Coconut oil can protect your hair from damage, and can prevent protein loss, meaning it can make your hair stronger. It’s great for your scalp—it's antifungal, can help fight dandruff, and it can also increase hair growth. Coconut oil is high in medium chain triglycerides, aka MCTs, which refers to the length of its fatty acid chains. (Fatty acid chains can be short, medium, or long.) It’s composed of three main acids: lauric, capric, and caprylic. Studying coconut oil for hair is so new that no one seems to have yet broken down which acids do what in relation to your hair, and only lauric acid has been studied on the topic. 

Because coconut oil is proven to be safe for hair, it can be found in products ranging from conditioners to styling creams. It’s often used alone by those with thicker and/or curlier strands, as curlier hair tends to need more added moisture than straight. So, if it’s so great, why search for something better? I branched out into my new find because, thanks to the multiple curl patterns I have on my head, coconut oil makes my curlier bits glow but weighs down my looser waves. I wanted an oil that would absorb even more fully and that doesn’t cost over $10 an ounce like Argan oil does (which I’ve had mixed results with anyway). 

What Is MCT Oil?

One day while in my pantry mixing up a Manuka honey mask, which has helped my dry scalp significantly, I poked around for an oil that would be easier to wash out than the usual olive I use. I pulled out a bottle of Brain Octane Oil, a Bulletproof brand version of MCT oil that contains only the caprylic acid element of the coconut oil it’s made from. MCT oil is created by extracting out only the medium chain triglycerides from coconut oil, leaving chained acids of other lengths behind. People who are into biohacking claim that capric and caprylic acids fuel your cells better than lauric acid does, and that they help your body stay in ketosis, something that’s important for keto dieters.

The feelings about caprylic and capric acid being super to lauric are strong: On his blog, Dave Asprey says, “MCT oil metabolizes very differently than any other saturated or even polyunsaturated fat. It does not get processed by the liver, and does not easily get stored as fat. The one exception is lauric acid, the cheapest and most commonly available MCT oil, which acts like other saturated fats. That’s why it’s important that you find the best MCT oil you can get your hands on – one that is derived from coconut, not palm, and made in the U.S.”

oil dropper

Liz deSousa for BYRDIE

What Are the Benefits of MCT Oil for Hair?

In trying MCT oil for my hair mask, my thought was that since coconut oil absorbs well into hair maybe MCT oil would too. Minutes later, after applying the mask I was shocked that the oil had literally dissolved completely into my hair, leaving only manuka honey on top of it. After washing, I decided to apply it to my wet hair to see what would happen. The result? The shiniest hair I’ve ever had, and without the slightest hint of grease. 

The Science

I’ve gone hunting for the reason why caprylic acids enable MCT oil to absorb into hair seemingly far more than coconut oil does, but, as mentioned, no one has studied this subject at all in regards to separating out the fatty acids and seeing which exactly do what to hair. The most I’ve found is documentation that caprylic and capric triglycerides should penetrate hair well, and even finding that took considerable sleuthing. I also found this chart that details exactly how much of each type of fatty acid MCT oil and coconut oils are composed of.

In terms of lauric acid and whether you should make sure to use an MCT oil on your hair that doesn’t contain it, being the longest chain of its category it often isn’t even considered an MCT, but rather an LCT (long chain triglyceride). Any reputable brand of MCT oil will be capric, caprylic, or both, and the label should give percentages of each. 

Freshly Washed vs. Several Days Post-Wash

woman with curly hair
Ariane Resnick

The Results

MCT oil has been my mainstay hair product for months now, and I love that I can apply it days after washing for a refresh and it still won’t make my hair look oily. (When I’ve put coconut oil on my hair, I’ve always had to wash it the next day because even if I applied it on my wash day it was greasy the day following.) I did a full DIY black-to-platinum bleaching in order to dye my hair a light mauve, dusty-pink color, and magically experienced no breakage.

It’s been a month since, and you’d never know in touching my soft and shockingly shiny hair that it’s naturally frizzy, dull, and dry, let alone that it went through a many-level bleaching weeks ago. It has also wholly eliminated the patch of dry scalp that manuka honey helped significantly but could never fully rid me of over the months I used it. I’m also able to style my hair by wetting it mere moments after applying MCT oil, which would be impossible if the oil were sitting on top of my hair strands at all, as oil repels water.

If your hair errs on the dry side, I can’t encourage MCT oil enough to transform it into a healthier looking and feeling mane that you ever thought possible. 

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