For nearly a decade now, coconut oil has been touted as the answer for everything from boosting metabolism to fighting candida. While some of its claims hold up considerably better than others when it comes to ingesting it, coconut oil has become a mainstay in haircare, where it’s applied topically and proven to penetrate the hair shaft. There’s some pretty complex math and science about the exact extent to which coconut oil is absorbed into the hair, but the TLDR version is, simply, a lot. But there's a newer kid on the block by the name of MCT oil.
What is MCT Oil?
Medium-chain triglyceride oil (MCT oil) is a substance that is found naturally in coconut oil, palm kernel oil, dairy products (milk, cheese), and even breast milk. It is a type of saturated fat that is extracted by processing coconut or palm kernel oils.
If you're in the keto world, you may have heard of using MCT oil to cook food or add to a smoothie, but there are also many benefits to adding it to your hair routine. So, is it all hype, or is there truth to the claims? We've consulted with a dermatologist and trichologist to help us get all the details.
Meet the Expert
Keep reading to learn all about MCT oil for hair and how it can help you get the soft and shiny hair of your dreams.
Type of ingredient: Deep conditioner, moisturizer.
Main benefits: Tames dandruff, lightweight feel, decreases frizz, has antibacterial and antimicrobial properties.
Who should use it: MCT oil is great for all hair types, but those with dry, curly hair might benefit more from it.
How often can you use it: You can use MCT oil as often as needed, however, people with thin hair might want to scale back.
Works well with: Other hydrating ingredients, like aloe vera.
Don’t use with: There are no known ingredients that MCT oil counteracts with.
Benefits of MCT Oil for Hair
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 may add shine without you actually feeling the oil when you run your hands through your hair.
- Strengthens hair: Coconut oil, which contains MCTs, can protect your hair from damage and can prevent protein loss, meaning it can make your hair stronger.
- Scalp health: It’s anti-fungal and might help to increase hair growth.
- Lightweight feel: MCT-heavy oils like coconut actually penetrate the hair shaft instead of sitting on your strands, giving it a lightweight feel.
- Adds shine: If your hair is dry, MCT oil may give your hair shine and a healthy-looking appearance.
- Can relieve dandruff: Itchy scalp and dandruff? Well, MCT oil may help get your scalp back in healthy condition. "It has been shown to relieve dandruff and act as a natural moisturizer," Chambers-Harris says.
Hair Type Considerations
Coconut oil is proven to be safe for all hair, and 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. If your hair is on the dry side of the spectrum, you'll find that MCT oil helps give your hair shine and moisture, without weighing it down. If your hair tends to get oily easily, use MCT oil sparingly and only on the ends of your hair, avoiding the roots.
MCT Oil vs Coconut Oil
MCT oil is created by extracting only the medium-chain triglycerides from coconut oil, leaving chained acids of other lengths behind. "MCT stands for medium-chain triglycerides which are found naturally in coconuts, coconut oil, and palm kernel oil," says Chambers-Harris.
MCT oil is usually 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 so far.
There are theories stating that caprylic acids might enable MCT oil to absorb into hair better 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.
So that brings us to lauric acid. In terms of lauric acid, there’s debate over whether it should be included in MCT oil. It’s the longest chain of its category and 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.
Is MCT oil better than coconut oil for your hair? Fishman says she prefers coconut oil as you have to refine coconut oil or palm oil to get the MCT oil. "I'm not a fan of palm oil for environmental reasons," she says. "While MCT is 100 percent medium-chain triglycerides, coconut oil is about 50-55 percent medium-chain triglycerides. But on the other hand, coconut oil is less processed and less expensive."
The bottom line is if you are cooking for a keto diet, then MCT oil is your best bet. If you want a moisturizing hair treatment, you can use pure MCT oil or coconut oil (or hair products with coconut oil) as they are just as effective.
How to Use MCT Oil for Hair
MCT oil is typically used on its own, however, there are many hair care products that are infused with coconut oil. If you're a DIY kinda person, you can use MCT oil in the following ways:
- Massage it directly into the scalp: You can take a couple of tablespoons of MCT oil and apply it directly to your scalp. Massage it in until it’s been absorbed.
- Use on dry ends: If your hair’s ends need a little TLC, simply rub a couple of drops through your ends, using a prayer-hands motion.
- Make a hair mask: Mix MCT oil with half of an avocado and a tablespoon of honey to tame frizz and add shine.
- Add to your conditioner: If you want a great deep conditioner treatment, add a few drops of MCT oil to your conditioner, then rinse as usual.
The Best Products With MCT Oil
Most hair products contain coconut oil (which contains MCTs) instead of pure MCT oil. These products are very effective in helping you get shiny and healthy-looking hair. If you want to use pure MCT oil to use on your hair and scalp as described above, make sure you are getting it from a reputable source.
Nature’s Way Organic MCT Oil is one good choice, as it is made purely from coconuts and does not contain palm oils or other filler oils. It is 100 percent pure odorless MCT oil, which is ideal to use to moisturize your hair and scalp.
Briogeo Farewell Frizz has coconut oil, along with rosehip and argan oil for a lightweight finish. This nourishing oil is a great choice for treating dull hair and sealing in moisture.
Soothe dry, damaged, and brittle hair with this rich oil blend that contains coconut oil, kalahari melon seed oil, and Virtue's Alpha Keratin 60ku blend designed to repair the hair shaft.
SheaMoisture’s Daily Hydration Leave-In Conditioner is made of 100 percent virgin coconut oil to help moisturize, detangle and defrizz your hair. Simply spray on wet hair, comb through, and style as usual for healthy, shiny hair.
For those looking to get all the benefits of MCT oil in a shampoo, Bumble and bumble Creme De Coco is a good option. This shampoo contains coconut extract, kukui nut oil, and murumuru butter. Reviewers loved the coconut scent and its superior ability to provide hydration and shine.
How do you get MCT oil out of your hair?
How do you use MCT oil for dandruff?
MCT oil has been shown to have both antimicrobial and anti-fungal effects, which may help treat dandruff. Apply a few tablespoons of MCT oil or coconut oil directly on the scalp and let it sit for 3-5 minutes before rinsing out.
What can I mix MCT oil with to make my own hair mask?
For a moisturizing treatment, mix it with avocado and honey or olive oil. If your hair tends to get greasy, mix apple cider vinegar with MCT oil and use it as a mask or conditioning rinse. You can also mix MCT oil or coconut oil with jojoba oil and essential oils for a hydrating mask for shine.
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