This Niche Culinary Oil Makes My Hair Look and Feel Amazing

oil bottles and comb

Liz deSousa for BYRDIE

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.

I branched out into using 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 didn’t cost over $10 an ounce like argan oil does (which I’ve had mixed results with anyway). So, I decided to try out MCT oil. Read on for my findings and thoughts.

MCT Oil

Type of ingredient: Deep conditioner, moisturizer.

Main benefits: Tames dandruff, lightweight feel, decreases frizz, has antibacterial 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.

What Is MCT Oil?

oil dropper

Liz deSousa for BYRDIE

Coconut oil is high in medium-chain triglycerides, aka MCTs, which refer to the length of its fatty acid chains. (Fatty acid chains can be short, medium, or long.) MCT oil is created by extracting only the medium-chain triglycerides from coconut oil, leaving chained acids of other lengths behind. 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 so far.

I’ve gone hunting for the reason why caprylic acids enable MCT oil to absorb into hair seemingly far 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. The most I’ve found is documentation stating 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 oil are composed of.

So that brings us to lauric acid. In terms of lauric acid, there’s debate over whether it should be included in an 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.

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 add shine without you actually feeling the oil when you run your hands through your hair.

  • Strengthens hair: Coconut oil can protect your hair from damage and can prevent protein loss, meaning it can make your hair stronger.
  • Scalp health: It’s great for your scalp—it’s antifungal, can help fight dandruff, and can also increase hair growth.
  • Lightweight feel: MCT oil actually penetrates the hair shaft instead of sitting on your strands, giving it a lightweight feel.
  • Adds shine: If your hair is dry, MCT oil gives your hair shine and a healthy-looking appearance.

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

How to Use MCT Oil for Hair

woman with curly hair
Ariane Resnick

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 regular 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 after.) 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.

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