You may already moisturize with coconut oil and stir it into your morning coffee, but if you’ve heard the buzz about using it in your hair, it’s not just hype.
“Coconut oil is unique because it’s similar to hair’s natural lipid structure, so it’s able to penetrate the hair more than other oils,” says Leo Izquierdo, co-founder of IGK Hair Care, a brand that utilizes coconut oil in many of its products, most notably, the popular Rich Kid Coconut Oil Gel ($29, sephora.com).
You should start to see results right away. “When applied on a regular basis [2-3 times a week if your hair type is normal to course, less often if you have fine hair], coconut oil can enhance hair’s lubrication, making it easier to comb and manage, while increasing shine and preventing frizz,” adds Sabina Wizemann, senior chemist at the Good Housekeeping Institute Beauty Lab. It’s especially useful on damaged hair because it helps protect the hair shaft from becoming waterlogged, which “can eventually increase further cuticle lifting and damage,” she says.
If it sounds like your hair could benefit from a little tender, love, and coconut, there are several ways to incorporate the ingredient into your routine:
1. Coconut oil as a pre-wash treatment.
Coconut oil can start working for you before you even get your hair wet. Apply it as a prewash, i.e. “treat hair for 15 to 30 minutes with coconut oil before shampooing in order to protect hair from absorbing too much water,” according to Wizemann. This cuts down on frizz and makes hair easier to style post-shower. Straight coconut from the jar, like Garden of Life Organic Extra Virgin Coconut Oil ($6), is ideal for this step, with one caveat — “If you have an oily scalp, only use it on the middle and end sections of your hair,” cautions Brooke Evans, a L’Oreal Professionnel artist.
2. Coconut oil as an overnight mask.
Coconut oil can also be used as a hair mask. Simply apply it before bed and wash it out in the morning for a more intense treatment. Doing this will give you the “maximum benefits” of coconut oil, says Wizemann, and “should provide a sleeker look and softer feeling hair” after you shampoo. “This method however can cause breakouts around the hair line in people who don’t tolerate oils well on their skin,” she notes. In general, you should probably avoid coconut oil if you have super sensitive or oily skin because it can clog pores. Again, all you need is unrefined coconut oil, but you can also use a store-bought hair mask like the St. Tropica Organic Coconut Hot Oil Hair Mask with Biotin + Superfoods ($4).
3. Coconut oil as a frizz-tamer.
The jarred stuff is also an excellent styling agent. Use it to tame frizz by adding a small amount to the ends of your hair. “This will leave a polished, shiny look,” says Andrew Fitzsimons, hairstylist and Alterna Haircare brand ambassador. He recommends using the Alterna Haircare Caviar Anti-Aging Anti-Frizz Blowout Butter ($34), which “tames frizz while protecting hair from heat-styling and humidity,” if you don’t want to go right in with solid oil. IGK Mistress Hydrating Hair Balm ($29) is another great option that helps to detangle hair as you style it.
4. Coconut oil as a conditioner.
In general, coconut oil is “mainly used as a conditioning treatment,” explains Evans. Which means (*drumroll*) it makes a great addition to conditioner. You can add unrefined coconut oil straight from the jar to your in-shower hair care routine, but you may want to look out for a conditioner that lists it as an ingredient to avoid weighing down your strands. IGK Smoke & Mirrors Conditioning Cleansing Oil ($29) is a great two-in-one option because it’s meant to cleanse and condition without stripping hair.
Herbal Essences bio-renew Hydrate Coconut Milk ($7) was the winner of the GHI Beauty Lab’s test of moisturizing shampoos and conditioners. It contains coconut extract, not straight coconut oil, so it could be a good middle ground if pure oil is too intense for your strands.
WHAT IT CAN’T DO: Make your hair grow faster.
While some reports have suggested that coconut oil can help promote hair growth or other concerns, “it isn’t a medical treatment,” Izquierdo says. “For anything like dandruff, hair loss or scalp irritation, it’s best to see a doctor.”