Science of Coconut oil on hair

The curly hair community worldwide is raving about coconut oil. Indians are not new to using coconut oil on hair at all. I had explained everything about oils here – Oils and curly hair – Benefits, types and ways to apply. And I had mentioned that coconut oil is a little different to other oils because it is the most penetrative oil.

What makes coconut oil so different to other oils?

Most oils just sit on the outside of the hair. Coconut oil on the other hair penetrates into the hair. This is because the medium-chain triglycerides present in it are small enough to seep between the cuticles.

1. Coconut oil prevents protein loss from hair

Hair cuticle can get chipped and proteins can be lost due to abrasion of hair against combs or even other hair strands. Cuticle has an outer and inner layer. When the hair is wet, the outer layer is not swollen by water. But the inner cuticle gets swollen underneath. Because the outer layer stays still, this leads to cuticles raising and cell breakage.

The triglycerides of coconut oil have a charge that attracts them to the protein in your hair thus preventing protein loss from your hair – How Protein Helps Your Curls + Protein sensitivity

Coconut oil can make some hair feel very rigid and hard. And it is not because it prevents protein loss (if so other penetrating oils should also have made your hair crunchy). Coconut oil solidifies easily even when the temperature is just starting to get cold. So it solidifies even in hair and makes it feel stiff. My tip – if it is solid in the bottle, it will be solid in your hair that day – don’t apply it. Use it when it is in the liquid state in the bottle (without you having to heat it up).

2. Coconut oil reduces water retention, thereby reducing cuticle swelling and hydral fatigue

Being hydrophobic (water repelling), coconut oil reduces water retention in hair. Since repeated swelling and contraction (every time you wash your hair) damages the cuticle, reduction in water retention can lessen cuticle swelling or raising.

If the cuticle layer is healthy, it remains closed and seals in moisture better.

You can also use coconut oil for deep conditioning masks – Deep Conditioning Curly Hair and 3 homemade deep conditioning masks for curly hair

How long should you leave oil in your hair?

There is a research paper(Quantitative measurement of the penetration of coconut oil into human hair using radio-labeled coconut oil) that shows that hair can absorb around 15% of its weight in coconut oil in an hour. An overnight soaking oil (six hours) increases absorption to around 20% or 25%.

Here are some good coconut oil brands in India:

  1. Parachute Pure Coconut Oil
  2. KLF Nirmal Cold pressed Virgin Coconut oil
  3. Organic India Extra Virgin Coconut Oil
  4. Forest Essentials Organic Cold Pressed Coconut Virgin Oil
  5. Pure & Sure Organic Extra Virgin Coconut Oil

Virgin or Regular coconut oil?

Virgin coconut oil is extracted from coconut flesh while normal coconut oil is extracted from dried copra. As long as your oil is not heavily refined or processed, both forms are good for hair. And most regular coconut oils you get in India have a strong coconut smell and taste (which means they are not heavily refined; Refined Coconut Oil has a neutral scent and flavor) – Virgin vs Refined Coconut Oil: 5 Things You Need To Know

Being from the land of coconuts, Kerala, my grandma and mom have been using homemade copra coconut oil ever since I’ve known. I bring it here too if possible. If not I use any commercial brand. There are so many in Kerala!



  1. Well-researched, Anjana. Finally a break from the usual monotony of half-hearted and half-baked posts on coconut oil.
    I was going through your list of suggested brands. What caught my eye was the fifth brand’s “Extra Virgin Coconut Oil” claim. From what I know, Coconut oil cannot be “extra” virgin. It can at best be virgin.

    It is Olive Oil actually that can be extra virgin. Your thoughts please.

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