What Coconut Oil Really Does for Your Hair
One of the newest fads for hair-care is the use of coconut oil. Many sources such as Pinterest, Instagram, and YouTube have sold us the idea of applying coconut oil to our scalp/hair. Some of the reasons people apply coconut oil to their hair and scalp is for stronger hair, faster growth, a remedy for dandruff, to heal split-ends, and to add shine. What does this fad really do for your hair? Nothing. Unfortunately, the science of hair disproves what consumers have been led to believe.
To preface the rest of this article, I’d like to quickly explain the structure of hair. Hair is 90% protein (or keratin). This is why so many products have added keratin in them. The keratin in hair is made of amino acids, and those amino acids are joined by peptide bonds (aka end bonds) which create the chain of amino acids. The chains of amino acids and peptide bonds are called polypeptide chains. The cortex (the inside of a hair strand) is made up of millions of these chains. The chains are then linked together by side bonds (hydrogen bonds, salt bonds, and disulfide bonds). Hydrogen and salt bonds are physical. They can be broken by heat (ironing your hair) or even something as simple as water (shampooing). Don’t worry though! They can rebuild themselves. Disulfide bonds are chemical, and they can be broken by chemicals. You break your disulfide bonds by perming, lightening, or coloring your hair. Once they’re broken you can’t get them back. Luckily, some awesome geniuses in the hair industry have made bonding treatments that can be added to your chemical services to prevent the breakage of the disulfide bonds. Personally, I never perform a lightening or coloring service without adding a bonder.* So to sum up… Bonds hold together amino acids. Amino acids make keratin. Keratin is 90% of hair. Hair is protein!
So, let’s talk about coconut oil and the strength of your hair. The strength of your hair comes from your keratin (protein). If you look at a standard jar of coconut oil, the nutrition label will say that it contains 0g of Protein. So, if there’s no protein in coconut oil, and protein is what gives your hair strength, why would you reach for a jar of coconut oil when you’re in need of a little strength?
Moving on to hair growth. All hair starts with a root. If you examine your skin, you can see many small pockets known as follicles. Inside the follicle is a hair bulb. Think of this like the bulb of a tulip; this is where the flower stems from, so this is where the hair stems from. Hair growth goes like this: Inside the hair follicle, new cells are manufactured. From these cells, your proteins are composed. This is where hair really begins. You have zero control over what goes on inside your follicles. This is all genetic. I’m always encouraging people to take their vitamins to promote good health; good health helps the body run the way it wants to run. But even those prenatal vitamins that you take for hair growth will not help. The reason your prego friend has a gorgeous new mane is because of her hormones —not her vitamins.
When talking about hair growth, sometimes it’s easier to explain hair loss. The reasons for hair loss are genetics, poor diet, and stress. I’ll get into that more in my future article about hair loss. But I bring up hair loss because hair loss and hair growth, or lack thereof, go hand in hand. Tips I could give you for hair growth is to eat healthy, don’t sweat the small stuff, and pray for good genetics. Nowhere on that list is coconut oil. Coconut oil is something that people are putting on the outside layer of their bodies, and as I said before, hair growth starts inside the body (in the follicles). You’d be better off digesting coconut oil in your meal plan, which is actually very good for you, in moderation, but even that has no proof of helping your hair grow.
Now let’s talk about dandruff. There is a difference between dry scalp and dandruff. Dry scalp is basically dry skin. When our skin is dry, it tends to flake. If it’s not already flaking, it may become dry and itchy. This causes us to scratch, which then causes it to flake. A flakey scalp is without a doubt NOT dandruff. Dandruff is actually on the opposite side of the spectrum. It’s very oily, and almost looks yellowish. Dandruff is caused by bacteria, and requires a medicinal ointment in order to heal. Dandruff shampoos actually have medicinal properties in them that kill the bacteria and heal/soothe the scalp. Coconut oil will absolutely NOT fix dandruff. If we’re talking about dry scalp, I would recommend a tea tree shampoo and conditioner.** Coconut oil may help a little dry scalp, but there are better products out there. There are products that are made specifically for dry scalp; they may even have coconut oil as an ingredient, but are usually paired with other ingredients that will really do the job.
“Split-ends” and “dead-ends” are terms that have been around for decades —what they really are is breakage. Yep, your beautiful locks are broken. Don’t worry, you’re not alone, but think about that the next time you grab a brush and start ripping through your tangled mess, or toss up a wet messy bun…those are things that cause breakage. You know what fixes the breakage? Bonders! A Bonding Treatment (from brands such as Olaplex, Matrix, Redken, etc) is a multiple step process that can be added to a color or chemical service, or done as a standalone service. Step 1 of the bonder repairs the broken disulfide bonds, and either prevents any damage from occurring during a salon service, or repairs the damage that has been done in the past. Step 2 completes the restoration of the bonds, and adds strength and shine. However, nothing can fix the strands more than cutting the problem off at the source Good thing we have scissors. I am a Cosmetologist, and I’m not afraid to use them!
When you’re trying to grow your hair out, the best thing you can do is get regular cuts. That’s not a wise tale we Hairstylists tell our clients just so they’ll come see us more often. What we mean is, come in regularly and let us trim off your breakage! The thing about breakage is that there are ways to improve and/or repair it, but sometimes, just like a loose seem in your favorite shirt, it’s going to keep breaking. As it keeps breaking, it will be getting shorter in certain areas. Your hair won’t look any shorter because it’s still growing as all of this is happening. Basically, it’s coming out of the top but breaking off at the bottom. However, if you cut above the breakage, you basically cut it off at the source. Then with a fresh start, you can take the precautions necessary to maintain healthy hair and smooth looking ends.
Coconut oil is thought to heal breakage because it makes your ends all nice and smooth feeling. The reason it looks smooth is because it’s coating the hair. It’s letting the hair pretend that it’s forming back together, but really, the oil is just holding it in place. It’s a bandaid covering up your damage without actually fixing anything.
Last but certainly not least, shine. Gorgeous shiny hair is something that everyone desires to have. Does oil shine? Sure, it does. But so does grease. You may put a little coconut oil on your hair for added shine, but it’s very easy to take a little oil and turn it into a greasy mess —gross! On top of that, the shine that you’re after is not permanent. It will wash out with a shampoo…or two, depending on how much build up that oil has caused you. The reason you’ll never see any permanent results is because of that awesome hair science I love so much.
The molecules in coconut oil are too big to penetrate the outer layer of your hair and become a part of the inner layer. The only thing the oil’s large molecules can do is sit on top of the outer layer of the hair strand, and then be washed off. If you like having a temporary shine that washes out each night, but don’t want an oily mess, I would recommend a shine spray.*** That’s why those awesome hair geniuses we talked about made such things. They’re nice and light, they do the job well, and still allow you to have the volume and body you desire. If you want a more permanent solution to your lack of shine, try a gloss or glazing treatment the next time you are at the salon. It involves a product with smaller molecules that can really penetrate the hair. This treatment doesn’t take all day, but will last you for at least 8 weeks depending on your daily maintenance of your hair****.
I love coconut oil, and I have nothing against people who choose to use it for any reason. Personally, I prefer to cook with it. That’s when I feel that it’s really doing its job, and I can enjoy all the benefits of it. It can provide therapeutic effects on Alzheimer’s and epilepsy, improve healthy cholesterol levels, and in some cases actually help burn fat (according to healthline.com) There’s just no science that backs up the theory that it does anything for your hair.
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Please Note: All facts I’ve stated about the structure, health, and maintenance of hair are facts I learned during my studies at Shasta School of Cosmetology (using the Milady’s Cosmetology textbook for our course work), and during my experience as a licensed Cosmetologist.
*The two bonding treatments that I’ve used in my chemical services are Olaplex, Matrix Bond Ultim8, and Joico Defy Damage. I’ve liked them all. How they work is the “Step 1” solution goes directly in the color or lightener, and prevents some the bonds from breaking. Then “Step 2” is applied in the shampoo bowl after the color/lightener is rinsed out, and helps to rebuild any bonds that were broken. Some lines of bonders even have a “Step 3” to take home and help maintain.
**Paul Mitchell has a great line of tea tree shampoos and conditioners. Included in that line is also a scalp treatment. They smell great and really soothe the scalp! Another option is Malibu. They have great options for many different scalp and hair issues, including their Scalp Therapy shampoo, conditioner, and treatment. I’m a huge Malibu fan! They’re also sulfate-free (which is great for colored hair) and vegan.
***I’ve always used TIGI’s BedHead Shine Mist at home, and on my clients. It’s nice and light, and has a very faint smell. I’ve recently discovered the brand Sebastian, and I’m pretty much obsessed with everything I’ve tried so far. I just started using their shine spray, and I’m loving that too! However, the bottle is pretty small, and seems to go by more quickly than I’d like.
****Daily maintenance on your hair is how I describe how you take care of your hair regularly at home. One thing I always tell my clients is it all starts at the base. What’s the first thing you do to your hair? Shampoo and condition. You should always use a quality shampoo and conditioner at home. This will help maintain the quality and integrity of your hair and allow the services you receive in the salon to last.