How Coconut Oil Benefits Hair & Prevents Damage

How Coconut Oil Benefits Hair & Prevents Damage


If you are on a healthy hair journey, chances are you have already read information on various ways coconut oil benefits hair.  For some women, the science behind hair products and practices is unimportant – as long as they get results, they could care less about why it works.  But that doesn’t work for my scientifically trained mind!  I need to know why something works and how it benefits my hair.   So I finally decided to do my own research regarding coconut oil and found some interesting information that I didn’t previously know.  The illustration below highlights just a few of the attributes of coconut oil.  Read on for additional details!

Coconut Oil Benefits Hair

Anti-Microbial:  Coconut oil contains a high amount of lauric acid which has proven anti-microbial action.  As I’ve always said, anything that limits the amount of microorganisms on your scalp and in your hair creates a healthy and favorable environment for hair growth.  It also has a high amount of the powerful antioxidant vitamin E as well.

Reduced Grooming Damage:  In the “healthy hair journey world” we refer to grooming actions such as combing, brushing and shampooing as manipulation.  Coconut oil benefits hair in this area by significantly reducing damaged caused by manipulation and regular weathering.  This has been proven by use of scan electron microscopy (SEM) in examining tensile strength.  Lubrication of the hair shaft reduces friction.

how coconut oil benefits hairAbility to Penetrate Hair Cuticle:  Due to its low molecular weight and a straight linear chain (versus a branched chain), coconut oil has the ability to penetrate the hair cuticle which makes it more beneficial than other popular hair oils such as mineral and sunflower.

High Affinity for Proteins:  Coconut oil is shown to reduce protein loss in both damaged  and undamaged hair; Since hair is made of protein, this is obviously a huge benefit.

Reduces Damage From Hygral Fatigue.  In the illustration to left, you are able to see hair strands are comprised of three macro parts – the cuticle, cortex and medulla.  The cuticle is the outermost part which is comprised of overlapping cells on the surface of hair.  Each of the individual cuticle cells has an endocuticle (inside) and an exocuticle (outside).  The exocuticle is fairly rigid because of the high amount of cross-linked proteins, but the endocuticle and cell membrane are easily expanded by water.  The subsequent swelling lifts and bends the cuticle cells making the strands susceptible to breakage when manipulating while wet.  This swelling and shrinkage of the hair cuticle is known as hygral fatique and weakens hair.  Coconut oil reduces the amount of swelling which leads to stronger strands and less damage especially when manipulating wet hair.

Reduces Water Loss:  Again, the effects of water retention were measured in damaged and non-damaged hair when treated with coconut oil – and it was shown that water was retained much more effectively with coconut versus mineral and sunflower oils.  Furthermore, the water retention index was much higher in damaged hair (bleached, heat damaged and UV damaged) than undamaged hair which means coconut oil is even more effective for damaged hair.  A high water retention index indicates coconut oil is excellent for sealing moisture into the hair strands and preventing dryness – which leads to breakage.

Most Effective as a Pre-poo:  I was shocked to learn scientific support even exists as to whether coconut oil is more effective as a pre or post-wash treatment!  As it turns out, protein loss is more reduced when coconut oil is used as a conditioner before washing versus after.  In addition, hair retains water (moisture) as explained above much better when treated with coconut oil prior to washing. This led to the conclusion that preventing protein loss plays a greater role in preventing hair damage than lubrication alone.  This is one of the primary differences between coconut oil and other oils; The study compared coconut, sunflower and mineral oils.  Only coconut oil was shown to reduce hair damage (due to the reduction in protein loss) whereas all three oils lubricate hair.

coconut oil benefits hair

I was excited to learn all of the various ways coconut oil benefits hair and will continue to keep it as my primary oil of choice.  Coconut oil is readily available at most grocery stores now, whereas once it had to be purchased at health stores or online.  Remember, if you are not using coconut oil as a pre-poo, or pre-wash conditioner, you are not reaping the full benefits of coconut oil for your hair!



  • A. Rele and R.B. Mohile, Effect of mineral oil, sunflower oil, and coconut oil on prevention of hair damage. J. Cosmet. Sci., 54, 175-192 (2003)
  •  A. Rele, Effect of coconut oil on prevention of hair damage. Part I,J. Cosmet. Sci., 50, 327-339 (1999)
  • S. B. Ruetsch, Y. K. Kamath, A. S. Rele, and R. B. Mohile. Secondary ion mass spectrometric investigation of penetration of coconut and mineral oils into human hair fibers: Relevance to hair damage, J. Cosmet. Sd., 52, 169-184 (2001)
  • M.G. Enig, Health and Nutritional Benefits from Coconut Oil: An Important Functional Food for the 21st Century. Presented at the AVOC Lauric Oils Symposium, Ho Chi Min City, Vietnam, (1996)
  • P. LoGiudice, S. Bleakney, P. Bongiorno. “The Surprising Health Benefits of Coconut Oil.” Doctor Oz. 29 Oct 2012. Web. 20 Oct 2013.