8 Best Uses of Coconut Oil for Hair

By Kathleen McCoy, BS


Lush, shiny, manageable and healthy hair can be yours — with the benefits of coconut oil for hair.

Have you been tempted to clear out your commercial conditioners, serums and styling products that damage your hair (and possibly your health) over time Well guess what? You can replace them with this all-natural solution.

Coconut oil is rich in antimicrobial properties, lauric acid and medium-chain fatty acids that strengthen hair, condition the scalp and help hair regrow.

While we’ve been hearing about the internal health benefits of coconut oil for quite sometime, it’s time to bring light to coconut oil’s other uses, one of which is using it as an all-natural, mult-tasking hair product. Rich in vitamins, minerals and other nutrients, the nourishing benefits coconut oil for hair keep your hair strong, shiny and looking great!

Benefits of Coconut Oil for Hair

Coconut oil is rich in antioxidants and fatty acids, and it has antiviral, antifungal and antibacterial properties. This allows coconut oil to improve the appearance, texture and health of hair.

When used on hair, coconut oil is able to:

  • improve hair dryness

  • improve scalp health

  • protect hair from protein loss

  • protect hair from UV exposure

  • fight infections and fungus

  • support hair growth

  • add volume and shine

Research published in the International Journal of Trichology indicates that coconut oil has protective effects on hair damage in the grooming process. This is due to its ability to penetrate the hair cuticles and cortex.

Study results published in the Journal of Cosmetic Science suggest that is able to reduce protein loss in both damaged and undamaged hair. It can be used before shampooing your hair or as a post-wash grooming product.

This coconut oil benefit is due to the oil’s lauric acid content, which has a high affinity for hair proteins but a low molecular weight, allowing the oil to penetrate the hair shaft, according to researchers.

When we regularly clean our hair, it extracts hair surface lipid matter and damages the structure of the hair. Plus, conventional hair products sometimes contain toxic ingredients that can strip the hair and leave it looking dull.

If you look on the ingredient labels of many of your favorite cosmetics and hair products, you will find coconut oil listed. However, most cosmetics and hair products also contain other ingredients that can be harmful to your health, while actually damaging your hair and skin.

The harsh chemicals in commercial products can leave your hair flat, dry and damaged.

Coconut oil for hair also works to prevent and improve damage caused by ultraviolet exposure, as shown by a narrative review of current evidence published in the Journal of the American College of Nutrition.

Of course, diet plays an important role in hair health, too. If your hair is dry and brittle, chances are you’re not consuming enough fresh water. Water helps keep the entire body hydrated, including hair and skin.

As we age, hormone health plays a significant part in the health of hair as well.

Eat for your best hair health by including lots of healthy fats, drinking plenty of water and using natural hair care products, including coconut oil for hair, instead of dangerous chemical-laden shampoos, conditioners or styling agents.

How to Use Coconut Oil for Hair

Using coconut oil for hair is one of the best things you can do to avoid harmful chemicals that are in many commercial hair care products. Look for virgin coconut oil (or extra virgin) that’s organic to use on your hair and skin and in your food.

When you open the jar, the aroma should remind you of fresh coconuts. If you don’t get that refreshing coconut aroma, then the oil may be refined and overly processed. Stick to the least processed forms of coconut oil for your hair.

Protect hair from the elements, and keep it strong, nourished, shiny and manageable by using coconut oil. It works as an effective and natural tool for:

  • conditioning

  • styling

  • boosting hair growth

  • getting rid dandruff

  • treating lice

  • boosting shine

Plus, it’s inexpensive, very easy to find and can be used in so many other ways, too!

Here’s a breakdown of the best coconut oil uses for hair and how exactly to use this beneficial ingredient at home:

1. Conditioner

Coconut oil is free of the scary chemicals that lurk in commercial hair products, and it works well to hydrate dry hair for all hair types. When researchers tested the efficacy of coconut oil, sunflower oil and mineral oil, they found that only coconut oil was able to reduce protein loss due to grooming. You should use virgin coconut oil for dry hair.

It is the protein loss in hair that leads to dryness and breakage. The lauric acid in coconut oil has a low molecular weight and is able to actually penetrate the hair shaft, thereby nourishing the hair with vitamins, minerals and the medium-chain fatty acids.

Coconut oil helps prevent damage from combing and brushing, and it is safe to use on children. It can be used as a leave-in hydrator or as an intensive conditioner for a couple of hours or overnight.

The key is finding the right amount for your hair, so keep in mind that a little goes a long way.

DIY Coconut Oil Conditioner:

For short hair, start with just ¼ teaspoon, warmed in your palms. For longer, thicker hair, you may need up to a ½ tablespoon.

You want to use sparingly on thinner hair, as it can weigh hair down if too much is used. Pay particular attention to ends and the shaft of the hair. Smooth through hair, and proceed to style as normal.

As an intensive conditioner to restore hair, after washing with a gentle natural shampoo, apply one teaspoon (for short hair), two teaspoons (for shoulder length hair) and one tablespoon (for long hair) after warming in the palm of your hands. Apply to hair shaft and ends, and then rub into the scalp.

Cover with a shower cap, and leave on for one to two hours or overnight. Then wash and style as normal.

For dry or damaged hair, add a couple of drops of sandalwood essential oil and/or geranium essential oil for both leave-in and intensive coconut oil for hair treatments. These essential oils support moisture retention and work to increase the moisturizing and conditioning effects of the coconut oil for hair.

How long do you have to leave coconut oil in your hair? About an hour will do the trick, but there’s no absolutely no harm in letting it sit even longer. You can even leave it overnight!

2. Hair Growth

Coconut oil is a safe, effective and reasonably priced solution if you have thinning hair. It can actually help grow hair longer and thicker.

The essential nutrients, including the lauric acid, penetrate the hair shaft and improve the overall health of the hair.

The health of hair is often a result of internal issues, and incorporating natural hair loss remedies will help without causing further damage. Foods high in omega-3 fats, pumpkin, chia seeds, flaxseeds and green tea all help support healthy hair growth from the inside out.

Before trying prescription hair growth preparations that only work for 50 percent of individuals and with continued use, modify your diet, and use a small amount of coconut oil for hair conditioning and styling. The harsh chemicals can cause scalp irritation and even hair growth where hair is not desired.

DIY Coconut Oil Hair Growth Treatment:

When massaged into the scalp, coconut oil helps improve blood circulation, thereby supporting hair growth. It is important to massage the coconut oil into the scalp with gentle pressure for 10 minutes, three or four times per week. If you want to just focus on scalp conditioning and hair growth, you only need one teaspoon.

However, if you want the benefits of a deep conditioning, follow the steps above. Instead of using sandalwood, add four drops of rosemary essential oil, which has been shown to increase new hair growth over 20 percent. Rosemary also helps increase circulation in the scalp and when used with coconut oil can produce fantastic results.

After massaging the combination into the scalp for 10 minutes, place a shower cap on, and allow the heat of your body to work the ingredients into your hair to improve scalp health. Follow with a gentle cleanser like this homemade rosemary mint shampoo. It smells great and is gentle on all hair types.

Rich with vitamin K and vitamin E, coconut oil helps reduce dandruff and make hair follicles healthy. These treatments are not just for thinning hair. If you are experiencing hair falling out while washing, brushing or styling, these treatments can help.

3. Dandruff

People have used coconut oil for skin for hundreds of years to fight dandruff. Research indicates that this unsightly and often itchy condition can be caused by dry skin conditions, sensitivity to the harsh chemicals in hair care products and common yeast-like fungal (Malassezia) infections.

Coconut oil’s medium-chain fatty acids, including lauric acid and capric acid, have strong antiviral, antimicrobial and antifungal properties that target the fungus and help kill it, as well as viruses and bacteria that may be lurking on your scalp.

A 2021 study that involved 140 women and analyzed the effects of coconut oil for dandruff treatment found that using the oil for 12 weeks helped maintain healthy scalp and modulated the scalp microbiome, thereby reducing the effects of dandruff-causing bacteria.

Many prescription and over-the-counter dandruff shampoos can actually make dandruff worse and don’t fix the root cause of the flakiness. If the problem is fungal, or if you are struggling with dry skin, topical applications of coconut oil can make a difference.

Many commercial cleansers contain chemicals that are harmful. These include parabens, propylene glycol, polyethylene glycol, sodium lauryl sulfate and many others. Dandruff cleansers are even worse, as they contain ammonium laureth sulfate, magnesium aluminum silicate and selenium sulfide.

The majority of the time, these preparations simply do not work. The goal is to make the scalp healthier, free from fungus and moisturized — to get rid of dandruff. Treating with coconut oil will not make dandruff go away overnight, but many can see results in just a week or so.

DIY Coconut Oil Dandruff Treatment:

Essential oils for hair, including lavender, wintergreen, thyme and tea tree, all help fight fungus and yeast. For an intensive dandruff treatment, after washing your hair, mix two teaspoons of coconut oil with five drops of one of the ingredients mentioned above, or a combination, and massage into the scalp.

Be sure to really work the mixture into the scalp, from neck to forehead, and behind the ears. Cover with a shower cap, and if possible, sit in the sun for 20–30 minutes to increase the heat — or simply use a hair dryer on a low setting to heat the cap.

Then remove the cap, and wash with a gentle natural cleanser. Repeat this two to three times per week, or even more often, as desired. Just like with the conditioning or hair growth treatment, you can leave it on overnight, but be sure to wear the shower cap to avoid staining your bed linens.

4. Styling

Yes, coconut oil is a great styling agent, and it’s free from the dangerous chemicals in conventional hair care products. This is one of the most overlooked coconut oil for hair uses.

Hair dryers, flat irons, hot rollers and curling irons zap the moisture out of the hair shaft, causing it to be brittle and prone to tangling.

Coconut oil helps prevent this type of thermal damage, and when it’s used in the proper amount for your hair length and texture, it works to tame flyaways, frizz and more. People with thick, curly hair often fight frizz in humid climates.

Coconut oil helps tame the frizz by penetrating the curls. It can be applied throughout the day for touch-ups — just be sure to use it sparingly, especially if you have a thin or oily hair type.

DIY Coconut Oil Recipe for Frizzy Hair:

Start with a tiny amount (1/4 teaspoon – one teaspoon) depending on hair length and thickness, and warm the oil in your palms. Apply the oil to your hair, from root to tips, and blow dry and style as desired. It will take just a bit longer to dry your hair, but it will be soft, shiny and manageable.

Disguise split ends and nourish them at the same time by using just a tiny bit of coconut oil.

DIY Coconut Oil Hair Detangler:

Detangling hair is a chore and can often cause breakage. A study evaluating the use of coconut oil for hair damage suggests that it improves hair breaking by penetrating the hair shaft. It also surrounds the hair and makes it easier to remove knots after washing or in the evenings.

Smooth a small amount of coconut oil through your hair, paying particular attention to tangled and damaged areas. Use a wide-tooth comb, starting from the bottom and slowly working your way up.

Using coconut oil for hair regularly will improve the overall health of the hair and help prevent tangles. You can even use coconut oil for hair overnight to improve its texture and keep it conditioned. If tangled hair is a continuing problem, trimming the damaged sections will help.

NOTE: If you have thin or fine hair, or are new to using it on your hair, apply coconut oil sparingly for styling. Also, do not apply it to the scalp as this can weigh down the hair.

5. Lice Prevention and Treatment

One of the best uses of coconut oil for hair is helping to get rid of lice. A study published in the European Journal of Pediatrics found that a combination of coconut oil and anise spray is more effective than the commonly used prescription lice treatment permethrin.

In fact, in the controlled study, the coconut oil-based spray was 82 percent successful. The permethrin was only 42 percent successful, and 33 of the 50 participants reported scalp irritation when following the conventional treatment.

Another study published in the Israel Medical Association Journal indicates even greater success with this treatment, although researchers added ylang ylang oil to the coconut oil and anise oil combination. The treatment was successful in 92.3 percent of children and caused no serious side effects.

Because coconut oil penetrates the hair shaft and scalp, it helps repel lice and can keep their eggs from attaching to the hair. With the addition of ylang ylang, tea tree and anise, lice doesn’t have a chance.

DIY Coconut Oil Lice Treatment:

To keep lice at bay, use coconut oil as mentioned above as a leave-in hair conditioner or to detangle and style hair.

If there is an infestation of lice, mix three tablespoons of coconut oil with one teaspoon of each ylang ylang, anise and tea tree oils. Double the recipe for longer hair. This should be enough for shoulder-length hair.

Apply the solution all over the scalp, and massage it in, pulling through the ends. Comb through the hair with a fine-tooth comb.

Cover your hair in a shower cap, and allow it to sit for two hours. If possible, sit in the sun or use a hair dryer to periodically warm up the cap. Carefully remove shower cap, and seal it in zip lock bag for disposal.

At the end of two hours, comb hair once again, prior to washing and rinsing thoroughly, twice. While hair is still wet, combine two cups of apple cider vinegar and one cup water in a small spray bottle.

Saturate the hair, spraying half the bottle on the scalp and hair. Lean over the sink, and pour the remaining mixture over the hair, massaging lightly.

Rinse thoroughly, and comb hair once again with a fine-tooth comb. Follow with a light application of coconut oil, cover with a shower cap or style as desired, and allow to remain on the hair until next washing.

As with most lice treatments, the process needs to be repeated every five to 10 days for a couple of weeks. This helps ensure that all lice and their eggs are eradicated. Between treatments, comb hair morning and night with a fine-tooth comb, and use coconut oil as a leave-in conditioner.

As coconut oil both repels and kills lice, at the first notification of a lice outbreak, start using coconut oil as a leave-in treatment.

6. UV Damage Prevention

Research published in Pharmacognosy Research suggests that coconut oil has an SPF value of 8, making it one of the most effective nonvolatile oils in this regard. You can rub coconut oil into your scalp and hair when out in the sun to reduce the risk of UV damage.

On top of that, coconut oil can help protect your hair from UV damage by providing moisture deep within the structure of your hair and reducing protein loss.

How to Use Coconut to Protect Hair from the Sun:

Hair, like skin, is prone to sun damage, so it’s helpful to use coconut oil as a natural sunscreen. If you are planning a day out in the sun, use it as a leave-in conditioner for all day protection, and while you are at it, use it on exposed skin as well.

Coconut oil is a safe and effective sunscreen for children and adults alike.

7. Gentle Hair Cleanser

Harsh cleansers can make your hair dry and brittle, leading to damaged, unhealthy-looking locks. Did you know that you can use coconut oil as a base in your hair cleanser? It’s gentle, natural, and leaves your hair feeling soft and healthy.

How to Make Coconut Oil Shampoo:

As every person’s hair is different, feel free to adjust the coconut oil level to suit your hair needs. For fine hair you may reduce the coconut oil amount as needed to 1/4 cup and for thick dry or curly hair, you may need to increase this amount or add a few drops of avocado oil as well.

  • 1 cup liquid Castile soap

  • 1/3 cup canned coconut milk

  • 1/3 cup coconut oil

  • 50–60 drops of favorite essential oils

Melt coconut oil and coconut milk together over very low heat, as to not damage any of the nutrients. Pour into a bottle with a secure lid, and top with the Castile soap. Shake well. And then, shake some more. Add 50 drops of your favorite essential oils, and shake again.

Some great essential oil options for hair include lavender, wild orange, peppermint, lemongrass, rosemary, clary sage and rosemary.

This hair cleanser will not be as thick as commercial shampoos; squeeze on hair directly from the bottle. Wash, and rinse well.

How to Make Coconut Oil Conditioner

This is the perfect recipe to pair with your coconut oil hair cleanser. It helps to moisturize your hair, prevent protein loss and improve damaged locks.

  • 1 cup liquid Castile soap

  • 1/3 cup canned coconut milk

  • 1/3 cup coconut oil

  • 50–60 drops of favorite essential oils

Mix all ingredients in a bowl with a hand mixer until well-combined. This may take several minutes. You want a smooth and creamy conditioner.

In the shower, after washing hair, use a teaspoon or two, and smooth through hair. Allow it to penetrate hair for the remainder of your shower, and rinse very well.

NOTE: If you color your hair, especially red, coconut oil may fade the color. For most hair types and colors, it will not.

8. Boosts Shine and Rich Hair Color

Coconut oil is a great base for natural hair colors as it penetrates the hair shaft. A 2020 study published in the International Journal of Trichology found that participants who used coconut oil had better protected, less damaged hair. It can help boost shine and serve as a natural hair color booster.

How to Make a Natural Hair Color Booster:

For darker hair, mix two tablespoons of coconut oil with one cup of strong coffee, one tablespoon of spent grounds, and apply to hair. Allow to sit for 45–60 minutes. The longer you leave it, the darker the results.

Rinse well, and style as desired.

For blond hair or to add subtle highlights, mix 1/2 cup of strong chamomile tea, ¼ cup fresh lemon juice and ¼ cup coconut oil in a blender until emulsified. Apply to hair and roots, and cover with a shower cap.

Sit in the sun, or use a hair dryer to keep the cap warm for 45 minutes to 75 minutes. Rinse well.

How to Make a Natural Hair Mask with Coconut Oil:

This DIY hair mask is made with coconut oil and other soothing ingredients. It helps add shine to your hair, tame unruly locks and give your hair a deep conditioning.

To make the mask, place two tablespoons of coconut oil and ½ of a ripe avocado in the blender, or soften the coconut oil and use a whisk instead. Then add two eggs and one tablespoon of raw honey, and blend again. Next, add five to 10 drops of rosemary essential oil and five to 10 drops of lavender essential oil.

Apply the mask to damp hair, covering all of it. Then put a shower cap over your hair, and let the mask sit for 45 minutes to an hour.

Wash the mask out with an all-natural hair cleanser, and condition as usual. For the best results, apply this coconut oil hair mask once a week.

Any Negative Effects

Coconut oil is beneficial for your hair for a range of reasons, but using too much of it can cause buildup and greasiness. It’s best to start with small amounts, especially if you have thin, short or naturally oily hair types.

If you hair tends to get greasy when using coconut oil, stick to using it only one to three times per week.

If you experience any irritation from topical use of coconut oil, such as itchiness, redness or dryness, stop using it.

Conclusion

  • If you’re looking for a new ingredient to add to your hair health routine that’s hydrating, nourishing, and will boost hair growth and shine, look no further than coconut oil.

  • Virgin coconut oil is rich in antioxidants and fatty acids, and it has antiviral, antifungal and antibacterial properties. This allows it to improve the appearance, texture and health of our hair.

  • It’s the perfect (and very inexpensive) ingredient to have in the house to make your own hair products, including nourishing masks, cleansers and styling serums.