Since starting the Hairlista Coconut Oil Challenge, I felt that it was as good a time as any to do some research on this powerhouse of an oil. I knew it had benefits, but what exactly about this sweetly aromatic oil made it so beneficial to a beauty regimen?
This humble oil is one of the most popular oils used in soap making, one of the best natural ingredients for skin care, weight loss, improved digestion and relief from heart disease, cancer and HIV. While the benefits are vast, this post will concentrate on the benefits of coconut oil as it pertains to hair.
What is coconut oil?
Coconut oil (Cocos nucifera) is the oil extracted from the mature coconut palm meat through a wet process or dry process. In the wet process, coconut milk is made and then the oil is extracted from the milk, whereas in the dry process the oil is extracted straight from the coconut kernel. Coconut oil has long been touted as being an excellent oil for the hair and scalp but why?
For one, it is an excellent emollient. Coconut oil is comprised of some 92% saturated fatty acids which help retain moisture in the hair and thus deter moisture loss. It is therefore good as a moisturizer and deep conditioner.
It is also one of the few oils that penetrates the hair shaft. Studies have confirmed that the ability of coconut oil to penetrate the hair shaft is likely due to its low molecular weight and straight linear chains. These characteristics coupled with its high affinity (or attraction) to hair proteins cause the coconut oil to penetrate the hair shaft.
It is easy to see how the ability to penetrate the hair shaft and the high affinity to proteins makes coconut oil so beneficial for the hair. Not only does the high affinity to proteins help it penetrate the hair shaft, but it also discourages protein loss and reduces the occurrence of hygral fatigue. Studies conducted in India confirm that when compared to mineral oil and sunflower oil, “coconut oil was the only oil found to reduce the protein loss remarkably for both undamaged and damaged hair when used as a pre-wash and post-wash grooming product.” Another study suggests that coconut oil reduces the ability of the hair shaft to swell and thereby reduces the likelihood of hygral fatigue. Hygral fatigue is caused when the hair swells and constricts due to the absorption and loss of water.
But the benefits don’t end there. In addition of all the aforementioned, coconut oil also comprises of antimicrobial, antifungal and antibacterial properties due to the triglycerides (Caprylic Acid, Capric Acid and Lauric Acid) which kill bacteria and fungi. This makes coconut oil an excellent treatment for keeping the scalp clean and eliminating dandruff.
To realize the full benefits of coconut oil, you should use virgin coconut oil or coconut oil that has not been refined. Virgin coconut oil is made from fresh coconut meat or non-copra whereas refined coconut oil is made from dried copra. Scent and taste are the main differences between virgin coconut oil and refined coconut oils.
Virgin Coconut Oil vs. Extra Virgin Coconut Oil
No industry standards currently exist to differentiate between “Virgin” and “Extra Virgin” coconut oil. Even though some manufacturers label their product as “Extra Virgin”, it is likely a marketing gimmick or just some arbitrary classification. “There is no official classification or difference between “virgin” and “extra virgin” as there is in the olive oil industry, since the two oils are completely different in fatty acid composition, harvesting procedures, and terminology.” Something to remember the next time you go shopping for coconut oil.
Aarti S Rele, R B Mohile. Effect of mineral oil, sunflower oil, and coconut oil on prevention of hair damage. Journal of cosmetic science (2003). 54(2):175-92.
K Keis, D Persaud, Y K Kamath, A S Rele. Investigation of penetration abilities of various oils into human hair fibers. Journal of cosmetic science (2005). 56(5):283-95
S B Ruetsch, Y K Kamath, A S Rele, R B Mohile. Secondary ion mass spectrometric investigation of penetration of coconut and mineral oils into human hair fibers: relevance to hair damage. Journal of cosmetic science (2001). 52(3):169-84.
Tropical Traditions. Virgin vs Refined: How is Coconut Oil Produced?