Dry, brittle hair doesn't look or feel good, and many commercial treatments are expensive and/or may contain chemicals that you may choose to avoid. But did you know that coconut oil could be a natural alternative? This simple, inexpensive treatment just involves massaging 1-2 tablespoons of coconut oil (it can be diluted) into the scalp and through the hair, which is then left for anywhere between an hour or overnight.
So why coconut oil? There are several other oils recommended by Ayurvedic medicine for hair, with coconut oil being best for people with a Pitta dominance. This type of hair tends to be fair or red, oily, silky and prone to early greying and hair loss, traits that seem quite common in the West. In addition, a study in the Journal of Cosmetic Science has shown that out of coconut, sunflower and mineral oil, only coconut oil can reduce protein loss in hair as a pre- and post-wash treatment. The reason for this was that coconut oil is made of lauric acid, which has a high affinity for hair proteins because it is actually able to penetrate the hair shaft. This is due to its straight, linear chain and low molecular weight. Mineral oil is a hydrocarbon and therefore has no affinity for proteins; sunflower oil is too bulky because of the double bonds present in this and all other unsaturated fatty acids. If the oil cannot penetrate the hair shaft, then it cannot protect against protein loss. Coconut oil has also been found to reduce damage to the hair cuticle during combing by reducing swelling that would have otherwise damaged the hair, particularly if it is combed while wet. The oil’s lubricating properties further protect hair from damage.
Additionally, the lauric acid in coconut oil may also decrease DHT, a more potent form of testosterone that is implicated in hormonal hair loss. Therefore, coconut oil could also benefit hair by being included in the diet. One popular method of consuming coconut oil is by using it as a replacement for other cooking oils; since coconut oil is a saturated fat, it is less likely to oxidise than olive or peanut oil due to better molecular stability. Coconut oil can also be added into smoothies or coffee, as well as being a substitute for butter in homemade desserts and snacks. Raw dessert recipes such as this from Food Matters contain a lot of coconut oil, and are definitely worth a try if you are interested in adding coconut oil to your diet or raw desserts in general!
Alexandra Preston is a degree-qualified naturopath located in Bundall on the Gold Coast. For any questions, including to book an appointment, click here.