Coconut oil and its hability to penetrate the hair shaft in order to improve appearance and reduce hair tangling.

The original study investigated 4 oils:

  1. Coconut oil
  2. Olive oil
  3. Sunflower oil
  4. Mineral oil

Today I will try coconut oil.

What they measured was the capillary adhesion(CA) of hair fibers, while we can not measure this at home, today we follow more or less this guide for “testing the feel” of coconut oil infused hair fibers which is basically what CA measures, the hability of the oil to penetrate the hair shaft.

The Hair Experiment 

  1. Apply coconut oil to dry hair, this will help the oil to enter the hair cortex, finger detangle & cover with a plastic cap.
  2. Apply moderate heat for 10-20 minutes and let product sit and cool down (you can use the blow dryer in low setting, cover with warm towel or spend sometime in the sauna as part of a spa night). I used the blow dryer/ warm towel set up.
  3. Style as usual (I used the macadamia hair smooth curl step by step that I posted previously).

You could follow the same procedure with sunflower oil if you wish to try it, since in the study both oils when exposed to heat lowered even more the capillary adhesion, meaning that more oil penetrated in to the hair shaft which in turn protects it from Higral fatigue one of the culprits of breakage.

The Same principle also applies for Olive oil but the use of heat provided no further improvements, so no need to use heat (in this case what you can do is mildly heat the olive oil in itself, it is quite pleasant and was one of my first “tests” and I loved it). Mineral oil is

ineffective in reducing capillary adhesion and that’s the reason why you will always find online advise against it, so yes I won’t use mineral oil, but this also means it can potentially be a good sealant of moisture by forming a film so it could be effective in theory to protect the hair from external aggression (sun, heat, etc) although it serves no purpose within the hair shaft in itself.

What does this mean in Practical terms?

In summary coconut oil, olive oil and sunflower oil can penetrate into the hair shaft helping to prevent breakage, strengthening the hair fiber and improving overall appearance of hair health, done in moderation (every 1-2 weeks) it might help to reduce breakage which in turn can potentially help preserving existing hair growth.

Who can benefit from this type oil pre treatment?

I found this quite useful when my hair had a lot of heat damage as the porosity of my hair was higher than it is now. I no longer use raw coconut oil in my routine, but I use products that contain coconut oil.

Anyone doing the transition from chemical relaxers/keratin straighteners or with damage due to heat tools can benefit from this type of strengthening pre treatments.

Dyed hair also tends to have higher porosity so it will be great for you too if you have a nice balayage or other coloring regarding of hair texture.

Commentary: In case of low porosity or fine hair I think that it might not be such a good idea since most oils and all butters will form a film and just sit on top of the hair contributing to product build up.

As with everything curly hair it is a trial & error is part of the learning curve, but knowing the science behind what we do and why we do it can help with the decision making process.

I have not revisited the olive oil “test” but I will probably do it again as my hair is feeling a little dry after the summer fun.

Updated: September 2017

Personal Update on coconut oil 2017

My personal experience is that when my hair had heat damage it worked quite well but as it got healthier coconut oil ceased to be effective for me & even caused my hair to alter it’s curl pattern in a way I did not like, it loosed up my curls instead of giving me any of the above mentioned benefits.

I still use some products that contain coconut oil in moderation but I no longer use it as single oil treatment.

Let me know if coconut oil works for you and which other oils would you like to learn about, if I can find a peer reviewed study and discuss I will try and share.

Kindly,

Dr. L. aka HairLabMD

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Hair Experiment #1: Coconut Oil 

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