Aside from adding a sweet creaminess to any recipe (or a cup of coffee), coconut milk is a great ingredient for nourishing dry skin and hair.
“Coconut milk has an abundance of nutrients that promote both healthy skin and hair,” explains Dr. Rachel Maiman, a board-certified dermatologist at Marmur Medical in New York. “It’s packed with both fat- and water-soluble vitamins, including vitamin C, E, B5, B6, B1 and B3.”
But before we go on, it’s important to note that coconut milk is different from coconut water. The latter is the translucent liquid that’s found inside a coconut (aka what pours out when you crack one open). When you take that liquid and blend it with the flesh of the coconut itself, you get coconut milk, which is thicker and opaque in texture.
Maiman wants to be clear about this because most of the moisturizing benefits you’d get from using the ingredient are linked to the coconut flesh (which is also the primary source of coconut oil), and not just the water used to make coconut milk.
What makes coconut milk good for your hair?
One of the main components in coconut milk that makes it beneficial for hair health is that it has a high concentration of lauric acid. “Lauric acid is a medium chain fatty acid (MCFA), which is converted to an antiviral and antibacterial compound,” says Maiman. “This fatty acid can penetrate hair easily and has been suggested to help strengthen the cuticle.”
The cuticle functions similarly to your skin barrier in that it’s the outermost protective layer that keeps harmful substances out and your strands smooth and intact. As Maiman further explains, “A damaged cuticle can lead to hair breakage. Improved hair strength and impermeability results in less breakage, which can reduce rates of hair loss directly related to damage. However, the data is insufficient to support the claim that coconut milk promotes hair growth.”
In short, coconut milk may help moisturize and strengthen your existing hair (which helps with overall retention) but may not help with new growth.
How can I make coconut milk?
You can buy it easily at most grocery stores (either in the dairy aisle or baking section), but if you’re looking to make your own, you’ll need one mature coconut, to start. A mature fruit is brown in color and has a harder shell (whereas a younger coconut is green). The reason why you want a mature coconut over a younger one is because it has a higher flesh to water ratio, which will produce more milk.
Once you’ve procured your coconut, preheat your oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit. Next, poke the eyes of the coconut (the three spots located on one end) to drain the water from the fruit into a cup.
After draining the coconut, place it onto a flat sheet pan and bake for 15 to 20 minutes to soften it. Remove the coconut from the oven and carefully place it on a cutting board.
OK, now here comes the tedious part: getting to the meat. Once you’ve got it on a steady surface, grab a hammer and start breaking apart the coconut to get to the flesh.
Rinse off the coconut flesh and slice it into smaller pieces before dropping them into a blender with the coconut water you drained out earlier. Blend together until the pieces are diced into finer chunks.
Put the coconut shards into a mixing bowl and pour in four cups of boiling water. Let sit for 40 to 45 minutes. Lastly, use a cheesecloth to strain the mixture into another bowl. And there you have it, your very own coconut milk.
And if that sounds a little too intensive on for you, you can also shortcut the whole thing by using two cups of pre-shredded unsweetened coconut and blending it with three cups of water before straining the mixture.
How do I make a hair mask with coconut milk?
The simplest way to use coconut milk as a mask is to mix it with a few drops of other moisturizing oils (like argan or jojoba) and apply it to clean, wet hair, like you would any other mask or treatment.
After shampooing, separate your hair into a few sections and apply the coconut concoction from the roots to the ends, taking care to massage it into your scalp. Then, using a wide-toothed comb, brush it through to make sure your entire head is evenly coated.
Secure your hair with a clip and cover it with a shower cap. Leave the mask on for up to 20 minutes and rinse thoroughly.
For extra conditioning (for, say, after a dip in the pool), add a mashed avocado to the mix and repeat steps above.
What are the best coconut milk hair products to buy?
We’re big fans of Herbal Essences Bio Renew Coconut Milk and Aloe hair mask ($6), which, in addition to smelling like a tropical dream, is free of sulfates and parabens and is made with 90 percent natural ingredients (including botanicals that are endorsed by the famed Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew in the UK).
Another drugstore gem is the OGX Nourishing Coconut Milk shampoo and conditioner ($8 each). In addition to the ingredient du jour, this gentle formula also enlists the help of egg white proteins to strengthen and repair brittle strands. The scent, as expected, is delightfully sweet and reminiscent of a beachside vacation.
Last but not least is the IGK Thirsty Girl Coconut Milk Anti-Frizz leave-in conditioner ($28). We’d recommend this for ladies with thicker strands, as it can be a bit on the heavier side. Spray it on clean, damp strands to easily detangle and keep any frizz in check as it dries.