We Ask a Derm: How Often Should I Use Coconut Oil for Hair Growth? And Does It Actually Help?
Coconut oil is beloved by many people for its versatile uses. In addition to adding a subtle flavor to any dish, it is also used in common household chores (i.e., conditioning wood floors) and as a moisturizing ingredient in hair and skincare routines.
To speak on the latter, we tapped two board-certified dermatologists, Dr. Steven Shapiro, who is the founder of Shapiro MD and Rachel Maiman, who practices at Marmur Medical, for their insights.
What are the benefits of using coconut oil for your hair?
“From using heat tools and coloring treatments to things like pollution and extreme weather, your hair goes through a lot. These things can leach moisture and protein from your hair, making it dry, dull, and susceptible to breaking, splitting and excessive shedding,” says Shapiro.
“Fortunately, coconut oil can help on every front, which is why it’s often seen in your haircare products and home routines. This is because coconut oil contains lauric acid, a fatty acid that, unlike other fatty acids, can penetrate deep into the hair shaft. As a result, it can help protect hair against protein loss while providing long-lasting moisture. This makes your hair look fuller, shinier and healthier. It also gives your hair a softer, smoother quality that’s easy to style,” he adds.
Maiman agrees, adding that: "Like mineral oil and many vegetable oils, coconut oil is effective at maintaining moisture within a hair fiber. This is because coconut oil coats the hair shaft on the outside, which provides a hydrophobic barrier that locks in moisture. Consequently, this effect slows the rate of moisture loss out of the hair shaft over time, similar to what some conventional conditioning products may do for you."
Does coconut oil help with hair growth?
It can. As Shapiro explains: “Coconut oil is incredibly nourishing to your skin, so using it on your hair can be helpful in aiding hair loss prevention by creating more optimal conditions for healthy hair growth.”
And remember the lauric acid we just talked about? Well, in addition to being an excellent moisturizer, “it can also help fight inflammation around your hair follicles, which is one of the more common culprits behind hair loss,” says Shapiro.
Again, lauric acid is the main component of coconut oil, which allows it to penetrate your hair easily, which can also help strengthen the cuticle. "Similar to what occurs with a compromised skin barrier, a damaged cuticle welcomes the entry of harmful substances and water that can easily cause hair breakage. Improved hair strength and greater impermeability result in less breakage. Thus, coconut oil may help to reduce rates of hair loss directly related to damage," adds Maiman. "However, the data is insufficient to support the claim that coconut oil actually promotes hair growth at the level of the follicle."
How to use coconut oil on hair:
There are many different ways to use coconut oil on your hair, but before you do anything, Maiman says to stick to unrefined, virgin coconut oil (or even extra virgin coconut oil) for the best results. OK, ready for some recommendations for incorporating the hydrating ingredient into your routine?
1. "You can apply coconut oil directly before or after washing your hair to protect against damage and seal in essential moisture," offers Shapirpo.
2. "Use it as a hair mask two to three times per week. To do this, simply warm the coconut oil and apply it to dry hair, using a wide-tooth comb to distribute the oil evenly, starting at the midsection of your hair and continuing to the ends. For a quick treatment, leave it on for 30 minutes, then shampoo and condition your hair as usual. For extra hydration, leave it on overnight with your hair wrapped in a shower cap or silk scarf. Then, shower and shampoo in the morning.
3. Try it as a finishing oil to minimize the appearance of split ends, reduce frizz and tame flyaways. (This is particularly helpful for those with curly, coarse or otherwise porous strands.) On damp hair, run a small amount of coconut oil through the ends or take it up slightly higher to the midsection, being careful to avoid the roots so you don't end up with a greasy scalp.
Are there any precautions to consider when using coconut oil on your hair?
"The main precaution to take is for patients with acne-prone skin, as coconut oil is considered to be comedogenic, meaning it will clog pores," warns Maiman. "Consequently, it may actually make acne worse for some people, so I advise staying away from it if this is at all a concern. Even when application is limited to just the scalp, it can easily migrate and cause breakouts along the hairline and forehead."
“Using too much coconut oil can also make your hair look greasy,” cautions Shapiro. “Always start with the smallest amount (i.e., no larger than a dime-sized scoop) and see how your hair responds to it first. You can always add more later. Or, you can use a coconut oil-infused hair product instead, which give you the extra moisture you’re looking for without without the mess or residue."
Are there any other ingredients you recommend for hair growth?
“Green tea extract, saw palmetto berry and caffeine extract are all extremely beneficial for hair growth, especially for men and women dealing with thin, damaged hair or hair loss. These ingredients can help fight DHT, the hair loss-triggering hormone that is believed to contribute to scarring and shrinking of hair follicles. By fighting DHT at the scalp, these natural extracts can help them work at peak capacity,” explains Shapiro.
“Minoxidil is another great addition for people dealing with hair loss or thinning and it’s backed by decades of experience for both men and women. It’s easy to use topically is one of only two solutions officially approved by the FDA to treat hair loss.” (See below for a shopping guide to hair growth products.)
“When I work with hair loss patients, these are some of my go-to ingredients. They’re research-backed, and because many of them (i.e., coconut oil and green tea extract) are natural ingredients, I feel great recommending them to almost anyone concerned about their hair health and hair loss,” he adds.
The bottom line
So, can coconut oil can help with hair growth? Yes, in that it helps to create a healthier environment for your scalp and thus, hair.
As we’ve covered before, hair growth is a multi-factorial process that requires a holistic approach that targets any underlying causes of hair thinning or loss such as stress, hormones, gut health, nutrition and other environmental factors. On its own, coconut oil—or any single ingredient for that matter—likely won’t solve all of your hair loss woes. Rather, it can be a supporting factor.
Aside from hair growth, most people can safely use coconut oil as a moisturizing ingredient in their routine to tame and hydrate dry strands. Just remember to use it as directed (start with a small amount and add as needed) to avoid clogging your follicles.
What are some products that can boost hair growth?
1. Viviscal Professional
Viviscal is perhaps the most well-known hair growth supplement. It’s scientifically formulated with AminoMar, an exclusive marine complex that helps to nourish thinning hair from within and promote existing hair growth. Along with AminoMar, it also contains a few key nutrients that are essential for healthy hair growth, including biotin and vitamin C.
2. Briogeo Scalp Revival Charcoal + Coconut Oil Micro-Exfoliating Shampoo
This cult-favorite hair care line features products that are free of SLS, parabens, sulfates, phthalates and silicones. Instead it relies on natural plant and fruit extracts and oils (in this case, charcoal and coconut oil) to tackle a host of hair issues. Inarguably the star of the lineup is this detoxifying scrub that gets rid of any product buildup, while clearing away existing flakes. The peppermint, spearmint and tea tree oil blend cools an itchy scalp on contact and feels instantly soothing.
3. Foligain Tripe Action Shampoo for Thinning Hair
For a drug-free option, you can always start with a topical product this shampoo. It removes any build-up, which makes your hair look fuller, and uses a proprietary blend called Trioxidil, which includes natural botanic extract (like biotin and fruit stem cell) to improve scalp and hair health.
4. OGX Quenching Coconut Curls Conditioner
This smoothing conditioner is made with a moisturizing blend of honey and coconut oil to add shine and softness to your strands without weighing them down. Plus, the scent is an absolute delight every time you catch a whiff.
5. Nutrafol Hair Growth Supplement
With over 3,000 physicians and hair care professionals who recommend Nutrafol, this daily supplement is formulated with potent, bioactive phytonutrients that have been clinically studied and shown to be effective in improving hair growth at three to six months. Included ingredients like Sensoril® Ashwagandha (shown to balance stress hormones) and Marine Collagen (which provides amino acids as building blocks of keratin), all work in tandem to support hair growth. Secondary benefits include stronger nails, improved sleep, less stress and more energy.