Coconut oil for hair: Benefits and expert tips for healthy hair

Coconut oil is a nutrient-dense oil that’s proven to be great for dry, sensitive skin, but can coconut oil for hair aid in reviving parched, damaged strands too? Here, with the help of board-certified dermatologists, we’re exploring how coconut oil works to improve overall hair health, as well as how to use it to reap the best results. Ready to dive in?

Coconut oil is a multiuse ingredient with various benefits for the hair due to its highly nourishing and restorative properties. “It can help repair dry, damaged hair as well as introduce anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial properties,” explains Dr. Nava Greenfield, a board-certified dermatologist at Schweiger Dermatology Group in New York City. “It also works well on the skin of the scalp for the same reasons.”

Dr. Joshua Zeichner, a board-certified dermatologist based in New York City, agrees that coconut oil can be highly beneficial for both the scalp and hair. “Coconut oil is rich in fatty acids to help hydrate and soften the hair while protecting the scalp itself,” he says. “It can reduce frizz and smooth the hair, and also contains high levels of lauric acid, which helps lower levels of yeast on the scalp that contribute to flaking and dandruff.”

Coconut oil’s role in reducing dandruff is actually more important than you might think. “Low-grade inflammation from dandruff may contribute to hair thinning, as it interferes with optimal follicle function,” explains Zeichner. “Many dermatologists consider dandruff treatments an essential component of addressing hair thinning.”

So, to recap, coconut oil has numerous benefits for hair:

  • Improves dry, damaged hair
  • Reduces frizz and smooths hair
  • Controls dandruff and scalp inflammation
  • Soothes and hydrates the hair and scalp

While coconut oil is generally considered safe and beneficial for all hair types, it’s especially ideal for those with dry, itchy scalps and/or damaged strands. “Coconut oil is very good for dry hair as it’s rich in fatty acids that help to nourish the hair and scalp,” explains Dr. Marisa Garshick, a board-certified dermatologist based in New York City and New Jersey. Additionally, Zeichner says coconut oil is an excellent treatment for hair that’s brittle, as well as scalps that are sensitive, dandruff-prone or susceptible to rashes, infections or inflammation.

Similar to other oils, such as castor or rosemary, coconut oil can be used on its own, added to other hair care products or mixed with other natural oils. It all comes down to your unique hair needs and preferences. “Coconut oil can be added to products such as shampoo and conditioner and should be used as recommended on the product label,” says Greenfield. “If used as a standalone ingredient, use on dry hair and rub directly onto the scalp.” She recommends applying a thin layer, massaging it in and then waiting at least 12 hours before washing your hair.

Alternatively, Zeichner says you can use coconut oil to make your own DIY hair mask. “It can be applied to dry or damp hair; however, many DIYers recommend applying it to damp hair,” explains Zeichner. “After it’s applied to the hair, it can be left in place for anywhere between 10 to 30 minutes, then rinsed out.”

He adds that while some people suggest leaving it on overnight, he’s wary of recommending this because coconut oil can be comedogenic — or pore-clogging — so those with acne-prone skin should proceed with caution.

Coconut oil can last for up to 12 to 24 hours — or even longer. It’s not unsafe to keep it on for several days; however, it will lead to a greasy appearance if you use a lot of it.

Overall, coconut oil can be a great solution for those struggling with a dry scalp, but it’s not going to be everyone’s cup of tea. “Coconut oil is beneficial for dry scalps because it provides occlusivity to lock in moisture,” explains Greenfield. “Dryness also causes inflammation in the scalp skin and coconut oil addresses that. However, some people find oils on the scalp to be aesthetically unpleasing, especially those with thin hair, so it’s not for everyone.”

Greenfield says coconut oil tends to work best when someone has a combination of dry hair and dry scalp, as this way it can treat both without making the hair overly oily.

Also recommended by Zeicher, Kopari’s unrefined, cold-pressed coconut oil is packed with protein, vitamin E and essential fatty acids to deeply nourish and hydrate the hair and scalp. It’s also great for softening dandruff flakes for easy removal while soothing inflammation at the same time. 

This bestselling hybrid scrub-shampoo helps minimize dryness and flaking by eliminating dead skin and product buildup, and according to Garshick, it can be used by all hair types. “It combines charcoal with micro-exfoliators to help draw out impurities as well as remove dead skin cells and product buildup,” explains Garshick. “Additionally it incorporates coconut oil to deliver moisture and nourishment to the scalp.”

“This leave-in conditioner contains coconut milk and helps to soften the hair,” says Garshick of Shea Moisture’s top-rated leave-in conditioner. “It helps to reduce frizz while also detangling hair for reduced breakage.”

This luxurious hair primer is another favorite of Garshick’s, as it has multiple benefits for the hair. “It can be applied to the hair prior to drying, curling or straightening and offers heat protection while also helping to address frizzy and dry hair,” says Garshick. “In addition to amino acids, it also contains coconut oil to help smooth the cuticle and make hair easier to comb.”

“Containing coconut oil, in addition to Virtue’s patented Alpha Keratin 60ku protein, this formula helps to repair while also bringing softness and shine to the hair,” says Garshick. “It leaves the hair looking healthier without looking or feeling greasy.” For this reason, this formula’s an especially great option for those with fine or oily hair types.