≡ Menu

What’s the best way to apply coconut oil to hair?

CYW says…Is using coconut oil as a pre-poo or a leave in after shampoo/cond going to benefit my hair the most?

The Right Brain responds:

We’ve blogged before about how coconut oil is effective at treating hair damage. That’s because it’s one of the relatively few oils that are able to penetrate deep into the hair. Coconut oil is special because it has the right combination of molecular size and shape (it’s small and has straight line structure that allows it to slip into hair) and the right chemical structure (it’s derived from lauric acid which has an affinity for protein.) So while most conditioning oils (like silicones and mineral oil) just sit on top of that hair, coconut oil is literally able to work from the inside.

What’s the best way to apply coconut oil?

One of the best studies we’ve seen on this subject was conducted in India is in 2002. Researchers found that coconut oil reduces damage both as a pre-wash and post grooming treatment. However, results showed it worked better as a prewash which makes sense since that’s when a lot of mechanical damage occurs during the washing and drying process.

Does this sound too good to be true? Well there is a slight catch, at least based on the methodology used in this particular test. The coconut oil was applied to hair and allowed to soak in for 14 hours (overnight). Despite the usage instructions for many regular conditioners you don’t have to let those sit on your hair for very long. However, if you want good penetration (and who doesn’t?) you have to allow coconut oil to soak into your hair for quite some time. Maybe 14 hours isn’t the magic number but that’s the timeframe that researchers used in this study.

The Beauty Brains bottom line

We wouldn’t want to over emphasize the results of any single study, however, based on the research we’ve seen you should apply coconut oil to your hair at night before going to sleep. In the morning wash it out and you should see significantly less damage.

Image credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/el_ramon/2561512339/

Reference: Effect of mineral oil, sunflower oil, and coconut oil on prevention of hair damage, J. Cosmet. Sci.,54, 175-192 (March/April2003)

{ 66 comments… add one }

  • Tree January 17, 2014, 7:47 am

    There is one problem though… I can’t remove it!! It just doesn’t wash! I have to wash my hair many times and when it is finally washed away my hair is too dry from all this washing. So I think some advice is need not only on how to apply coconut oil but also how to remove it (olive oil as well).

    • Mel November 19, 2015, 10:55 pm

      You need to shampoo with a clarifying shampoo! Only use maybe once a week because it does strip most oils from the hair and if you have coloured Hair, over use of this clarifying shampoo may strip colour

  • Samantha January 20, 2014, 11:33 am

    14 hours!!!! I can do maybe 2. No way I could sleep with my hair covered in oil.

  • elena January 23, 2014, 5:45 pm

    I actually always pre-poo my hair with coconut oil, the evening before a washday (with clarifying- or sulfate-based shampoo) and it doesn’t drip like evoo. You just wrap it up in silk or satin and you’re good to go. And it works wonders with dry hair and rough ends. Split ends need to be cut you risk losing length the longer you leave them be.

    • Randy Schueller January 23, 2014, 7:17 pm

      @Elena: Good point about coconut oil not dripping as much as olive oil. Since it’s nearly a solid at room temperature it has an easier consistency to work with.

  • Mia January 31, 2014, 4:22 pm

    Tree, I used to have that problem too! When I studied aromatherapy we would apply oil treatments to our hair. The tutor said the best way to remove it without stripping the hair was to apply gentle shampoo direct to the hair next morning before wetting it. That way it washes off much more easily.
    With coconut oil there is a danger of it solidifying while on your hair, especially in winter. Theoretically, you could break your hair while it is solid. So it’s important to not let it to go solid, if you can. One way is to add another oil that doesn’t solidify. Olive is good but heavy. Grapeseed and almond are good and inexpensive. Jojoba is wonderful if you can afford it.

    • Randy Schueller January 31, 2014, 5:10 pm

      Mia: With all due respect there is no way that coconut oil will solidify on your scalp to the point where it will cause your hair to break. First of all, the melting point of coconut oil is 76F (unless it has been hydrogenated) which is well below the temperature of your skin. Second, even if the oil did solidify it only forms a semi-solid mass that is not hard enough to break a strand of hair.

  • c January 31, 2014, 7:21 pm

    barf, no way! this is 2014 and in most cultures this would be considered gross

    • Brittany March 4, 2014, 9:29 am

      No offense – But this is one of the most ignorant comment’s I have ever read.
      .. It’s 2014- I think people are INTO trying more thing’s. Not really sure who would consider coconut oil on your hair gross? It smell’s absolutely delicious and is natural. And it really does help your hair…. and is awesome for many other thing’s. Most cultures? Lol…. As far as something being considered ‘gross’ in other cultures- it would have to be quite repulsive considering some of the practices around the world. Read a book.

      • Jake November 7, 2015, 5:03 pm

        I find it ironic that you’re telling her to read a book, and yet you’ve pluralised three plural nouns. I think it’s you who needs to read a book; a grammar one.

  • Stacey February 1, 2014, 10:42 am

    Don’t use as much

  • Tish February 12, 2014, 5:02 pm

    If coconut oil is so good for hair, why is it so difficult to find in commercial products? I’m not trying to be flippant. In an Amazon search, I found many hair care products that claimed to contain coconut oil, but few contained it in the first five ingredients, and those products were solid-at-room-temp tubs of coconut oil + an additional ingredient or two–not much different from buying a tub coconut oil.

    Is there something about coconut oil that makes it difficult to incorporate into a conditioner formulation of a more common (liquid) consistency?

    • Randy Schueller February 12, 2014, 6:09 pm

      That’s a very thought provoking question, Tish. I’ll address it in an upcoming blog post. Stay tuned!

    • Gabz May 25, 2014, 12:53 am

      I’m not an expert, by an means, but I do make a conditioner with extra virgin coconut oil for my dry, damaged hair friends. My own hair is fine and leans towards being oily, so I can’t use it.

      I know that if I incorporate high a percentage in my formula, the result is a very, very, thick product (almost like cold cream in consistency), particularly depending upon which emulsifying system I choose to use, and at what percentage.

      A high percentage of coconut oil – a very thick formula with the particular emulsifying system I use for that purpose – could be potted in jars for a once a week, deep conditioning treatment, but for a regular, daily use conditioner, I need only incorporate a very small percentage of coconut oil for friends to feel the benefits, which keeps it light enough for daily use.

      So, if I were to sell my daily use conditioner commercially, it would appear quite low on the list of ingredients, with water being first on the list and preservative appearing last.

      Did that make sense? Has it helped answer the question a bit?

  • PA February 23, 2014, 11:19 am

    I mix coconut oil with cyclomethicone to thin it out and make it easier to spread through my hair. Do you think the cyclomethicone could make the coconut oil not work as well?

    • Randy Schueller February 23, 2014, 12:53 pm

      Great question! I’ve never seen data on this but given that the cyclomethicone will evaporate over time, my guess is that it won’t interfere.

  • PA February 23, 2014, 11:41 am

    Tow more coconut oil questions!

    1. If I use coconut oil on my hair, then wash it out and dye my hair on the same day, will the coconut oil interfere with the dye? I use Revlon Beautiful Collection temporary dye about once a month.

    2. Is there an oil-soluble hair dye pigment that could be dissolved in coconut oil? And if there is, could coconut oil be an effective delivery system to move pigment into the hair strands without using ammonia or peroxide? Even if it would be temporary, it might be a good way to dye and strengthen your hair at the same time, without damaging it.

    • Noha April 21, 2014, 11:51 am

      This is an interesting question. I would love to know the answer.

    • L June 16, 2014, 6:29 pm

      Hi PA,

      I have your answer! I’ve been using the following two products for about two years now to color my hair on a monthly to bimonthly basis:

      Clairol beautiful collection semi permanent colour moisturizing color (color found at stores such as Sally beauty supply)
      Organix nourishing coconut milk (conditioner from the neighbourhood chain drugstore)

      I mix the temporary dye with the conditioner primarily to make it thicker and less runny, but it also leaves my hair in great condition – smoother and shinier than before the color. I tend to leave the color on for about 1hr so that it hits desired intensity which is 2x as long as recommended (since I’ve diluted it to half concentration in the conditioner).

      I highly recommend doing this then rinsing out w a little shampoo and reconditioning with the conditioner mentioned. I’m curious to try it with straight up coconut oil, but given that it is the 5th ingredient on the conditioner bottle, I figure it’s pretty close to what you are hoping for.

      This works without damaging thick, long, straight hair (like mine) or thin, fine, straight hair (I’ve converted a friend to this type of dying too). Other hair types I can’t be sure of.

      Hope this helps.

      • PA July 13, 2015, 2:21 pm

        Hi L,
        I just saw this comment, that you wrote a year ago. Thanks! I will try your method.

  • Alessandra February 24, 2014, 3:08 pm

    Should it be applied on wet or dry hair? I have found conflicting instructions. Some sites say on dry hair because water would prevent the hair from absorbing oil, since oil floats on top of water. Others say only on wet hair, to seal the moisture in… And that if applied on dry hair it would actually make the hair drier. Help!

    • Randy Schueller February 24, 2014, 7:47 pm

      Based on reading the study it appears they applied coconut oil to dry hair.

  • Jessica March 12, 2014, 10:04 am

    I will like to know if I need to apply the coconut oil solidified directly to my hair or better to melt it previously
    Thank you,

    • Randy Schueller March 12, 2014, 10:50 am

      @Jessica: It will be easier to spread the coconut oil through your hair if you melt it first.

  • Miranda March 25, 2014, 3:20 pm

    If ur having a hard time washing it out, it may be because ur not using the right kind. Organic extra virgin cold pressed is the best. It contains ZERO other ingredients. Some products that claim to be coconut oil add other oils or petroleum which is nearly impossible to wash out. Go to a health food store and buy organic food grade coconut oil and u shouldn’t have this issue.

  • robyn May 7, 2014, 2:29 pm

    I’ve always wondered, if we are to apply the oil on dirty hair, wouldn’t the dirt and other products that we have on our hair get absorbed with the oil or at least prevent penetration?

    • Randy Schueller May 7, 2014, 4:32 pm

      Robyn: The oil will not make other materials absorb better. If you’re concerned your hair is too dirty you could wash it, allow it to dry, and then apply oil.

  • robyn May 12, 2014, 1:38 pm

    Thanks for replying. Much love from Jamaica.

  • Gail Mulhall May 16, 2014, 5:44 pm

    Hi Beauty Brains! I still want to adopt you! Thanks for what you do, and for being so cute and funny while you do it. Anyway…enough about your wonderfulness. I do not care for the scent of coconut. I have used coconut oil as a pre-shampoo treatment, although never for 14 hours! I would really like to use a tiny amount of coconut oil rubbed on my palms (no pun intended :-), and then smoothed onto my clean, dry hair. I don’t, due to the scent. Finally…my question: Will fractionated coconut oil work well as an after shampoo hair healer? The fractionated coconut oil I’ve smelled seems devoid of scent. I realize it has the the long-chain doohickies removed, etc., but will it still work? Help me, Obi Wan Beauty Brains. You’re my only hope. Signed, Frazzled (and not just my hair)

    • Randy Schueller May 16, 2014, 6:10 pm

      Gail: It depends on which fractions of coconut oil are included in the oil that you’re using. There’s certainly no harm in giving it a try.

      PS Perry and I are ready to sign the adoption papers.

    • Hayley September 17, 2015, 6:51 am

      I just wanted to say that I love your style of writing and you made me giggle :)

  • Andrea November 3, 2014, 3:24 pm

    I tried the coconut oil successfully for 14 hours :). I will share how it seemed quite easy for me to do. First, I had my coconut oil nice and warm, had my hair parted in sections, hopped in the shower and applied the coconut oil generously throughout. I then wrapped it up in a couple of plastic bags (that I also brought to the shower with me). I then took a nice hot shower as usual so any coconut oil that may have dripped down my neck was going to be washed off. After showering, I used a scarf and did a beautiful head-wrap to cover the plastic bags, watched a few episodes of my favorite show on Hulu and went to bed. The next morning, I did some morning chores, a few errands and by the time I was settled, 14 hours had passed. I found it quite easy to rinse the oil out. Perhaps that is because it really soaked in to my hair and my hair was thirsty for it. My hair was not left oily at all after shampooing and conditioning but was very soft and shiny. I will do this as a regular hair care routine. This was awesome so my strands and I would like to thank you.

  • Nadine February 5, 2015, 9:34 pm

    I was wondering if I apply coconut oil to my dyed hair (its a medium purple) overnight will it do anything to the dye? like fade it out?

    Thank you

    • Randy Schueller February 6, 2015, 6:46 am

      Hi Nadine. We’ve never seen oil cause a problem with dye but you could try it on a tiny patch of your hair first if you’re worried.

  • Amy April 29, 2015, 11:59 am

    I have a question. I love using coconut oil on my hair and my skin, however, I’ve found that once it washes down the drain, it solidifies again. Our drains have become backed up with coconut oil gunk and so I’ve had to stop using it or risk hiring a plumber at some point.

    Is there a way to emulsify coconut oil so that it won’t solidify again? My husband said I could use it as hair conditioner if I then rinse my hair with Dawn dishwashing liquid. I don’t think so!! I would greatly appreciate a solution. Plus this is a warning to others that the drain pipes will be gunking up when cool even if you pour hot water down after you rinse your hair. Thank you.

  • rachel May 10, 2015, 3:39 pm

    can someone tell me if doing 2 days a week of oiling the hair for 7 hours each day is the same as a 14 hour day of oiling the hair? coz i really cant sleep with the stuff in my hair

    • Randy Schueller May 11, 2015, 8:29 am

      It’s not the same Rachel. 14 hours is the time that’s been proven to allow maximum penetration of the coconut oil. However, my guess is that you’ll still see a benefit even from just 7 hours.

  • Beatrice May 29, 2015, 12:56 pm

    Hi Randy,
    For the purpose of hair treatment, is cold pressed coconut oil better than any other variety?

    • Randy Schueller May 29, 2015, 1:12 pm

      Hi Beatrice. I’ve never seen any information that says cold pressed oil is better for any reason.

  • Ratna June 22, 2015, 9:45 pm

    After soaking my hair in coconut oil for about 5 hours and washing it, it felt much smoother. However, since then, hair dye can’t seem to cover my greys!

  • Aileen tan July 3, 2015, 9:55 am

    Can I use coconut oil daily?

    • Randy Schueller July 3, 2015, 2:29 pm

      You can but it may make your hair too greasy.

    • Randy Schueller July 4, 2015, 10:39 am

      I also doubt that daily use will give you much additional benefit over say, weekly or a few times per week.

  • Jess July 17, 2015, 6:41 am


    I want to apply a fake tan which takes over night to develope.

    I was hoping to apply my fake tan and then apply the coconut oil to my hair and let both do their job over night and have a shower to set the tan and wash out the oil.

    My only concern is if any of the oil seeps out could it interfere with the tan??? I don’t want to end up with a patchy tan at my hairline

    • Randy Schueller July 17, 2015, 7:12 am

      Great question, Jess. Unfortunately, I honestly don’t know the answer. If you experiment and find out, please let us know.

      • Jess July 19, 2015, 7:34 am

        I did the oil and the tan and both worked perfectly. I only got to leave both on overnight for 6 hours. That’s all the time I had but I have still never had so many compliments on my hair. Very happy with the results

  • Brandi J July 29, 2015, 7:08 pm

    Would coconut oil cause semi permanent dye to fade?

  • Dani August 3, 2015, 4:36 pm

    I would like to add since my friend told me about coconut oil for the hair i can not resist it. I use the lucy bee brand which is amazing!! I used to have very dry hair especially the ends as you can imagine due to bleaching my hair. My hair would not grow past a certain length either. I do a overnight treatment or a day depending on my plans. I do this once a week also. Hair cut regularly with this beauty product your hair will feel soft, smooth, HEALTHY! And my hair has grown so much. I would deffoo recommend this as it has worked miracles for me. I would also like to add that i have used expensive treatments/ masks for my hair and none has been very beneficial for me. The Lucy Bee coconut oil costs around £6 not sure where online you can purchase from, but i know its sold in Sainsbury and possibly Holland&Barret. STOCK UP!

  • Dee August 21, 2015, 4:01 pm

    I had my hair colored and they messed up. How long would you recommend I lave the coconut oil in? If I left it more then a day would it really do any good? I know it’s not going to correct the damage from the color but it will prevent any more damage done and moisturize my hair from within.

  • ... August 24, 2015, 3:14 pm

    Hey can u leave it on for a day or two

  • Chantelle September 17, 2015, 8:20 pm

    Hey, I have a question I have coconut oil on my hair for the pass two days should I wash it out? Or leave it because I’m going to dye my hair black ? Very curious !!

  • Alexis September 17, 2015, 10:39 pm

    Can I keep it in my hair less than 14 hours?
    And if so what’s the least amount of hours?

    • Randy Schueller September 18, 2015, 6:54 am

      The data showed that leaving it 14 hours worked well. I didn’t see any test data that determines the least amount of time. My guess is an hour or so will still give you decent benefits.

  • EJ September 22, 2015, 3:24 am

    Hello… Will coconut oil be ok with Rebonded hair?

  • Alessandra October 9, 2015, 7:20 am

    For those who worry about not being able to wash it out, I wanted to mention that I have baby fine hair and an oily scalp and I have never had this issue (which I had with other oils such as olive and argan). Just don’t apply too much and focus on the lengths and ends. If you want to oil the scalp, be prepared to wash twice. I dilute my shampoo in water because this way it spreads more evenly on the hair and scalp.
    For those who do not like the SCENT of coconut oil, you can order (online) Polynesian Monoi Oil, which is just coconut oil with Tabitian gardenia petals infused in it, it smells heavenly and less like a cookie, and works just as well.

  • Em October 18, 2015, 5:29 pm

    I use coconut oil weekly in my hair from either Friday to Sunday or Saturday to Sunday. I tend to double shampoo when I do wash it out and then not use as much conditioner as I normally would. I also use it on my face as a makeup remover and as an overnight moisturizer. Love it so much! Moisturizes my skin so much and smells heavenly.

  • jodee October 22, 2015, 6:58 pm

    Hi. I used unrefined coconut oil on my hair once but it blocked up my drainage pipes. Have you had this problem? Also could i use fractionated coconut oil instead because it doesnt go hard.

  • Julie October 31, 2015, 9:18 pm

    I was addicted to natural remedies for my face hair and body since I was young (teens-20s) my hair was always healthy now that I’m older (late 30s) I’ve tried all, from drug store to brand names and expensive salon treatments, nothing seem to work until I got back to basics for my damaged hair, I use several formulas whatever I have on hand of find at the store examples:
    1. mix olive, almond and castor oil
    2. Mayonnaise and olive oil
    3. Raw eggs with coconut oil
    Or any of the above mixed and matched or by itself
    My scalp is on the oily side while my ends are dry, I alternate coconut/raw egg and use vinegar on scalp only sometimes, also take biotin 10,000 and multivitamins and add 1 month supply of crashed birth control pills to my Paul Mitchell one shampoo and use fructis sleek and shine leave in conditioner

  • Sonya November 2, 2015, 1:54 pm

    I am LOVING your blog!!! My hair has been a mess of split ends and breakage, but thanks to your blog and other information online, I look forward to having healthy hair someday (just gotta grow out the parts I’ve already broken!). My new hair habits include: gently shampooing hair, conditioning only the lower half, switching from a twisty turban to a terry top post-shower, not combing or brushing wet hair, using a bone wide-tooth comb, not scratching my scalp, using more gentle hair bands and only when necessary, trimming my own split ends in between haircuts with professional shears, sleeping on a silk pillowcase, and conditioning ends with coconut oil. [All I knew before was to avoid blow-drying hair too often with high heat, but with all of my other bad habits, my hair was still a real mess.]

    I was also considering phasing over to all-natural beauty products, but you’ve really got me a more accurate perspective now! As well as generally informed me WAY beyond what I knew about beauty products! Thank-you!!!

    Anyway, back to the topic at hand, I was super curious about something and wanted to share what I learned! My burning question was, what kind of coconut oil was used in the studies that showed its absorption into and benefits for hair? In other words, did they use refined, unrefined, or fractionated coconut oil?

    Answer: According to their second published article in the Journal of Cosmetic Science in 2001, the researchers said that they used “pure coconut oil (Parachute brand from Marico Industries Ltd., Mumbai, India)”. From my online perusing, I learned that Parachute coconut oil is very popular for hair care in India, and that it is unrefined. Does refined or fractionated coconut oil produce the same results? I don’t know, so just to be safe, I’ll use unrefined coconut oil.

    Does the specific brand of unrefined coconut oil matter? Again, I don’t know, but in a long-hair forum from 2010, one person wrote that she had much better results with the Parachute Coconut Oil than with the Spectrum Coconut Oil. Virgo75 wrote: “[Spectrum] doesn’t seem as thick or do the same yummy things for my hair…[Parachute] makes my hair sooooo soft and silky while regular organic virgin/unrefined coconut oil doesn’t do the same thing….for some reason the Spectrum Organic makes my hair greasier, feels kind of crispy, and sits on top of my hair mostly, while the Parachute makes my hair softer, absorbs easier, and it feels like of moisturized too.” Another person “TJA” also noted about Parachute: “Sometimes I feel it works better than the other virgin coconut oil I have”. Why? The only explanation that the group could think of was that the Parachute brand is made from dried coconut meat (copra; which gives it a smoky smell, by the way), and perhaps this makes a difference.
    But be forewarned – from Amazon reviews, some people object to the smoky smell, others described it as pleasant smelling, and others liken it to oatmeal in its scent. It is sold all over the internet as well as at most Asian/Indian stores (sure enough, our local Himalayaan store carries it, and I’ll be getting my first bottle today).

    BTW, it was cool to read the actual research articles that the Beauty Brains discussed in several blog posts. Their first study in 1999 showed that pre-treatment of hair with coconut oil prior to shampooing helps to prevent breakage; further research in 2001 and 2002 showed that coconut oil absorbs into the hair shaft, while mineral oil and safflower oil do not, making coconut oil effective for protecting hair either as a pre-wash or post-wash.

    Who knows for sure, but I’m going to get a bottle of the Parachute stuff today and look forward to healing my hair!

    • Randy Schueller November 4, 2015, 9:00 am

      Hey Sonya, thanks for your thoughts. You raise some interesting questions about coconut oil. I haven’t seen anything in the technical literature to confirm which type is best (beyond what you already said about using unrefined coconut oil.) It’s possible that the refining process strips out some of the oil fractions that are beneficial to hair. It sounds like sticking with Parachute is your best bet.

      PS Thanks for being such a fan of our blog! If you can, please review our podcast on iTunes!

  • Sonya November 4, 2015, 10:02 pm

    Thank-you Randy!!! Your blog is so informative and fun to read!

    PS to anyone curious about the scent of Paradise coconut oil, if you’re a home baker and have ever toasted coconut to a golden brown color (where if you went a minute longer it would burn), that is exactly what the coconut oil smelled like to me. I liked the scent and really enjoyed treating my hair with it. It isn’t as yummy as the smell of most coconut beauty products (it doesn’t smell like cream of coconut – or coconut cake – lol), but the smell brings back good cooking memories :)

  • angels November 12, 2015, 12:06 pm

    if i use my coconut oil like tomy wet just cleaned hair for a few mins will that work too

    • Randy Schueller November 12, 2015, 12:23 pm

      Based on the research we’ve seen it may not work as well if you apply it that way.

Leave a Comment