Using coconut oil to protect hair from chlorine?

I swim regularly and I've been applying coconut oil to my hair beforehand because I read that it creates a waterproof barrier which protects hair from chlorine. It's only just occurred to me that I should find out if this has any scientific basis!

I’d also like to know whether it’s best to apply it to wet or dry hair - I know that your previous post about it ( mentioned applying to dry hair, and after trying it both ways I think this does have better results. But I’m curious about WHY that should be! Is it because oil and water don’t mix, so wet hair repels the oil? I thought wetting hair would raise the cuticle and might make it easier for products to penetrate the hair shaft?


  • Dry seems to be the best application method. "Wet" only raises the cuticle if the pH is very high and the hair shaft swells which is also damaging. Coconut can penetrate even without swelling.  
  • Ah - thanks Randy, I thought just getting hair wet was enough to raise the cuticle so that's good to know.

    So will coconut oil applied to dry hair before swimming create an effective barrier to the chlorine in pool water?
  • If you're just looking for a barrier on the outside of the hair there are a variety of materials you can coat the hair with including mineral oil and silicone based products. Coconut oil is unique in that it will help prevent chlorine (or water for that matter) from penetrating inside the hair. Perhaps the best approach would involve two kinds of oil - one for the outside and one for the inside? I haven't seen anyone test this approach.  
  • You are correct. Wetting and drying causes "hygral swelling" which is damaging because it lifts the cuticles. 
  • I've heard that professional swimmers sometimes apply gelatin to the hair to protect it. Does coconut oil + gelatin coating work as an inside and outside protection?
  • I don't know of any mechanism that would allow gelatin to protect hair from chlorine. Gelatin is water soluble any coating that you apply would just rinse off while swimming. 

    We've done testing to show that a good silicone containing shampoo leaves a coating on hair that slows the absorption of water and can reduce chlorine update. 
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