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How much coconut oil does hair absorb?

Here’s more good news for lovers of natural hair care products.

Coconut oil penetrates hair

We’ve blogged before about how coconut oil is one of the few natural oils that has been proven to penetrate deep inside the hair where it can strengthen from within. The problem has been there has been no way to quantify how much oil actually gets inside the hair. A 2012 research paper documents a new method involving radioactively labeled coconut oil that can now measure how much oil actually gets inside hair.

This new method used a scintillation fluid to radioactively tag the coconut oil. (BTW, Sarah Bellum thought the phrase “scintillation fluid” sounded dirty.) The researchers were then able to track how much of the oil actually penetrated into the hair versus how much stayed on the surface.

The research (although small-scale and preliminary) shows that hair can absorb around 15% of its weight in coconut oil in an hour. An overnight soaking oil (six hours) increases absorption to around 20% or 25%.

With this new method validated, the researchers hope to expand the scope of their work to include other types of oils. In the meantime you can take solace in the fact that coconut oil has been once again validated as an effective natural hair care ingredient.

Reference: Quantitative measurement of the penetration of coconut oil into human hair using radio-labeled coconut oil. JSCC, 2012, Vol 63.

It’s been proven again and again that coconut oil is good for hair. Is anyone out there actually doing this? Leave a comment and share your hair oiling experiences with the rest of the Beauty Brains community.

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Amanda April 28, 2014, 8:12 am

    Love coconut oil! The all-natural shampoo I use (Healthy Skin for a Happy Life) actually contains coconut oil as well as jojoba, essential oils, lemon juice and avocado oil, and I can totally see the difference it makes in the shine and strength of my hair! If anyone is looking for an all-natural shampoo made with coconut oil, I highly recommend Healthy Skin for a Happy Life!

    • JAkcstsf November 28, 2018, 2:10 pm

      Please do not give advice if you do not even know the basics like that lemon is NOT good for hair. Smh

      • Rose March 4, 2020, 8:11 pm

        You shouldn’t be so rude to people…even if she were wrong, she clearly didn’t do it on purpose, however the funny part is that you’re wrong, not her. Lemon juice is not bad for your hair especially if you’re washing it out (which she obviously is since she’s in the shower using it as shampoo) people use lemon juice to bleach There hair in the sun and too much SUN is not good for your hair which is why you shouldn’t leave lemon juice in your hair for TOO long when you’re hanging outside without washing it out.

  • Eileen April 28, 2014, 11:40 am

    I am an older woman (69) with long hair about 2/3 of the way down my back. I use a coconut oil mask a couple times a month and it maintains my hair’s strength, adds body, gives it a nice luster, and keeps it feeling soft. I generously slather it on and pin my hair on top of my head and then go about my morning routine. All considered, it is only on my hair 3-4 hours tops, but that seems to be plenty of time for it to do its job. When it’s time to remove the oil, I make a slurry of water and a bit of shampoo, work that through my hair, and rinse. I then shampoo as I normally would. I’m always a bit puzzled by people who claim they can’t get it out. In my experience, it shampoos out very easily.

    I’m not on the “all natural” bandwagon by any means, but pure coconut oil lives up to all the hype when it comes to conditioning the hair.

  • PamG April 28, 2014, 2:49 pm

    I use this weekly , the night before I wash my hair.
    It definitely cuts down on tangles and my hair is soft.

  • Klee April 28, 2014, 3:18 pm

    LOVE coconut oil! I’ve been using it on my hair 1-2x weekly, since I first read about it on Beauty Brains. I used to have to trim my hair regularly to around shoulder length, because the ends would get so dry and damaged, but my hair is currently halfway down my back and beautiful. Makes my hair look great AND cheaper than the high-end conditioners!

  • Jennifer April 28, 2014, 9:19 pm

    On Sunday night I saturate my hair with coconut oil. I sleep on it Sunday and rinse it on Monday. I don’t wash my hair until Tuesday. I work from home and don’t usually go anywhere on Mondays. It doesn’t clog my pores and washes out of my pillowcases. The coconut oil has totally saved my hair! I color and highlight it, plus style it with a blow dryer and flat iron it. Now it is soft and shiny and the ends don’t split.

  • Judith April 29, 2014, 3:30 am

    My hair is fine, thick and has been bleached and using coconut oil does wonders. That combined with the fact that I handle my hair with care and don’t put heat on it, keeps it healthy.

    I use it as a pre-wash treatment for at least one hour

  • Priscilla Kurtz May 2, 2014, 7:27 am

    I’m a hair artist and I have my hair routine: Mondays are for hydration mask, Wednesdays are for nutrition mask and on weekends are for repair mask. At the end of every month I apply oil to my hair, leave it for about an hour, I wash it out, and use liquid keratin product.
    I was used to do the same routine without the oil procedure. I first use olive oil and the difference is ridiculous. This Monday I use my hydration mask and my hair felt even more hydrated and soft than before. So amazing.
    And it is very hard to convince people that oil doesn’t make your hair oily…

  • Mira May 9, 2014, 2:04 pm

    The use of coconut oil as a conditioner for hair is a very well known and old tradition in South Asia. I’ve had coconut oil put into my hair since I was a young child and continue to do for about an hour or so before washing my hair. I’ve always had long soft and healthy hair as a result of it.

  • Brenda May 22, 2014, 7:00 am

    After years of neglect and abuse, I’ve finally given my hair a break from relaxers and heat. Using coconut oil and occasional protein treatments has revitalized my hair. It really does soak in without weighing my hair down too much; I hate the feeling of greasy oily hair. Thanks for sharing the study!

  • Isabel July 14, 2014, 9:08 am

    I use coconut oil for my hair once a month, then conditioner twice a week.

    I have thin hair and it falls down when I’m stressed or when is longer than my shoulders. After I got to this website and found out about coconut oil, I started to sleep with the coconut oil in my hair. I felt that my hair is a bit thicker and falls less. It takes 2 washes to take all of the coconut oil from my hair and after using the conditioner, it feels soft and healthy.

    I used not to like conditioners either before reaching this website because I thought it was contributing to the falling problem. Then I learned that you have to avoid the scalp.

    I’m very happy with this remedy 😀

  • SkincareDupes December 23, 2014, 2:35 am

    I use coconut oil in my hair all the time. The only problem is it breaks me out something fierce if I get it on my temples or shoulders, but it’s amazing for my porous curly hair!

  • Pauline January 6, 2015, 1:02 pm

    I like the idea of using coconut oil. Unfortunately it really dries out my hair.

  • Anna January 19, 2015, 5:38 pm

    I’ve tried using coconut oil and found it very hard to wash out. Many people on MakeupAlley reported that they prefer using coconut milk or coconut cream. I’ve tried both and discovered that coconut cream works like magic for me. My hair is a bit below shoulder length and completely grey. I want to grow it long, but grey hair needs a lot of care, so I started looking into ways to condition, preferably with something edible (almost wanted to say ‘chemical free’ 😀 ). Coconut cream is just the right thing for me. The way I do it – I open a can of coconut cream, slather it over my hair until it feels damp (takes maybe 2-3 tablespoons) and let it dry. I leave it like that overnight (it doesn’t feel greasy, only stiff) and wash out the next morning. I freeze the remaining coconut cream in ice cube tray – one cube is just enough for a ‘treatment’ and there is no waste. I sometimes ‘steal’ a cube for cooking :-). I do this maybe once a week, hair is soft and nice to touch.

    • Randy Schueller January 19, 2015, 6:44 pm

      Hey Anna. I’m not familiar with coconut cream. Is that just coconut oil emulsified in water? If so, what other ingredients does it contain?

      • Anna January 20, 2015, 6:28 pm

        🙂 Coconut cream and coconut milk are used in cooking, and the only difference between the two is the amount of water – have a look next time you are in supermarket – if there is a shelf for Indian or Eastern cooking it may be there. I am in Australia, and use AYAM brand http://www.ayam.com/gluten-free-coconuts/353-coconut-cream-270ml.html as I found that other brands list thickeners, stabilisers and other ingredients, this one has only coconut kernel extract and water. So I think it still must have coconut oil but not 100%.

      • Maggie April 17, 2015, 3:22 am

        I have no idea how it’s manufactured but old-fashioned hand-made fresh coconut milk comes from the flesh of older coconuts (the people eat the flesh of younger coconuts). The flesh is grated and then wrapped in cloth and tied. They would place the wrapped-up grated coconut in hot water, then lift out and then squeeze/twist over another container. The liquid that comes out is fresh coconut milk. Coconut cream is more concentrated.

        • Randy Schueller April 17, 2015, 6:39 am

          Hi Maggie. This issue with coconut milk is that it’s oil emulsified in water. So you’re adding diluted oil to your hair which won’t be as effective.

          • Farah February 6, 2018, 8:37 pm

            Coconut cream/milk for cooking is not an emulsification of coconut oil and water. Coconut oil is made from thick coconut milk/cream. First you have to grate the flesh of mature coconuts then blend it with some water and squeeze the resulting liquid out. Less water means a thicker liquid. Then you ‘cook’ the cream gently until it separates into oil and brown solids. That’s how we Asians have been making coconut oil for centuries.

  • Fabie April 30, 2015, 11:21 am

    Do “cones” in hair oils cause the oil to not be absorbed by the hair, like coconut oil that goes deeper? Also does mineral oil stop an oil like coconut oil from penetrating the hair follicle? I guess this can go for skin too. 🙂 Thanks!

    • Randy Schueller May 1, 2015, 9:56 am

      I’ve never seen data on this but theoretically a heavy coating of silicone could prohibit coconut oil from penetrating into hair. This really shouldn’t be an issue as long as you apply the oil to clean (or slightly dirty) hair. This isn’t an issue on skin because the oils coat the surface to prevent water from evaporating.

  • Julia October 9, 2015, 11:59 pm

    Everything I hear about coconut oil sounds so wonderful and I love that it’s scientifically backed, but every time I try using it myself, it dries my hair out something awful. A quick internet search led me to something called “protein sensitive” hair – apparently this type of hair does poorly with coconut oil. Could you explain this to me? I can’t find any actual data on this, only anecdotal evidence and no real explanation behind it. Thanks! You guys are such an amazing resource!

    • justine June 7, 2016, 8:11 pm

      It isn’t so much that your hair is sensitive to protein as it is that your hair already has enough protein. the reason it seems like coconut oil makes your hair stiff is because coconut oil fortifies your hair, keeping it from losing protein. So, this could mean one of two things:
      1) Your hair could be balanced and you just need to maintain your hair care routine or,
      2) If your hair feels dry and brittle and snaps easily or breaks easily, you could need moisture in your hair care routine.

    • Rabia October 18, 2016, 10:53 pm

      My hair had same issue. I have very dry snd frizzy hair. Whenever I used coconut oil it dried my hair even more. I did some research and found that coconut oil that is used for cooking and is 100% pure and should be good for hair too. Now I have started using pure coconut oil again and it is improving the health of my hair. Coconut oils that are sold for hair are not 100% pure and could be damaging to the hair. Try 100% pure coconut oil.

  • Mary1 November 3, 2015, 12:29 pm

    Me and my mum use coco oil for hair and as a cream. I have a huge result. My hair long, straight and bright and my mummy 45 and she doesnt have wrinlkles.

  • Peppi 1977 February 29, 2016, 6:50 pm

    I’ve been using coconut oil in my hair for an overnight mask and I had really dried out crunchy hair from bleaching and dying and I suggest you try it I’m loving it. I first wet my hair try it saturating my whole head and scalp it feels softer and healthy this product works I suggest every one try it

  • Nan September 10, 2016, 11:58 am

    I have been using coconut oil on my hair for years. It does make your hair feel smoother and the strands seems stronger and better bonded. I have left it on as little as an hour and as long as overnight. The duration of time seems to be a minimal factor as it appeared to yield the same results. But I would say make sure to leave it on for at least one hour minimum. The one thing that I hear a lot from others is they couldn’t get it out. There is a great trick for that. First, remember that ole saying, “Oil and water don’t mix.” So, when you get ready to remove the oil, don’t start with wetting your head and commence shampooing. The best way to get the coconut oil out is to use this process:

    1) Lather your oiled head with an inexpensive daily conditioner that is a bit loose in consistency. Massage it in for a minute.
    2) Use VERY WARM but not hot water to rinse.
    3) Repeat with more conditioner, massage in and rinse with very warm water.
    4) Now you are ready to shampoo your hair and condition as normal.
    Voila! The coconut oil is out and your hair feels fabulous!

    Hope this helps.


  • Mich June 10, 2017, 6:43 am

    I use coconut oil once a week. I leave it in usualy for a day and a half and my hair absorbs almost all of it. When I apply it, its not light nor is it tripping. Its in between.

  • SkinSort October 1, 2020, 3:27 am

    Cool! I’ve definetly gotta try this out – my hair can get pretty dry at certain times of the year.