Wednesday, 8 April 2009

Coconut Oil: Knowledge from our ancestors to our scientists

African women have used coconut oil for hair and skin for centuries! Our ancestors probably landed on this oil after trial and error (as most things in science) but they definitely found a real gemstone. They did not have the instruments that scientists have today to prove just how wonderful this oil is. Here are some scientific reasons to go out and buy some coconut oil.

1. Coconut oil penetrates into the cortex (Journal of Cosmetic Science pg 169-184,2001).Why should you care? This oil can help condition, moisturise and strengthen your hair!

2. Coconut oil reduces damage to hair cuticle during combing especially wet combing that many naturals (not me) are fond of (Journal of Cosmetic Science pg 327-339,1999).

3. Coconut oil reduces swelling of the hair shaft when the hair is immersed into water, protecting the hair from hygral fatigue. (Journal of Cosmetic Science pg 169-184,2001)

I could have stopped at number 1, seriously how good is number 1?! This is not to say that coconut oil is the only oil you should have, but if you are going to have just one, then this is THE ONE.

40 comments:

  1. I LOOOOOVVVEEE coconut oil! Use it all the time.

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  2. I didn't realize how good it was until I had real softness from using Herbal Essences Hello Hydration. I wondered what goodies were in there and I really think it is the coconut oil. I'm definitely going out to buy some pure coconut oil.

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  3. you should do an oil supplement thing!

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  4. Virgin coconut oil is one of the best natural hair conditioners and moisturizers to use. I also apply coconut oil to my skin in the shower. I find it makes an excellent natural skin moisturizer and conditioner. Since using coconut oil on my skin, I have stopped experiencing dry itchy skin - even during the cold, dry winter months.

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  5. @ anonymous - That is a great idea
    @ Healthy Oil Guy - Nice site, I will have a look-see later on!

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  6. And this is exactly why I luv coconut oil so much! Health and shine? It doesn't get much better than that.

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  7. I have eczema and am very allergic to coconut. Is there anything that you could recommend as an alternative to coconut oil that still penatrates the hair shaft and keeps hair moisturized?

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  8. Lili Marie - Sorry you can't use coconut oil. The second oil next to coconut that can penetrate the hair shaft is olive oil. I don't know if you are allergic to that too but it is one of the two good oils for penetrating the hair shaft.

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  9. Coconut oil didn't work for me when I tried it in the past but I am going to have to make it work now that I see it can do me so much good. I am definitely going to use it before I go swimming.

    Why don't you detangle your hair while wet? (I said detangle because I never comb my coily hair)

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  10. AM I MISSING SOMETHING HERE!? this all sounds so great .. but if i use coconut oil it just leaves my hair a bit greasy?! I use such a small amount on the ends :-( and it still breaks and goes brittle :-(

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    1. Because coconut oil is a very penetrating oil, if you use it over some conditioners (especially silicones) or non-penetrating oils (like mineral oil), it can't penetrate and will instead sit on top of the hair and feel gunky and stiff.

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    2. Unless you have done an experiment of seen one done I will disagree with you. Oils like mineral oil and silicones usually do not form into a full film over hair. This means there will be gaps along which oil and water can penetrate - this is the reason that hair covered in mineral oil or silicone can still get wet.

      I think the correct answer to the question from anon in 2009 is stop using coconut oil, perhaps it is not for you (especially if you have tried the finger tip tip or tried using it for sealing rather than a pre wash).

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  11. I used coconut the other day after highlighting, but I do not like the texture. It did leave it shinier and stronger,but I've lost the fluffy feeling. In fact, it feels drier. Conditioners I've used since just seem to leave my hair sticky and heavy. After reading that it penetrates the hair shaft and the fact I've washed several times without my hair returning to its normal texture, I'm concerned this will not wash out. Is there any way to rid the hair of the oil in the hair shaft? appreciate any feedback. (I have very fine hair. Perhaps this is better for thick, coarse hair.)

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  12. See my post here on using less coconut oil to avoid the crunchy feel - http://thenaturalhaven.blogspot.com/2009/04/coconut-oil-crunchy-hair.html

    There are no studies on taking the oil out of the hair shaft once it has penetrated. However it is known for example water can enter and leave the shaft based on diffusion (meaning if there is more water outside compared to inside, the water can travel in, similarly, if there is less water outside compared to inside then the water exits the shaft).

    Therefore the oil within the shaft can probably diffuse out as it diffused in. You may encourage it by washing your hair (with shampoo which can dissolve the oil).

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  13. Note - I am saying wash your hair to remove the oil on the outside, not on the inside

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  14. @Anon - I have deleted your comment on reflection. As I said before - oil can be dissolved by an SLS containing shampoo.

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  15. Sorry. What is an SLS containing shampoo? There are two of us signed anonymous.

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  16. this is the only oil i use on my hair no need for anything else ;-)

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  17. I have a question for you jc, from what i have read, coconut oil is best applied before wash. What about fractionated coconut oil? Do it has the same benefits as virgin coconut oil? I like fractionated because when i put it in a spray bottle, it will mist out of the bottle just like water, so therefore i can apply it better or more evenly.

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  18. Hey! I love your blog...this is the kind of info I have been looking for! Quick question..I bought some 100% Pure coconut oil from the Beauty supply store..but it does not smell like coconuts. It has no smell at all. Does this mean it's not real coconut oil? It feels great on my skin so far..

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  19. This is the full version of the 2003 study that people often refer to online about coconut oil penetrating hair and how coconut oil helps preserve hair protein. http://journal.scconline.org/pdf/cc2003/cc054n02/p00175-p00192.pdf

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  20. Lili Marie: And what about virgin olive oil? It´s a good alternative. It is also one of the few oils that can penetrate hair. I use it very frequently because it´s cheap and easy to find here in Spain. On the contrary coconut oil is expensive and can only be found in herbal shops. I have tried both oils, coconut and olive and both oils work similarly. The only difference is the odour: depending on the oil you use you can smell like a Piña Colada or you can smell like Tortilla de Patatas.

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  21. I have a question... How can coconut oil moisturize if it is not water, and water is the only moisturizer?

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  22. Water on its own is not a 'moisturiser'. I suggest that you read more of the blog. There are plenty of articles here on this.

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  23. Anyone else but me get acne breakouts from using coconut oil?

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  24. What about the other's? The oils that are able to penetrate the hair shaft that aren't Coconut or Olive? I know there are others while I suspect they may not be as effective or as studied as these 2 but I would like to know what they are.

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  25. Anon - I cite scientific sources therefore if it is not published, I will not quote it. To date the only quoted ones are coconut and olive oil.

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  26. Anon - Some people have reported break outs on this blog. Generally using less oil and applying it to the hair only is usually what helps. Some people avoid it altogether.

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  27. Should I apply coconut oil on my hair before washing with shampoo then?? If so, will the absorption of the oil be altered by the products I can have on my hair like a leave-in conditioner or gel??????

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  28. What is the difference in effectiveness of fractionated and virgin coconut oil?

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  29. What about Argan oil, Meadowfoam Oil, Cupuacu Butter and Avocado Oil? I have read that these also penetrate the hair shaft.

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  30. Does fractionated coconut oil also penetrate the hair shaft? I can't stand the smell of regular coconut oil and would prefer less of a scent. Do you think it would work to penetrate the hair like virgin coconut oil or at least somewhat like virgin coconut oil?

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  31. For those of you who get breakouts using coco. oil try using BABASSU OIL. It has the same chemical makeup (2-5% difference at most) as coco oil.

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  32. Hi Jc, I'm knew to your blog and I'm soooo happy to find you! First I wanted to say thank you for sharing your science based knowledge about hair and it's care. There's so much muck on the web now-a-days, we need more scientists educating the public! Anyway, I was reading through the comments and noticed something interesting posted by a few anonymous readers. Fractionated coconut oil VS Virgin coconut oil, does the oil loose it's benefits to the hair when it's fractionated? I've tried researching this on line with no luck. If you could shed any insight, it would be much appreciated. Thank you again.

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  33. There has been few studies on the penetration abilities of oils. However, based on the studies that have been done, one theory (posited by this study: http://journal.scconline.org//pdf/cc2003/cc054n02/p00175-p00192.pdf) as to why some oils are more penetrating than others is because of the fatty acid content. The straighter and smaller the fatty acids, the more penetrating the oil is. Saturated fats, like coconut oil, would be the most penetrating. Monounsaturated fats, like olive, would be less penetrating. Polyunsaturated fats, like sunflower oil, would be even less penetrating. Mineral oil, made from hydrocarbons, is known to not penetrate at all.

    Babassu and palm kernel oil have very similar fatty acid profiles to coconut oil. So if this theory is correct, these oils should have similar penetration abilities and hair protective properties as coconut oil.

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    1. Anon - please do not use weblinks as your comments go to the spam folder. You can use standard journal referencing instead

      I have previously discussed the saturated fat = penetrating oil theory and I do have to emphasize it is a theory -here- http://www.thenaturalhavenbloom.com/2009/08/readers-questions-sulphur-and-reason-to.html

      There is also a theory that sunflower and olive oil could be penetrating based on the observation that oil was applied to hair and after a few hours, there was less of it on the surface suggesting perhaps it was taken up. This is not proof of penetration but a suggestion (Proof would be seeing the oil with an experiment like TOF SIMS). This has been discussed here - http://www.thenaturalhavenbloom.com/2009/10/guide-to-using-ingredients-coconut-oil.html

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  34. Thanks for this great info! I have been looking for a site that doesn't seem so biased and opinionated. And to anonymous above thank you as well!

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  35. Quick question, if Olive oil is possibly penetrating, does it also have the property of stopping or preventing the loss of proteins from the cortex of the hair as coconut oil does?

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    1. I am not sure that the protein loss prevention is from the cortex. It is just general protein loss from hair (could be preventing the cuticle from chipping, could be some loss from the cortex). However, if it is a penetrating oil then yes it stands to reason that it would have the same effect when applied to hair prior to washing.

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