Reader Questions : Coconut Oil and Protein

I have been asked to comment on this thread from a hair forum. I don't belong to any forums so it is always interesting when people highlight these questions to me. I am more than happy to answer any questions from research I have highlighted, so feel free to email or comment should you want more of an explanation.

Does coconut oil contain protein?

As I've said before, if it does, it is very little. I have not found any site that lists protein anywhere, as part of the content of coconut oil. It does depend on the purity of the oil that you buy. One nutrition site does list the composition as nothing and a second site lists only oils in the composition and therefore 0g - protein.

I think we need to distinguish trace amounts and significant amounts. Trace amounts means there is one grain of salt in a glass of water - will you taste it? Significant means there is a teaspoon of salt in the glass of water - now you can taste it!

Is coconut oil protein retentive?

I must correct this information. The paper cited in that discussion (I have discussed it here) says that coconut oil when used as a prewash conditioner helps to retain protein (meaning the cuticle is not likely to break off). It is not about adding protein to hair, but actually just preventing damage to the hair and therefore less protein (i.e pieces of hair/cuticle) is lost.

I am not certain why this would be a bad thing or am I missing something?

Can oils moisturise hair?

This depends on your definition of moisturise. If your regard it in the strict sense of amount of water content, then no oil is for you as oil films do slow water uptake. If you regard it as a substance that can penetrate the cortex of hair and contribute to pliability (meaning hair can move without feeling stiff) and manageability then coconut oil is for you.

I would encourage all to read ingredients to look out for in your hair conditioner .


  1. Your posts about coconut oil just make me love it more and more. Which reminds me, I need to pick up some more today!

  2. Ah, the protein retentive thing always interests me.

    My hair is coarse, as in thick individual strands. As illogical as it sounds, I don't like protein retention. Some others with coarser hair aren't fond of it. But, I have seen more people with medium or fine hair benefit.

    As a coarse curly, I do better with emollients. I like oils for sealing and pomades, but I have never gotten the hang of a pre-poo oiling or much else in the way of oiling dry hair.

    I am wondering how much various types of hair ie: coarse/fine and porous/non-porous tie in to oil love.

  3. @Alexis - Coconut oil seems to be really popular right now. I just seem to keep getting more emails about it!

    @Pittsburghcurly - I must insist that it is flawed to say that coconut oil is protein retentive. This statement is wrong because it implies that if you apply protein to your hair, coconut oil will keep it there. This is not what the study talked about. It said if you put coconut oil on your hair, the cuticle and small pieces of hair are less likely to break off.

    That said, I am a huge fan of doing whatever makes your life easier. Therefore if oils do not help you then do not use them. Stick with what works best.

  4. Coconut oil helping to retain protein has always baffled me a bit. I too have coarse hair and cannot help wondering if by helping my strands hang on to protein it is indirectly increasing brittleness and potential for breakage. A paradox I know given it's hair strengthening properties..
    I really would like to hear your thoughts on hair porosity, Jc. Is it a real issue or yet another "fact" that somehow gained acceptance in the hair community. If your hair dries fast does it mean it is "too porous" therefore poorly able to retain moisture? If so how do you deal with it? Do the so-called porosity control products help? (eg Roux)
    Another thing I would like you to address hopefully is the "rinse with cool water or ACV after washing to close the cuticle" statement which again is widely accepted as fact. Is it that easy to open the cuticle if say you cowash with warm water?

  5. I giggled a little when I read coconut oil contained "nothing."

    I don't think it's protein retentive is a bad thing. Split cuticles suck. It MIGHT be a bad thing if you use coconut oil and do a protein treatment weekly because you're more likely to go into protein overload.

  6. From my understanding I thought it was because coconut oil penetrated the hair cuticle and could moisturize the shaft from the inside while other products/oils did on the out left your hair balanced... making it stronger?

    Does grapeseed oil also penetrate the cuticle if not what other oils are penetrative?

    Whoo having a science overload here LOL.

  7. @Didi - great questions! I am intending to do a post on porosity soon. I need to gather my data :)

    @Alice - I don't know if I'm even going to use that term 'protein retentive'. I think it was made up through lack of understanding.

    @Jaded - Your understanding is the same as mine. I think the forum topic was about the debate about the difference between moisture and moisturise. In short saying that moisture is about water and therefore can oils really moisturise?

    My response is to ask the question so what? (Not in a rude way but in a scientific way :))Why do we want water on our hair? The answer is because it penetrates the shaft, and it makes the hair feel soft and supple. This is exactly the same result that coconut oil has except that it has the added benefit of stopping the shaft from swelling and minimising breakage of hair.

    Therefore so what is the point of moisture v moisturiser debate?

    There is not much on grapeseed oil in hair/science terms - just search for it on the blog I did a tiny post on it.

  8. Alice thats a good point.

    It seems my hair has a "protein overload," for the past weeks. I noticed after using coconut oil last week to deep condition (7/19), thinking it would soften my hard hair, the result was extreme "hardness" breakage, lacking elasticity. At this point, I can't use "any" product containing the smallest bit of protein. Instead i'm using aloe-glycerine mix with water to moisturize, and castor oil (sealor) to retain length.

    From my search..I understand that It penetrates the shaft creating "structure" (by bonding with/providing protein) NOT elasticity (moisture).

    So to "what" extent is coconut oil moisturizing? I even used it on dry hair and got the crunchy feel

  9. Nikki for your question on moisturising feel free to search this blog for 'coconut oil', there are plenty of posts that you can read.

    I would not subsitute a normal conditioner for coconut oil as a deep conditioner. I would recommend coconut oil as a pre-wash treatment and then follow with your routine of choice - shampoo and condition or no poo whatever you are inclined to.

    I have found that when too much oil is used, it gets that crunchy feel (this is not scientific, just my experience). I have also blogged about this before so feel free to search this blog again. You need very little oil (literally less than a teaspoon for upto shoulder length hair).

    I haven't seen that research on aloe-glycerin penetrating the hair shaft, please comment or email me the references, I'd definitely like to have a look.

  10. Jc...
    Sorry, My intention was not to say that aloe-glycerin penetrates the hair shaft. I was only stating that from my experience I obtain elasticity when using the water and especially aloe with glycerin and castor oil together.

    I Found a webpage which stated that coconut oil was moisturizing and can be used as a deep conditioner as needed. So that is the reason I decided to give it a try. What I realized is, that it does penetrate the shaft and provide moisture, but this week it was more on the strengthening side. That was probably the result of using too much as you suggested..:) 'and' due to my protein overload.
    heres the webpage

    thanks :) i'll check out your other blogs.

  11. I also tried coconut oil because of all the great reviews and find I do not like the texture for my hair, It loses its ability to expand, and for me I need that for fluffy body to my thin hair. (I do like the shine, though.) My concern, in reading the reviews that it "penetrates" the hair shaft, is that it will not entirely wash out with several washings and return to its original state. I don't like to use anything "permanent" on my hair. Any feedback as to whether this will entirely wash out and return my hair as it was?

  12. Anonymous, try a clarifying shampoo

  13. Hi Girl, I DO love your blog which is quite different than other hair blogs because of the scientific approach.

    Please can you help me to understand something (I am not sure) : coconut oil can prevent protein loss BOTH into the cortex and on the cuticle ? (I know that the cuticle is also made of proteins).

    I wanted to know if this study about coconut oil meant that protein loss could be prevented both inside and outside (on the cuticle)

    Thanks and take care !

  14. is it only the oil that is nourishing? i have a lot of trouble with too much oils or poor absorption because my hair is not pours, and i wonder if i want to take the fat part off my home made coconut milk and leave it out. would i be better off sticking to the water based part of this plant?


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