By Audrey Sivasothy, author of The Science of Black Hair: A Comprehensive Guide to Textured Hair Care
Coconut oil has many benefits for black and textured hair types. Over the years, considerable research has been conducted to better understand the oil and its benefits in hair care. Recent research points to coconut oil’s benefits as both a sealant and hair protein reconstructor of sorts. These protein reconstructor benefits are especially interesting in black hair care applications. Solid at room temperature, coconut oil has been used for generations by women of color in those tropical paradises around the world where coconuts are indigenous and grow freely. If their hair is any testament to the powers of coconut oil in hair care, then coconut oil had me at hello.
Touted early on as a nutritional power food, coconut oil enthusiasts quickly began to look into some of the other benefits of coconut oil. This article will give a brief summary of current coconut oil research findings and discuss implications for black hair care.
How Coconut Oil Benefits the Hair
Coconut oil is a very unique hair oil. This versatile, low molecular weight oil is able to leverage its traditional oil status to seal the hair, but complements this sealing capacity with a strong affinity for hair proteins not found in other hair oils. Because moisturization and hydration are characteristics of water, coconut oil cannot rightfully be called a moisturizer in and of itself. It does however greatly support the moisturization of the hair fiber in ways that other oils cannot and have fallen short.
Coconut oil benefits black hair in two important ways. First, coconut oil’s hydrophobic oil characteristics allow it to inhibit the penetration of water from the surrounding air and environment. Second, coconut oil is able to bind to the natural protein structure of the hair. This helps the hair retain its natural moisture content and reinforces the hair fiber, making it stronger.
Coconut Oil as a Sealant
Rele and Mohile, scientists at Marico Industries, found that while wet hair is able to absorb trace amounts of coconut oil residue into the hair fiber, coconut oil is only able to act on the surface of dried hair with no penetration into the hair fiber. In its sealant capacity, coconut oil acts as other oils. It simply coats and conditions the outer cuticle layer enhancing shine and increasing the hair fiber’s pliability. It also reduces friction and static electricity between the hair fibers.