Coconut Oil as Protein and Moisture Support
The Marico Industries researchers also found that using coconut oil as pre-shampoo treatment is better than using it post-wash. This is partly owing to the fact that coconut oil only seems to penetrate wet hair fibers. The constant swelling and shrinking of the hair fiber in response to typical washing, conditioning, and drying stresses the hair. According to Rele and Mohile, when coconut oil is used on the hair as a pre-treatment, a small portion of coconut oil is absorbed into the hair fiber when the fiber naturally swells. The authors suggest that some coconut oil residue may even be able to penetrate into the hair’s cortex, but were very vague about the feasibility of this claim. The authors suggest that this penetration effect is minimal on undamaged, healthy hair. Damaged, or porous hair, is the best candidate for coconut oil penetration because the cuticle is vulnerable and already relatively open. Coconut oil protects the hair by binding to the hair’s inner proteins which reduces the hair’s ability to swell in response to water. Ruetsch et al. found that coconut oil actually reduces the hair protein’s chemical ability to bind to water molecules which keeps water swelling in the hair fiber down to a minimum.
Black hair, which is more susceptible to damage and high porosity problems, tends to take in more water during the washing process. This causes it to swell considerably more than normal, healthy hair when wet. The hair must then shrink back to normal size during drying, but the cuticle can fray, split, or crack as this happens. Damage may be especially pronounced when the hair cuticle is contracting from a state of intense swelling as in porous hair. Coconut oil helps reduce this water uptake and swelling by binding to the proteins and keeping excess water out. This results in less trauma to the hair fiber as it naturally contracts to dry.
Coconut oil is an excellent hair oil for black and textured hair types. Research shows that coconut oil performs better as a pre-treatment before the hair is shampooed, but also works excellently as sealant on dry hair. Many black women suffer from hair porosity issues as a result of our styling choices. Coconut oil’s ability to prevent protein loss and reduce hair porosity makes it a valuable oil for those who chemically relax, regularly heat straighten, or permanently color their hair.
Ladies, do you incorporate coconut oil into your hair care routine? How do you use it? How does it compare to other oils you currently use or may have used in the past?
Audrey Sivasothy is a Houston-based freelance writer, health scientist and author of The Science of Black Hair: A Comprehensive Guide to Textured Hair Care (available on Amazon.com & Barnes&Noble.com).
Rele & Mohile. Effect of mineral oil, sunflower oil, and coconut oil on prevention of hair damage. Journal of Cosmetic Science.
Ruetsch, SB. Kamath,YK. Rele AS, Mohile, B. Secondary ion mass spectrometric investigation of penetration of coconut and mineral oils into human hair fibers: Relevance to hair damage. Journal of Cosmetic Science.