The cult of coconut oil is going strong, and while a lot of the uses are pretty BS (pulling out toxins, for example), it is actually better for your hair than other oils! Here’s why, and how to best use it…
What Happens When Your Hair Gets Wet
First, we have to take a look at what happens when you wash your hair, at a microscopic level.
The outer layer of your hair is called the cuticle. It’s made up of rigid overlapping scales, full of keratin, a tough protein that also makes up a large proportion of your nails. The cuticle acts like a shield around the spongy interior of the hair, the cortex. The cortex and cuticle are all stuck together by the cell membrane complex.
When hair gets wet, the cell membrane complex and the inner cuticle (endocuticle) soak up water and swell up, but the rigid outer layer doesn’t. This makes the scales stick up, and they get snagged and snap off when strands rub against each other or when you run a comb through it. This damage to the cuticle leads to split ends and breakage.
How Can Oil Help?
There are 2 key ways that oiling hair can help. When oil is applied on hair after washing and before combing, it lubricates the hair so there’s less friction, leading to less snagging.
More powerfully though, adding oil to hair before washing, the oil coats the hair in a protective layer. Since oil is water-repellent, less water will get inside the hair, so there’s a lot less swelling. The cuticle scales stick up less, so less damage occurs.
Why Is Coconut Oil the Best Oil for Hair?
Coconut oil is particularly good because its structure means it can penetrate the hair shaft more than most other oils, leading to a stronger water-repellent effect. Here are the average structures of mineral oil, coconut oil and sunflower oil (all three are actually complex mixtures):