Coconut oil is one of the most encountered oil in hair products. This deliciously scented oil has unique qualities that make it an oil of choice for natural afro hair.
In order to be able to fully enjoy its benefits, here is a complete guide to coconut oil.
What is the actual difference between virgin coconut oil, refined coconut oil, copra oil and monoï?
All these oils originate from coconut (Cocos nucifera) and have a shelf life of approximately 2 years. They present themselves in a solid form at a temperature below 20 degrees.
Virgin coconut oil
The term refers to the raw, unrefined form. This kind of coconut oil is extracted from the fresh meat of the coconut. The extraction is done by cold mechanical processing. The resulting oil does not undergo refinement. Thus, it retains its particular exotic flavor and smell.
Refined coconut oil
This form of oil has been bleached and deodorized. It originates from the dried meat of the coconut, copra.
The meat is dried in the sun or heated in an oven.
The coconut oil is purified with clay to remove impurities and then deodorized under high pressure. The result is an odorless oil with a slight taste of coconut.
The refined coconut oil is equally called copra oil.
Monoi (“scented oil” or “sacred oil”) is created by maceration of Tiaré flowers (Gardenia tahitensis) in refined coconut oil for ten days. This oil is enriched with vitamin E for a better preservation.
Monoi is a traditional product of the islands of French Polynesia.
Contrary to popular belief, monoi does not protect against the ultra-violet solar radiation.
Properties of coconut oil on afro textured hair
Coconut oil is an emollient
Coconut oil is a hydrophobic film-forming emollient. This substance does not like water and, accordingly, it will create a film around the hair. This oil will, therefore:
- soften and smoothen the hair,
- diminish the dehydration,
- limit the absorption of water vapours,
- lubricate the surface of the hair, which will reduce the friction between the hair strands and facilitate their handling.
Coconut oil is solid at room temperature
Coconut oil is rich in medium chain saturated fatty acids, such as lauric acid. Because the structure of lauric acid is relatively simple, these molecules are more readily compacted together.
This is why coconut oil is solid at ambient temperature.
Coconut oil is a penetrating oil
The ability of an oil to permeate the hair depends on its fatty acid composition. As a matter of fact, the more fatty acids with a short chain the oil contains, the more it is able to infiltrate the hair fiber.
Furthermore, some fatty acids display a slight positive charge and will be attracted by the negative charges of the hair proteins. These so-called “polar” fatty acids have a high affinity for hair proteins.
Coconut oil contains a high concentration of lauric acid, a polar fatty acid with small size and high affinity for hair proteins. Accordingly, this oil is able to penetrate deeply the hair all the way to the cortex.
Other penetrating oils include:
- babassu oil,
- sunflower oil,
- avocado oil,
- olive oil.
Murumuru butter is as well able to deeply permeate into the hair fiber.
To learn more about penetrating and non-penetrating oils, click here.
Hair hydration and coconut oil
As coconut oil is a penetrating oil, a portion of it will slowly leave the surface of the hair to reach the cortex.
It will consequently be less effective on the surface to retain hydration or to limit water absorption in a humid environment.
On this account, it is preferable to use a non-penetrating oil like jojoba oil to seal the moisture in the hair, particularly when the weather is dry or to avoid frizz by elevated atmospheric moisture.
Hair care using coconut oil
Hot oil treatment (pre-poo)
Coconut oil is perfect for hot oil treatment for porous or fine hair.
This oil will permeate the hair and bind to its proteins. This will not only strengthen damaged hair but will also limit the excessive inflow of water.
Additionally, coconut oil will restrain the loss of protein during washing.
N.B: Before using the oil on your hair, make sure it is not sensitive to coconut.
How to do a hot oil treatment using coconut oil?
On dry and not damp hair:
- spread coconut oil, slightly warmed in a water bath, only on the lengths and ends. Do not apply on the scalp,
- smooth in the direction of the length,
- wear a shower cap, a plastic bag or wrap your hair with a plastic foil,
- leave for 8 to 12 hours,
- the next morning, lightly finger detangle then wash.
If you wish, you can besides put in other penetrating oils such as olive or avocado oil.
Why should the oil be applied only to dry, non-humid hair?
Water and oil do not mix. If you put water on your hair before spreading the oil, the former will create a barrier, preventing the oil from infiltrating the hair.
Why should you avoid applying oil to the scalp?
The scalp produces its own oil: sebum. Applying oil on the scalp will send a signal to the scalp that it does not need to make more sebum. This can lead to a dry scalp, as well as itching.
In addition, in the case of dandruff, the yeast responsible for this condition feeds on the fatty acids present in the oil. Applying oil to the scalp will hence aggravate the dandruff problems, especially if the oil is left for hours on the scalp.
To learn more about dandruff treatment, click here.
Restorative and softening mask for damaged hair
After shampooing and on the towel-dried hair:
- Add to a well-ripened avocado, 1 tablespoon of coconut oil, 1 teaspoon of honey, 1 tablespoon of marshmallow powder. Mix with an electric whisk. Add mineral water until you get the desired consistency.
- Spread on the lengths and ends.
- Wear your shower cap, a plastic bag or wrap your hair with a plastic foil.
- Leave for maximum 30 minutes.
The avocado will bring amino acids that will penetrate the hair to strengthen it from within and the fat that will soften it.
The coconut oil will permeate the hair and bind to the hair proteins to strengthen it.
Honey is a humectant and will soften and moisturize the hair.
Marshmallow powder will facilitate detangling.
To increase the healing effect of this treatment, you can also add coconut milk to this recipe.
What types of hair will make the most of the benefits of coconut oil?
Through its high concentration of lauric acid, a small fatty molecule capable of penetrating hair and binding to proteins, coconut oil strengthens damaged, porous and fine hair.
Hair with low-level porosity, healthy and thick can become hard when coconut oil is used with too much regularity.
Hair sensitivity to coconut
Sometimes, coconut oil may cause drying and breakage of the hair which is thick, with low-level porosity or colored by vegetable dyes (henna). Even at low concentrations in the products, it can make the hair bristly and tangled.
The same phenomenon can be observed when coconut oil is used too frequently or it is present in the majority of the hair products.
N.B: The coconut oil does not have any proteins.
How to test the sensitivity of your hair to coconut?
Spread pure coconut oil on a section of dry (namely non-humid) hair:
- If your hair becomes hard, dry and tangled, it is sensitive to coconut.
- If instead, your hair is soft and supple, it is not sensitive to coconut.
What to do in case of sensitivity to coconut?
Very often, it is about an overdose of coconut oil. The sensitivity of your hair to coconut oil is not permanent.
1) If you use coconut oil, replace it, for example, with sunflower oil or avocado oil.
2) Temporarily set aside your products which contain coconut oil. Gather your hair products and analyze their composition one by one. If the list of ingredients includes “coconut oil”, “coconut milk” or “coconut extract”, your product contains coconut. I advise you to replace all these products with products without coconut.
Even at low concentrations (placed in the middle or end of the list of ingredients), coconut can have a drying effect on your hair. In addition, as the composition of murumuru butter and babassu oil is relatively similar, be careful about the use of these oils, too.
3) Use a clarifying shampoo to remove the coconut oil from your hair and complete with a moisturizing treatment to counteract the drying effect of the clarifying shampoo.
If the “protein-moisture” proportion of your hair is balanced, your hair should soften within a few weeks after removing the coconut from your current use.
I encourage you to retest the sensitivity of your hair to coconut oil in a few months. By then, your hair will probably have regulated the excess lauric acid and will be more inclined to enjoy the benefits of this oil. If following this test your hair reacts correctly, start using coconut oil little by little.
Coconut milk has a creamy consistency, obtained from fresh coconut meat, grated and pressed with water.
Unlike coconut oil, coconut milk is rich in protein, which makes it an excellent care product for damaged or fine hair.
You can use coconut milk as a pre-poo that you will leave for about fifteen minutes. You can also add coconut milk to your homemade masks.
Oil and coconut milk are excellent ingredients for damaged and fine hair. However, when used too often on thick hair or when coconut is present in most hair products of the routine, the hair can become ultra-dry, hard and brittle. Before integrating it into your routine, perform a sensitivity test on a lock of hair.