Is coconut oil ruining your hair? Here’s how to know

For the last several years, coconut oil has been all the rage - but if you’re not careful, it can ruin your hair.

People have some pretty incredible claims about coconut oil, ranging from a healthier cooking fat to treating mange on animals to haircare. But what’s the truth?

I’ve personally used it for a multitude of things (it makes great dog treats), but coconut oil isn’t the hair savior people claim it is. And that includes all these HUGE product companies that insist on promoting its benefits.

It blows my mind, honestly.

Several years ago, I had an extension client come in for a new set to be installed. We had been highlighting her hair blonde for years, and it was in great shape. She just wanted some length added back in.

I chose the same high quality extensions that I always use, in a pale blonde to match her color.

Now, this is not a post about extensions, but I absolutely encourage you to go research how extensions are made. It’s fascinating, but once you know…

You’ll understand this hair is NOT in the healthiest condition once it’s been treated and lightened, especially to a pale blonde. And that’s true regardless of the brand your stylist chooses.

There’s also a pretty extensive protocol to follow once your extensions are installed, which includes not putting any sort of conditioner, oils, or products directly on the scalp and the bonds.

After two days, my client decided it was time to shampoo and restyle her new hair.

She quickly finds out that the hair extensions are super dry, so she calls me up to find out what to do about it. I told her she could only put the heavy conditioner (suitable for bond extensions) on the ends of her hair. She could let it sit for a couple hours before rinsing.

My phone rang at 6:45 the next morning.

“All this hair is matted to my scalp!!” she yells into the phone. “I’m supposed to be at work and I don’t know what to do!”

Completely perplexed by this, I told her to come into the salon. In all of my years of experience, I had never had a client’s extensions mat up before, so I knew something was really wrong. I took one look at her hair, which was truly in dreadlocks, and asked her to explain to me exactly what she did.

“The extension conditioner didn’t help the dryness, so I put some coconut oil in the ends and left it overnight. I woke up with it like this!”

To make a long story short, what happened was two hours of rinsing and combing out extensions, a voided warranty, and another two hours of removing them. That’s about $400 a day in wasted time and hair expense, and a whole lot of frustration and despair.

Now, as I already mentioned, this post is not about extensions specifically. That was just my first encounter with the absolute ridiculousness that coconut oil delivers to blonde hair.

To understand exactly what happened, we have to look at a bit of science.

Coconut fiber is extremely coarse and gritty. If you’ve ever held a fresh coconut in your hand and felt the texture on the outside of the shell, you’ll know what I mean.

That same fibrous, gritty texture is what makes up the entirety of the coconut, including any oil that’s pulled from the inside, since the meat is where the oil comes from.

(You can take a look at coconut oil under a magnifying lens here:

When coconut oil is magnified, it almost looks like dandelion seeds, which is really cool if you’re a nerd like me. But it’s not cool when all those microscopic fibers sink into your hair.

When hair has been lightened to a pale blonde - regardless of whether it’s a hair extension, or on your head - it’s porous. Imagine that a single hair strand is like a drinking straw. When a lightener is applied to that hair strand, it removes pigment.

Removing pigment would be like taking a hole punch and giving the straw some holes with it. This is the main reason colored hair of any type is more damaged than untreated hair. It’s the amount of porosity, or holes in the strands.

When you apply coconut oil - with all that sticky, fibrous texture - to lightened hair, it fills in all the holes, leveling out the porosity. Sounds good, except all those little spiny fibers? They’re now sticking out of the holes. You now have a straw that looks like you filled the holes with wax and put toothpicks in each one. Only on your head, you have tens of thousands of those porcupine looking straws.

Unfortunately, any excess of oil is a bit difficult to remove with normal shampoo and water. Think about how they rescue animals from oceanic oil spills. They use Dawn dish soap because it’s heavily laden with a surfactant.

The surfactant is what penetrates the oil and solidifies it, allowing the water and some manipulation to remove it.

When you’re trying to get your hair to feel and look better, the last thing you want to use is a surfactant, like a degreaser or dish soap, which can fade your color and strip the natural moisture out. But even if that was the only option to remove the coconut oil from your hair, it wouldn’t make a difference.

The fibrous nature of coconut oil keeps it hanging on for dear life. Even when the actual oily substance that houses those fibers is mostly gone, these porcupine quill fibers tangle up and get stuck in the porous hair strands, embedding themselves into the hair cuticle and causing some major tangling.

In the case of my extension client, this scenario is exactly what happened. She saturated extra porous hair with coconut oil, and left it in to soak. The longer it stayed on the hair, the more it penetrated the hair cuticle, depositing all those fibers as it filled in the porosity, resulting in the perfect storm that ultimately ended in disaster.

Her hair had been previously lightened, even before the extensions were installed, and it didn’t escape the wrath of the coconut oil, either.

Between the surfactants, bond removers, clarifying treatments, and some extensive detangling, even my client’s natural hair was still saturated with coconut oil.

What’s even more unfortunate is that the coconut oil sham has claimed many more of my clients over the years, so this is definitely not an isolated incident. It has taught me to openly speak out against the use of coconut oil in the hair, especially if it’s color treated.

Don’t buy into the hype.

If you walk down any drugstore hair product aisle, I guarantee you’ll find at least 10 products that contain coconut oil. Worse, some products include it in the ingredients, but you won’t know if you don’t look for it. It’s popular, cheap, and it sells.

Influencers, bloggers, and journalists promote this stuff like it’s the holy grail of haircare, but they haven’t seen firsthand what it really does. (And no, it doesn’t kill lice, either.)

What if your hair isn’t blonde or color treated? Will it still damage the hair?

Unfortunately, all hair has some level of porosity, so the coconut oil will still fill in those gaps. The difference is that the porosity isn’t as severe as it is with lightened hair, so less oil can penetrate the cuticle or even stick to the hair shaft.

But that doesn’t make it less of a threat to healthy hair.

Over time, oils build up. And in the case of coconut oil, the fibers will actually help to keep the layers adding up over time.

If your hair starts to become more and more tangled even with regular trims, rough feeling to the touch (like product buildup often does), or even waxy when it’s wet, this is a sure sign that something is coating the hair.

What about all these hair products that contain coconut oil? Are they safe?

Nope. Even though there’s certainly less coconut oil in commercial or professional hair products than using it straight, I can’t see the benefit from it. There are a ton of other oils that absolutely WILL help your hair in various ways, so to me, it’s just a cheap filler and a marketing tactic.

If you want healthier, silky, shiny hair, see your stylist for custom recommendations based on your hair type, color, and routine.

The bottom line is this:

If your hair is damaged, the very last thing you should EVER do is use coconut oil. And if you’re already using it, the best time to stop is yesterday. The second best time is now.

If you’re looking for a repair treatment to make your hair silky and shiny, come into ColorWorkz Salon here in Knoxville for a free consultation. I’m happy to give you some options that will actually help your hair instead of making it worse.

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