Sunday, June 22, 2014

Coconut Oil Makes My Hair Stiff! (Or rough, brittle, or breaking)

Coconut oil is great for hair - some people simply cannot have a good hair day without it. It makes hair less porous so it doesn't get all dehydrated during washing, it makes hair soft, blah, blah, blah. I know, coconut oil is great, I wrote about it here and here.

There are those of us who use coconut oil, and find our hair gets crunchy or stiff or rigid or rough, brittle, even breaking or shedding and we just don't see what the fuss was all about.

Or worse yet, we think there is something wrong with our hair - or maybe we did it wrong. Maybe our coconut oil is the wrong kind. 

Yet another Miracle Product that works for "everybody else" doesn't work for you. Well, that makes a person feel pretty mopey.

Cheer up! There's nothing wrong with your hair. It's the coconut oil.

Coconut oil's "miracle ingredient" is medium-chain triglycerides, a variety of fat or oil. Human sebum (skin oils) only contains around 35% triglycerides in general, and far less (maybe 10-15%) are shorter to medium-chain triglycerides. 

Coconut oil is a large dose of a certain sort of fat (oil, lipid - pick your terminology) that is normally present in smaller amounts on your skin and (ideally) on your hair. So it makes sense that not everybody's hair appreciates being overloaded with medium-chain triglycerides when it was expecting other sorts of fats to be in the mix.

Coconut oil is so good at penetrating the hair because the medium-chain triglycerides are both small enough to seep between cuticles and they have polarity (a charge) that attracts them to the protein in your hair. Coconut oil is actively drawn to the inner portion of your hair whereas other oils need to seep through slowly. This is unlike most other plant oils. No wonder coconut oil can behave so strangely!

What to Do:
Okay, you don't want to use coconut oil, but you still want an oil that penetrates your hair to prevent swelling and dehydration when you wash. You want an oil that softens deeply. You have options. Other oils penetrate the hair but either are less good at doing that, or may not have been studied in a lab, but still give a good result:

Sunflower oil
Palm kernel oil (not easy to find)
Babbasu oil (this stuff is light)
Olive oil
Avocado oil
Argan oil

You can use one of these oils or a mixture of any of them.
You can use my oil blend recipe which is designed to be similar to the oils from your skin. Use it in moderation.
You can blend a little coconut oil into another oil to dilute it. Or add melted coconut oil to a conditioner. Sometimes you don't need to eliminate coconut oil completely, just don't use it "full-strength."

Don't care whether it soaks into your hair or not?
Then use any oil you like.

Anything else I should avoid?
Fractionated coconut oil, coconut "extract," coconut milk, Caprylic/capric triglycerides.


  1. In my experience of hearing from clients through the years, all nut or seed oils seem to be perennial favorites of people who have coarse(ish) hair. Do the triglycerides vary in type or chain within the different oils you mentioned? (Here's more bio-compatibility: coconut milk can be used straight as an IV fluid if kept sterile, as it is inside the unopened fruit.) Thanks.

    1. The triglycerides do vary in concentration and chemistry between the various plant oils. Every oil is made of different components and different combinations of components (fatty acids and triglycerides, for example). So each plant oil behaves a little differently in hair.

  2. In my last prepoo with coconut oil ( I left it overnight) I noticed that my hair was hard and stiff. So I will experiment mixing it with other oils and see what results I get.