Coconut Oil: An Alternative to Keratin Treatments?


I recently went to a new salon to get a haircut and some balayage highlights. My hair looks great (not going to lie), but it’s still pretty damaged. After chopping about 5 inches off last summer, I neglected it just a tad and didn’t get it trimmed as often as I should have. Combine that with products that dry it out and heated styling tools that leave it crispier than it should be, and you’ve got my present day split end-ridden hair.

The hair stylist who worked on me told me I should seriously consider getting a keratin treatment. But once I looked up the price (over $300…), I had to reconsider that. Plus, when I told a friend about possibly getting the treatment done, she told me that she heard people have to wear face masks when it’s applied because of the toxic chemicals. Obviously, that made me question it even more.

Whether that’s true or not, when I looked up the safety of keratin treatments, I discovered some information that was pretty shocking. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has a whole page explaining how some keratin treatments are hazardous. Formaldehyde, aka the stuff that the rat you dissected in 10th grade hung out in to preserve its body, is actually used in some treatments. And even if the product says “formaldehyde-free,” that doesn’t necessarily mean that it is. According to the OSHA, formaldehyde might be listed as methylene glycol, formalin, methylene oxide, paraform, formic aldehyde, methanal, oxomethane, oxymethylene, or CAS Number 50-00-0. There are also other chemicals that can release formaldehyde during the smoothing process, especially when heat is applied.

After reading all of that, I wasn’t really about to run back to the salon to get this treatment. I started looking up ways that I could repair my damaged hair more naturally, and that’s when I came across coconut oil.

I’m sure we’ve all heard dozens of people rave about the many benefits of coconut oil. But what’s the science behind it, and does it actually work?

Let’s start with what it’s made of. According to the USDA National Nutrient Database, coconut oil is basically all fat and nothing else—13.6 grams of it to be exact. But it’s not the same kind of fat that you’d find in a burger. Coconut oil has medium-chain fatty acids or triglycerides. These are harder for our bodies to convert into stored fat and easier to burn off.

But we’re not ingesting the oil, we’re actually applying it to our hair. So, how does it help? A study that compared the effects of sunflower oil, mineral oil, and coconut oil on hair found that coconut oil was the only one out of the 3 that was found to reduce protein loss (for both damaged and undamaged hair)—and it all stems back to the composition of the oil. In other words, because of the fat stuff we talked about before (triglycerides), coconut oil is better able to penetrate the hair shaft.

This all goes back to keratin, which is the protein that hair is primarily comprised of. While keratin treatments do actually work as a restorative treatment that strengthens hair with, duh, keratin, who wants all the additional chemicals that come with it? Since hair is mostly made of protein, and coconut oil can reduce the loss of protein, I think it sounds like a much better, and healthier, choice.

I’ve tried it myself a few times, and while I haven’t used it enough to really see a huge difference, it does make my hair initially feel softer and shinier. Before I go to bed (when I know I’ll have enough time to wash it out in the morning), I coat my hair thoroughly with the oil—no section is left untouched. It may take some time to get used to, since your hair will look and feel like you haven’t washed it in 2 months (except that it’ll smell great), but that’s not a big deal, and you can always wrap your hair up in a t-shirt or towel before hitting the pillow. In the morning, your regular shampoo and conditioner will wash it out, even if it takes a second go-around.

Compared to keratin treatments, coconut oil is a cheaper alternative, healthier, more natural, and you can do it all yourself. You may not see results right away, but in the end, your hair will thank you. And even if you find it doesn’t work for your hair, don’t throw it away—coconut oil can also be used as a makeup remover, as a moisturizer, to clear up bad breath, different ways around the house, as a way to clear up bad breath, in your cooking … The list goes on forever.

Let me know what you think! Has coconut oil worked for you and your hair?
(Just throwing a little disclaimer in here: I’m not a scientist + there are limited studies out there on this subject.)

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