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Is Coconut Oil Healthy for My Hair?

Health + Wellness

By Helen West

Coconut oil is an extremely versatile health and beauty product.

People use it for all sorts of things, from cooking and cleaning to moisturizing their skin and removing their makeup.

Others often use coconut oil to help improve the health and condition of their hair.

This article explores the pros and cons of using coconut oil on your hair.

Daily Grooming Practices Can Damage Your Hair

Daily grooming practices like washing, brushing and styling can cause damage to your hair and leave it looking frizzy, broken and dry.

To understand why this happens, you need to know more about your hair's structure. Your hair is made up of three layers:

  • The medulla: This is the soft, central part of the hair shaft. Interestingly, thick hair contains large amounts of medulla, while fine hair has almost none.
  • The cortex: This is the thickest layer of your hair. It contains lots of fibrous proteins and the pigment that gives your hair its color.
  • The cuticle: The cuticle is the tough, protective outer layer of your hair.

Washing, styling and coloring your hair can damage the cuticle, rendering it unable to protect the central parts of the hair shaft.

This causes you to lose some of the fibrous proteins that make up your hair's cortex, making your hair thin, fragile and prone to breakage (1, 2, 3).

Bottom Line: Washing, brushing, coloring and styling your hair can damage its structure, leaving it more prone to breakage.

Why Coconut Oil Is Better at Protecting Your Hair Than Other Oils

Coconut oil is often said to be the best oil to use on your hair to reduce protein loss and keep it looking healthy.

Given the current popularity of coconut oil, this would be easy to dismiss as a trend.

However, there is some evidence behind this claim.

One study examined the effects of applying coconut, sunflower or mineral oil to hair before or after washing (4).

To see which oil was best for protecting hair health, the researchers measured the amount of protein the hair lost after each of these treatments.

They found that coconut oil was better at preventing protein loss than both the mineral and sunflower oils when applied either before or after the hair was washed.

In fact, coconut oil came out on top in all of their studies and reduced protein loss in hair that was undamaged, bleached, chemically treated and UV exposed.

On the other hand, both the mineral and sunflower oils did not have this effect and weren't found to be effective at reducing protein loss from hair.

It's thought that coconut oil's chemical structure is behind its superior ability to protect hair (5).

Coconut oil is predominantly made up of a medium-chain fatty acid called lauric acid. This gives coconut oil a long, straight structure, which is more easily absorbed deep into the hair shaft.

Sunflower oil contains mostly linoleic acid, which has a much bulkier structure, so it's not as easily absorbed into the hair.

This means that oils like mineral oil and sunflower oil can coat the hair, but they aren't absorbed as well into the hair shaft (6).

Bottom Line: When applied to hair before washing, coconut oil has been shown to reduce protein loss more than sunflower and mineral oils.

Rubbing Oil on Your Hair Before or After Washing Helps Prevent Damage

There are a few ways you can apply oil to your hair to help protect it from damage.

First, applying oil to your hair before it's washed can help reduce the amount of damage it sustains during washing and while it's wet.

Interestingly, hair is most vulnerable to damage when it's wet. This is because of subtle, structural changes that occur when it absorbs water.

When you wet your hair, the thick, central cortex soaks up the water and swells, causing a structural change in the cuticle.

The hair cuticle is actually made up of flat, overlapping scales that are attached towards the root end of your hair and point towards the tip.

When the cortex of your hair absorbs water and swells up, these scales are pushed outward so they stick up. This makes wet hair much easier to damage, especially when brushing or styling.

Applying oil to your hair before you wash it can reduce the amount of water absorbed by the hair shaft and the degree to which the cuticle scales "stick up." This makes it less prone to damage while it's wet.

Second, coating your hair in oil after you wash it helps make it softer and smoother. This reduces the amount of friction caused by styling, making your hair less likely to snag and break (5).

Bottom Line: Your hair is most vulnerable to damage when it's wet. Applying oil to your hair both before and after you wash it helps protect it from damage.

Coconut Oil Could Help You Grow Your Hair Longer

Lots of people want to grow long, sleek and shiny hair.

However, day-to-day wear and tear on your hair caused by styling, grooming, the weather and pollutants can damage it.

This can make growing longer hair difficult, as your hair can become more worn and tired the longer it gets.

Coconut oil could help you grow your hair longer by:

  • Moisturizing your hair and reducing breakage
  • Protecting your hair from protein loss and damage when wet
  • Protecting your hair from environmental damage like wind, sun and smoke

To get the most out of coconut oil, you'll probably need to make it a regular part of your beauty regimen.

Bottom Line: Coconut oil reduces damage to your hair caused by day-to-day wear and tear. Using coconut oil in your hair care routine could help you grow longer, healthier hair.

Other Benefits of Coconut Oil for Hair

Coconut oil may also have other benefits for your hair. However, many of them haven't been examined in properly controlled studies.

Possible benefits include:

  • Lice prevention: One small study found that when combined with anise in a spray, coconut oil was 40 percent more effective at treating head lice than the chemical permethrin (7).
  • Sun protection: UV filters can help protect your hair from sun damage. Some studies have found coconut oil to have a sun protection factor of 8, so putting it on your hair could be useful (8, 9, 10).
  • Dandruff treatment: Dandruff can be caused by an overgrowth of fungus or yeast on the scalp. While no studies have examined coconut oil specifically, it has antimicrobial properties and could be useful for treating dandruff (11, 12).
  • Hair loss prevention: Excessive grooming can damage the hair shaft, which in extreme circumstances can cause hair loss. Coconut oil can help keep your hair in good condition and prevent this.

It's also claimed that consuming coconut oil can be beneficial for hair health due to the nutrients it provides. However, there is little evidence that this is the case (13).

Bottom Line: Coconut oil could help get rid of lice, protect your hair from the sun and reduce dandruff, but more studies are needed.

Does Coconut Oil Have Any Negative Effects on Hair?

Coconut oil is generally considered safe to apply to your skin and hair (14).

However, using too much could cause a buildup of oil on your hair and scalp.

This could make your hair greasy and dull, especially if you have very fine hair.

To avoid this, make sure you start with only a small amount and begin by rubbing the coconut oil through your hair, from the midsection to the ends. People with very fine hair may want to avoid putting coconut oil on their scalp altogether.

Furthermore, while it's normal to lose about 50–100 hairs a day, many people also report losing lots of hair when they use coconut oil.

But coconut oil is not usually the culprit. Simply applying the oil allows hair that has already detached from your scalp to fall away.

Bottom Line: Using too much coconut oil can make your hair greasy. It usually doesn't cause hair loss, but it can cause previously detached hair to fall away from your scalp more easily.

How to Use Coconut Oil for Beautiful Hair

Here are a few ways to use coconut oil to help improve the health of your hair.

  • As a conditioner: Shampoo your hair as normal and then comb coconut oil through your hair, from the midsection to the ends.
  • As a hair mask: Rub coconut oil through your hair and let it sit for a few hours (or even overnight) before washing it out.
  • As a pre-wash hair protector: Rub coconut oil through your hair before you wash it.
  • As a scalp treatment: Before bed, massage a small amount of coconut oil into your scalp. Leave it overnight and wash it off with shampoo in the morning.

These techniques can be used regularly or once in a while (depending on your hair type) to give you beautiful, healthy and shiny hair.

The amount of coconut oil you'll need will depend on your hair length and type. Most people use just enough to cover the midsection to the ends of their hair to avoid their hair getting greasy.

The best approach is to start with the smallest amount you think you will need and gradually increase from there.

If you have short or very fine hair, you may need as little as one teaspoon. However, people with long, thick hair may want to use as much as two tablespoons.

There are also many different types of coconut oil to choose from. Some people prefer to choose a virgin (unrefined) coconut oil, as they also use it in their diet.

However, there aren't any specific studies on whether one type of coconut oil is better for your hair than another. Additionally, both unrefined and refined coconut oil have the same moisturizing properties.

Bottom Line: Coconut oil can be used as a conditioner, hair mask or scalp treatment to give you shiny, healthy hair.

Take Home Message

Coconut oil is an excellent moisturizing product for your hair.

It can be used both before and after you wash your hair to help prevent damage and keep your hair looking shiny and healthy.

Reposted with permission from our media associate Authority Nutrition.

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Given the present circumstances, Norway does not have either the legal or the technical basis for making its annual contribution to the Amazon Fund.

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An Uncertain Future

The Amazon Fund was announced during the 2007 United Nations Climate Change Conference in Bali, during a period when environmentalists were alarmed at the rocketing rate of deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon. It was created as a way of encouraging Brazil to continue bringing down the rate of forest conversion to pastures and croplands.

Government agencies, such as IBAMA, Brazil's environmental agency, and NGOs shared Amazon Fund donations. IBAMA used the money primarily to enforce deforestation laws, while the NGOs oversaw projects to support sustainable communities and livelihoods in the Amazon.

There has been some controversy as to whether the Fund has actually achieved its goals: in the three years before the deal, the rate of deforestation fell dramatically but, after money from the Fund started pouring into the Amazon, the rate remained fairly stationary until 2014, when it began to rise once again. But, in general, the international donors have been pleased with the Fund's performance, and until the Bolsonaro government came to office, the program was expected to continue indefinitely.

Norway has been the main donor (94 percent) to the Amazon Fund, followed by Germany (5 percent), and Brazil's state-owned oil company, Petrobrás (1 percent). Over the past 11 years, the Norwegians have made, by far, the biggest contribution: R$3.2 billion ($855 million) out of the total of R$3.4 billion ($903 million).

Up till now the Fund has approved 103 projects, with the dispersal of R$1.8 billion ($478 million). These projects will not be affected by Norway's funding freeze because the donors have already provided the funding and the Brazilian Development Bank is contractually obliged to disburse the money until the end of the projects. But there are another 54 projects, currently being analyzed, whose future is far less secure.

One of the projects left stranded by the dissolution of the Fund's committees is Projeto Frutificar, which should be a three-year project, with a budget of R$29 million ($7.3 million), for the production of açai and cacao by 1,000 small-scale farmers in the states of Amapá and Pará. The project was drawn up by the Brazilian NGO IPAM (Institute of Environmental research in Amazonia).

Paulo Moutinho, an IPAM researcher, told Globo newspaper: "Our program was ready to go when the [Brazilian] government asked for changes in the Fund. It's now stuck in the BNDES. Without funding from Norway, we don't know what will happen to it."

Norway is not the only European nation to be reconsidering the way it funds environmental projects in Brazil. Germany has many environmental projects in the Latin American country, apart from its small contribution to the Amazon Fund, and is deeply concerned about the way the rate of deforestation has been soaring this year.

The German environment ministry told Mongabay that its minister, Svenja Schulze, had decided to put financial support for forest and biodiversity projects in Brazil on hold, with €35 million ($39 million) for various projects now frozen.

The ministry explained why: "The Brazilian government's policy in the Amazon raises doubts whether a consistent reduction in deforestation rates is still being pursued. Only when clarity is restored, can project collaboration be continued."

Bauxite mines in Paragominas, Brazil. The Bolsonaro administration is urging new laws that would allow large-scale mining within Brazil's indigenous reserves.

Hydro / Halvor Molland / Flickr

Alternative Amazon Funding

Although there will certainly be disruption in the short-term as a result of the paralysis in the Amazon Fund, the governors of Brazil's Amazon states, which rely on international funding for their environmental projects, are already scrambling to create alternative channels.

In a press release issued yesterday Helder Barbalho, the governor of Pará, the state with the highest number of projects financed by the Fund, said that he will do all he can to maintain and increase his state partnership with Norway.

Barbalho had announced earlier that his state would be receiving €12.5 million ($11.1 million) to run deforestation monitoring centers in five regions of Pará. Barbalho said: "The state governments' monitoring systems are recording a high level of deforestation in Pará, as in the other Amazon states. The money will be made available to those who want to help [the Pará government reduce deforestation] without this being seen as international intervention."

Amazonas state has funding partnerships with Germany and is negotiating deals with France. "I am talking with countries, mainly European, that are interested in investing in projects in the Amazon," said Amazonas governor Wilson Miranda Lima. "It is important to look at Amazônia, not only from the point of view of conservation, but also — and this is even more important — from the point of view of its citizens. It's impossible to preserve Amazônia if its inhabitants are poor."

Signing of the EU-Mercusor Latin American trading agreement earlier this year. The pact still needs to be ratified.

Council of Hemispheric Affairs

Looming International Difficulties

The Bolsonaro government's perceived reluctance to take effective measures to curb deforestation may in the longer-term lead to a far more serious problem than the paralysis of the Amazon Fund.

In June, the European Union and Mercosur, the South American trade bloc, reached an agreement to create the largest trading bloc in the world. If all goes ahead as planned, the pact would account for a quarter of the world's economy, involving 780 million people, and remove import tariffs on 90 percent of the goods traded between the two blocs. The Brazilian government has predicted that the deal will lead to an increase of almost $100 billion in Brazilian exports, particularly agricultural products, by 2035.

But the huge surge this year in Amazon deforestation is leading some European countries to think twice about ratifying the deal. In an interview with Mongabay, the German environment ministry made it very clear that Germany is very worried about events in the Amazon: "We are deeply concerned given the pace of destruction in Brazil … The Amazon Forest is vital for the atmospheric circulation and considered as one of the tipping points of the climate system."

The ministry stated that, for the trade deal to go ahead, Brazil must carry out its commitment under the Paris Climate agreement to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by 43 percent below the 2005 level by 2030. The German environment ministry said: If the trade deal is to go ahead, "It is necessary that Brazil is effectively implementing its climate change objectives adopted under the [Paris] Agreement. It is precisely this commitment that is expressly confirmed in the text of the EU-Mercosur Free Trade Agreement."

Blairo Maggi, Brazil agriculture minister under the Temer administration, and a major shareholder in Amaggi, the largest Brazilian-owned commodities trading company, has said very little in public since Bolsonaro came to power; he's been "in a voluntary retreat," as he puts it. But Maggi is so concerned about the damage Bolsonaro's off the cuff remarks and policies are doing to international relationships he decided to speak out earlier this week.

Former Brazil Agriculture Minister Blairo Maggi, who has broken a self-imposed silence to criticize the Bolsonaro government, saying that its rhetoric and policies could threaten Brazil's international commodities trade.

Senado Federal / Visualhunt / CC BY

Maggi, a ruralista who strongly supports agribusiness, told the newspaper, Valor Econômico, that, even if the European Union doesn't get to the point of tearing up a deal that has taken 20 years to negotiate, there could be long delays. "These environmental confusions could create a situation in which the EU says that Brazil isn't sticking to the rules." Maggi speculated. "France doesn't want the deal and perhaps it is taking advantage of the situation to tear it up. Or the deal could take much longer to ratify — three, five years."

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