If auditing your kitchen cabinets is on your stay-inside to-do list, you may confront an old friend that’s been sitting there for a while: coconut oil, darling of the DIY beauty world. People put it on their faces, swish it around their mouths, and even rub it on their bellies, but the popular oil that smells like vacation literally shines in a hair-care routine. Coconut oil does not actually moisturize — no oil does — but used strategically, it can soften, add sheen, and help repair dry hair. Here are nine ways to use coconut oil in your hair routine if you’re considering relocating that jar to the bathroom sink.
1. Use It As a Protective “Pre-’Poo”
Here’s a trick that’s particularly helpful for folks with dry or curly hair: Avoiding the scalp, coat dry hair with a glob of coconut oil an hour or so before hitting the shower. The oil protects each strand from drying out while you shampoo. Rinse the oil from your hair after shampooing and apply a conditioner as normal. (Note that if you have thin hair, the oil might be too much for you.)
2. Use It to Boost Your Conditioner
Coconut oil will make any conditioner even more conditioning. After saturating your hair with conditioner, add a layer of coconut oil on top. The oil is occlusive, so it will trap the the conditioner’s hydrating ingredients within your hair, allowing them to penetrate the shaft longer and more effectively. Wait at least 15 minutes or up to an hour before rinsing — the longer you wait, the softer your hair will be.
3. Use It to Boost Your Moisturizing Cream
This is a handy fix for people with thick, dry hair. After you shampoo and condition, comb any moisturizing cream throughout your hair (Oyin Handmade’s Hair Dew is really great). Then take a quarter-size amount of coconut oil and layer it on top of the moisturizer. Dry your hair as you normally would. The oil will lock in the moisturizer and help your hair stay hydrated for longer.
4. Make Detangling Slightly Less Annoying
Knotty hair? Run coconut oil over the sections that need a little help. The oil provides a helpful “slip” that makes combing a less harrowing ordeal.
5. Make Your Hair More Photogenic
Instead of sticking a bunch of shiny things in your hair, scoop a few dollops of coconut oil into a spray bottle and spritz your hair for a natural shine. If you’re working with oil that has solidified, put the bottle in a bowl of warm water for a few minutes so the oil can revert back to a liquid.
6. Wear It As a Swim Cap
The worst part about taking a dip? The havoc saltwater and chlorine wreak on your hair, of course. Before you head to the pool or beach, cover your hair with coconut oil. The oil acts as a barrier between your strands and the water, to a certain degree. Think of it as a natural swim cap (or a swim cap that doesn’t make you look like a dork).
7. Or a Humidity Cap
To tame flyaways and frizz, rub a pea-size amount of coconut oil between your fingers. Transfer the oil to the frizzy parts of your hair to calm rogue strands. A little goes a long way!
8. Use It to “Photoshop” Your Split Ends
Coconut oil won’t glue your split ends back together (nothing will, despite what some products claim), but it can hide frayed ends for a short while — definitely long enough to take a picture or appear on Zoom. Simply rub a small amount over your ends. The oil will add luster and temporarily smooth the tattered hair.
9. Use It to Evict Lice Naturally
If you really hate the idea of using medicated lice treatments, coconut oil is a surprisingly effective alternative. A 2002 study looked at 940 children who were administered a hair cocktail of coconut oil, anise oil, and ylang-ylang oil. The mixture was applied to each child’s hair three times a day for five days. It was successful for 92.3 percent of the lice cases, faring slightly better than the medicated control group, which saw a success rate of 92.2 percent.
Bonus: What Not to Use It For
Sadly, coconut oil won’t help for hair growth or dandruff. There are no credible, peer-reviewed studies that prove coconut oil can regrow hair. Your best bet is still Rogaine. As for dandruff, coconut oil might actually trigger more flakes! If used on your scalp, coconut oil clogs pores and prevents hair follicles from “breathing.” This dehydrates your scalp and can make a case of dandruff more pronounced. Instead, try a medicated shampoo.
The Best Coconut Oil–Infused Hair Products
If you don’t want to double-dip in the jar of coconut oil sitting in your kitchen, here are five coconut oil–infused hair products your hair will love just as much.
Saturating dry hair in this luxurious balm of coconut, argan, and grapeseed before stepping into the shower will protect it against stripping shampoos.
A softening spritz that detangles damp hair and prevents frizz on dry hair.
A lighter-weight coconut oil styler for finer hair. Ideal if you want crunch-free beach waves or just need to counteract unbearably humid days.
Instant shine in a handy, mess-free bottle that can travel from purse to purse or room to room.
This article was originally published December 19, 2017, and has been updated throughout. If you buy something through our links, New York may earn an affiliate commission.