Should we really pour coconut oil over everything??
The coconut tree has been around for thousands of years. Countries in the Pacific Rim and Asia have used coconut meat to make food, the leaves to weave baskets, and the flowers of the tree to make saps and syrups.
Around the 1950’s, coconut oil, which is made by pressing the meat of the coconut nut, rarely left the pantries of an average American household. More recently, the oil made a huge debut in the natural hair community. It seemed like every natural hair care product was branded “With Coconut Oil” on their label. And, considering all the benefits of coconut oil in curly hair, this makes sense.
Coconut oil adds a great amount of moisture and shine to the hair. To get sciency, virgin coconut oils are made up of medium chain fatty acids (MCFAs), also called Medium Chain Triglycerides (MCTs). Its low molecular weight makes it easy to penetrate the hair shaft.
The oil also reduces protein loss. According to hair stylist and expert Tamika Wesley, “coconut oil also increases retention of keratin molecules within the hair shaft, which reduces protein erosion that normally occurs during wash cycles.” So, if your hair feels weak and needs some umpf, coconut oil is a solid option.
With such promising hair benefits, it’s a bit confusing why the once popular oil now has a notorious connotation within the natural hair community. For my natural friends and I, our experiences with coconut oil didn’t match the hype. Meme’s glorifying coconut oil were all over social media, making us believe this was the answer to everyone’s problems.
However, coconut oil might not be all it’s cracked up to be.
Prevention of protein loss can also be a downside. “If your hair has enough protein and doesn’t need this extra help of preventing loss, then it can cause your hair to be dry, brittle, and break off. If you find that this is happening it is more than likely your hair has enough protein, and your hair could benefit from moisturizing and hydrating treatments instead,” said Wesley.
Some recommend using coconut oil as a pre-poo before shampooing. But doing this on a consistent basis can be harmful to the hair. “To consistently use coconut oil can result in OVER sealing of the cuticle and actually prevent water from being absorbed into the hair, thus leaving one to believe their hair may be low in porosity,” Wesley said.
On her YouTube channel of over 700,000 subscribers, hair vlogger Naptural85 made a video about why she stopped using coconut oil. Along with her hair being dry and brittle after using the oil, she mentioned more serious symptoms – an inflamed scalp with tiny cuts. Yikes.
From her symptoms, Naptural85 labeled coconut oil as a potential allergin. And she’s not alone. In 2006, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) began classifying coconuts as a tree nut allergy.
According to Wesley, “Although coconut oil does not contain tree nut proteins, and is a fruit, the FDA suspects that people with a tree nut allergy should avoid consuming coconut ingredients, including coconut oil.” Since a coconut oil allergy is uncommon, people should seek medical attention if they have been clinically diagnosed with a tree nut allergy. If a person has this allergy, symptoms can appear within days or even minutes of using coconut oil.
“The skin is commonly affected by a coconut oil allergy in two ways: by ingesting it or touching it to your skin. If you ingest coconut oil, allergy symptoms that may develop include tingling in the mouth, throat or lips, hives, eczema or general inflammation and itching,” Wesley said. “Allergic contact dermatitis can occur when your skin comes into direct contact with the oil. You will develop swelling, reddish coloring and inflammation in the area of the skin where it was exposed to the substance.”
Scientific research shows contact dermatitus to coconut is more common than a coconut food allergy. Coconut-derived products (such as coconut diethanolamide, cocamide sulphate, cocamide DEA, CDEA) can cause contact allergic dermatitis, present in cosmetics including some hair shampoos, moisturisers, soaps, cleansers and hand washing liquids.
If you have experienced symptoms like an itchy blistering rash, or inflammation of the scalp after using products with coconut oil, most likely you experienced contact dermatitus.
So, this leaves us with the question…should we pour coconut oil over our entire lives? Studies show we should be cautious. To avoid an allergic reation, try doing a patch test on a small area of your hair and scalp.
How have your experience with coconut oil been? Tell us in the comments.