Summer is nearly here in Australia, which means more swimming more often, but especially if you go to or own a swimming pool, this means more damage to hair. So what do I do to protect my hair from public pool chlorine? I use coconut oil, which can also be used as a dandruff treatment.
Coconut oil is one of several oils recommended for hair by Ayurvedic medicine, but it is more specifically indicated for people with a Pitta dominance. Hair of Pitta-dominant people tends to be fair or red, oily, silky and/or prone to hair loss and early greying, which seems to be very common in the West. In fact, there are many anecdotal reports that describe coconut oil use as able to reverse hair loss and greying. So maybe the fat-phobic West can learn something from a culture that often associates hair with strength and beauty.
More recently, a study in The Journal of Cosmetic Science has shown that out of coconut, mineral and sunflower oils, only coconut oil had the ability to reduce protein loss in hair as a pre- and post-wash treatment. The reason behind this is that coconut oil is high in lauric acid, which can penetrate the hair shaft and therefore protect hair proteins because it is a shorter, straight chained fatty acid. Mineral oil was too large, while sunflower oil was too bulky because of its double bonds, which are present in all unsaturated fats. Fatty acids are chains of carbon, and saturated fats, like lauric acid, are those with all spare carbon bonds being occupied by hydrogen atoms, and so are straight. If not all carbon bonds are occupied, the carbons will compensate by creating double bonds with each other, which bends the fatty acids. Another reason behind coconut oil's superiority may be that it is a more polarised molecule than mineral oil (one end has a more positive charge, the other end more negative), which may aid penetration. Coconut oil's penetration ability has also been found to reduce damage during combing by reducing the swelling that can damage hair, particularly if you are combing wet hair. On top of this, the lauric acid in coconut oil can also decrease levels of DHT, the much more potent form of testosterone that is implicated in "male", or hormonal, hair loss. DHT is also associated with acne, and yes, even women can suffer from hair loss or acne caused by DHT. The oil's antioxidant properties may be behind the claims of increased hair colour. Therefore, coconut oil may also benefit hair among other things if it is included in the diet, such as by using it as a replacement for other cooking oils. As coconut oil is a saturated fat, it is stable and will not oxidise like olive oil, peanut oil etc. will, which removes the threat of oxidative damage.