Thursday, August 19, 2010

Healthy Hair Care -- Detangling and Conditioning with Coconut Oil

Not long after I got Shadowfax with his nice mane and his long thick curly tail, I started doing research on the best way to care for horses' manes and tails. I already knew that horses, unlike most animals, have hair like humans, not fur like cats and dogs. So I figured that any information I found out about hair care for my horse would also be beneficial for my own hair care. I learned a lot about why sulfates and silicones are bad in shampoos and conditioners, but one of the most immediately useful things that I found out was that pure virgin coconut oil makes a great detangler/leave-in conditioner for manes and tails. I used it several times on Shadowfax's mane to get out elf-knots and it did indeed work very well. So I decided to try it on my own hair.

My hair is moderately long and somewhat curly and though I've always tried to keep it healthy and grow it even longer, I would always get dry split ends and it just wouldn't grow past bra-strap length. Thinking that coconut oil might help me get the hair that I always wanted, I did some more research on coconut oil and human hair. I found out that even scientists agree that coconut oil is good for your hair. Unlike most oils which have bulky, oddly shaped molecules, coconut oil has short straight molecules (medium chain triglycerides) that actually penetrate into the cortex of your hair bringing moisture and protein to where it is needed the most. Because the proteins in coconut oil are similar to the proteins in hair, they are attracted to the hair proteins and easily bond with them making hair stronger and healthier. Coconut oil also helps reduce how much the hair expands and contracts when it gets wet then dries out, thus reducing the stress and damage that expansion and contraction causes. In summary, research has shown that coconut oil makes hair moister, stronger and more resistant to damage. I also found numerous personal accounts in forums, blog posts and various other online sites discussing how coconut oil helped make hair softer, shinier and generally healthier.

I should mention that all of this research and all of these claims are for unrefined virgin coconut oil. Heating and/or hydrogenating coconut oil changes its chemical structure and it will no longer have the same beneficial effects. Fortunately, it is fairly easy to find virgin coconut oil in the dietary supplements area of various stores. (Apparently, coconut oil is as good for your insides as it is for your outside.) You can also order it from numerous online retailers. I currently use Spring Valley Organic Extra Virgin Coconut Oil which I bought at my local Wal-mart for about $10. (Sadly, it seems that Wal-mart has discontinued making this brand. However, I called my local HEB grocery store and they apparently carry several varieties of unrefined virgin coconut oil in their dietary supplement aisle.) Anyway...

After I shampooed and conditioned in my usual way, I experimented with a little bit of coconut oil. I started by simply dipping my finger in the coconut oil which is semi-solid at room temperature. (It's melting point is 78 degrees F.) Using only the amount of oil that stuck to my finger, I rubbed it between my palms and fingers where it immediately melted into a liquid, then ran my hands through the ends of my still damp hair. I then combed my hair out and let it air dry. My hair was somewhat easier to comb out, and once my hair was dry, it did seem softer and the ends less dry than usual. As I continued to use coconut oil in this way, I noticed even more improvement in the combability and general health of my hair. The only problem with this method of applying coconut oil is that you do have to be somewhat careful about how much coconut oil you use. It is easy to use too much which will leave your hair looking greasy for a while. However, this method does have the added benefit of leaving your hands very soft and smooth. The same things that make coconut oil a great hair conditioner also make it very good for your skin. I've also noticed that my nails seem to be stronger, and I swear that they are growing faster than they used to. (I'm not sure that's a benefit since I have to trim them more often.)

After the success of just using a little coconut oil as a leave in conditioner, I decided to try it out as a deep conditioner. So one day when I didn't have to be anywhere I rubbed coconut oil into my hair a little at a time until my hair was completely coated in oil. I then put my hair up in a loose bun on the top of my head to keep it out of my way, and went about my usual business for about two hours. (I've read that some people leave it in for as little as half an hour and others wrap their heads in towels, shower caps or even plastic wrap and leave it in as long as overnight.) I then shampooed the oil out, which was a lot easier than I thought it would be. I think all of the oil actually came out in the first shampoo, though I did shampoo twice just to be sure. Then I used my regular conditioner and followed the rest of my usual hair routine. When my hair dried, it was incredibly SOFT, and my ends looked much, MUCH healthier.

I've continued to use coconut oil as a detangler/leave in conditioner for several months now, and I've used it as a deep conditioner several times and my hair has continued to improve in terms of softness, manageability and general healthiness.

Also, due to the research that I am continuing to do on healthy hair care (and also due to the fact that the shampoo and conditioner that I used to use has been discontinued), I've decided to try and find sulfate and silicone free shampoos and conditioners that will hopefully help my hair to be healthier and to grow longer. I'll post more about my quest for healthy hair in future entries.

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