Overview

Coconut oil is considered an all-inclusive alternative skin care product. Moisture is at its core, which makes this oil appealing for dry skin conditions. This may include dandruff.

Dandruff itself is a common condition. It occurs when excess skin cells accumulate and “flake” off. These flakes can also become itchy and irritated if scratched.

Is coconut oil an effective natural remedy for dandruff? Keep reading to find out.

What causes dandruff?

Before considering coconut oil as a possible dandruff treatment, it’s important to consider the different causes of dandruff. Some cases of dandruff are caused by a fungus called Malassezia. While some fungi are harmful, this type is actually helpful in breaking down oils in your skin. However, problems can arise when there’s too much of this fungus because it leaves behind oleic acid that can irritate your skin. This can then lead to dry skin and dandruff flakes.

Oily skin is another cause of dandruff. You may even have a type of eczema called seborrheic dermatitis. With seborrheic dermatitis, you still have flakes like regular dandruff, but they’re oilier and yellowish in color. Not washing your hair enough or using too many oils can worsen this type of dandruff buildup, too.

What the science says

The moisturizing effects of coconut oil are promising. These effects can help treat dandruff and dry skin simultaneously. According to one study, coconut oil used in children with eczema was found to be more effective than mineral oil. The coconut oil likely penetrated beneath the epidermis (top layer of skin) and acted as a barrier to help protect from further dryness and inflammation. Dandruff wasn’t specifically studied here; however, you might find similar benefits if you have scalp eczema.

Coconut oil has also been traditionally used as a natural antimicrobial product. This is thanks to key ingredients, such as lauric acid. The oil may therefore help combat Malassezia. Research published in 2008 found that coconut oil in adults was helpful for treating both eczema and fungus at the same time. Since Malassezia is a fungus, using the oil can help decrease the amount of these organisms on your scalp and any related dandruff issues.

Other research shows that coconut oil may also reduce inflammation and pain. This may be helpful in cases of dandruff related to psoriasis and other skin diseases. More research in this area needs to be done.

How to use it

The best way to use coconut oil for dandruff is to use it in place of your shampoo and conditioner. Apply it directly to the scalp and comb throughout the rest of your hair for extra benefits. Leave on for a few minutes to make sure the oil has a chance to penetrate your hair and skin, then rinse it off thoroughly. If you want more of a lathering product, mix warm water with the oil before use.

Some recipes call for other ingredients, such as essential oils and other plant-based oils like jojoba. These may be helpful as masks or spa-like treatments that are left in for several minutes. You may consider wearing a shower cap to avoid getting the oils on clothing and hard surfaces before rinsing out.

You may notice improved skin and hair right away. More severe dandruff may need a few treatments before you start seeing significant results. See your doctor if you fail to see any improvements after several coconut oil treatments.

Certain drugstore shampoos contain coconut oil as added ingredients. While these may offer some benefits, the coconut oil isn’t as potent in such products. Use pure coconut oil to reap the most benefits possible.

Side effects

Since coconut oil is a “natural” product, there’s an assumption that it’s safe for your skin. While some users respond positively to coconut oil for their dandruff, these products still carry a slight risk of side effects. If you have sensitive skin or eczema, the oil could be too strong for your skin and cause rashes.

Before applying coconut oil to your scalp, test your skin for any sensitivities. You can do this by rubbing a small amount on your arm and waiting to see if any reactions occur. These include hives, rashes, and itchiness. Some reactions may not arise until several hours later, so you’ll want to wait at least a full day to see if any side effects happen before you’re in the clear.

Many people who have dandruff also have seborrheic dermatitis as the underlying cause. In such cases, the dandruff is thick and oily. Applying coconut oil could inadvertently cause further irritation in the scalp because it could make your seborrheic dermatitis even oilier.

Call your doctor if you develop widespread rashes and hives from coconut oil. Any effects that accompany breathing difficulties could be a sign of an allergic reaction and could require emergency medical treatment.

The bottom line

The jury’s still out when it comes to the potential efficacy of coconut oil for dandruff. It may work best if you have extremely dry skin along with dandruff. Applying oils to the scalp may cause further irritation in people with seborrheic dermatitis. See your doctor about the underlying cause of your dandruff before treatment. This way, you’ll know the right products to use, including coconut oil. You’ll also want to see your dermatologist if you don’t see any results after several uses.