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Is it better to leave coconut oil in hair overnight?

Coconut oil has become an increasingly popular hair care ingredient in recent years. Many people swear by using coconut oil as an overnight hair mask, claiming it leads to shinier, softer, and healthier hair. But is leaving coconut oil in your hair overnight really better than other methods of using it? Here is a comprehensive look at the potential benefits and drawbacks of leaving coconut oil in hair overnight.

What are the claimed benefits of leaving coconut oil in hair overnight?

There are several purported benefits to leaving coconut oil in your hair overnight:

  • Deep conditioning – Leaving the oil in for an extended period allows it to thoroughly penetrate the hair shaft and condition hair from within.
  • Moisturizing – Coconut oil helps moisturize and soften dry, damaged hair by reducing protein loss.
  • Reduced frizz – Coconut oil seals the hair cuticle, taming flyaways and frizz.
  • Increased shine – The fats in coconut oil give hair a glossy, luminous look.
  • Prevents damage – Coconut oil creates a protective layer that can prevent mechanical and environmental damage.
  • Stimulates growth – Some claim coconut oil boosts circulation to the scalp, promoting faster hair growth.
  • Fights dandruff – The antifungal properties of coconut oil may help reduce dandruff.

Many hair care companies have started adding coconut oil to their overnight masks and treatments, which shows that it is widely believed to provide exceptional benefits when left in for longer periods.

What does the research say about leaving coconut oil in overnight?

Contrary to popular belief, there is limited scientific research that looks specifically at the benefits of leaving coconut oil in hair overnight. However, there are studies demonstrating the general benefits of coconut oil for hair:

  • A 2018 study found that coconut oil reduced protein loss in hair by up to 39% when used as a pre-wash treatment for 30 minutes. This helps strengthen and protect hair strands.[1]
  • Multiple studies show coconut oil can penetrate deeply into the hair shaft thanks to its low molecular weight. This allows it to provide nourishment within the hair.[2]
  • Research shows coconut oil can reduce combing force for wet and dry hair by up to 65-84%. This shows it has an excellent lubricating effect to reduce breakage.[3]
  • Studies demonstrate coconut oil’s ability to protect hair from hygral fatigue – meaning it can prevent the swelling and shrinking of hair fibers when exposed to water. This reduces breakage.[4]

While leaving coconut oil in overnight likely maximizes these benefits, more targeted research needs to be done comparing overnight application versus shorter treatments.

Potential cons of leaving coconut oil in overnight

Despite the potential benefits, there are also some possible drawbacks to consider:

  • Greasiness – Leaving coconut oil in your hair for an extended period can result in a build-up of oil, leading hair to appear flat, limp and greasy if it is not properly washed out.
  • Pore blockage – Some people experience clogged pores and breakouts on the forehead, neck and scalp when using thicker oils overnight.
  • Irritation – Those with sensitive skin may experience irritation, itchiness or dermatitis from leaving oils on the scalp for too long.
  • Pillow stains – Oily residues can stain pillowcases, towels, and clothing if not adequately protected.
  • Slow results – While it deep conditions, some find coconut oil does not deliver dramatic improvements and requires consistent overnight treatments.

To minimize cons, it is important to properly apply coconut oil and wash it out thoroughly in the morning. Doing a patch test before large applications can also check for potential irritation.

How to apply coconut oil overnight

If you want to try leaving coconut oil in your hair overnight, follow these tips:

  • Start with clean, damp hair to allow the oil to penetrate better.
  • Apply coconut oil evenly from roots to ends. Focus on damaged areas.
  • Use an amount ranging from a teaspoon for short hair to a tablespoon for long, thick hair.
  • Massage oil gently but thoroughly into the scalp and along shaft to distribute.
  • For thicker hair, twist into sections or braids to encourage saturation.
  • Use a shower cap or towel to protect bedding from stains.
  • In the morning, wash hair as normal with shampoo 1-2 times until oil is fully removed.
  • Use a small amount of conditioner focusing only on ends if needed.
  • Style hair as usual. Oil may keep hair straighter.

Repeat 1-2 times per week for best results. Make sure to do a patch test before extensive use.

Coconut oil overnight hair mask recipes

You can create overnight coconut oil hair masks by combining it with other nourishing ingredients:

Coconut oil and honey hair mask

  • 2 tablespoons coconut oil
  • 1 tablespoon honey
  • 2 tablespoons yogurt or avocado (optional)

Honey adds hydrating properties to boost moisture. Yogurt contains proteins for strength. Avocado also provides fatty acids for shine.

Coconut oil and olive oil hair mask

  • 1 tablespoon coconut oil
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 3-5 drops essential oil like lavender, rosemary, etc. (optional)

Olive oil complements coconut oil to condition and smooth hair. Essential oils provide fragrance.

Coconut oil and banana hair mask

  • 2 tablespoons coconut oil
  • 1 overripe banana
  • 1 teaspoon honey or plain yogurt

Banana contains moisture, antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals to nourish hair. Honey and yogurt add extra nutrients.

Should you shampoo after coconut oil overnight?

It is highly recommended to shampoo your hair the morning after using a coconut oil overnight mask. You need an effective cleansing shampoo to fully remove oil residues.

Without shampooing, excess oil and product build-up can quickly make hair look and feel greasy and dirty. It can also clog follicles and lead to irritation or acne.

Make sure to use a sulfate-free shampoo that won’t over-strip hair. Shampoo once or twice until the water runs clear. If hair remains oily, use a clarifying shampoo specifically designed to remove product buildup.

Conditioner is optional after coconut oil use. Only apply lightly to the mid-lengths and ends of hair to avoid excess greasiness on the scalp and roots.

Should you do coconut oil overnight every day?

It is not recommended to use coconut oil in your hair overnight every day. Here is how often you should use it:

  • Damaged hair – Every 3-4 days
  • Dry hair – 1-2 times per week
  • Oily hair – 1 time per week
  • Normal hair – 1 time per 1-2 weeks

Overusing coconut oil can lead to a buildup of oils and product on the scalp and hair over time. This can leave hair limp and lifeless. Those with oily hair and scalps should limit use to avoid greasiness.

It’s best to start slowly and increase frequency based on your hair’s needs. Pay attention to how your hair looks and feels to find your optimal schedule.

Other tips for getting the most from coconut oil

Here are some other tips to maximize the benefits of coconut oil for your hair:

  • Do a patch test before first use to check for allergic reaction.
  • Purchase high-quality, pure, unrefined, organic virgin coconut oil.
  • Apply to damp or dry hair depending on your preference.
  • Heat oil slightly to liquefy if your home is cold to make application easier.
  • Concentrate on mid-lengths and ends if you have an oily scalp.
  • Let sit for at least 30 minutes before washing out if you don’t do an overnight treatment.
  • Use a mild or sulfate-free shampoo 1-2 times to fully remove oil.
  • Repeat treatments as desired for continued nourishing benefits.

Coconut Oil vs. Other Oils for Overnight Hair Treatment

Coconut oil is not the only oil that can be used for an intensive overnight hair conditioning treatment. Here is how coconut oil compares to some other popular oils:

Oil Pros Cons
Coconut Oil – Penetrates hair well
– Reduces protein loss
– Prevents hygral fatigue
– Antifungal properties
– Can be greasy if overused
Argan Oil – Very moisturizing
– Makes hair glossy
– Protects from UV damage
– Expensive
– Can be heavy
Olive Oil – Conditions hair
– Contains antioxidants
– Improves manageability
– Heavier texture
– Can feel greasy
Jojoba Oil – Mimics natural oils
– Adds shine
– Soothes scalp
– Doesn’t penetrate as deeply
– Can be expensive
Grapeseed Oil – Lightweight
– Won’t clog pores
– High in vitamin E
– Not as moisturizing
– Needs to be washed out well

When choosing which oil to use, consider your hair type and needs. Those with very dry or damaged hair may prefer more intensive options like coconut, argan or olive oil. People with fine or oily hair may want lighter grapeseed or jojoba oil.

Should you use coconut oil before or after washing your hair?

Coconut oil can be applied to hair before or after shampooing:

  • Before (as pre-wash treatment) – Coconut oil coats the hair and protects it from damage caused by shampooing. It also penetrates deeply when applied to damp hair before washing.
  • After (as leave-in treatment) – Using coconut oil after washing helps smooth and hydrate hair, tame frizz and flyaways, and protect damp hair while air drying.

Using coconut oil both before and after washing provides maximum benefits as your hair gets deeply conditioned as well as protected from styling damage.

If using only one method, applying before washing overnight enables longer contact time for very damaged hair. Using it after as a styling product is lighter and often preferred for those with fine or oily hair.

What’s the best coconut oil for hair overnight?

Look for the following qualities when choosing a coconut oil for overnight hair treatments:

  • Virgin or extra virgin – Unrefined oil extracted from fresh coconut meat.
  • Organic – Grown without chemicals or pesticides.
  • Cold-pressed – Extracted without high heat to preserve nutrients.
  • Pure – 100% coconut oil without additives or dilution.
  • Unbleached – Not chemically processed or deodorized.
  • Glass jar – Prevents plastic contamination and oxidation.

Solid, creamy white coconut oil is best for penetrative ability. Liquid coconut oils are more refined and processed.

Some top brands are Nutiva, Nature’s Way, Anjou, and Viva Naturals. Avoid coconut oils labeled “fractionated”, which lack the fatty acids that nourish hair.


Using coconut oil as an overnight deep conditioning hair mask is an increasingly popular home remedy. While more research needs to be done, there is evidence showing coconut oil’s ability to improve hair health, protect from damage, and enhance shine.

To maximize benefits, apply coconut oil generously to damp hair and allow it to soak in overnight. Wash hair well in the morning with a sulfate-free shampoo. People with very damaged hair can use it more frequently, while those with finer hair should limit to once a week.

While coconut oil has many benefits, it could cause greasy buildup or breakouts if overused. Pay attention to your hair’s needs and adjust your coconut oil hair mask routine accordingly.

When used properly as part of your hair care regimen, coconut oil can help restore lost moisture, smooth frizz, add glossy shine, and improve overall hair health and manageability overnight.