Refined vs. Unrefined Coconut Oil (Will Your Hair Care?)

Thankfully, coconut oil is no longer shunned in the world of nutrition for being a saturated fat, and we now know that it is an incredibly healthy oil that is excellent for use in cooking. Not only is coconut oil one of the best cooking oils and extremely healthy to include in your daily diet, but it also has gained popularity for use as part of your beauty regimen.

refined vs unrefined coconut oil

As we’ve explored in other articles (check out 10 evidence based ways coconut oil can benefit your hair), coconut oil makes a perfect, safe, natural and effective hair care product and can be used in a myriad of ways to make your hair healthier. However, many people wonder as to how much the type of coconut oil used will effect its benefits for your hair, particularly the differences between refined and unrefined.

Refined vs. Unrefined Coconut Oil

First and foremost, let’s take a look at the differences between refined and unrefined coconut oil. When staring at the coconut section of your local grocery or health food store, the many types to choose from can certainly be overwhelming.

unrefined coconut oil

Unrefined coconut oil is often also referred to as “pure” or “virgin” coconut oil. This type of oil is extracted from fresh coconut meat instead of dried, and undergoes less processing than refined (1). Typically the processing of unrefined coconut oil involves a method of quick-drying the coconut meat and mechanically expressing the oil. No additives or bleaching are used, and the resulting oil retains its coconut taste and smell (2). Unrefined coconut oil also retains more of its nutrient content, but we’ll discuss this more in detail in a moment.


Refined coconut oil, on the other hand, undergoes a much more extensive extraction process than unrefined. In fact, this oil has been bleached and deoderized, which gives it a more neutral taste and smell. This is necessary because certain contaminants can be introduced during the process of extraction from dried coconut meat (otherwise referred to as copra), and extremely high heat is used. This process often adds sodium hydroxide to the final product to extend its shelf life (3).

refined coconut oil

Furthermore, refined coconut oil is sometimes partially hydrogenated, meaning it contains trans-fats. These types of man-made fats have been linked to cardiovascular disease and other conditions (4), and should definitely be avoided. If using refined coconut oil, be sure to read the ingredient lists to make sure trans-fats are not included. The only reason you might opt for refined over unrefined coconut oil is if you are cooking at extremely high heat, as refined coconut oil has a smoke point of 450 degrees fahrenheit, whereas unrefined oil’s smoke point is 350 degrees (5). The smoke point of an oil indicates at what temperature it will become oxidized (AKA, exposed to rancidity).

Does Unrefined Coconut Oil Have More Nutrients?

Yes, unrefined coconut oil contains more nutrients than refined. However, some nutrients do remain in tact when refined, particularly coconut’s lauric acid content, which plays an important role in coconut oil’s benefits for your hair. Lauric acid is a medium chain fatty acid that is known to support immune health and has powerful anti-bacterial, anti-viral and anti-fungal properties (6).

However, the phytonutrient content of unrefined coconut oil is largely lost in the refining process, meaning refined coconut oil is lower in polyphenols and antioxidants than unrefined.

Will My Hair Care?

will your hair careMany people prefer to use unrefined, virgin coconut oil in their hair care regimen. Because lauric acid is the fat largely responsible for coconut oil’s moisturizing capabilities, refined coconut oil should be just as moisturizing. However, other nutrients and antioxidants missing from refined could make it an inferior choice.

There are no actual studies done on the differences between unrefined and refined coconut oil for hair, but given the information we’ve reviewed here, it makes sense that unrefined coconut oil is your best option, but refined will still offer certain benefits. Another point to consider is that you are probably using the unrefined version in your kitchen, so you might as well double its uses for hair care, as well.

Quick Review of Coconut Oil for Hair Care

Check out our article here for 5 clever ways to use coconut oil as a hair care product, but its highlights include using it as a moisturizing scalp treatment, a natural and effective conditioner, a post-wash detangler and a pre-wash protector. Be sure to properly wash and rinse in order to reap maximum benefits.


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