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Refined vs Unrefined Coconut Oil for Hair: Which Is Better?

Gorgeous black female on an autumn day wearing a gray jacket with a mini afro styled with extra virgin coconut oil.

Coconut oil is a staple in many curly girls’ hair care routines. And curly hair gurus and stylists often recommend it for hair moisturization and protection.

The problem comes in when determining which type of coconut oil to choose – should it be refined or unrefined? That’s what we’ll get into in this article – using refined vs unrefined coconut oil for hair care.

What Is Unrefined Coconut Oil?

Unrefined coconut oil is the most natural coconut oil you can get your hands on. After extraction, the oil doesn’t go through additional processing, so your hair gets all of the vitamins and enzymes the coconut provides.

Unrefined coconut oils may be called virgin coconut oil or cold-pressed coconut oil – if you buy coconut oil with any of these names, you can rest assured that it’s unprocessed. 

African American lady with fine hair wearing a kinky wash and go after a deep conditioning hair mask.

What Is Refined Coconut Oil?

Unlike unrefined coconut oil, refined coconut oil is not 100% natural. It’s crude coconut oil that has been through a chemical process involving heat, chemicals, or both.

This processing step aims to make the oil suitable for cooking by making its flavor milder. The coconut oil may also be altered to remove its odor. 

There are a couple of types of refined coconut oil that you may come across: 

  • Chemically refined – Chemically refined coconut oil goes through one or more processes, including: 
    • Lye neutralization – Lye, scientifically known as sodium hydroxide, is added to the oil. 
    • Odor removal – One of many processes is used to remove the coconut oil’s smell. 
    • Bleaching – The coconut oil is put through an activated clay filter. It’s not treated with household bleach.  
      • Free fatty acids are also often removed. However, this is not an exhaustive list of coconut oil processing steps. And not every type of coconut oil goes through the same refinement procedure. 
  • Organically refined – Organically refined coconut oil doesn’t come in contact with chemicals. Instead, it is refined using steam. Organically refined coconut oil will usually come with a “Certified Organic” seal. 
Cute black girl with beautiful skin and hair using an iPhone to text a friend in the park.

Why Unrefined Coconut Oil is Better

During the processing of refined coconut oil, the oil loses its coconutty essence and is stripped of a considerable amount of its nutritional value.

It may also retain some of the chemicals used in the refinement process. For these reasons, most people prefer unrefined coconut oil over refined coconut oil. 

If you are into natural hair care remedies, it doesn’t get better than unrefined coconut oil. It comes fresh from coconut meat with minimal, if any, chemical or heat processing. 

Note: Some have used both unrefined and refined coconut oil and did not notice a difference in the health of their hair. However, if you’re concerned about the residual chemicals in refined coconut oil and would rather go the most natural route, unrefined coconut oil is best.

A woman with a great smile and naturally curly twist-out hairdo created virgin coconut oil from fresh coconut meat.

The Price of Unrefined Coconut Oil

Since unrefined coconut oil has more substantial nutritional value than refined coconut oil, it comes at a much higher price tag than refined coconut oil. It’s not unheard of to have to pay double for unrefined coconut oil. For this reason, many avoid the unrefined variety.

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Refined Coconut Oil is Not Necessarily Bad

At the same time, refined coconut oil is not the worst thing in the world to put on your hair. Though it may go through quite a bit of processing, it’s still better for you than a plethora of chemical-laden products that naturals regularly use on their hair. 

There’s a spectrum when it comes to coconut oil processing. One brand’s refined coconut oil may be much more refined than another’s. One way to judge a coconut oil’s level of refinement is to peek at the price.

With coconut oil, you really do get what you pay for. If you opt for the cheapest refined coconut oil, it may be that it’s heavily processed.

You can always try organic refined coconut oil – it has a much lower risk of containing chemical residue. It may also retain a considerable amount of nutrients, making it suitable for use on your hair.

Lady with 4A curls moisturized with cold-pressed virgin coconut oil from fresh coconuts talking on the phone.

Ways You Can Use Coconut Oil on Your Hair

Now you know that unrefined coconut oil is the best overall choice for your hair and that organic refined coconut oil is second best. With quality coconut oil on hand, you’re ready to upgrade your hair care routine.

In the following section, we’ll get into the benefits of coconut oil and how you can begin using it today: 

Add It to Your Hair Mask for Lasting Moisture

Any hair mask can be upgraded by adding coconut oil to the mix. Coconut oil has moisture-sealing properties that help your hair retain moisture over time.

All it takes is adding a tablespoon or two of coconut oil to a DIY hair mask or your regular deep conditioner. You can also use a coconut oil-containing deep conditioner to reap the benefits.

Use It To Reduce Hair Breakage

Coconut oil contains fatty acids that can penetrate the hair cuticle and nourish the hair from within. It’s been found that regular use of coconut oil can boost your hair’s elasticity levels and make it better able to withstand manipulation from styling and maintenance.

This means that you’ll find less hair in your brush, on your shower floor, and on countertops. Apply a generous layer of coconut oil to clean hair to get the benefits. Then proceed with your regular styling routine.

Cute black girl wearing a wash n go hairstyle created with refined oil extracted from dried coconut flesh.

Use It to Aid in Detangling

You may already be painfully aware that detangling curls is tough. Not only can it be physically painful, but it can lead to widespread breakage.

Coconut oil is relatively slippery, and when you apply it to your hair, it makes your strands slick. Slicker strands are less likely to become entangled with other strands. So, if you’ve got some stubborn tangles to contend with, here’s what you need to do: 

  • Wash and condition your hair. 
  • Apply a generous amount of coconut oil to your damp strands. You can also apply a coconut oil-based detangler to your hair. 
  • Finger detangle your curls to get rid of the most stubborn knots. 
  • Use a wide-toothed comb to tackle the rest of the tangles. Take your time to avoid breakage. If you hear hairs snapping, your strands are breaking. That’s a sign that you should use your fingers instead. 
African American woman at the park with a 4A kinky afro styled with unrefined oil and aloe vera gel.

Restore Damaged Curls with a Hot Oil Treatment

If you’re someone who has damage from chemical processing, like bleaching or dyeing, coconut oil can be a lifesaver. Treatments like these often result in excessive protein loss, leading to hair weakness and breakage.

If you have color-treated or otherwise chemically-treated hair, a hot oil treatment may be exactly what you need to bring your curls back to their former glory. 

Coconut oil helps preserve your hair’s protein levels and reduces further protein loss. This results in stronger, more resilient hair. 

If you want to do a hot oil treatment with coconut oil, here are the steps you need to follow: 

  1. Wash your hair, preferably with a clarifying shampoo. It will remove any gunk from hair products or excess sebum. We advise against skipping this step because it creates a clean slate for the oil to penetrate. Don’t condition. 
  2. Dispense a few tablespoons of oil into a glass container and pop it in the microwave for about 10 to 15 seconds. 
  3. Once the oil is no longer piping hot, apply it to your hair while it’s still damp from the wash. 
  4. Use a wide-tooth comb to distribute the oil throughout your curls. 
  5. Put on a shower cap and wait for 15 to 30 minutes. 
  6. Rinse the oil out of your hair and proceed with your regular conditioning and styling routine. 
Beautiful woman with 4A natural curls styled with expeller-pressed coconut oil taking selfie in the park.

Related Articles

Now you know the main differences between refined and unrefined coconut oil and how to incorporate coconut oil into your hair routine today. We encourage you to continue seeking out healthy hair care information so you can craft a winning regimen for your curls!