Two of the most common hair treatments out there, other than normal shampoo and conditioner, are keratin treatments and oil-based masks. Keratin treatments are used for building strength and volume, while oil masks serve to restore moisture and protect hair. The question is, are they compatible? Or should you pick one or the other?
What a Keratin Treatment Does
Keratin treatments come in two forms: the salon-style treatment and the at-home shampoo treatment. They're dramatically different, but don't worry, we're going to cover both of them.
The salon-style keratin treatment, also known as a Brazilian keratin treatment, is a method for straightening hair. It's not really a keratin treatment, but keratin is used at the end of the process to help protect the treatment itself.
In a Brazilian treatment, your hair is treated with a formaldehyde derivative chemical (or glyoxylic acid) to strip it of, well, basically everything. It strips out oils and moisture and the protective outer layer of the hair. This, in essence, makes your hair very brittle and dry. While the hair is "vulnerable", so to speak, a heat-based treatment like blow-drying or flat ironing is applied to straighten the hair. You can think of it like breaking a bone that healed wrong, to re-set and heal it straight, except a thousand times along each hair.
The other way that analogy falls apart is that hair doesn't heal. Hair isn't "dead" but it's not quite alive either, and it can't naturally repair itself. Damage simply grows out, breaks or falls off, and is replaced with new growth hair.
Thus, the Brazilian treatment needs some way to repair, protect, and restore volume to the hair it has effectively destroyed. That's where the keratin comes in. A keratin-infused shampoo or other hair treatment is applied to the now-straight hair, to seal it back up and coat it in a protective layer of keratin.
Normally this works, though of course, it depends on the person and the salon. It's a mostly-permanent hair straightening treatment, though as the straightened hair grows out, your natural hair will return.
An at-home keratin treatment is a little different. It doesn't have heat damage or the straightening effect that the salon treatment does. It simply applies a layer of protective keratin to the outside of your hair. If you have naturally thin hair, if your hair is damaged by the environment or other treatments, or if your hair is naturally frizzy, a keratin treatment can help smooth it out and add volume.
It does this by adding a layer of keratin on top of your existing hair, which is already made of keratin. The keratin shampoo essentially fills in the pits and cracks and holes in your hair at a microscopic level. Again, it doesn't "heal" your hair, since hair can't heal; it's more like repairing cracks in a road with a fresh layer of tar. The road surface is still damaged, but the new treatment makes it smoother and easier to drive across.
In both cases, the end result is that your hair is smoother and slipperier because it has a fresh coating of keratin. Too much keratin can make it "sticky" and clumpy, though, so you have to exercise caution when using a keratin treatment of any sort.
What Coconut Oil Does
So what about coconut oil? People use it as a base for a wide range of hair masks, homemade shampoos, and other treatments. What does it do for your hair?
Coconut oil is basically a moisturizer. It has a natural acid called lauric acid in it, which helps penetrate the outer sheath of your hair and fill the internal structure with moisture. This leads to generally softer, more voluminous, and shinier hair.
Coconut oil is also used as a scalp treatment. When applied to the scalp, it can soothe itchy and dry skin, it can cleanse and stimulate the hair follicles, and it can deliver vitamins and amino acids to the hair, all of which help to stimulate hair growth.
In many circumstances, coconut oil treatments can also add a layer of protection to the outside of your hair, which can be particularly effective at protecting it from UV rays in sunlight that would damage it.
There are some other uses as well. Many people use coconut oil as a pre-shampoo treatment to help lock in some of your hair's natural moisture, so normal shampoo doesn't strip it all away. It's useful to control frizz, and it's excellent as a carrier for other herb, oils, and treatments to get them to stick to hair more easily.
Do These Two Treatments Mix?
Both keratin and coconut oil leave part of themselves behind in your hair. So won't using them both leave too much stuff in your hair, making it heavy, dull, and sticky? Well, maybe. As with any situation, there's a lot of nuances to discuss.
Coconut oil is best for an everyday application. A little bit of oil goes a long way, and it keeps your hair moisturized. Conversely, keratin is more of an occasional treatment, used once a week or so. That's for a keratin shampoo; obviously, you aren't going to go get a salon straightening treatment every week.
If you get a salon keratin treatment, you will likely be told not to wash your hair for a couple of weeks, generally two. The reason for this is the keratin treatment. Stylists want to give your hair time to absorb and solidify that keratin, so if you were to wash it out right away, you could damage your hair. This applies to normal shampoo, but it also applies to coconut oil treatments. If your stylist says to leave your hair alone, leave it alone!
For keratin-infused shampoos, you don't have the same kind of restriction. You can use a keratin shampoo as often as the bottle tells you to, whether it's once a week or once a day.
Remember that too much keratin can go overboard and cause issues, so if you're noticing that keratin shampoo is making your hair sticky, clumpy, matted, or tangled, dial back on how often you're using it. Chances are there's simply too much keratin sticking to your hair.
Coconut oil can be used in keratin-treated hair, so long as it's outside of the post-treatment window where you shouldn't use anything for a salon treatment. For regular keratin shampoo, you can use coconut oil in conjunction with it if you like.
The only issue you might encounter is that both coconut oil and keratin shampoo have similar benefits, so they might not be as effective together as you hope.
Ways You Can Overlap Keratin and Coconut Oil
There are a few different situations where you might be using both keratin and coconut oil, so here are the ones we could think of, and our recommendations.
First, the salon treatment. If you get a salon treatment that infuses your hair with keratin, chances are they will tell you not to put anything in your hair for at least two weeks. Follow their instructions! No keratin shampoo, no coconut oil, no conditioner, nothing they don't explicitly tell you to use.
Once those two weeks are up, you can start using whatever additional product you want. We recommend a keratin-infused shampoo about once a week, to keep the protective keratin layer in your hair.
Coconut oil is a heavy treatment, which means it can dampen the benefits of a salon treatment. It's best to leave it off for at least a few weeks and only use it about once a week, alternating with keratin shampoo.
Another situation is any time you're not using a salon treatment, but just keratin-infused shampoo and coconut oil.
In this situation, we recommend using coconut oil first. The oil penetrates your hair and adds moisture and shine, but it generally requires a thorough washing with shampoo to rinse most of it out and make your hair actually light and voluminous. If you just leave the oil in, you're going to have greasy hair, right?
What we would recommend is this: use coconut oil in the evening and let it soak in overnight. This thoroughly infuses your hair with moisture, as well as any other vitamins or infusions you add to the oil. Be sure to sleep with a protective pillowcase so you don't leave a grease spot on your pillow!
The next morning, use a keratin-infused shampoo. This will rinse out most of the coconut oil but will leave the moisture, vitamins, and other nutrients infused in the hair. Then the keratin in the shampoo will seal in that moisture and provide a protective outer coating.
Repeat this process about once a week, adjusted for your personal hair type.
Adjust for Personal Hair Concerns
Depending on the kind of hair you have, you may want to add, adjust, or remove parts of this routine.
If you have naturally dry, thin, and frizzy hair, you can apply both coconut oil and keratin shampoo more often, to help build it up and protect it. It will want to return to baseline more often, so you'll need to treat it more often to combat that tendency.
If you have naturally thick hair, you may want to consider using keratin less often. The coconut oil will still add moisture, but keratin can build up too much of an outer layer and will make it much more difficult and sticky to control. It becomes harder to tame, and that's not a great thing when it's already unruly.
If you have naturally oily or greasy hair, consider not using coconut oil, or using it sporadically. Natural oils are fine to moisturize your hair, they just need to be controlled with a shampoo. Alternatively, you can use a harsher shampoo to strip those oils, restore moisture with your coconut oil treatment, and then lock it in with a keratin-infused conditioner instead of a shampoo.
If you're spending a lot of time out in the sun, consider using coconut oil more frequently. Sun damage can impact deep within the hair, and it will take something with deep infusing power like coconut oil to get that far into your hair to protect it. You can also use a keratin treatment to help lock in that protection and repair sun damage.
If you're frequently swimming in a pool or coming into contact with chlorinated water or other chemicals, you might recognize how much they can dry out and damage your hair. Consider using keratin treatments more often, to protect your hair before you swim and to restore it afterward. You don't need to use it twice in a day, but twice in a week if you swim often can be a good idea.
At the end of the day, there's nothing wrong with using both keratin and coconut oil in your hair. You just have to adjust your treatments according to your hair's feedback. If your hair is overly greasy, cut back on the coconut oil, or more thoroughly rinse it out with shampoo. If your hair feels thick and sticky, cut back on the keratin; you're likely creating too much of an outer sheath and it's just rubbing against itself too much. If your hair is ending up too thin, apply keratin more often. Adjust as necessary until you dial in your perfect hair.