Coconut oil for the scalp microbiota!

We’ve all had dandruff on our shirt collar or shoulders. These small, stubborn and unsightly flakes are an extremely common chronic scalp disorder. A recent study has shown that coconut oil can help maintain a healthy scalp by improving the scalp microbiota.

Created 08 June 2021
Updated 31 March 2022

About this article

Created 08 June 2021
Updated 31 March 2022

What do you brush away only for it to return immediately? Why dandruff, of course! Dandruff is a skin condition characterized by excessive flaking of the scalp, with or without itching, and involves a number of factors, including genetic susceptibility, the composition of the sebum and the scalp microbiota. A fungus called Malassezia is known to accelerate the development of dandruff and inflammation. Although effective against Malassezia, antifungals do not prevent the reappearance of dandruff after treatment is stopped. In Asian countries such as India, coconut oil is used to maintain scalp health, moisturize the skin and strengthen the skin’s barrier function. The researchers in this study compared the impact of coconut oil and a neutral shampoo on the scalp bacterial and fungal microbiota of 140 women with and without dandruff.

Dandruff: a specific fungus on the scalp?

The scalps of the women with dandruff had a much higher abundance of uncharacterized Malassezia species. Conversely, the fungus species M. globosa, was found in abundance on the scalps of the women with no dandruff or itching. Treatment with coconut oil brought the ratio of M. globosa to other groups of Malassezia in line with that of healthy scalps.

Coconut oil for the scalp’s engine?

Although no significant differences were observed between the bacterial microbiota of the healthy group and that of the dandruff group, both groups saw an increase in bacteria involved in the metabolism of biotin following coconut oil treatment. Biotin, a B vitamin, is essential for the maintenance of healthy skin and a healthy scalp, and is also known to reduce inflammation. Further studies are required to understand the underlying mechanisms, but for the researchers, the positive effect of coconut oil on the composition and function of the scalp microbiota is the first step towards the longer-term restoration of scalp health.

Old sources


Saxena, R., Mittal, P., Clavaud, C. et al. Longitudinal study of the scalp microbiome suggests coconut oil to enrich healthy scalp commensals. Sci Rep 11, 7220 (2021)


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