Although coconut oil is a centuries-old staple for a multitude of things spanning the spectrum of skin, hair, nails, makeup, teeth, health, and wellness, it's been given an even brighter spotlight in recent years, being touted as a do-it-all fix for just about any ailment. Dry skin? Try coconut oil. Want whiter teeth? Coconut oil. These claims are vast and loud, and although the oil has been scientifically proven to be a beneficial addition to our routines in some capacities, it's worth noting the controversies surrounding it, like the idea of it being healthy to consume on a regular basis and the danger of applying it to acne-prone skin as it's a comedogenic oil that can potentially clog pores. However, there are some benefits that might be worth looking into, especially consider its low price point.
It Could Help Burn Fat
Coconut oil is unique for its medium-chain fatty acids. They’re easy to digest and funneled straight to the liver, where they produce energy instead of body fat, stimulating your metabolism. One study found that women who presented as obese saw a reduction in their waist circumferences after consuming about two tablespoons of coconut oil daily for 12 weeks while following a balanced hypocaloric diet and walking for 50 minutes per day. However, more research needs to be done on the fat-reducing prowess of coconut oil. Before turning to it yourself in hopes of shedding excess weight, speak with your doctor.
It Repairs Damaged Hair
In a study examining the effects of applying coconut, mineral, and sunflower oil to prevent damage from combing the hair, coconut oil was the only oil found to considerably reduce protein loss for both undamaged and damaged hair when used as a pre-wash and post-wash treatment. This is because of its low molecular weight and straight linear chain which allows it to easily penetrate the hair shaft.
To reap the benefits yourself, heat three to five tablespoons (or more depending on your hair density) of coconut oil in the microwave or on the stovetop and apply it to your dry hair before bed. Cover with a shower cap and shampoo as usual in the morning. Your locks will be significantly less frizzy and your scalp with be thrilled with the moisture.
It can be hard to get all the coconut oil out of your hair, so try this first on a weekend or a day when you don't have to head out the door right away. Once you figure out the best technique for getting the coconut oil out of your hair and how much to actually use, you'll love the benefits.
It's Great for Oral Health
A 2012 study found that coconut oil can single-handedly stop most of the common causes of tooth decay. Lauric acid (a medium-chain fatty acid that constitutes for almost 50% of coconut oil) kills the oral bacteria Streptococcus mutans which leads to tooth decay and plaque.
Another study examined 60 adolescent-aged boys and girls with plaque-induced gingivitis and found that after oil-pulling with coconut oil (or swishing it around in the mouth for generally up to a minute), the subjects saw a statistically significant decrease in plaque after one week.
It Treats Some Skin Conditions
Remember the lauric acid we talked about earlier? Its antimicrobial properties deem it a helpful medium for killing bacteria on the skin and reducing inflammation. Its high concentration of linoleic acid, an unsaturated omega-6 fatty acid, also renders it an emollient and skin soother.
Additionally, a 2008 study examined patients with atopic dermatitis and found that after placing virgin coconut oil twice a day on non-infected sites, the subjects—of which 20 were positive for Staphylococcus aureus (the bacteria that leads the inflammation of the skin) at baseline—saw a dramatic decrease in bacteria on the skin, with only one subject testing positive post-intervention.
However, because coconut oil is highly comedogenic and can thus trap oil and bacteria on the skin (making its antimicrobial benefits null), if you have acne-prone skin, you should stay away from using coconut oil. Also, processed forms of coconut oil can become contaminated and lead to skin breakouts and inflammation, so you should always be sure to use purified, cold-pressed coconut oil in liquid form, according to dermatologist Carl Thornfeldt, MD.
If you’re going to go ahead and replace your lotion with oil, make sure you buy organic—you don’t want your skin soaking up any toxins along with the good stuff.
It Helps Reduce the Appearance of Wrinkles
While we know coconut oil to be comedogenic, if your skin is tolerant of the oil, it may help diminish the appearance of fine lines. According to Amanda Conte, the creator of Conscious Coconut, "When absorbed into your skin and connective tissues, coconut oil helps to reduce the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles by helping to keep your connective tissues strong and supple."
It Makes for a Good Exfoliator
Because the skin on the body is thicker and has less oil glands than the face, you may find your skin to be more tolerant when used as the base of a body exfoliator. Add some sugar to the coconut oil for an all-natural, lightly-scented exfoliator. Mix the ingredients in a bowl with a spoon so the heat of your hands doesn't melt the oil right away. This concoction also makes for a great foot scrub—especially since coconut oil has anti-fungal properties.
It Removes Eye Makeup
Again, this is for those who are tolerant of using coconut oil on their facial skin—if you fall within this camp, you may find it to be a good natural makeup remover. "Coconut oil is anti-bacterial, anti-yeast, and also works as a great first-aid cream. Because of its detergent effect, it works well as a makeup remover,” explains Thornfeldt. Simply liquify the coconut oil in your hands when it’s in its natural solid state, and gently rub onto dry skin, paying special attention to heavy eye makeup. Once your makeup has been sufficiently melted away, rinse your face with warm water and pat dry. And remember—organic, cold-pressed, unrefined coconut oil only.
It's a Cheap and Easy Shaving Oil
Razors glide smoothly over skin prepped with the oil, helping to minimize ingrown hairs and razor burn. The coconut oil will protect your skin while you shave, and it will also leave the area so soft that you might not need to use lotion after your shower.