What can’t coconut oil do? It’s one of those not-so-secret ingredients that can be used for everything from beauty to cooking. Anyone who's suffered from eczema knows it can be a saving grace for adding moisture to the skin, not to mention it imparts a natural glow wherever you apply it. And for those trying to grow their hair out, the nutrient-rich oil is used by some to speed up the process. With the never-ending list of coconut oil uses, the unexpected benefits can easily get lost in the shuffle. For instance, using coconut oil for nails is something that's often overlooked, but oh-so-useful if yours are brittle and dry. Plus, using coconut oil for toenail fungus is a thing (more on that later). To get the full scoop on the wonders of coconut oil for nails, we called on celebrity manicurist Skyy Hadley and board-certified dermatologist Orit Markowitz.
Meet the Expert
What is Coconut Oil?
There’s a lot of good stuff packed in this cure-all ingredient. Here’s a little refresher: “Coconut oil is rich in carbohydrates, vitamins, and minerals, which are great for the human body,” Hadley says. “It’s also really high in saturated fats that are composed of mostly triglycerides and medium-chain fatty acids, which means once it absorbs, it’ll keep your skin smooth to the touch for a long period of time." Basically, we're sold.
The Benefits of Coconut Oil
According to our experts, coconut oil is brimming with potential benefits, specifically for the nails:
- Strengthens brittle, cracked nails
- Treats damaged cuticles
- Prevents nail ridges
- Cures hangnails
- Treats toenail fungus
Read on for everything you need to know about this miracle oil.
Grow and Strengthen Your Nails
To keep your nail game strong, a little TLC is required. After all, unhealthy nails may lead to broken nails, and broken nails can wreak havoc on your manicure. According to our experts, incorporating coconut oil into your nail routine will hydrate and strengthen your nails, amp up nail growth, and—wait for it—even help your mani last longer. "Coconut oil is great for treating brittle and cracked nails as well as damaged cuticles because of its moisturizing properties," says Markowitz. "It's an ideal skin barrier that contains multiple fatty acids, which act as transepidermal water loss barriers."
That said, while coconut oil's anti-inflammatory effects may make it an ideal product in beauty generally speaking, Markowitz cautions it for certain skin types. "Many products can cause topical allergies, however, coconut oil has been shown to be non-allergenic for the most part when using it in an organic cold-pressed liquid form," she says. "The only reservation is for facial application on acne-prone skin, as coconut oil has been shown to cause acne flareups by clogging pores."
While coconut oil is great for some people's nails and hair, it's also one of the most comedogenic oils, meaning it may super pore-clogging to those with acne-prone skin. If you have sensitive or acne-prone skin, use coconut oil only in small amounts and never on your face for moisturizing.
Massage Oil into Cuticles
Cuticles, while an important part of nail upkeep, are often overlooked. Everything from excess hand washing (which, we totally recommend) to cold weather might cause cuticles to peel, feel dehydrated, and chip. Coconut oil may help get your cuticles back in tip-top shape. To show your cuticles some extra attention, rub coconut oil directly on top of them and let it penetrate for at least 30 minutes. “You can certainly go as long as you want without washing coconut oil off your cuticles—the longer, the better," Hadley explains. "Doing this will help strengthen your cuticles, moisturize the skin around your nails, and get rid of hangnails."
Treat Nail Fungus
Since coconut oil is a natural anti-fungal agent, it may work wonders on yellowed toenails from fungus. "Fungal nail infections tend to occur in individuals that have reduced blood circulation to the feet and a weakened immune system," notes Markowitz. "Additionally, nails that are brittle and dry can have resulting cracks in the nail, which allow fungi to enter." The best way to actually prevent nail fungus is to keep brittle, cracked nails moisturized: "Therefore, coconut oil can be a great preventative option to decrease the likelihood of a toenail fungal infection," says Markowitz.
According to Hadley, coconut oil can be an effective treatment if you have a nail fungus on your hands or toes. “Massage the oil gently on the affected nail area once it’s been thoroughly cleaned and dried. Repeating this twice a day is the most sufficient method until the fungus goes away,” Hadley says. And if you notice increased yellow-whitish discoloration and thickening of the nail that's causing crumbling at the edges (or distortion of the nail), it's best to seek professional help.
Hangnails, which occur when a piece of skin comes out of its cuticle, are as cumbersome as they are painful. They might be a result of biting your nails, exposure to water, or harsh chemicals found in soaps or sanitizers, among other things. Both experts recommend applying coconut oil to remedy hangnails and strengthen your nails. “Use coconut oil two to four times a week to gain stronger and healthier nails” says Hadley. (PSA: Coconut oil in its raw form will offer the best results).
Prevent Nail Ridges
Ever run your finger along your nail bed and wonder why it doesn't feel smooth? The answer: nail ridges, which can stem from dehydrated nails. "Coconut oil’s fat content helps retain the oil’s natural moisture, which keeps your skin hydrated for a very long time," says Hadley. She suggests massaging extra-virgin coconut oil onto your nail beds in a circular motion before you go to sleep.
Amp Up Your Nail Game
If you really commit to a steady coconut oil ritual for your nails, it may only take a few weeks for you to feel (and see) a noticeable difference. Below, find our top coconut oil picks.
Add it to your morning smoothie or slather on your cuticles—either way, this coconut oil promises to douse dry, brittle nails with the hydration they need to thrive.
Unrefined coconut oil like this one from Kopari is processed less than virgin coconut oil, meaning it isn't exposed to heat during the extraction process. This helps it maintain more of its natural properties, making your nails (and cuticles) strong and healthy.
This 100% pure extra virgin coconut oil has over 10,000 5-star ratings, and we can see why. The coconuts it's derived from are picked when they're ultra-ripe. The result? A restorative, rich, and ultra-hydrating solution for cuticles.
Varma SR, Sivaprakasam TO, Arumugam I, et al. In vitro anti-inflammatory and skin protective properties of virgin coconut oil. J Tradit Complement Med. 2018;9(1):5-14. doi:10.1016/j.jtcme.2017.06.012
Shino B, Peedikayil FC, Jaiprakash SR, Ahmed Bijapur G, Kottayi S, Jose D. Comparison of antimicrobial activity of chlorhexidine, coconut oil, probiotics, and ketoconazole on candida albicans isolated in children with early childhood caries: an in vitro study. Scientifica (Cairo). 2016;2016:7061587. doi:10.1155/2016/7061587
Piraccini BM, Granger C, Alessandrini A, et al. Clinical and instrumental objective evidence of the efficacy of a new water-based nail-strengthening solution containing pistacia lentiscus and hyaluronic acid applied for up to 6 months to improve the appearance of weak, brittle nails. Dermatol Ther (Heidelb). 2020;10(1):119-131. doi:10.1007/s13555-019-00343-0
Liu R, Guo X, Cheng M, et al. Effects of chemical refinement on the quality of coconut oil. J Food Sci Technol. 2019;56(6):3109-3116. doi:10.1007/s13197-019-03810-w