Most external uses of coconut oil are pretty safe -- unless you have a coconut allergy. If you're not sure about whether you have a coconut allergy, get an allergy test before using topical coconut oil.
Coconut Oil and Skin Health
Fortunately, you don't have to take coconut oil internally to get some of its most visible -- and best documented -- benefits. Coconut oil can be a great natural remedy for all sorts of skin problems.
Coconut oil is a common ingredient in lotions and moisturizers. You can rub coconut oil into dry skin to combat itchiness and flaking [source: Peterson]. But don't stop there: Coconut oil can help soothe athlete's foot, ringworm, diaper rash and eczema. The same component that makes it antiviral -- lauric acid -- makes it antifungal as well. (The lauric acid dissolves the fatty outer membranes of microbes) [source: Gordon].
Speaking of itches, coconut oil is the main ingredient in chick-chack, a natural remedy against pediculosis, the skin irritation that comes from an infestation of lice. It's more than 90 percent effective at getting rid of lice -- better than many chemical alternatives [source: Guenther].
Many people claim that coconut oil helps alleviate acne. One supplier recommends applying a paste of turmeric (the main spice in curry powder) and coconut oil, which -- even if it doesn't work -- will at least smell really good [source: Acne Resource Center]. Since coconut oil soothes itches and kills microbes, it could at least offer some relief, but there aren't any clinical studies to support this use. One dermatologist notes that for some people, coconut oil could in fact make acne worse [source: Carp].
You might have already seen coconut oil conditioners in the hair care aisle. Some people consider pure coconut oil the world's best conditioner [source: Peterson]. Others claim that rubbing it into your scalp can actually promote hair growth. (That's debatable, although the scalp massage itself might help, depending on whom you ask.) A coconut-oil scalp massage can help treat dandruff. But why stop at the scalp? Many aficionados claim that coconut oil is a fantastic massage oil [source: Minnesota Wellness Directory]. That claim might be worth testing yourself.
Some people think coconut oil could help treat a more serious skin problem, psoriasis. Although many individual users claim it has relieved their symptoms, only one scientific study has been conducted. It measured the effectiveness of coconut oil in conjunction with ultraviolet light therapy. Used this way, the coconut oil did not have a significant effect [source: George].
Does coconut oil have promise as a natural remedy? Sure, but more study is needed. Is it a cure-all? Let's not go nuts.
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