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.
To learn more, visit the links below.
Related HowStuffWorks Articles
- Babcock, Michael. "The Truth About Coconut Oil." Thai Food & Travel. 2003. (Accessed 3/18/09) http://www.thaifoodandtravel.com/features/cocgood.html
- Carp, Jonathan, MD. "Coconut Oil and the Skin." My Friend the Dermatologist. September 23, 2007. (Accessed 3/19/09) http://myfriendthedermatologist.com/2007/09/23/coconut-oil-and-the-skin/
- Encyclopedia Britannica. "Human Nutrition: Triglycerides." (Accessed 3/18/09) http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/95261/carboxylic-acid/277738/Unsaturated-aliphatic-acids#ref=ref999691
- George, S.A., Bilsland, D.J., Wainwright, N.J., Ferguson, J. "Failure of Coconut Oil to Accelerate Psoriasis Clearance in Narrow-Band UVB Phototherapy." Abstract at PubMed. (Accessed 3/19/09) http://www.curehunter.com/public/pubmed8471514.do
- Gordon, Serena. "Coconut Oil May Help Fight Childhood Pneumonia." U.S. News. October 30, 2008. (Accessed 3/18/09) http://health.usnews.com/articles/health/healthday/2008/10/30/coconut-oil-may-help-fight-childhood-pneumonia.html
- Guenther, Ann, MD. "Pediculosis." Medscape: eMedicine from WebMD. November 1, 2007. (Accessed 3/19/09) http://emedicine.medscape.com/article/225013-treatment [registration required; see accompanying screenshot.]
- Mayo Clinic. "Coconut oil and weight loss." August 13, 2008. (Accessed 3/19/09) http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/coconut-oil-and-weight-loss/AN01899
- Mayo Clinic. "Coconut oil: can it cure hypothyroidism?" June 18, 2008. (Accessed 3/18/09) http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/coconut-oil-thyroid/an01367
- Minnesota Wellness Directory. "Coconut Oil." (Accessed 3/19/09) http://www.mnwelldir.org/docs/nutrition/coconut.htm
- Peterson, Josh. "Condition Your Hair with Coconut Oil, and How." Planet Green. December 2008. (Accessed 3/19/09) http://planetgreen.discovery.com/fashion-beauty/diy-condition-hair-coconut.html
- Peterson, Josh. "Remedy Dry Skin with Coconut Oil." Planet Green. February 2, 2009. (Accessed 3/19/09) http://planetgreen.discovery.com/fashion-beauty/dry-skin-coconut-oil.html
- Tsang, Gloria. "Saturated Fat in Coconut Oil is Bad for Your Heart." Health Castle. August 2006. (Accessed 3/18/09) http://www.healthcastle.com/coconut-saturated-heart.shtml
- Weil, Andrew, M.D. "Is Coconut Oil Good for You?" (Accessed 3/18/09) http://www.drweil.com/drw/u/id/QAA316479
- Zuckerman, Ethan. "Coconut Crude." Worldchanging. September 22, 2005. (Accessed 3/19/09) http://www.worldchanging.com/archives/003520.html