What is coconut oil?
The popularity of coconut, especially coconut oil, has soared over the last few years due to its many health benefits. In particular, coconut oil has great benefits for skin health.
Coconut oil is a fat that contains over 90% saturated fat. The high concentration of saturated fat is the primary reason the oil becomes firm at cold or room temperature. Saturated fats have different medium-chain fatty acids containing 6 to 12 carbon atoms.
Lauric acid makes up around 47% of the total fatty acid component, with palmitic acid and myristic acid the other primary components. Typically, coconut oil is available in the pure form, refined oil form, or in the form of virgin coconut oil.
Recently other types, such as cold-pressed coconut oil, have become popular.
Pure coconut oil is extracted from coconut kernels (called copra) and does not contain additives. Common uses for this oil include massage oil, hair oil, and other personal and skincare products such as lotions, shampoos, and soaps.
Coconut oil is bleached and deodorized to prepare refined coconut oil, mainly used in cooking and other commercial purposes. Virgin coconut oil, made from coconut milk extracted from fresh coconut meat (the white part inside the coconut), is rich in vitamin E and other saturated fatty acids.
Production of coconut oil has been consistently increasing worldwide, with the Philippines, Indonesia, and India being major exporters of the oil. The United States, Europe, India, and the Philippines use the most coconut oil.
Coconut oil is unusually resistant to oxidation (breaking down) and polymerization (combining chemically to form long molecules). These characteristics account for many of its health benefits.
Coconut oil nutrition facts
Coconut oil has several nutrients that come with many health benefits. A 100 gram serving of coconut oil contains the following nutrients:
Total lipid (fat): 99.1 grams
Iron: 0.05 milligrams
Zinc: 0.02 milligrams
Choline: 0.3 milligrams
Vitamin E: 0.11 milligrams
Coconut oil is rich in medium-chain fatty acids, a type of saturated fat. Some of the most widely found fatty acids in coconut oil are:
Lauric acid: 49%
Myristic acid: 8%
Caprylic acid: 8%
Palmitic acid: 8%
Capric acid: 7%
Oleic acid: 6%
Linoleic acid: 2%
Stearic acid: 2%
Benefits of coconut oil for your skin
The high content of saturated fatty acids (specifically lauric acid) and high smoke point are primary reasons the oil retains its stability under heat, making it less likely to oxidize or break down. This stability prevents the formation of harmful molecules called free radicals that other oils can form.
Coconut oil has many other skin benefits, including the following:
Improves overall skin health
Coconut oil is one of the most preferred oils for skin massage. Coconut oil moisturizes your skin and keeps it soft and smooth. Due to its moisturizing properties, the oil is an excellent option for dry skin.
Coconut oil also helps treat several skin problems such as dermatitis, eczema, and psoriasis. This property is one of the primary reasons it’s an ingredient in many body care products such as lotions and skin creams.
Skin conditions like psoriasis and eczema lead to skin inflammation. Coconut oil has anti-inflammatory properties, which are helpful in treating these conditions. The other skincare benefits of coconut oil are due to its antioxidant effect.
May protect against infections
Coconut oil has antifungal, antibacterial, and antiviral properties that may protect you against infections. Applying coconut oil over the infected area creates a chemical layer that keeps the skin safe from dust, air, fungi, and bacteria.
This layer also lets your body carry out the necessary processes for healing without any hindrances, speeding up the healing process in the damaged tissues.
It protects against bacteria that cause ulcers, throat infections, and gonorrhea. Coconut oil is effective on fungi and yeast that lead to conditions such as ringworm, athlete’s foot, thrush, and diaper rash.
How to use coconut oil
Virgin coconut oil has been used as an effective skin moisturizer for several centuries, especially by people in tropical regions. You can apply a small amount of oil directly to your skin and massage it for some time to enhance the absorption of the oil.
You can do this right before you go to sleep, leave it on overnight, and wash it off the next day. Applying cold-pressed coconut oil to your skin is especially beneficial since cold-pressed oil does not require heat to process. Maintaining the temperature below 120°F helps retain more nutrients in the oil than if prepared using other methods.
Is it right for you?
Coconut oil comes with many potential skin benefits due to its anti-inflammatory, antifungal, and antibacterial properties. It can serve as a facial cleanser and moisturizer by applying it directly to the skin.
However, while it may have antibacterial and anti-inflammatory benefits for acne-prone skin, it may not be the best option for you if you have oily skin. Check with your dermatologist to see if coconut oil is a safe option for you, given your specific skin type. It’s also good to know how to use it and how often to apply it to your skin.
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Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health: "Coconut Oil."
International Journal of Life Sciences Research: "Medicinal Benefits of Coconut Oil."
International Journal of Pharmaceutical Sciences and Research: "Coconut Oil: The Healthiest Oil On Earth."
Journal of Traditional and Complementary Medicine: "In vitro anti-inflammatory and skin protective properties of Virgin coconut oil."
National Library of Medicine: "Coconut oil and palm oil's role in nutrition, health and national development: A review."
Nutrition Reviews Advance Access published March 5, 2016: "Coconut oil consumption and cardiovascular risk factors in humans."
U.S. Department of Agriculture: "Coconut Oil."
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