Why is coconut oil beneficial to skin health?
Coconut oil is popular for its health benefits and health- promoting properties. It is known for reducing LDL cholesterol (bad cholesterol), improving brain function in individuals with Alzheimer. However, very few know that it is beneficial for skin health too.
What Is Coconut Oil?
Coconut oil is a highly saturated oil which is made by extracting the oil from raw coconuts or dried coconut kernels. At room temperature coconut oil is solid, but melts when heated or at normal room temperature. It is very commonly used in cooking as well as applying on the hair and skin!
Coconut oil is rich in medium-chain fatty acids that are saturated fats and make up 65% of the total composition of the oil. Some fatty acids found in coconut oil are: Lauric Acid (49%), caprylic acid (8%), myristic acid (18%), palmitic acid (8%), capric acid (7%), oleic acid (6%), linoleic acid (2%), and stearic acid (2%).
Coconut Oil has Anti-Microbial Properties
Though coconut oil contains 90% saturated fat, it contains some amount of monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats. Another property of the medium-chain fatty acids is that they have anti-microbial properties. This is mainly due to the lauric acid present in coconut oil that forms over 50% of all the fatty acids present in the oil.
This is particularly important for skin health and protects one from various skin conditions and infections such as acne, folliculitis, and athlete’s foot which are caused by bacteria and fungi. When coconut oil is applied to the skin, it prevents the growth of these organisms.
A study was conducted that tested the antibacterial properties of 30 different types of fatty acids and its effect on 20 strains of bacteria. Lauric acid was found to be the most effective against a large number of bacteria. Another medium-chain fatty acid – capric acid, that is found in coconut oil has potent antimicrobial properties.
Another study was conducted that demonstrated the antifungal effects of capric acids that proved to inhibit certain types of fungi.
Coconut Oil is Anti-Inflammatory in Nature
Most skin infections such as psoriasis, eczema, contact dermatitis etc., are characterised by chronic inflammation. In one study, coconut oil was applied to inflamed ears of rats and it was found to have an anti-inflammatory effect as well as relieve pain. It was suggested that coconut oil may help reduce inflammation by improving the antioxidant status of the skin.
In a 2013 study, rats were given different types of oils such as coconut oil, sunflower oil, olive oil etc. Towards the end of the 45-day study, it was proved that virgin coconut oil improved antioxidant status. However, it is important to note that these studies were conducted on animals and these results are yet to be conducted on humans.
Coconut Oil is Useful in Treating Acne
Due to coconut oil’s anti-inflammatory properties, it is very useful to treat acne. This is also accentuated by the anti-microbial properties of coconut oil due to the presence of medium-chain fatty acids in it.
Animal studies have shown that lauric acid is more effective in preventing growth of acne-causing bacteria as compared to benzoyl peroxide. Another acid that has similar effects is capric acid. A 2014 animal study showed the anti-inflammatory and anti-microbial effects of both lauric and capric acids. To get the best effects, one must apply coconut oil directly over the skin that is prone to acne.
Coconut Oil Moisturises Skin
Apart from preventing acne and reducing inflammation, coconut oil is useful to moisturise skin and helps keep it hydrated. A study was conducted on patients with mild to moderately dry skin to compare the effects of coconut oil and mineral oil (oil prepared from petroleum). For this reason, it was found to be effective to treat eczema, that is characterised by scaly and itchy rashes.
A study was conducted to compare the effects of olive and coconut oils in 52 adults with eczema. It was found that coconut oil helped reduce dryness and treat eczema. Another study was found to have similar results and it showed that coconut oil caused 68% decrease in the severity of eczema.
It should be noted that coconut oil hydrates the skin and protects its integrity. Therefore, it acts as a barrier to keep out bacteria and promote healing of wounds and scars.
Coconut Oil Helps in Wound Healing
Many studies conducted till date have shown that coconut oil helps in wound healing. One animal study was conducted to know how coconut oil applied to the skin of rats affected wound healing.
The study found that using virgin coconut oil enhances healing, improved antioxidants in the skin and also increased the levels of collagen, a protein that is vital for wound healing.
Another animal study showed that when a combination of coconut oil and antibiotics were applied to the skin, it helped heal burn wounds. The wound healing and antimicrobial properties prevent and complicate healing process.
Can Everyone Use Coconut Oil?
Though research shows that coconut oil is beneficial for skin health when applied to the skin, it may not be ideal for all. It may be a good idea to perform a skin test to ensure that coconut oil is good for you!
Also, individuals with sensitive skin should use small amounts of the oil on their skin to determine if they are allergic to coconut oil and if it causes irritation and blocked pores. However, eating and cooking with coconut oil is usually not a problem with most people.
Which is the Best Type of Coconut Oil?
Coconut oil is manufactured either through a wet or a dry processing. Dry processing involves the drying of coconut meat to create kernels. This meat is then pressed to extract the oil, followed by bleaching and deodorising. This process is used to manufacture refined coconut oil that has a neutral aroma and a higher smoke point. In the wet processing, coconut oil is derived from raw coconut meat and virgin olive oil is created. This process results in oil that has a strong coconut aroma and a lower smoke point.
Refined coconut oil is better suited for cooking at high temperatures whereas, virgin coconut oil is better for skin health. A lot of research has been conducted to determine the health benefits of virgin coconut oil. A 2009 animal study showed that virgin coconut oil has better antioxidant nature and an increased ability to neutralise disease-causing free radicals as compared to refined oils. Another study showed that virgin coconut oil is richer in anti-inflammatory antioxidants as compared to refined coconut oil.
These studies indicate that virgin coconut oil is more effective than refined coconut oil to prevent free radical oxidation, the primary causative agent that causes chronic inflammation and diseases.
A Summary of Coconut Oil’s Benefits to the Skin
The overall health benefits of coconut oil are well known but its benefits to the skin are limited to animal and test-tube studies. But, coconut oil has been shown to have skin benefits such as reducing inflammation, hydrated and moisturising the skin and wound healing.
The medium-chain fatty acids found in coconut oil also have anti-microbial properties that protect it from acne and other bacterial and fungal infections. Individuals with oily and dry skin are advised to try coconut oil with slowly and in small amounts and consult a dermatologist if they have concerns.
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