The coconut oil craze is real. Here’s why you’ll want to get in on it ASAP.
“First it was coconut milk, then coconut water, and now coconut oil—and I think a big part of the recent popularity is that it’s natural, not synthetic, which is so appealing,” says Francesca Fusco, MD, a dermatologist at Wexler Dermatology in NYC. Coconut oil, unlike mineral oil (another proven highly effective moisturizer) delivers on the same skin softening but possibly more effectively. “Research has shown that from the use of coconut oil on skin, hydration improved and skin surface lipids remained in tact,” she says. And when it comes to “thick, scaly, fissured feet, or rough leathery elbows and knees, coconut oil might have the advantage over regular moisturizer.”
And it could also be the answer to chronic skin conditions such as eczema, too. “Coconut oil is an excellent moisturizer and good anti-inflammatory, so its use for eczema is on the rise,” says Ted Lain, MD, a dermatologist in Austin, Texas. “We know that it has inherent moisturizing properties just from its oily consistency, and that the anti-inflammatory effects are likely related to antioxidants such as polyphenols.” Lain points out a recent double-blinded study comparing mineral oil to coconut oil as topical treatment for children with eczema. “It showed that 46 percent of patients using the coconut oil had an excellent response as compared to only 19 percent of patients using only mineral oil.”
“The combination of anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, anti-bacterial and hydrating properties make it truly unique,” says Whitney P. Bowe, MD, a dermatologist at Advanced Dermatology PC in Westchester and NYC. “Coconut oil is primarily composed of saturated fats and contains medium-chain fatty acids, which not only help to repair the skin barrier and trap water, thus hydrating the skin, they also reduce inflammation.” Bowe suggests gently rubbing a few drops of the oil into the skin around the eyes nightly using your fingertips, but rubbing a more generous amount onto legs, elbows, knees and heels “to help smooth the skin and trap moisture.”
Along with hydration, and lessening inflammation, coconut oil has also been shown to be capable of quenching free radicals. “The antioxidant property of coconut oil is thought to be due to cphenolic compounds (specifically ferulic acid and p-coumaric acid),” explains Bowe.
But the benefits of coconut oil don’t stop at the skin, says Fusco. “The real benefit, with which I have the most experience, is with scalp and hair application,” she says. In one study, coconut oil reduced protein loss in both damaged—and undamaged—hair when used before shampooing and as a leave-in treatment. “Coconut oil is able to penetrate the hair shaft due to its low molecular weight and affinity for proteins,” says Fusco, who tells her patients to use Clear Scalp and Hair Therapy Conditioner, which is formulated with coconut oil, “because it is easier to rinse out than pure coconut oil.” However, there are tons of real life testimonials that say slathering the real deal on strands and skin are all a part of a daily beauty routine—and that most don’t mind the luxe feel or the results. Smoother hair. More shine. Not to mention crazy soft skin.
But not everyone should apply it head-to-toe, such as those prone to breakouts and who have very oily skin. Fusco suggests dropping some into your go-to face cream to take the hydration factor up a notch without going oil overboard. And Lain agrees: “I feel comfortable recommending this as a daily moisturizer to patients for their face and body,” says Lain. “My only reservation is for people with acne-prone skin, as it may be comedogenic, however, the anti-inflammatory and anti-aging benefits of the polyphenols also make coconut oil part of a rejuvenating skincare regimen.”
The other undeniable pro? The smell. “Coconut oil has an appealing aroma too,” says Fusco. “It reminds us of summer, vacation and pina coladas.”
The Beauty Benefits of Coconut Oil