Lately it seems everywhere you turn you find information about coconut oil – how to cook with it and how to use it as a beauty product/ingredient. So I decided to do some of my own experiments with coconut oil to see if it lived up to the hype.
I have to say that I had long thought of coconut oil as an ingredient that was very bad for one’s health. I can’t say when and why this idea got into my head, but it took until last year when I purchased the vegan cookbook Vegan Soul Kitchen by Bryant Terry that I began to rethink my anti-coconut oil position. I noticed that many recipes in the book called for coconut oil. As Myra Kornfeld explains in her forward to the cookbook:
Byrant is not afraid to use the long-vilified coconut oil, an extraordinarily healthy and delicious oil that only in the last decade has been getting attention for its wonderful properties.
What exactly was the controversy about coconut oil and just what are those wonderful properties that coconut oil possesses? The article Once a Villain, Coconut Oil Charms the Health Food World from The New York Times explains:
According to Thomas Brenna, a professor of nutritional sciences at Cornell University who has extensively reviewed the literature on coconut oil, a considerable part of its stigma can be traced to one major factor.
“Most of the studies involving coconut oil were done with partially hydrogenated coconut oil, which researchers used because they needed to raise the cholesterol levels of their rabbits in order to collect certain data,” Dr. Brenna said. “Virgin coconut oil, which has not been chemically treated, is a different thing in terms of a health risk perspective. And maybe it isn’t so bad for you after all.”
Partial hydrogenation creates dreaded trans fats. It also destroys many of the good essential fatty acids, antioxidants and other positive components present in virgin coconut oil. And while it’s true that most of the fats in virgin coconut oil are saturated, opinions are changing on whether saturated fats are the arterial villains they were made out to be. “I think we in the nutrition field are beginning to say that saturated fats are not so bad, and the evidence that said they were is not so strong,” Dr. Brenna said.
Plus, it turns out, not all saturated fats are created equal.
Marisa Moore, a spokeswoman for the American Dietetic Association, a nonprofit association of nutritionists, said, “Different types of saturated fats behave differently.”
The main saturated fat in coconut oil is lauric acid, a medium chain fatty acid. Lauric acid increases levels of good HDL, or high-density lipoprotein, and bad LDL, or low-density lipoprotein, in the blood, but is not thought to negatively affect the overall ratio of the two.
She went on to say that while it is still uncertain whether coconut oil is actively beneficial the way olive oil is, small amounts probably are not harmful. The new federal Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend that no more than 10 percent of total dietary calories a day come from saturated fat. For a 2,000-calorie diet, that’s about 20 grams.
Any number of health claims have been made for lauric acid. According to proponents, it’s a wonder substance with possible antibacterial, antimicrobial, antiviral properties that could also, in theory, combat H.I.V., clear up acne and speed up your metabolism. Researchers are skeptical.
“There are a lot of claims that coconut oil may have health benefits, but there is no concrete scientific data yet to support this,” said Dr. Daniel Hwang, a research molecular biologist specializing in lauric acid at the Western Human Nutrition Research Center at the University of California, Davis.
But, he added, “Coconut is good food, in moderation.”
And just how does coconut oil help the skin? The article The Surprising Health Benefits of Coconut Oil from the Dr. Oz Show website explains:
Is coconut oil good for my skin and hair?
We tell our patients that from the time of infancy through the senior years, coconut oil is a wonderful moisturizer for skin and hair. It has good amounts of the antioxidant vitamin E, which is very protective. If you are using on the skin regularly, it is best to try to find an organic coconut oil, to reduce the absorption of toxins and pesticides through your skin.
We even recommend new parents massage infants with coconut oil after a bath. One 2005 study of 120 babies showed that a coconut oil massage is safe and has health benefits.
Allure asked Dr. Jeannette Graf to explain the benefits of coconut oil for the skin (from the article Is Coconut Oil Worth the Hype?):
“Coconut oil is made up of anti-inflammatory dietary fatty acids, which are important for skin health. When applied topically, it has wonderful moisturizing properties for the skin, increasing elasticity and emolliency. In addition, coconut oil enhances wound healing and has antioxidant properties. Studies have also shown that the lauric acid in the oil has antimicrobial activity against P. Acnes [bacteria], so it’s a potential treatment for acne and adult atopic dermatis,” she says.
On his TV show Dr. Oz recommends using coconut oil on your skin if you suffer from eczema, psoriasis, or a fungal infection.
Interestingly enough in her book Heal Your Skin Dr. Ava Shamban advises against using coconut oil on acne prone or oily skin. Unfortunately she does not explain why.
I had no trouble finding coconut oil at one of my local grocery stores though I did not realize I needed to purchase virgin coconut oil. Next time I’ll make sure to buy that kind of coconut oil. Anyhow, after reading all the beauty uses for coconut oil in the sources listed below I decided to try a few of them out for myself. Some uses worked better than others for me.
I have very thick, curly, very frizzy hair so I was excited about using coconut oil as a hair moisturizer/conditioner. I applied the oil onto both wet and dry hair. Neither application helped my hair. My hair didn’t feel any softer and my frizz didn’t go anywhere. (I have been on a search for a product that will control my hair almost my entire life; I have yet to find something) I have to say I was disappointed that coconut oil did not work for me as a hair conditioner.
I tried coconut oil as a body moisturizer. The problem with this was getting the right quantity. Sometimes I put too little, sometimes I put too much. If I put too much I felt greasy afterwards. When I did hit on the right amount my skin felt good but no better or no worse than after using my regular body moisturizer.
I tried using coconut oil as an eye make-up remover. I found it much too greasy and not that effective. I’ll stick to using my jojoba oil for removing my eye make-up.
I did use coconut oil directly on my face as a moisturizer a few times in the evenings before bed and felt that my skin was soft in the morning. But I am still completely paranoid that putting coconut oil on my face will make me break out even though I keep reading the opposite is true. What can I say? Old ideas take a long time to disappear. I don’t know if I will use coconut oil again as a facial moisturizer. (Of course one of the advantages of using coconut oil as a moisturizer is that is it quite cost effective.)
Now for the ways I liked using coconut oil and will continue to use it – in the shower instead of soap or a shaving cream to shave my legs. Using coconut oil to shave cut down on irritation and my legs did feel very soft afterwards.
As a lip moisturizer. I’ve been using coconut oil directly on my lips before bed and really like how it both feels and works.
So now it is your turn – do you incorporate coconut oil into your beauty regime? If yes, comment below and explain how.
Image from endlessbeauty.com