By Rachael Link
Coconut oil is a type of fat that has been touted for its health-promoting properties.
In fact, several studies have even found it might have benefits for skin health as well.
This article looks at the evidence to examine whether coconut oil is good for skin.
What Is Coconut Oil?
Coconut oil is a highly saturated oil that is traditionally made by extracting the oil from raw coconuts or dried coconut kernels (3).
At room temperature it's solid, but when heated it can soften or even melt.
Coconut oil is rich in medium-chain fatty acids, which are a form of saturated fat. In fact, these medium-chain fatty acids make up about 65 percent of its total composition (4).
The medium-chain fatty acids found in coconut oil include (4):
- Lauric acid: 49 percent
- Myristic acid: 18 percent
- Caprylic acid: 8 percent
- Palmitic acid: 8 percent
- Capric acid: 7 percent
- Oleic acid: 6 percent
- Linoleic acid: 2 percent
- Stearic acid: 2 percent
Although coconut oil is about 90 percent saturated fat, it does contain small amounts of mono and polyunsaturated fats as well. One tablespoon contains about 12 grams of saturated fat and 1 gram of unsaturated fat (5).
Summary: Coconut oil is used in cooking but can also be applied to the skin or hair. It's rich in saturated fat and medium-chain fatty acids, especially lauric acid.
It Can Kill Harmful Microorganisms
The medium-chain fatty acids in coconut oil contain antimicrobial properties that can help protect against harmful microorganisms.
This is especially important for skin health, as many types of skin infections, including acne, cellulitis, folliculitis and athlete's foot, are caused by bacteria or fungi (6).
Applying coconut oil directly to the skin may prevent the growth of these microorganisms.
This is due to its lauric acid content, which makes up nearly 50 percent of the fatty acids in coconut oil and can fight harmful microorganisms.
One study tested the antibacterial properties of 30 types of fatty acids against 20 different strains of bacteria. Lauric acid was found to be the most effective at blocking the growth of bacteria (7).
Another test-tube study showed that lauric acid can kill off Propionibacterium acnes, a type of bacteria that leads to the development of inflammatory acne (8).
Furthermore, capric acid is another medium-chain fatty acid found in coconut oil, although to a lesser extent. Like lauric acid, capric acid has been shown to have potent antimicrobial properties.
A test-tube study showed that both lauric and capric acid effectively killed off strains of bacteria (9).
Another test-tube study demonstrated the anti-fungal effects of capric acid, showing that it was able to inhibit the growth of certain types of fungi (10).
Summary: The fatty acids found in coconut oil have antimicrobial properties that effectively kill bacteria and fungi.
Coconut Oil Could Reduce Inflammation
Chronic inflammation is a major component of many different types of skin disorders, including psoriasis, contact dermatitis and eczema (11).
Interestingly, coconut oil has been shown to have anti-inflammatory properties.
In one study, researchers applied virgin coconut oil to the inflamed ears of rats. Not only was coconut oil found to have an anti-inflammatory effect, but it relieved pain as well (12).
What's more, coconut oil may ease inflammation by improving antioxidant status.
A 2013 animal study fed rats different types of oil, including coconut oil, olive oil and sunflower oil. At the end of the 45-day study, virgin coconut oil had improved antioxidant status and prevented oxidative stress to the greatest extent (14).
It's important to keep in mind that most current research is limited to animal and test-tube studies, so it's hard to know how these results may translate to humans.
However, based on these studies, coconut oil shows great potential in its ability to reduce inflammation when consumed or applied to the skin.
Summary: Animal studies have shown that coconut oil may relieve inflammation by improving antioxidant status and decreasing oxidative stress.
Coconut Oil May Help Treat Acne
While some think coconut oil clogs pores, considerable research shows it might actually help treat acne.
Acne is an inflammatory condition and many of the medications used to treat it work by targeting and reducing inflammation (15).
Because coconut oil and its components may help reduce inflammation in the body, it may also aid in the treatment of acne.
Furthermore, the antibacterial properties of the medium-chain fatty acids in coconut oil could also help reduce acne.
In fact, test-tube and animal studies have shown that lauric acid is more effective than benzoyl peroxide at preventing the growth of acne-causing bacteria (16).
Along with lauric acid, capric acid has been shown to have anti-inflammatory and antibacterial properties.
A 2014 animal and test-tube study showed that both lauric and capric acid were successful in reducing inflammation and killing off bacteria to prevent acne (17).
To get the best results, coconut oil should be applied directly to the skin in areas where acne is found.
Summary: The anti-inflammatory and antibacterial properties of coconut oil and its components could help treat acne.
Coconut Oil Can Moisturize Dry Skin
In addition to its effects on acne and inflammation, applying coconut oil to your skin can also help keep it hydrated.
One study compared the effects of coconut oil to mineral oil, a type of oil made from petroleum that's often used to treat dry skin, on patients with mild to moderately dry skin.
The two-week study found that coconut oil significantly improved skin hydration and was just as effective as mineral oil (18).
It has also been shown to help treat eczema, a skin condition characterized by scaly, itchy rashes.
A study comparing the effects of olive oil and coconut oil in 52 adults with eczema found that applying coconut oil helped reduce dryness, in addition to helping treat eczema (19).
Another study found similar results, showing that coconut oil led to a 68 percent decrease in eczema severity, making it significantly more effective than mineral oil in the treatment of eczema (20).
Summary: Coconut oil can be an effective moisturizer and aid in the treatment of dry skin and eczema.
Coconut Oil May Help With Wound Healing
Several studies have demonstrated that coconut oil may also aid wound healing.
One animal study looked at how coconut oil applied to the skin affected wound healing in rats.
Another animal study showed that coconut oil combined with an antibiotic applied to the skin was effective at healing burn wounds (25).
In addition to improving wound healing, its antimicrobial properties may also prevent infection, one of the major risk factors that can complicate the healing process (26).
Summary: Animal studies have shown that coconut oil may help accelerate wound healing.
Who Shouldn't Use Coconut Oil?
While research shows coconut oil can benefit skin health, applying it to the skin may not be ideal for everyone.
For example, those who have oily skin may want to avoid doing so, as it may block pores and cause blackheads.
As with most things, trial and error may be the best approach to determine if coconut oil works for you.
Additionally, if you have sensitive skin, use a small amount or try applying it only to a small section of skin to make sure it doesn't cause irritation or blocked pores.
Yet, eating and cooking with coconut oil is generally not a problem for most people.
That said, if you have oily or highly sensitive skin, consider adding coconut oil to your diet instead to take advantage of its benefits.
Summary: Coconut oil could potentially clog pores. Using a small amount and slowing testing your tolerance to it is recommended for those with oily or sensitive skin.
Which Type of Coconut Oil is Best?
Coconut oil can be produced through dry or wet processing.
Dry processing involves drying coconut meat to create kernels, pressing them to extract the oil, then bleaching and deodorizing them.
This process forms refined coconut oil, which has a more neutral scent and higher smoke point (27).
In wet processing, coconut oil is obtained from raw coconut meat — instead of dried — to create virgin coconut oil. This helps retain the coconut scent and results in a lower smoke point (27).
While refined coconut oil may be better suited for cooking at high temperatures, virgin coconut oil is a better choice in terms of skin health.
Not only does most of the existing research focus specifically on the effects of virgin coconut oil, but there's also evidence that it may have added health benefits.
A 2009 animal study found that virgin coconut oil improved antioxidant status and increased ability to neutralize disease-causing free radicals, compared to refined coconut oil (28).
Another test-tube study showed that virgin coconut oil had a greater amount of inflammation-reducing antioxidants and phenols, as well as an improved ability to fight free radicals, compared to refined coconut oil (27).
The results of these two studies indicate that virgin coconut oil may be more effective than refined coconut oil at preventing oxidation and neutralizing free radicals, which can damage cells and lead to inflammation and disease.
Summary: Virgin coconut oil may be a better choice than refined coconut oil, given that it provides added health benefits like improved antioxidant status.
The Bottom Line
Although the health benefits of eating coconut oil are well-studied, research on its effects on the skin is mostly limited to animal or test-tube studies.
However, coconut oil may be linked to some potential benefits for skin, including reducing inflammation, keeping skin moisturized and helping heal wounds.
The medium-chain fatty acids found in coconut oil also possess antimicrobial properties that can help treat acne and protect the skin from harmful bacteria.
If you have oily or highly sensitive skin, make sure to start slowly to assess your tolerance and consult with a dermatologist if you have any concerns.
Reposted with permission from our media associate Authority Nutrition.
By Dana M Bergstrom, Euan Ritchie, Lesley Hughes and Michael Depledge
In 1992, 1,700 scientists warned that human beings and the natural world were "on a collision course." Seventeen years later, scientists described planetary boundaries within which humans and other life could have a "safe space to operate." These are environmental thresholds, such as the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and changes in land use.
The Good and Bad News<p><span>Ecosystems consist of living and non-living components, and their interactions. They work like a super-complex engine: when some components are removed or stop working, knock-on consequences can lead to system failure.</span></p><p>Our study is based on measured data and observations, not modeling or predictions for the future. Encouragingly, not all ecosystems we examined have collapsed across their entire range. We still have, for instance, some intact reefs on the Great Barrier Reef, especially in deeper waters. And northern Australia has some of the most intact and least-modified stretches of savanna woodlands on Earth.</p><p><span>Still, collapses are happening, including in regions critical for growing food. This includes the </span><a href="https://www.mdba.gov.au/importance-murray-darling-basin/where-basin" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Murray-Darling Basin</a><span>, which covers around 14% of Australia's landmass. Its rivers and other freshwater systems support more than </span><a href="https://www.abs.gov.au/ausstats/[email protected]/latestproducts/94F2007584736094CA2574A50014B1B6?opendocument" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">30% of Australia's food</a><span> production.</span></p><p><span></span><span>The effects of floods, fires, heatwaves and storms do not stop at farm gates; they're felt equally in agricultural areas and natural ecosystems. We shouldn't forget how towns ran out of </span><a href="https://www.mdba.gov.au/issues-murray-darling-basin/drought#effects" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">drinking water</a><span> during the recent drought.</span></p><p><span></span><span>Drinking water is also at risk when ecosystems collapse in our water catchments. In Victoria, for example, the degradation of giant </span><a href="https://theconversation.com/logging-must-stop-in-melbournes-biggest-water-supply-catchment-106922" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Mountain Ash forests</a><span> greatly reduces the amount of water flowing through the Thompson catchment, threatening nearly five million people's drinking water in Melbourne.</span></p><p>This is a dire <em data-redactor-tag="em">wake-up</em> call — not just a <em data-redactor-tag="em">warning</em>. Put bluntly, current changes across the continent, and their potential outcomes, pose an existential threat to our survival, and other life we share environments with.</p><p><span>In investigating patterns of collapse, we found most ecosystems experience multiple, concurrent pressures from both global climate change and regional human impacts (such as land clearing). Pressures are often </span><a href="https://besjournals.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/1365-2664.13427" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">additive and extreme</a><span>.</span></p><p>Take the last 11 years in Western Australia as an example.</p><p>In the summer of 2010 and 2011, a <a href="https://theconversation.com/marine-heatwaves-are-getting-hotter-lasting-longer-and-doing-more-damage-95637" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">heatwave</a> spanning more than 300,000 square kilometers ravaged both marine and land ecosystems. The extreme heat devastated forests and woodlands, kelp forests, seagrass meadows and coral reefs. This catastrophe was followed by two cyclones.</p><p>A record-breaking, marine heatwave in late 2019 dealt a further blow. And another marine heatwave is predicted for <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2020/dec/24/wa-coastline-facing-marine-heatwave-in-early-2021-csiro-predicts" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">this April</a>.</p>
What to Do About It?<p><span>Our brains trust comprises 38 experts from 21 universities, CSIRO and the federal Department of Agriculture Water and Environment. Beyond quantifying and reporting more doom and gloom, we asked the question: what can be done?</span></p><p>We devised a simple but tractable scheme called the 3As:</p><ul><li>Awareness of what is important</li><li>Anticipation of what is coming down the line</li><li>Action to stop the pressures or deal with impacts.</li></ul><p>In our paper, we identify positive actions to help protect or restore ecosystems. Many are already happening. In some cases, ecosystems might be better left to recover by themselves, such as coral after a cyclone.</p><p>In other cases, active human intervention will be required – for example, placing artificial nesting boxes for Carnaby's black cockatoos in areas where old trees have been <a href="https://www.environment.gov.au/biodiversity/threatened/publications/factsheet-carnabys-black-cockatoo-calyptorhynchus-latirostris" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">removed</a>.</p><p><span>"Future-ready" actions are also vital. This includes reinstating </span><a href="https://www.abc.net.au/gardening/factsheets/a-burning-question-fire/12395700" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">cultural burning practices</a><span>, which have </span><a href="https://theconversation.com/australia-you-have-unfinished-business-its-time-to-let-our-fire-people-care-for-this-land-135196" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">multiple values and benefits for Aboriginal communities</a><span> and can help minimize the risk and strength of bushfires.</span></p><p>It might also include replanting banks along the Murray River with species better suited to <a href="https://www.abc.net.au/gardening/factsheets/my-garden-path---matt-hansen/12322978" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">warmer conditions</a>.</p><p>Some actions may be small and localized, but have substantial positive benefits.</p><p>For example, billions of migrating Bogong moths, the main summer food for critically endangered mountain pygmy possums, have not arrived in their typical numbers in Australian alpine regions in recent years. This was further exacerbated by the <a href="https://theconversation.com/six-million-hectares-of-threatened-species-habitat-up-in-smoke-129438" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">2019-20</a> fires. Brilliantly, <a href="https://www.zoo.org.au/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Zoos Victoria</a> anticipated this pressure and developed supplementary food — <a href="https://theconversation.com/looks-like-an-anzac-biscuit-tastes-like-a-protein-bar-bogong-bikkies-help-mountain-pygmy-possums-after-fire-131045" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Bogong bikkies</a>.</p><p><span>Other more challenging, global or large-scale actions must address the </span><a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iICpI9H0GkU&t=34s" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">root cause of environmental threats</a><span>, such as </span><a href="https://www.nature.com/articles/s41559-018-0504-8" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">human population growth and per-capita consumption</a><span> of environmental resources.</span><br></p><p>We must rapidly reduce greenhouse gas emissions to net-zero, remove or suppress invasive species such as <a href="https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/mam.12080" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">feral cats</a> and <a href="https://theconversation.com/the-buffel-kerfuffle-how-one-species-quietly-destroys-native-wildlife-and-cultural-sites-in-arid-australia-149456" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">buffel grass</a>, and stop widespread <a href="https://theconversation.com/to-reduce-fire-risk-and-meet-climate-targets-over-300-scientists-call-for-stronger-land-clearing-laws-113172" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">land clearing</a> and other forms of habitat destruction.</p>
Our Lives Depend On It<p>The multiple ecosystem collapses we have documented in Australia are a harbinger for <a href="https://www.iucn.org/news/protected-areas/202102/natures-future-our-future-world-speaks" target="_blank">environments globally</a>.</p><p>The simplicity of the 3As is to show people <em>can</em> do something positive, either at the local level of a landcare group, or at the level of government departments and conservation agencies.</p><p>Our lives and those of our <a href="https://theconversation.com/children-are-our-future-and-the-planets-heres-how-you-can-teach-them-to-take-care-of-it-113759" target="_blank">children</a>, as well as our <a href="https://theconversation.com/taking-care-of-business-the-private-sector-is-waking-up-to-natures-value-153786" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">economies</a>, societies and <a href="https://theconversation.com/to-address-the-ecological-crisis-aboriginal-peoples-must-be-restored-as-custodians-of-country-108594" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">cultures</a>, depend on it.</p><p>We simply cannot afford any further delay.</p><p><em><a rel="noopener noreferrer" href="https://theconversation.com/profiles/dana-m-bergstrom-1008495" target="_blank" style="">Dana M Bergstrom</a> is a principal research scientist at the University of Wollongong. <a rel="noopener noreferrer" href="https://theconversation.com/profiles/euan-ritchie-735" target="_blank" style="">Euan Ritchie</a> is a professor in Wildlife Ecology and Conservation, Centre for Integrative Ecology, School of Life & Environmental Sciences at Deakin University. <a rel="noopener noreferrer" href="https://theconversation.com/profiles/lesley-hughes-5823" target="_blank">Lesley Hughes</a> is a professor at the Department of Biological Sciences at Macquarie University. <a rel="noopener noreferrer" href="https://theconversation.com/profiles/michael-depledge-114659" target="_blank">Michael Depledge</a> is a professor and chair, Environment and Human Health, at the University of Exeter. </em></p><p><em>Disclosure statements: Dana Bergstrom works for the Australian Antarctic Division and is a Visiting Fellow at the University of Wollongong. Her research including fieldwork on Macquarie Island and in Antarctica was supported by the Australian Antarctic Division.</em></p><p><em>Euan Ritchie receives funding from the Australian Research Council, The Australia and Pacific Science Foundation, Australian Geographic, Parks Victoria, Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning, and the Bushfire and Natural Hazards CRC. Euan Ritchie is a Director (Media Working Group) of the Ecological Society of Australia, and a member of the Australian Mammal Society.</em></p><p><em>Lesley Hughes receives funding from the Australian Research Council. She is a Councillor with the Climate Council of Australia, a member of the Wentworth Group of Concerned Scientists and a Director of WWF-Australia.</em></p><p><em>Michael Depledge does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.</em></p><p><em>Reposted with permission from <a href="https://theconversation.com/existential-threat-to-our-survival-see-the-19-australian-ecosystems-already-collapsing-154077" target="_blank" style="">The Conversation</a>. </em></p>
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