Not just another post about coconut oil! Find out why this natural wonder deserves a spot in your beauty cabinet, along with our favorite ways to use it.
If there’s one oil that has garnered the spotlight in public consciousness over the past few years, it’s coconut oil. Coconut oil’s rise in popularity is pretty amazing if you think about it — our understanding of saturated fat’s place in our diet has nearly done an about-face from the no-fat, low-fat crazed ’90s and early aughts, when healthy fats were sucked out of almost everything (low-fat cheese? I’ll pass, thanks) and the some of the planet’s healthiest fat-containing foods were shunned (I think we all owe the humble avocado a giant apology). Thank goodness our understanding of nutrition and health has evolved! We now know that the fats found in foods like coconut oil, avocados, olives and nuts are far more complex and beneficial than the industrial, highly processed fats and fat-free foods we see advertised. And not only do these healthy fats contribute to our overall internal health, most of them are also gorgeous additions to our external beauty routines. Our #1? Coconut oil, of course.
At this point, who hasn’t used coconut oil on their skin, hair or face? This is the stuff of miracles, folks. With a thousand internal and external uses, this tropical oil definitely deserves a place at the table (and the beauty cabinet, and bath, and…). With two new products coming to our site — Kopari’s beautiful Coconut Melt and Cold Pressed Coconut Oil from Kapuluan — I’m devoting this week’s Wellness Encyclopedia to coconut oil. Learn all about what it is, the benefits of coconut oil, and how to use it below:
What is it? The edible oil pressed from the meat or kernel of the coconut from the coconut palm tree. Coconut oil is a highly saturated fat (about 90%), making it resistant to rancidity and oxidization, and able to withstand high temperatures, making it ideal for high-heat cooking. Things get nitty-gritty when you dive into how coconut oil is processed, as there are several factors and variables that either contribute to, or deplete its nutrients:
Extra virgin: Extra virgin coconut oil is the purest of the pure and has most likely been extracted using the centrifuge method. This involves taking fresh coconut meat and pressing out the coconut cream using a chilled plate and press. The cream is then placed in a centrifuge and concentrated to bring out a higher percentage of coconut oil. Because it involves very little heat and the proteins are separated out without the use of heat, centrifuged, extra virgin coconut oil has a higher nutrient content and milder taste than other coconut oils. It’s often more expensive, but if it’s within your budget, it’s worth investing in.
Cold-pressed: In order to cold-press coconut oil, the shredded or grated coconut meat must be dried first. Depending on the company, the meat can be dried at a temperate ranging anywhere between 100 degrees F up to 180 F; the cooler the temperature, the more nutrients are preserved. Once the meat is dried, it’s pressed and decanted and, because each company varies, the end result can taste anywhere from toasty to very mild (hint: the more toasted your coconut oil tastes, the higher the drying temperature).
Refined: While extra virgin and cold-pressed coconut oils are great for consumption, these next two should be avoided. Often, if a price or the sheer volume of something looks too good to be true, it is (I’m looking at you, giant drums of coconut oil suddenly and conspicuously sitting on grocery store shelves…). Refined coconut oil, sometimes called RBD (which stands for refined, bleached and deodorized…insert scared face emoji here) is made from dried coconut that often isn’t sanitized, which is why it must then be deodorized with hot steam and bleached by running it through bleaching trays. After even more refining, the end result is highly processed, void of most nutrients, and a far cry from the natural oils extracted using the two methods above.
Hydrogenated: Hydrogenated coconut oil is actually fairly rare in the states because it contains trans fats. Coconut oil is most often hydrogenated when it’s added to candy, like candy bars in tropical climates, as the hydrogenation prevents it from melting.
A note on coconut ‘MCT’ oil: MCT (medium-chain triglycerides) oil is highly regarded in the health and fitness community and is considered a healthy addition for increased energy because of the smaller molecular structure, which your body is able to absorb faster. More and more often, liquefied coconut ‘MCT’ oil is popping up on shelves, but it’s not all it’s cracked up to be. While coconut oil in its natural state contains natural MCTs, the liquefied form (the kind sold on shelves — this doesn’t apply when your jar of coconut oil melts on a hot day) has been fractionated and the beneficial lauric acid removed. If you’re looking for a clean, fully nutritional MCT-induced energy boost, you’re better off using extra virgin coconut oil in your coffee or smoothie.
When applied topically to skin, the medium chain triglycerides naturally present in coconut oil keep it feeling soft and hydrated and, when ingested, these same fats reduce the appearance of pores and give your body a boost of energy. The capric, caprylic and lauric acids (also fatty acids) present in coconut oil all contain antimicrobial and disinfectant properties that are effective both internally and externally, making coconut oil an effective immune booster and healer.
What are the benefits? While too much saturated fat isn’t a good thing, in moderation the saturated fats in coconut oil increase HDL cholesterol (the good kind) and convert the LDL cholesterol (the bad kind) to HDL, helping to lower cholesterol and improve overall heart health.
The lauric acid present in coconut oil has been shown to fight bacteria in the body and create an inhospitable environment for viruses. Coconut oil even boosts your body’s ability to absorb vitamins, making you healthier while it fights the bad stuff. The next time you’re sick, try replacing the sugars in your diet (simple carbs and refined grains, high-sugar fruits and refined sugar) with a spoonful of coconut oil. The oil replaces those sugars, giving you energy and depleting the virus of the sugars from which it feeds, while the lauric acid is thought to dissolve the lipid layer around some viruses. The anti-microbial properties of coconut oil have also been found to help digestive issues and increase nutrient absorption.
Externally, coconut oil makes a great moisturizer for hair and skin and has been shown to be effective in the treatment of skin disorders such as eczema, psoriasis, dandruff and dermatitis. The antimicrobial properties fight fungal infections and bacterial growth, making it a great way to moisturize compromised skin without the worry of contributing to a pre-existing condition.
How do I use it? A better question would be… how can’t you use it?!
Our 10 favorite ways to use coconut oil:
Whipped coconut oil for hair & skin: Use this silky whipped oil to moisturize skin or as a treatment for dry summer hair
Oil pulling: Learn this ancient ayurvedic technique and help your teeth in the process
Exfoliating coconut coffee bars: Moisturize, smooth and exfoliate with these simple DIY scrub bars
Toasted coconut butter: OK, not coconut oil per se, but this toasted coconut butter is too good not to share again
Homemade coconut lavender conditioner: Condition hair and make it smell great with this DIY conditioner
DIY lip scrub stick: Condition sun-chapped lips with this easy at-home project
Coconut oil hair treatment: Treat sun-stressed tresses with this nourishing treatment
Whipped bronzing body butter: Fake a summer glow with this bronzing homemade lotion
The best beach-waves spray: Fake a day in the surf with this DIY salt spray
DIY shaving cream: Skip the nicks with a DIY shave cream for silky-smooth legs
Check out more Wellness Encyclopedia posts