There are a variety of coconut-based cosmetic preparations developed for hair and skin. They include conditioners, shampoos and oils. For more information, find the PDF about the uses of Coconut oil for the skin & hair care or visit at https://oreadtherapeutics.com
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What is coconut oil?
Coconut oil is a mix of fats extracted from coconuts. There are two major ways to produce coconut oil: wet and
dry processes. To obtain coconut oil in the wet process, the white part of the coconut called the “flesh” or
“meat” is removed from the outer husk. Following this step, the coconut meat is cold-pressed to create a white
semi-transparent coconut milk. The coconut milk is allowed to ferment for a few days which allow the oil to be
separated from the milk and recovered. This process of isolating coconut oil in this way is described as “virgin
coconut oil”. In other instances, coconut oils are extracted from coconuts using various chemicals or heat. The
primary oil present in coconut oil is called lauric acid and typically in quantities ranging from 45-53%.
How is coconut oil used?
Coconuts have been used in many cultures as both a food and medicinal plant for centuries. Today, extracted
coconut oils are used as industrial lubricants, fuel for combustion engines, livestock feed, and also as a cooking
oil. Other uses include ingestion as a dietary supplement, addition to haircare products, and application to the
Coconut oil and hair
There are a variety of coconut-based cosmetic preparations developed for hair. They include conditioners,
shampoos, and oils. Does the addition of coconut oil actually make the hair stronger? Well, one study
compared mineral oil, sunflower oil, and coconut oil in the prevention of hair damage. The authors studied
protein loss in hair after using the three different oils in pre-wash and post-wash products. After their analysis,
they showed that coconut oil helps reduce protein loss1. However, it is difficult to assess whether this means
that it actually strengthens the hair, reduces breakage, and makes hair feel softer. There are many important
components to hair strength and texture which include the bonds between the building blocks (amino acids) in
hair, natural hair structure, microscopic characteristics, pH balance, and the cleaning detergent composition of
the product applied.
Does coconut oil have any antibacterial activity?
Various studies have shown that the major component in coconut oil (lauric acid) has antibacterial activity2. If
is effective against a number of bacteria including those which typically overgrow on the skin and may cause
skin ailments. The two most common culprits are the bacteria Staphylococcus and Streptococcus. Lauric free
fatty acids have also been shown to reduce the growth of the bacteria (P. acnes) which is implicated in acne3. It
is unknown whether this translates into improvement of the human skin since these studies have not been
performed. Many factors contribute to the development of acne and overgrowth of P. acnes is just one factor.
Coconut oil and severe dry skin
Similar to haircare products, there are also a variety of skincare products that are coconut based. Many claim
to have natural moisturizing factors but are these true? Unfortunately, they have not been shown to
definitively improve dry skin when compared to some traditional moisturizers. An excellent high-quality
study has been conducted comparing mineral oil to coconut oil. It was used for severe dry skin (called xerosis)
in a Dermatology clinic located in the Philippines4. They had 34 subjects who suffered from severe dry skin on
the legs and were instructed to apply the two different oils for 2 weeks and were re-evaluated at the end of this
period. In the end, both oils improved the dry skin equally.
Coconut oil and atopic dermatitis (also known as eczema)
Scientists have conducted a similar study as the dry skin reference above, but the study was larger study, and
in children 1-13 years of age. All of these children were diagnosed with atopic dermatitis also known as
eczema5. Again, mineral oil was compared to coconut oil after 8 weeks of application. In this case, coconut oil
was found to be superior to mineral oil but both moisturizers improved the skin. The coconut oil group
achieved moderate improvement in 47% of the patients and excellent in 46%. The mineral oil group achieved
moderate improvement in 34% and excellent in 19% of the subjects. They used a standardized evaluation tool
for eczema called SCORAD (SCORing of Atopic Dermatitis) to compare the treatments. A special tool that
analyzed how well the skin barrier functions (called transepidermal water loss) verified their clinical results.
The skin functioned better in the coconut oil group compared to the mineral oil group using this instrument to
measure the change.
Coconut oil and psoriasis
Unfortunately, not many studies have investigated the use of coconut oil in psoriasis. There is, however, one
small study which has been published specifically looking at this exact topic6. Coconut oil was applied before
phototherapy (narrow-band UVB) and did not show improvement. Their conclusion was that pre-application
of coconut oil before phototherapy does not seem to have a benefit.
Coconut oil and seborrheic dermatitis
To date, no studies have been completed using coconut oil for treatment of seborrheic dermatitis. There has
been one study which evaluated Borage oil in seborrheic dermatitis which is high in gamma-linolenic acid.
This molecule has some similarities to lauric acid (the major component found in coconut oil) as they are both
fatty acids but they are quite different in overall structure. In this case it was shown to improve infantile
In summary, a variety of high-quality studies have been conducted to evaluate the effectiveness of coconut oil
on the skin and hair. Coconut oil seems to have some antimicrobial effects, reduces protein loss of the hair,
improves atopic dermatitis or eczema, seems to be as good as mineral oil in severe dry skin, but has not been
shown yet to improve psoriasis when combined with phototherapy.
1.Rele AS, Mohile RB. Effect of mineral oil, sunflower oil, and coconut oil on prevention of hair damage. J
Cosmet Sci. 2003 Mar-Apr;54(2):175-92.
2.Kabara JJ, Swieczkowski DM, Conley AJ, Truant JP. Fatty acids and derivatives as antimicrobial agents.
Antimicrob Agents Chemother 1972;2(03):23–28.
3.Nakatsuji T, Kao MC, Fang JY, Zouboulis CC, Zhang L, Gallo RL, Huang CM. Antimicrobial property
of lauric acid against Propionibacterium acnes: its therapeutic potential for inflammatory acne vulgaris.
J Invest Dermatol. 2009 Oct;129(10):2480-8.
4.Agero AL, Verallo-Rowell VM. A randomized double-blind controlled trial comparing extra virgin
coconut oil with mineral oil as a moisturizer for mild to moderate xerosis. Dermatitis. 2004
5.Evangelista MT, Abad-Casintahan F, Lopez-Villafuerte L. The effect of topical virgin coconut oil on
SCORAD index, transepidermal water loss, and skin capacitance in mild to moderate pediatric atopic
dermatitis: a randomized,double-blind, clinical trial. Int J Dermatol. 2014 Jan;53(1):100-8.
6.George SA, Bilsland DJ, Wainwright NJ, Ferguson J. Failure of coconut oil to accelerate psoriasis
clearance in narrow-band UVB phototherapy or photochemotherapy. Br J Dermatol. 1993
seborrhoeic dermatitis. Br J Dermatol. 1993 Jul;129(1):95.
For more information about common skin diseases, you can visit at https://oreadtherapeutics.com