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Coconut oil has become increasingly popular over the last few years, both as an ingredient for cooking and baking as well as a natural beauty product.
There are thought to be many benefits of using coconut oil, including its moisturising and conditioning properties.
There are so many things that it can be used for, but here are just a few of the uses for coconut oil which you may not have considered:
Cooking is probably the best known and most common use for coconut oil.
Organic coconut oil is ideal for cooking with very high temperatures due to its high saturated fat content. This tasty oil is very resistant to oxidation at high heat due to its high levels of saturated fat, 40% of which is lauric acid.1
It can be used in dishes such as stir fries and curries, as it also adds a little bit of flavour too.
Coconut oil has been used in South East Asian cuisine as a staple ingredient for many years, before becoming popular in the UK.
Coconut oil is pretty versatile too! As it is solid at room temperature, it can be used as an ingredient in baking and cooking as a replacement for vegetable oil or butter in recipes, as well as a cooking aid. You can also use it for greasing baking pans – so it’s definitely worth having in your cupboard.
Please note: like with every food, especially calorie-dense fats, coconut oil can add some serious calories to your meal. Don’t just slather it onto everything, treat it like you would any other oil e.g. olive oil, especially if you’re trying to be healthy.
If you’re following the high-fat, low-carb ketogenic diet, coconut oil could become one of your staples.
The medium-chain fatty acids found in coconut oil can be converted into ketones by your body, which are an important alternative energy source for the brain.2 They are also essential for keeping your body stay in ketosis, which is the metabolic state that instructs your body to burn fat instead of carbohydrates.
A popular way to give your body a morning boost of ketones is to make a ‘Bulletproof Coffee’. Also known as Keto Coffee, Bulletproof Coffee is a high-calorie, no-carb drink designed to replace breakfast. It is claimed to fuel your morning, keep your body in ketosis and help you feel alert and focused.
Most recipes call for butter, coconut oil/MCT oil and coffee, with coconut oil providing the all-important MCTs. You can also make it vegan by subbing the butter for cacao butter or more coconut oil. Here’s how to make it:
Coconut oil is great as a moisturiser for your body, especially for very dry areas such as knees and elbows.
It can also be used as a facial moisturiser. However it does not work as effectively if your skin is naturally very oily.3
Give your feet a winter treat and apply a thick layer of coconut oil to dry, cracked feet, before popping on some fluffy socks and sleeping in them overnight!
The benefits of coconut oil for skin have made it very popular in the beauty world; let’s find out why.
Coconut oil is made up of medium-chain fatty acids. A study about fatty acids and how antimicrobial they are concluded that lauric acid was the most effective.4 And coconut oil is full of the stuff! In fact, lauric acid makes up almost 50% of the fatty acids in coconut oil.
Try applying some to your feet and putting on some socks before bed to give them some antibacterial TLC.
Do you find makeup wipes are harsh on your skin? Or maybe you’re on the market for a more environmentally friendly way to take your makeup off at the end of the day? Either way, coconut oil could be your solution!
All you need to do is:
Using coconut oil this way provides you with a completely natural way to clean your face. It’s also free of the harsh ingredients makeup wipes sometimes include and helps you avoid ‘scrubbing’ at your face and eyes. Coconut oil is also a good alternative for people with sensitive skin – just do a patch test beforehand.
Just to add to its skin-loving properties, coconut oil is also great for enriching dry skin with much-needed moisture. This tropical oil helps to moisturise dry skin by keeping it hydrated and helping the skin barrier.
Try applying it after a shower to lock in some of the water and help keep your skin hydrated.
What about other oils? A study comparing extra virgin coconut oil with mineral oil as a moisturiser for mild to moderate dry skin found that both oils helped to reduce the symptoms of dryness, scaling and roughness of the skin.
As mentioned previously, coconut oil can be a great way to enrich the skin with moisture, and the same goes for our delicate nail skin. Try massaging some into your cuticles before bed for newly moisturised nail skin come the morning.
Fungal nail infections are usually caused by the athlete’s foot fungi spreading to the nails, but they can also sometimes be caused by yeasts, like candida.5
In a 2015 study, published in the American Society for Microbiology, researchers reported that coconut oil has an anti-fungal effect, and that feeding mice a coconut oil-rich diet reduced the size of the population of candida in their guts.6
Try these quick nail care tricks to reap the benefits of coconut oil:
It is thought that coconut oil can help cleanse your mouth so you can use it by swishing it around your mouth, like a mouthwash each day.
Doing this may help to improve dental health and may also reduce bad breath.7
Please note that you should not use coconut oil in place of your normal toothpaste, mouthwash or floss, but that it can be a good addition to your usual dental routine.
The trend for bright white teeth has gained some serious momentum over the past few decades – not that we didn’t care about clean teeth before – a lot of people just want their teeth as white as possible.
However, with this popularity comes cheap products claiming to whiten your teeth quickly and cheaply. Coconut oil may just be the natural teeth-whitening alternative people have been looking for.
Coconut oil is most commonly used in the practice of ‘oil pulling’, which is the process of swishing oil around the teeth and mouth for a prolonged period of time and spitting it out.
This process has been seen to help improve oral hygiene when practiced correctly and regularly and used alongside normal dental hygiene practices like brushing teeth and flossing.
There are several oils recommended for oil pulling, each with their own benefits. Coconut oil was seen to decrease plaque formation.8 Plaque (a film of bacteria that forms on teeth) is the most easily repaired cause of yellow teeth, and coconut oil could help you produce less of it.
Read more: Different ways to whiten your teeth
Coconut oil can break down lipid-soluble impurities such as make-up and sebum, leaving your face clean and fresh.
Simply massage the oil into your skin and then remove with a flannel.9
If you have especially oily skin, you should follow up the initial make-up remover with a gentle cleanse, to remove any excess oil.10
Simply add one tablespoon of coconut oil to your usual breakfast or protein smoothie recipe.11
Coconut oil is an antioxidant, which helps to protect the body against free radicals caused by toxins.
Compounds within the coconut oil can also be used by the body as a source of fuel.12
People have been including nourishing coconut oil in hair care routines for hundreds of years, but why?
First, let’s get the low-down on this tropical treat. Coconut oil is a saturated fat rich in the fatty acid (triglyceride) lauric acid – and this is the component that makes it such a hair hero.
With all the heat, hair dye and other styling we put our hair through in this modern age, one thing we need to do is try to keep hair damage at a minimum. Coconut oil may help you do just that.
One study tested the effect of mineral oil, sunflower oil and coconut oil on the prevention of hair damage. Coconut oil was the only oil found to reduce protein loss remarkably for both undamaged and damaged hair when used in pre-washing and post-washing treatments.
Researchers suspect that lauric acid plays a big part in this, as it is highly reactive with hair proteins and can penetrate inside the hair shaft due to its low molecular weight.13
Dry scalps can be irritating and are one of the main causes of dandruff – and coconut oil may help. Moisturising your scalp with a little coconut oil may help you say goodbye to dry and flaky skin. Be careful though, it won’t work for everyone and may just end up making your hair greasy, so do a little patch test first.
A telling indicator of hair health is how well it grows. Although further studies into the connection between coconut oil and hair growth need to be done, coconut oil may help to improve the health of your hair. When hair is healthy, it is less prone to the breakage and split ends that may inhibit growth.
Now you know the benefits of coconut oil for hair, here’s how to put them into practice:
For a very simple exfoliating body scrub, combine a tablespoon of coconut oil with a tablespoon of ground coffee.
Just keep the same ratio if you would like to make a bigger batch.17
Use after washing in the shower, to help remove dead skin cells.
Coconut oil is ideal for use as a natural lip balm.
It is highly moisturising and thought to have some protection against sun exposure.
Coconut oil is also all-natural, whereas some lip balms may contain additional, synthetic ingredients.18
It is really important to keep your make-up brushes clean.
Coconut oil is perfect for dissolving dirt and grime that can otherwise cling to make-up brushes.
Massage coconut oil onto the brush head and then swirl the brush on a tissue or in water until you begin to see the dirt coming off.
Once clean, wash the brush again and then let it dry.19
For those times when you have had a hard day and you need a relaxing massage from a partner, friend or family member, you can use coconut oil to help soothe tired muscles.
You can also mix coconut oil with a few drops of your favourite essential oil, for an even more relaxing effect.20
So now you know all the ways you can use coconut oil and the benefits it may possess, you probably want to know which coconut oil is best.
There are several types of coconut oil, each distinguished by the way they have been processed and their intended final use. Every type has different benefits depending on how you want to use it.
Last updated: 1 March 2021
Joined Holland & Barrett: Apr 2019
Masters Degree in Toxicology and BSc Hons in Medical Biochemistry
Bhupesh started his career as a Clinical Toxicologist for Public Health England, advising healthcare professionals all around the country on how to manage clinical cases of adverse exposure to supplements, pharmaceuticals, cosmetics, industrial chemicals and agricultural products.
After 7 years in this role and a further year working as a drug safety officer in the pharmaceutical industry, Bhupesh joined Holland & Barrett as a Senior Regulatory Affairs Associate in 2019.