Coconut oil has long been considered a beauty "cure-all," but if we're being straight with you, that's a major stretch. Sure — in a perfect world, the sweet-smelling oil would make skin conditions like acne and eczema magically disappear. Hell, it'd make hair grow thicker and longer, too. But that's simply not the case, folks. (Sorry to break the bad news.)
Now for the much-needed good news: Coconut oil is still a great beauty staple that can be used for myriad things — including skin- and hair-care treatments. Unfortunately, it's just not going to "cure" you of anything at the end of the day. Take it from New York City board-certified dermatologist, Robert Finney, who tells Honayst, "While it isn't the wonder drug some promote it to be, given its composition, coconut oil serves as a great moisturizer, plus some of the fatty acids contained in it, like lauric acid, have antimicrobial effects that can help fight bacterial, viral, and fungal pathogens." So, to recap: Coconut oil can definitely help with a whole host of issues, but it's not necessarily the panacea that some people make it out to be. Nonetheless, it's still an excellent ingredient to have on hand — and we enlisted a few pros to break down why.
1. Body moisturizer
Because coconut oil is fairly comedogenic, many dermatologists actually don't recommend it for use on the face — especially if you have naturally blemish- prone skin — but the body is fair game. "Instead of using it to moisturize your face, which can cause breakouts, you can use it as a moisturizer for the body because it's rich in fatty acids and has both antibacterial and anti- inflammatory properties," says board-certified dermatologist, Joyce Park. Fatty acids in coconut oil help protect and nourish the skin in two main ways, says Finney. "[They] provide good barrier control and help us hold on to our own moisture, which is great because it helps both treat and prevent dryness."
2. Eczema relief
The key word here is "relief." As we mentioned, coconut oil isn't going to cure any conditions — eczema included — but what it can do is help mitigate some of the symptoms, like dryness and itching. In fact, a 2014 study suggests that virgin coconut oil can soothe eczema better than mineral oil.
"This study checks out," says Finney. "Given its ability to help the skin barrier and seal moisture in, it's great for those with sensitive skin and eczema." A pro tip from Finney is to apply any other skin care you may want first, and then seal it all in with coconut oil.
If you're looking for a more legit treatment option for eczema, definitely consult your dermatologist, as they're the experts and know your skin best, and therefore, can help able to help determine what medication will be right for you.
3. Makeup remover
"Coconut oil is a great makeup remover because it breaks down lipid-soluble impurities like makeup, as well as sebum, which is responsible for oily skin," says Park. "If you wear a lot of makeup or have more of an oily skin type, you can use coconut oil as an initial cleanse, but then you have to follow that up with a gentle water-based wash for a more complete cleanse after." Finney agrees, telling Honayst, "Coconut oil can actually do a fairly good job at getting rid of dirt and oil buildup that occurs throughout the day, but it often leaves an oily residue behind which can lead to breakouts, so if you have acne- prone skin and still want to try this method, just make sure to use a gentle cleanser afterward to remove excess oil."
4. Deep conditioner
Struggling with dry, brittle hair that's damaged and prone to breakage? Try using coconut oil as a leave-in treatment, suggests Finney. "Coconut oil can be a great thing to either condition with or leave in to help repair the damage that occurs to your hair shafts from coloring, heat, and the sun," he explains.
You can even use hot coconut oil as a pre-shampoo treatment to soothe dry hair before you shampoo and condition. Leave it in for at least an hour to let it really really sink in and penetrate your strands.
5. Body scrub
If your limbs are looking dull — and feeling like sandpaper — you can use coconut oil to whip up your own DIY body scrub to exfoliate with for brighter and softer skin. "There is no harm to it, and the coconut oil may actually help counteract the irritation from exfoliation," says Finney, who adds that this could be an ideal option for someone with sensitive skin to test out exfoliation. He recommends doing it no more than once a week to start, though, to ensure your skin can handle it.
6. Brush cleaner
You can use coconut oil as the first step in a double cleansing routine for your makeup brushes. Cosmetic chemist Perry Romanowski recommends first applying coconut oil to your brushes to break down the makeup, and then dabbing them off to remove any excess oil before rinsing them with soap and water. The reason for this? "Combining soap and oil just ties up the surfactant in the detergent solution and it competes with the other 'dirt' on the makeup brush, so it wouldn't get the brushes as clean if you combine them."
He also says you can use any soap you have on hand, though doesn't suggest using one with too much fragrance as it could leave a strong scent on your brushes.
7. Lip balm
"Coconut oil's make up of fats helps replenish lost or missing components that lead to dry, cracked lip skin," says Friedman, in regards to why using the fragrant oil as a lip balm can be beneficial. "It creates a thin but effective barrier that keeps water in and irritants out." Coconut oil is also an ideal remedy for chapped lips because it's semisolid at room temperature, making it less messy than other oils. Pack a bit in a miniature jar and smooth over lips throughout the day.
8. Dandruff treatment
"Being anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial, coconut oil can be useful for seborrheic dermatitis, a.k.a dandruff," says Friedman, who makes it clear that, while coconut oil can be an effective treatment for a scaly scalp, it's most definitely not going to make your hair grow. "There is simply no evidence that it will stimulate hair growth," he says matter-of-factly.
Try staving off your flakes with a nightly coconut oil treatment. Just apply the oil lightly to your roots and massage it in with your fingertips using circular motions. It's not going to make your dandruff disappear, but it can help soften the flakes, thereby making them easier to slough off.
I know what some of you are thinking, but yes, you actually can use coconut oil to ward off bad odors, including B.O. "Given that bacteria is a cause of odor, the inherent antimicrobial properties of coconut can help cut down on odor — not to mention, most people love the smell of coconuts, so this is a great alternative to deodorant to try," says Finney. If slathering straight- up coconut oil on your pits doesn't feel like your thing, try Kopari's Coconut Oil Deodorant. It landed an Honayst Best of Beauty award in 2018 and is free of aluminum and baking soda, two ingredients that can be irritating for some people's skin.
10. Cuticle oil
Got cracked cuticles? Coconut oil could be of service. "When the cuticles become dry and cracked, our nails can actually become brittle and dystrophic," says Finney. "By applying coconut oil to the cuticles, this can be easily repaired."
Remedy peeling skin with a coconut oil balm, such as this one by Palmer's, placed right at the base of nails.
11. Hair Protectant
Headed into the pool or ocean? Finney says a great way to protect the fragile ends of our hair from sun and chlorine is to coat them with coconut oil before getting it wet, as it acts as a natural shield between your hair and the water. An added bonus to this hack? Because of its conditioning nature, your hair may dry smoother than you're used to.
12. Wound salve
"Given its antimicrobial properties and oily base, coconut oil can be used on minor cuts and burns and may aid in their closure," says Finney. Apply the oil to the affected area a few times a day until it starts to clear, and if it doesn't or starts to worsen, of course consult your doctor.