When you think about the health benefits of coconut oil, the last thing that comes to mind is rubbing the edible plant grease all over your skin and hair. But dermatologists, natural beauty devotees, and a growing body of scientific studies are starting to bring the plant’s potential to light.
“Coconut oil is comprised of a unique combination of natural fats, which makes it useful in treating the skin,” explains Joshua Zeichner, M.D., director of cosmetic and clinical research in dermatology at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City. These fatty acids include linoleic acid (which can be beneficial for acne-prone skin) and up to 50% lauric acid (which is hydrating and antimicrobial), he says.
Studies show that coconut oil—which is extracted from the meat of mature coconuts—may improve skin barrier function and repair, has anti-inflammatory and antibacterial properties, fights the signs of skin aging, and makes an effective moisturizer, per a 2018 review of research published in the International Journal of Molecular Sciences.
And, well, coconut oil smells like cookies. “Is there anything more luscious than coconut oil?” says Tieraona Low Dog, M.D., a founding member of the American Board of Integrative Medicine and the Academy of Women’s Health. We can’t really can’t think of anything—but we can think of amazing beauty uses for coconut oil that don’t require spending a fortune. In fact, all you need is one thing: Raw (and preferably organic) virgin coconut oil.
Now, as tempted as you might be to use it on your peeling sunburn (hello, trapped heat!) or on a fresh cut (stick to antibiotic ointment), you may want to hit pause. Coconut oil won’t work for every ailment—or every skin type (especially if you’re acne-prone, since it’s known to clog the pores). Instead, these are the natural, DIY coconut oil tricks that doctors actually recommend.
1. Deep condition.
Hair conditioners often contain coconut oil because it easily penetrates the strands and can even prevent protein loss. “I use coconut oil for hair and on my skin for deep conditioning,” says Tasneem Bhatia, M.D., an integrative medicine physician and owner of CentreSpringMD in Atlanta, GA. Apply a quarter-sized dollop to your hair, comb it, and then pile it into a loose bun. You’ll want to place a soft towel over your pillow or sleep in a shower cap. In the morning, rinse with a gentle shampoo.
2. Create a DIY hair mask.
Soften locks with a spa-worthy hair mask. Mix 3 to 5 tablespoons of organic, refined coconut oil (in its liquid state) with 20 drops rosemary oil. Massage onto hair and cover with a shower cap. Let it sit for 30 to 60 minutes, then shampoo out.
3. Tame frizz.
If you struggle with taming your mane, coconut oil can definitely help. Rub a small bit of coconut oil between the pads of your fingers and run through particularly frizzy areas to leave hair looking smooth and polished. As an alternative to straight oil, you can also use frizz-fighting serums that contain coconut oil (like this one from Briogeo) to nourish and strengthen hair.
4. Add shine.
Smooth a tiny amount of organic coconut oil onto the ends of your hair to add a little shine if you have dark hair. Remember that a dab will do you—any more than that and your hair might appear greasy.
5. Minimize dandruff.
Coconut oil can help lower the levels of yeast on the skin that drive inflammation, flaking, and itching associated with dandruff, says Dr. Zeichner. Try minimizing the problem with an ultra-moisturizing coconut oil treatment: Heat 2 or 3 tablespoons of oil on the stove over a low flame. Once it liquifies, immediately remove it from the stove, so it doesn’t become too hot. Then, massage the oil into your scalp. If you have any leftover oil, you can use it to coat the rest of your hair. Let the oil sit on your scalp for 30 minutes and then wash it out with shampoo. (A shower cap will contain the mixture and prevent it from dripping on you while you wait.)
6. Use as a first step face wash.
Because coconut oil is naturally antibacterial, antifungal, and moisturizing, many women swear by its use as a nighttime moisturizer for their face, too. Try the oil cleansing method: Simply rub the oil in circular motions all over your face and neck, giving yourself a gentle massage as you go. When you’re done, cleanse gain with your favorite gentle face wash to ensure all the residue is rinsed away.
7. Create a DIY face mask.
What better way to pamper yourself than with a DIY face mask? Try this healing mask from the blog She Can’t Eat What?, which utilizes turmeric (known for its anti-inflammatory properties), lemon juice (to brighten with vitamin C), raw manuka honey (which can help treat acne), and melted virgin coconut oil for extra hydration. Apply to a clean face, leave on for at least 15 minutes, and relax! If you prefer to look for store-bought masks containing coconut oil for your skin, check out the Kopari Coconut Detox Face Mask, which incorporates several plant oil extracts, including coconut oil, to hydrate as you sleep.
8. Remove eye makeup.
Yes, coconut oil even works on waterproof mascara! Put a little on a cotton ball and gently sweep it over your eyes, paying attention to your under-eyes as well. The oil does a great job breaking down waxy, inky eye makeup, and leaves the delicate area hydrated, too. Once you’re done, wash your face as usual.
9. Dab on as eye cream.
While there are plenty of hydrating eye creams on the market, coconut oil works in a pinch. If you’re dealing with dry under-eyes—whether it be from colder weather, dehydration, or simply getting older—using a moisturizing eye cream can completely rejuvenate your complexion. Simply dab on a light layer of coconut oil (use your ring finger to avoid tugging or applying too much pressure) to dry under-eyes to hydrate and protect the skin. It’s best to do this before bed, as it may slide around underneath makeup.
10. Make a DIY lip scrub.
Tons of commercial lip scrubs include coconut oil—but you can easily make your own using coconut oil, brown sugar, and honey for a super moisturizing (and delicious) DIY version. Simply play around with the measurements of each ingredient until you find a consistency you like. Gently use as an exfoliating treatment (wash off as you cleanse or use a damp cloth to remove) before bed to wake up with softer, plumper lips come morning.
11. Make a DIY lip balm.
Add 2 tablespoons of coconut oil, 2 tablespoons of cocoa butter, and 2 tablespoons of grated beeswax or beeswax pellets to a heat-resistant measuring cup. Pour 2 inches of water into a small pot, then add the measuring cup so only the bottom is submerged. Heat water on low to medium heat until ingredients melt, stirring occasionally. Remove from heat and carefully pour mixture into lip balm containers. Add 2 drops cinnamon essential oil per container and stir; cover immediately. Refrigerate and cool, then share with your friends!
12. Make a DIY lip gloss.
Fend off chapped, flaky lips or even add a pop of color to your pout with a homemade tinted gloss made from coconut oil. To make it, simply mix bits of an old lipstick with some coconut oil.
13. Freshen your breath.
Remember oil pulling? Turns out, swishing coconut oil (or any organic vegetable cooking oil) around in your mouth may actually pull disease-causing bacteria out of your mouth, per a review of research published in the Journal of Traditional and Complementary Medicine. “Oil pulling generates antioxidants which damage the cell wall of microorganisms and kill them,” the researchers write. Just swirl it around your mouth for 10 to 20 minutes before breakfast until it turns a milky white color, then spit it out into the trash (not your sink, as this can clog the pipes) and rinse with water. Just note that oil pulling shouldn’t replace your daily dental hygiene routine—brushing and flossing are still a must.
14. Highlight your cheeks.
Nothing perks up a tired face like a little highlighter. Simply sweep a small amount of organic coconut oil on top of makeup and leave it alone. It looks like your skin but glowier, which is why many natural makeup brands use it as a base ingredient in their formulas. If you’re looking for a more portable option, try the cult favorite Living Luminizer by RMS Beauty, which has a coconut-oil base and light reflecting pigment.
15. Hydrate dry hands.
Coconut oil can work wonders on dry, itchy skin. “I keep a jar of organic extra virgin coconut oil by the kitchen sink and put a little on after washing my hands to keep them soft and moist,” says Dr. Low Dog. (This won’t work on the go, so make sure you keep one of these hand creams for dry skin in your bag, too.) And if you cook with coconut oil—you can sub it for butter in baking recipes because it’s solid at room temperature—scoop out a little extra for your hands, too.
16. Shave your legs.
Conventional shaving cream is an expensive cocktail of chemicals that you don’t really need to get a nice clean shave on your legs or underarms. Coconut oil, on the other hand, is inexpensive, naturally antimicrobial, and smells divine. Plus, its skin-soothing properties will leave your legs looking hydrated (but never greasy).
17. Use in place of lotion.
“Coconut oil is a commonly used as a hydrating oil in its raw form or as an ingredient in moisturizers,” says Dr. Zeichner. Simply use it as your go-to moisturizer if you’re looking for an affordable option that not only smells amazing, but also leaves your skin feeling nourished and smooth. If you love testing out new skin care, you can also try a body lotion that contains coconut oil (like this one from the Body Shop) to mix things up every so often.
18. Slather on as a massage oil.
Many store-bought massage oils have either coconut or jojoba oil as their base. Cut out the middleman and go straight to the bottle. It’s slippery, skin-friendly, and moisturizing.
19. Create a luscious body scrub.
Make a body scrub yourself with ingredients you already have in your kitchen. “I love to do this. It’s wonderfully moisturizing, great for the skin, inexpensive, and blissfully absent of chemicals you can’t pronounce,” says Dr. Low Dog. To make your own, she suggests melting ½ cup of coconut oil at a very low heat. Pour it over 1 cup of brown sugar or salt and stir well. If you have some on hand, add in five drops of your favorite essential oils (go for eucalyptus or lavender for a relaxing scent) or some pure vanilla extract for a scrub so fragrant you’ll want to eat it.
20. Nourish dry cuticles.
Massaging coconut oil into your cuticles and the skin around your nails can bring some much-needed moisture to an often overlooked part of the body. The benefit? You’ll fend off cracked skin, hydrate brittle nails, and prevent hang nails.
21. Relieve psoriasis.
Coconut oil is a safe natural remedy to try if you suffer from psoriasis, an autoimmune disease that causes skin cells to build up, says Dr. Zeichner, which leads to rough, red, scaly patches. Aside from making a hot bath even more luxurious, adding a couple of tablespoons of coconut oil to the tub can relieve itchy, scaly skin.
22. Treat your feet.
Athlete’s foot is a common fungal infection that’s triggered by sweaty feet. Coconut oil may help soothe the infection and flaking skin. After you apply athlete’s foot treatment, top it with a layer of organic coconut oil and cover with cotton socks. This works wonders for cracked heels, too.
23. Soothe eczema.
Coconut oil can also be used as a natural treatment option for those with eczema, a cluster of skin issues that lead to red, itchy, swollen patches of skin. One small study found that eczema patients (specifically those suffering from atopic dermatitis) who applied virgin coconut oil to the skin twice a day experienced a reduction in staph bacteria on the skin, dryness, abrasions, redness, and thickening of the skin due to scratching. Apply a light layer of virgin coconut oil to the affected area twice a day to help soothe eczema.
24. Apply as natural lubricant during sex.
Pure 100% coconut oil makes a great natural lubricant, since it’s super slippery. “It’s very rare for people to have any type of allergic reaction to it,” Kari Braaten, M.D., M.P.H., an OB/GYN at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston previously told Prevention. A little goes a long way—and overdoing it can get messy.
One note of caution: Do not use coconut oil if you’re using a condom, as oil can degrade latex and make it less effective in preventing pregnancy and STDs. Only use coconut oil during sex if you feel comfortable without a condom—meaning you’re using another form of contraception and both you and your partner have been tested for STDs.
25. Mend your dog’s paws.
Ok, this one’s a beauty trick for your dog, but even our furry friends need a little pampering sometimes! If your pup loves hiking and other outdoor activities, his paws can become cracked and raw from all the stress. Rub a little coconut oil on your dog’s paws—it’ll function as both an antiseptic and moisturizer to help him heal. While topically applying coconut oil should be safe on most dogs, check in with your vet before you give it a try, especially if your pup has a health condition.
Additional reporting by Alisa Hrustic
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