Photo of coconuts and coconut oil
Coconut oil is a rich and nourishing oil with multiple uses in the kitchen and beyond

Coconut oil – not just for the kitchen

24 February, 2014

Most people buy coconut oil for the first time in order to cook with it.

But coconut oil isn’t just great for cooking. It has a multitude of uses in your beauty routine as well.

But let’s start in the kitchen…

Unlike many other oils, which degrade and produce health damaging free-radicals when exposed to heat, coconut oil is extremely heat stable.

As such it’s one of the best oils you can use in cooking. It adds a slight sweetness to your dishes and a magnificent, satisfying ‘mouth feel’ to the dish. If you’re not into frying you can add the melted oil to smoothies, soups or salad dressings.

Not all fats are the same

Coconut oil is a source of saturated fat, but recent research has indicated that not all saturated fats are the same and not all increase the risk of heart disease.

Most of the saturated fat in coconut oil is in the form of medium chain fatty acids (MCFAs), especially lauric acid. MCFAs are broken down immediately and used for energy rather than stored in the body.

Studies show that the lauric acid virgin coconut oil can improve cholesterol levels by decreasing low-density cholesterol and increasing high-density cholesterol in serum and tissues.

Other studies suggest that MCFAs may be useful in treating and preventing diseases such as diabetes, osteoporosis, virus-related diseases (mononucleosis, hepatitis C, herpes, etc), gallbladder disease, Crohn’s disease and even cancer.

MCFAs are more easily digested than some other types of fats, making them helpful for those suffering from digestive diseases. Coconut oil may also assist in the absorption and retaining of calcium, thereby benefiting bones. In animal studies diets supplemented with coconut oil have been shown to help prevent bone loss.

The lauric acid in coconut oil also supports a healthy immune system through its antiviral and antibacterial, as well as anti-inflammatory and analgesic properties. It also stimulates metabolism, and some research suggests it can aid weight loss.

There is also some evidence that coconut oil may help protect the ageing brain from Alzheimer’s disease.

Not all coconut oils are the same. You should always buy the best quality you can afford. Avoid the odourless, flavourless, “pure” refined types, and opt instead for the organic, cold-pressed, virgin oil. You won’t be sorry.

Beyond the kitchen

Apart from cooking, coconut oil has endless uses as part of your health and beauty routine. You can use it to:

Remove your make-up Melt a teaspoon or so of coconut oil in your palms and rub the oil in circular motions all over your face and neck, giving yourself a gentle massage as you go. Wash off the residue off with your favourite cleanser – or try using a microfibre face cloth rinsed in warm water. Pat skin dry.

Deep condition your hair If you want an oil that will deeply penetrate the hair shaft and leave hair super soft, try this deep conditioning treatment. Apply a couple of teaspoons to your hair (use more or less depending on the length of your hair). Comb it through and wrap your hair in a towel or turban, or just a shower cap. Leave for an hour or two, at least – or if you are feeling very ambitious leave overnight. Follow with a shampoo as usual with a gentle, good quality organic product.

Moisturise! Coconut oil is a great light moisturiser for body and face. It absorbs quickly and leaves skin feeling silky smooth. Keep some on hand as to use as a lip balm to. In a trial involving children with mild atopic dermatitis, coconut oil was better than mineral oil at preventing water loss from the skin. You don’t need to use large amounts to get results. Try applying to damp skin or with damp hands to help spread quickly and evenly over large areas of your body.

A skin friendly massage Coconut oil makes an excellent moisturising massage oil. Add some essential oils for even more benefits (see essential our blends chart).

Make a body scrub Here’s a recipe that’s almost good enough to eat. Melt half a cup of coconut oil at very low heat. Add in 1 cup of brown sugar and a few drops of vanilla essence.  Transfer to a clean plastic container, allow to cool and then use as a gorgeous all-over body scrub. After use, rinse well and pat skin dry.

For a close shave Conventional shaving cream is a mix of synthetic chemicals that aren’t very healthy and which you need to get a nice clean shave. For men and women coconut oil can help the razor glide over your skin leaving it smooth and hydrated.

Add some shine coconut oil is a great quick for frizzy or flyaway hair or try it as a cheek highlighter – apply on top of make-up then don’t touch. Also don’t overdo it you only need a tiny dab to get big results.

To heal wounds In the tropics coconut oil is a traditional remedy for wounds and modern research shows that its antibacterial and moisturising properties make it a good choice for skin healing.  A recent animal study found that when applied topically, virgin coconut oil can speed up wound healing.

Improve dental health Try using coconut oil as a rinse to help reducing bacteria, control plaque, fighting tooth decay and gum  infection.  The method is called ‘oil pulling’. Take a couple of tablespoons of coconut oil, melt in your mouth (this will happen quickly) and then swish the oil through your teeth and around your mouth for 20 minutes before spitting out. No need to rinse afterwards. Studies have shown that oil pulling is as effective as chlorohexadine for bad breath.

A low SPF sunscreen Many plant oils act as natural sunscreens. Coconut oil has been shown to provide SPF 7, so you could use it as a light sunscreen for daily use. But use other methods of you are going to be out in the sun for a long time.