Get the Facts: Coconut Oil


By Emily Delzell

Published On: Oct 7, 2022

Last Updated On: Oct 7, 2022

Those of us who have attended an Eczema Expo have probably our stylish “Yes, I’ve tried coconut oil” t-shirts, created in collaboration with Alexis Smith aka @eczemalove. After all, if we had a dollar for every time a well-meaning stranger suggested coconut oil as a cure-all for eczema, we’d all be rich, right?

So, what’s the deal with coconut oil? Does it really cure eczema? The short answer is: No. To be frank, coconut oil is not a cure for eczema because there is no cure for eczema at this time.

Eczema is a chronic, or lifelong, health condition connected to your immune system and its inflammatory response.

Ordinary substances we encounter in our everyday lives, such as dust, mold, animal dander or certain chemicals, seem to trigger an allergic response in people with eczema causing their skin to flare up in an itchy, dry or painful rash.

You may be able to treat the symptoms of eczema and reduce its appearance on your skin, but the disease itself never goes away completely. The correct question should be, “Does coconut oil help eczema?” and the answer to that is: It depends.

How does coconut oil help eczema?

Many health websites tout coconut oil as a miracle product that can do anything from soothing dry skin and hair to whitening our teeth and freshening our breath. And there’s some truth behind the hype.

Coconut oil contains lauric acid, a nutritious fatty acid, or lipid, also found in breast milk. Lauric acid is used to develop monolaurin, which is an antimicrobial agent that can fight bacteria, fungi, yeast, viruses and other pathogens. It also includes antioxidants which provide an extra boost to the immune system.

In other words, when you hear people talk about coconut oil having antimicrobial properties and anti-inflammatory properties beneficial to eczema, they are correct.

Coconut oil has the natural ability to penetrate the skin quickly and efficiently, which can boost hydration, improve skin elasticity, fight itch and reduce the chances of infection from this skin condition.

Coconut oil comes in many different forms, from cold-pressed coconut oil to virgin coconut oil. It can also be an ingredient in soaps, emollients and lotions. Some supplements might also contain coconut oil. Most clinical trials have researched the effects of virgin coconut oil and buying any old soap scented with coconut oil probably won’t help. In fact, depending on the allergens and other ingredients in some products with coconut oil, the use of these products could make eczema worse and cause itchy skin.

The science behind coconut oil and eczema

When compared to mineral oil, olive oil and other natural remedies used to treat eczema, coconut oil has the most scientific and evidence-based research to back up its legitimacy.

An article published in January 2018 in the Journal of Traditional and Complementary Medicine found that coconut oil is effective at reducing the presence of bacteria, fungi, viruses and other pathogens. It’s important to note this article studied the use of coconut oil on atopic dermatitis, not on other types of eczema.

Another 2018 study looked at the benefits of coconut oil for those with eczema. The researchers found that coconut oil has antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties that help protect the skin barrier and stop skin dryness.

Although multiple disease types have been addressed in the research behind coconut oil, there was one study in particular that focused specifically on children with eczema.

Results of that study, published in the December 2013 issue of International Journal of Dermatology, revealed that effects of topical virgin coconut oil applied to the skin for eight weeks improved skin hydration for children with eczema and on baby eczema.

OK, but will coconut oil help my eczema?

That’s where the “It depends” answer comes into play. Scientists are making tremendous strides in their search for a cure, but they’re only just beginning to decode the mysteries behind eczema and our immune system.

The good news is that you can play an active role in improving your eczema symptoms by making healthy lifestyle choices and sticking to your skincare routine, which of course means keeping the skin clean and moisturized!

It’s important to remember that eczema is unique to every individual. Water loss through the skin barrier is a chronic challenge for people living with eczema. Not everyone has the same triggers that provoke their flare-ups. And certain eczema treatments that seem like miracles to some patients may not work for all patients—coconut oil included.

In fact, some people with eczema might have an allergic reaction to coconut oil, which could then exacerbate their symptoms instead of helping them and cause more eczema flare-ups or even increase your risk of infection if eczema becomes severe and is left untreated. Always consult with your health care provider before you use coconut oil, try a new product on your sensitive skin, experiment with natural remedies or even change up your moisturizer.

Will coconut oil cure your eczema? Unfortunately, no. Will it help? We’re not sure, but we hope so. Please check with your dermatologist first and get as much medical advice as you can — and ask questions about what type of coconut oil might help your skin type. And stay tuned for future editions of “Get the Facts.”

Get the gear: Shop NEA’s @EczemaLove collab collection.

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