Benefits and Uses of Coconut Oil
HISTORY OF COCONUT OIL
Cocos nucifera, better known as the Coconut, sets itself apart from other fruits by virtue of its higher than average water content, also referred to as its juice, for which it is commonly known to be harvested; however, as illustrated by its historical uses, the various parts of this versatile nut, as well as the tree from which it comes, have countless other benefits aside from offering drinkable water.
The Coconut tree belongs to the Palm family and is the only species belonging to the Cocos genus. For centuries, the oil produced from coconuts has been a staple ingredient in beauty products that were made and used by communities all around the world. Due to its ability to moisturize and condition the hair, boost its growth, and leave it looking lustrous, Coconut Oil continues to be used cosmetically – typically as a moisturizer, and in soaps – to enhance the look and feel of hair and skin.
Despite its name, the Coconut is not a nut – it is a drupe, which is a fleshy, thin-skinned fruit with a stone at its center that contains the seed. Throughout history and even today, mature coconuts are processed so that oil can be obtained from the kernel, charcoal can be obtained from the hard shell, and the fibrous outer husk can be used to create rope and matting.
The use of Coconut Oil has been a prolific and fundamental aspect in the lives of many societies all around the world, especially in tropical and coastal regions such as South and Central America, Africa, the Indian subcontinent, Micro-, Mele- and Polynesia, and most of Asia. The uses for this oil were so respected that as early as 1500 BC they were recorded in Sanskrit for Ayurvedic medicine as a remedy for illnesses of the mind, body, and spirit.
Over the centuries, coconuts have been mentioned in both fictional and historical accounts, being mentioned in both 9th-century reports about the Chinese using it to make fibers as well as in the 1,001 Arabian Nights story about Sinbad the Sailor. The first coconut sighting was possibly from a 5th century A.D. Egyptian traveler known as Costas, who recorded a finding of an “Indian Nut” that scholars believe to be the Coconut.
In South Asia, Coconut Oil was frequently used in hair products to keep it lustrous, moisturized, thick, and dark. It was used on the skin to facilitate the speedy healing of burns, bruises, cuts, and wounds as well as to soothe aching muscles and joint pain. In Zanzibar and India, Coconut Oil was used in the candle making process and to provide light. Even the British explorer Captain Cook wrote favorably about the attractiveness of communities that surrounded the Pacific Ocean and that used Coconut Oil extensively.
For native Samoan healers as well as for Central and South American healers and Ayurvedic medicine practitioners, Coconut Oil was used as a remedy for treating illnesses and healing wounds. Many mothers on the island used Coconut Oil to massage their children in order to promote the growth of strong bones, to protect their skin against blemishes, and to prevent illness and infection.
Coconuts finally got their name from the Portuguese in the 1700s after receiving countless other names, including the name “Nux indica,” which Marco Polo dubbed them in the year 1280 and the name “Nargils,” which Sir Francis Drake gave them in the 1600s. The name is derived from the 16th-century Portuguese and the Spanish word “coco,” meaning “head” or “skull,” because of the three indents that resemble the placement of the eyes and nose on a human head.
In the countries to which coconuts are native, people used them to make baskets, utensils, and musical instruments. They found a greater number of uses when they learned that the flesh could be used for more than just food and drink, at which time they began extracting the oil of the coconut by boiling the milk. They applied this oil as a natural sunscreen, a moisturizing conditioner for dry and damaged skin and hair, and as a treatment for head lice, among other uses.
BENEFITS OF USING COCONUT OIL
The main chemical constituents of Coconut Carrier Oils are Lauric Acid, Capric Acid and Caprylic Acid, Linoleic Acid (Polyunsaturated Fats), Oleic Acid (Monounsaturated Fats), Polyphenols (Virgin Coconut Oil only), and Medium-Chain Triglycerides.
LAURIC ACID is believed to:
- Assimilate quickly and completely into the body, as it is a Medium-Chain Triglyceride (Saturated Fat)
- Eliminate and prevent various viruses
- Exhibit smoothing properties and textures when used in body butter, soaps and salves
CAPRIC ACID AND CAPRYLIC ACID are believed to:
- Assimilate quickly and completely into our bodies, as they are Medium-Chain Triglycerides (Saturated Fats)
- Contribute antimicrobial and antifungal properties
- Stimulate hair follicles with natural proteins
- Repair and strengthen damaged hair while adding shine
- Prevent the spread of harmful bacteria, making it effective for use on acne-prone skin
LINOLEIC ACIDS are believed to:
- Moisturize hair and promote its growth
- Facilitate wound healing
- Be effective emulsifiers in the formulation of soaps and quick-drying oils
- Exhibit anti-inflammatory properties
- Soothe acne and reduce chances of future outbreaks
- Promote moisture retention in skin and hair
- Make oils feel thinner in consistency, thus being beneficial for use on acne-prone skin
OLEIC ACIDS are believed to:
- Maintain the softness, suppleness, and radiance of skin and hair
- Stimulate the growth of thicker, longer, and stronger hair
- Reduce the appearance of aging, such as premature wrinkles and fine lines
- Eliminate dandruff and thereby support hair growth
- Boost immunity
- Exhibit antioxidant properties
- Prevent joint inflammation, stiffness, and pain
POLYPHENOLS are believed to:
- Contribute scent and antioxidant properties to Coconut Oil
- Soothe inflammation
- Repair dry, damaged skin
- Improve skin elasticity, especially for prematurely aging skin
- Enhance moisture levels in skin
- Protect skin against UV rays
- Enhance skin cell growth
- Boost circulation to the skin
- Increase hair growth
MEDIUM-CHAIN TRIGLYCERIDES are known to:
- Eliminate harmful bacteria, viruses, and fungi
- Offer intense moisture
- Condition the hair and eliminate dandruff
- Boost hair growth
Used cosmetically or topically in general, Coconut Oil can penetrate the skin easily, due to the small size of its molecules, which are almost as small as essential oil molecules and which allows essential oils to be readily absorbed into the skin when combined with Coconut Oil. Without clogging pores, Coconut Oil offers excellent emollience to dry, itchy skin and hair, remaining suitable for sensitive, inflamed and irritated skin. In providing hydration, it creates a protective barrier on the skin’s surface, locking in moisture to soften, lubricate, and cool skin and hair while preventing future dryness as well as fungus. Used in a topical cream, Coconut Oil soothes and cools irritated areas of skin such as those affected by the discomforts of conditions like Athlete’s Foot, Psoriasis, and warts. It effectively soothes sunburns and blisters, removes dead skin, and promotes the growth of newer, healthier skin for a glowing complexion.
Used therapeutically, Coconut Carrier Oil is reputed to be effective for boosting metabolism and promoting the burning of more energy. It is believed to be able to control blood pressure and cholesterol while soothing discomfort caused by liver and kidney problems. It is often used to improve digestion and insulin secretion and to control blood sugar. It can also promote stress relief when used in a relaxing massage.
Coconut Carrier Oil is reputed to have many therapeutic properties. The following highlights its many benefits and the kinds of activity it is believed to show:
- COSMETIC: non-comedogenic, emollient, protectively hydrating, lubricating, cooling, soothing
- MEDICINAL: regulating, balancing, stress relieving, digestive, anti-fungal, detoxicant
CULTIVATING AND HARVESTING QUALITY COCONUT OIL
The origin of Coconut Palm Trees is still unclear; however, the generally accepted belief is that they originated in the region between India and Indonesia and that coconuts dispersed themselves throughout the world when they fell into the Indian Ocean and floated around to other countries on the ocean’s currents. This belief comes from the fact that the name for the Coconut in the region of Malaysia and Indonesia – “nyiur/nyior” – is similar to the name given to it in Polynesia and Melanesia – “niu” – and to its Philippino and Guamanian name – “niyog.” Both of these names are based on the Malay term. Coconut Palms grow in dozens of other countries around the world and produce approximately 61 million tons per year, mostly in the tropical regions of Asia. 73% of total world production is from Indonesia, the Philippines, and India, collectively. There are two modern-day species of Coconut: the Pacific and the Atlantic.
Coconuts are derived from the Cocos nucifera botanical, which is a large palm tree that can grow up to 30 m (98 ft.) tall. Its long leaves are pinnate and its trunk is smooth. Coconuts can be further classified into Tall and Dwarf types. The Coconut is not a true nut; rather, like other fleshy fruits that have thin skin and a seed-filled inner stone in their centers, it is a drupe much like an almond, cherry, olive, or plum. It is made up of 3 layers: the exocarp, the mesocarp, and the endocarp. The first two layers are the outermost and are commonly referred to as the Coconut’s husk. The mesocarp has a fibrous texture and is called “coir.”
When the husk is removed, there are 3 visible holes on the innermost layer, the endocarp. These holes are commonly referred to as “eyes,” which tend to make the Coconut look like a bowling ball. These holes are germination pores. Two of the pores remain plugged and non-functional, leaving only one pore to be functioning, and it is through this one pore that a shoot will sprout once growing conditions are favorable. The pores each represent a coconut flower’s carpel. A full-sized coconut weighs approximately 1.44 kg (3.2 lbs.).
For optimum growth, the Coconut Palm requires sandy soils, the absence of overhead canopies of trees, generous amounts of direct sunlight, high humidity, and consistent rainfall. They are able to thrive in regions with low precipitation, as long as they remain warm and humid. They are highly receptive to salinity, which makes it easy for them to grow along tropical shorelines. They can continue to thrive in brief temperature drops to 0 °C (32 °F) and cannot withstand severe frost, but they have sometimes been able to recover from temperatures of −4 °C (25 °F). In some colder areas, although they might grow, they will not yield fruits.
Aside from coastal sandy terrains, Coconut trees can also grow in soils that are alluvial, loamy, laterite, and in soils of marshy low lands that have received reclamation treatment. They require the absence of rock or any hard, underlying rock layer within 2m of the surface; the presence of water within 3m; good water-holding capacity; and adequate drainage. In dry climates without proper irrigation, Coconut trees will not unfurl their leaves. Older leaves will become dehydrated and shrivel, and their fruits will naturally fall off.
With proper care and in ideal growing conditions, a Coconut Palm produces its first fruits within 6-10 years of growth and reaches peak production after 15-20 years. From the inflorescence stage (better known as the flowering stage) to the stage of the full-grown nut, a coconut takes 12 months to mature. Typically, there is a period of 45 days between each time the coconuts are cut down. It is believed that the best oil yield is produced by the nuts that naturally fall to the ground when they are mature. These are also the coconuts with the highest amount of Lauric Acid. A Coconut Palm produces coconuts all year long, growing approximately 100-120 Coconuts per year, as Coconuts can be found growing in bunches of 5-12 fruits with a new bunch growing and maturing each month. Some growers will pick coconuts much earlier than they reach maturity and will use chemicals to extract their oils with the intention of increasing oil production.
HOW IS COCONUT OIL EXTRACTED?
Coconuts are first collected and the ones used for “copra,” that is the dried inner flesh or the “meat,” are split open in the field with an ax. The Coconut’s meat is scooped out, amassed, and taken to a drier, which can be as simple as solar drying or a rack over a fire. It can also be as sophisticated as a kiln. The drying process can take up to 4 days. To produce 1 ton of copra, approximately 6,000 fully mature coconuts are required. The copra is bagged and taken to a large-scale industrial oil-seed mill by which time the copra will have gone rancid, especially if the mill is overseas. At this point, the extraction process begins.
Coconut Oil can be extracted by one of the following methods
THE DRY PROCESS (COLD / EXPELLER PRESS) involves extracting the coconut meat and drying it by either fire, sunlight, or in kilns to create copra. The duration of the drying is approximately 2.5 hours and takes place at a controlled temperature. This copra is then either Cold Pressed, Expeller Pressed, or dissolved using solvents, which results in the Coconut Oil as well as a soft, spongy mass referred to as “copra meal.” This byproduct is high in protein and fiber, yet it is not of high enough quality for humans to consume. As there is no further process for extracting the protein from this mass, it is fed to ruminant animals. Copra derived from coconuts that are not fully mature is more difficult to work with, as it yields a lower amount of oil and produces an inferior product. The oil passes through a filter press to remove any sediment and the result is a clear, raw Coconut Oil. Historically, this processing method produced Coconut Oil that was known as “Poor Man’s Oil” or “Dirty Oil.”
THE WET PROCESS involves the use of raw coconut instead of the dried copra. The Coconut’s protein content produces an oil and water emulsion, which leads to a process of separating the emulsion to collect only the oil. This process uses techniques such as centrifuges or pre-treatments that apply cold, heat, acids, salts, enzymes, electrolysis, shock waves, or steam distillation. Sometimes there is a combination of these processes.
SOLVENT EXTRACTION is a method that extracts up to 10% more oil than the amount produced using only rotary mills and expellers. It achieves this through the use of a solvent such as Hexane. The resulting oil undergoes refinement to remove certain free fatty acids, to reduce the oil’s susceptibility to rancidity, and to increase its shelf life.
VIRGIN COCONUT OIL can be produced out of fresh coconut milk, the coconut meat, or the residue. If it is produced from the meat, it can be extracted by grating the fresh meat, drying it to reduce its moisture content to 10–12%, and then manually applying a screw press to the dried residue to extract the oil. When the oil is produced from the Coconut’s milk, the meat is first grated then mixed with water and squeezed to obtain the oil. To use another technique, the milk can also be fermented for up to 2 days, the oil can be collected, and then the “cream” can be heated to remove any lingering oil. The third method of extraction involves the use of centrifugal force to separate Coconut Oil from the other liquids. The dry residue that remains after the production of Coconut Milk can also be used to extract the oil. Virgin Coconut Oil retains its natural aroma. The entire process of producing Virgin Coconut Oil takes place within one hour of the coconut being cracked.
COPRA COCONUT OIL – REFINED, BLEACHED, AND DEODORIZED (RDB) OIL is a variety of Coconut Carrier Oil that is derived from the copra with the use of a heated hydraulic press. The pressing process yields essentially all the oil present in the copra but remains in a crude state that is brown in color and that contains contaminants, thus it requires further heating and filtering to refine, bleach, and deodorize it.
Refining the oil produced from the copra requires chemicals and heat in order to result in a product that is suitable for commercial sale and use. It involves the use of a weak corrosive soda solution to remove the 3+% of Free Fatty Acids (FFA).
Deodorizing the oil involves passing steam through the oil at a temperature of 230 C (446 ᵒF).
Bleaching the Coconut Oil involves lightening its brown color to make it whiter.
Because the refinement process removes the fragrance and therapeutic benefits of the Coconut Oil, Copra Coconut Oil is vastly different from the quality of Virgin Coconut Oil. RBD Coconut Oil does not retain its natural aroma but is ideal for cosmetic and pharmaceutical purposes.
FRACTIONATED COCONUT OIL is also referred to as Liquid Coconut Oil. There are 3 basic types of fatty acids: short-chain, medium-chain, and long-chain. The long-chain fatty acids have more carbon atoms and this means they require higher temperatures to melt and are thus solid at room temperature. In this variety of Coconut Oil, hydrolysis and steam distillation remove the long-chain fatty acids, such as the healthy saturated fat known as Lauric Acid, while the medium-chain triglycerides such as Caprylic Acid and Capric Acid remain. These are beneficial for medicinal and therapeutic applications, cosmetics, and as a carrier oil for essential oils. Despite the moisturizing and cleansing benefits that long-chain fatty acids have on skin, removing them allows the Coconut Oil to remain liquid at room temperature and extends its shelf life. The medium chain fatty acids still retain their moisturizing properties, while the protective and rejuvenating natural antioxidants and nutrients like vitamins A, C, and E continue to exhibit their valuable properties.
USES OF COCONUT OIL
The uses of Coconut Carrier Oil are abundant, ranging from medicinal to cosmetic. Its many forms include oils, gels, lotions, soaps, shampoos, sprays, and candle making.
Used topically, Coconut Oil cleanses and nourishes skin, leaving it soft and silky. While healing and relaxing the body in a massage, it quickly and deeply hydrates the skin, locking in moisture. To cleanse the skin while moisturizing and reducing the appearance of aging, a small amount of Coconut Oil can be gently massaged into the face. This method works as a lotion that simultaneously removes makeup while nourishing the skin. For a massage to reduce the appearance of cellulite, Coconut Oil can be mixed with essential oils before being massaged into the affected areas. Its high fatty acid content makes Coconut Oil deeply moisturizing and, by massaging a generous amount into feet, damaged heels will enjoy intense hydration.
Coconut Oil can substitute commercial cosmetic highlighting products by simply being massaged into the cheekbones, eyelids, and the arches of the eyebrows for a healthy glow. This method has the added benefit of reducing the amount of makeup used. To hydrate chapped lips naturally, Coconut Oil can be melted and blended with moisturizing essential oils to make a nourishing lip balm. To eliminate and prevent ingrown hairs from forming and leading to dull areas of skin, a body scrub can be made with Coconut Carrier Oil, an exfoliant, and essential oils. The disinfectant properties of Coconut Oil make it effective in eliminating bodily odors, thus it makes an excellent deodorant when combined with anti-bacterial essential oil blends.
Used in hair, Coconut Oil can protect the scalp against the discomfort of dryness and the formation of dandruff. Lustrous hair and a healthier scalp can be achieved by mixing Coconut Oil with essential oils that are known to have hair benefits. When shaving, Coconut Oil can be used to prevent skin irritation. Whether on its own or mixed with essential oils, it can be used as a shaving cream or as a soothing aftershave that protects skin against itchiness and dehydration while preventing the need for additional moisturizing products.
Used medicinally, this anti-oxidant is known to also exhibit anti-inflammatory and anti-bacterial properties. It is known to help balance blood pressure as well as blood-sugar levels, cholesterol, and hormone levels. Coconut Oil has traditionally been used to soothe wounds, rashes, and burns. It can treat fungal infections such as Athlete’s Foot and can repel bugs and insects such as bees, flies, and mosquitoes. The high level of Lauric Acid content in this anti-fungal oil helps eliminate the harmful bacteria inside cold sores. Applying it directly to a sore will relieve itching and pain while promoting faster healing. By hydrating skin and promoting the growth of newer, healthier skin that is more elastic, Coconut Oil helps reduce the appearance of discoloration caused by stretch marks and dark blemishes. Massaging Coconut Carrier Oil into the hands and cheeks can help prevent the appearance of age spots. It is gentle enough to be used on baby skin, making it suitable for relieving diaper rashes and other skin irritations. For a cold remedy, Coconut Oil can be mixed with Peppermint or Spearmint Essential Oil and rubbed into the chest to relieve congestion and boost circulation.
A GUIDE TO COCONUT OIL VARIETIES & THEIR BENEFITS
|COCONUT OIL VARIETY & BOTANICAL NAME||COUNTRY OF ORIGIN||BENEFITS OF OIL|
|Coconut (Virgin) Carrier Oil
|Coconut Carrier Oil (RBD)
|Coconut Fractionated Carrier Oil Medium-Chain Triglyceride 60/40
|Coconut Organic Carrier Oil (Refined)
|Coconut Virgin Organic Carrier Oil
CONTRAINDICATIONS FOR COCONUT OIL
Carrier oils are for external use only. Individuals who use Coconut Oil to soothe acne on skin that is not very oily to begin with will likely enjoy the anti-bacterial properties of the Lauric Acid content; however, individuals with excessively oily skin are likely to experience what might appear to be aggravated skin. This reaction will likely occur due to the detoxifying properties of Virgin Coconut Oil that are powerful enough to purge layers of toxins from deep beneath the skin’s surface. This reaction will make skin appear as though the condition has worsened, but the irritation and inflammation will be temporary and will eventually decline in a matter of a few weeks – depending on the amount of toxin build-up – as the skin heals, improves, and clears up. To prevent the skin from flaring up in this manner, another possible option for acne-prone skin is to use Coconut Oil as a carrier for skin-soothing essential oils that are known to relieve acne.
Although it is a rare occurrence, Coconut Oil may potentially cause an allergic reaction that could involve anaphylaxis, eczema, facial swelling, hives, lightheadedness, nausea, rapid heart rate, rashes, or vomiting. Children with peanut or tree nut allergies are less likely to experience an allergic reaction to Coconut Oil, as coconuts are considered to be fruits rather than nuts; however, it is highly recommended that a doctor is consulted before these individuals use Coconut Oil. Children with hypothyroidism should refrain from using Coconut Oil or any related products without first consulting a medical practitioner, as it might aggravate the condition.
- The Coconut sets itself apart from other fruits by virtue of its higher than average water content.
- The oil produced from Coconuts has been a staple ingredient in beauty products made and used by communities all around the world, especially in tropical and coastal regions.
- The name “Coconut” is derived from the 16th-century Portuguese and Spanish word that means “head” or “skull,” because of the three indents that resemble the features of a human head.
- Coconut oil is beneficial for use in cosmetics, typically as a moisturizer, and in soaps.
- Historically, Coconut Oil was used as a remedy for treating illnesses and infection, healing wounds, promoting the growth of strong bones, and protecting skin against blemishes.