Coconut oil has such a wide variety of uses that it has become a staple all across America in only a few years. The reasons for its popularity are many. First, it’s a multi-purpose staple to have in your home. Whether you’re using it for cooking, DIY cosmetics, aromatherapy massage, as a beauty product or a weight loss aid, everyone does something with which coconut oil can be used. Second, in many of those categories, it’s the very best product for you to choose! Coconut oil’s increasing availability and affordability also contribute to there being no excuse not to stock it in your house and use it often. Here are some different ways why and how you can use coconut oil, as well as a guide for navigating the confusing terms used to market it.
There are several different uses for this fantastic oil. We detail them below:
The common usage of coconut oil as a cooking staple came hand in hand with the realization that natural, saturated fats are actually good for you. Coconut oil is over 90% saturated fat, specifically medium chain fatty acids (MCFAs), and over 50% lauric acid. Saturated fat makes up over 50% of our cell membranes and is necessary for our body to heal and repair itself, as well as to bolster our immune system and fight off intruders. We have spent so much time worrying about consuming ‘antioxidants’, but have ignored the fact that saturated fat actually resists oxidation to begin with, making it much more effective at avoiding free-radical damage than polyunsaturated fats. Coconut oil also has a reasonably high smoke point, at 350°, which means it is a better healthy choice to cook with than olive oil. (The smoke point is important because at whatever point an oil or fat begins to smoke, it begins to break down, so it’s important to cook with an oil below that oil’s smoke point.)
Coconut oil is also popular in cooking and baking because it’s a solid at room temperature. This makes it a wonderful butter substitute in vegan and other butter-free baking. All of these realizations in part have led to the explosion of coconut oil use in the kitchen.
In addition to being a cooking oil, coconut oil has also become popular as a weight loss aid. The MCFAs in coconut oil, as well as the high concentration of lauric acid (rivaled only by human breast milk) make it ideal for balancing cravings. The lauric acid is great for your immune system as well, providing both energy and boosted immunity. The composition of MCFAs means that our body is able to absorb these energy chains rapidly without needing to break them down with bile. They are immediately accessible and absorbable by our bodies and aren’t stored as fat later on. Because fat is needed to regulate blood-glucose levels, consuming two tablespoons of coconut oil during the day helps your body to avoid the sugar spikes that break your resolve and send you running for the cookies. The easily absorbable energy provided by coconut oil also helps to minimize your appetite. And don’t worry, you don’t have to eat it straight, although many people like to, you can mix it into a cup of coffee or tea.
Different kinds of acids in different fats have different qualities. Coconut oil is made primarily from lauric, myristic, caprylic, capric, and palmitic acid. None of these oils absorbs particularly well into the skin, but what they do well is form a protective barrier that seals in moisture. Coconut oil is also a wonderful skin softener that nourishes and firms skin. Capric, caprylic, and lauric acid all have antimicrobial properties that make it a good base for treating wounds and scrapes and coconut oil is an incredibly soothing moisturizer for razor burn and sunburn. It’s also high in Vitamin E, an important nutrient for skincare and scar prevention.
Coconut oil is very versatile for external use. It can be used on its own or mixed into a DIY cosmetic blend, such as a lip balm or moisturizer. Because coconut oil has a melting point of 76° and is solid at room temperature, it provides excellent structure to a cosmetic blend while still melting once in contact with skin, for a luxurious feel. Its texture can best be described as silky.
The silkiness makes it wonderful for hair as well! The same qualities that make coconut oil so luxurious for skin also make it effective for hair. It coats hair evenly for fantastic moisture retention and it can be applied either after a shower by warming it in your hands and running a little through locks to keep away frizz and flyaways, or as a hot oil treatment before showering for serious moisture-locking benefits. Vitamin E also nourishes and stimulates hair growth and the characteristic shine adds gloss and drama.
Coconut oil use for faces is a bit controversial. There are many people who swear by it as their primary makeup remover and cleanser. It’s certainly true that coconut oil will find and dissolve any trace of makeup on your skin and its antibacterial and antimicrobial properties certainly seem beneficial to a delicate and constantly exposed face. Vitamin E should be a boost in its favor as well, but the problem is that coconut oil is fairly comedogenic, meaning that it can clog pores. For some people, they use it every day and never have a problem. Others aren’t so lucky. Since the oil cleansing method of skin cleansing starts with rubbing an oil all over your face and then steaming it away, it might be best to use it to remove makeup and then cleanse with something different.
Coconut oil is frequently the first, and for many the only, carrier oil that they use for essential oils. This is partly true because for all of the reasons listed above, people already have it in their home. Essential oils, when used in natural remedies or in therapeutic massage, need to be diluted. They are potent concentrations of the plants from which they are derived and are (supposed to be) sold in their purest form. This is usually more of a concentration than we need for the effects. It’s hard to work in quantities of ‘half-drops’ or smaller. If you want to apply two or three drops of an essential oil to the entire surface of your body, or make a blend with a 5% concentration, then the answer is to dilute it in a neutral carrier oil. Coconut oil is great for this. It’s stable, easy to apply, neutrally or non-scented, and easy to obtain. Many good essential oil companies, such as Rocky Mountain Essential Oils, even sell coconut oil as their preferred carrier. It’s partially preferred because coconut oil has a long shelf life, making it easy to buy in large quantities and keep stored for easy access. Many good carrier oils go rancid or need to be kept refrigerated when not used, making them more of a hassle than coconut oil.
Because of the rapid ascent to stardom that coconut oil has achieved, there has been an explosion in the market for the product. This always leads to confusing marketing, cost-cutting imitations, and generally a lot of noise. So when you’re in the grocery store planning to buy some, what do you get? Here are the definitions of some of the most commonly used terms:
Virgin Coconut Oil
Virgin coconut oil is the result of either pressing oil out of clean, dried coconut, or shredding the coconut and letting the milk sit for 24 hours until the oil separates out. This oil has never been treated or chemically extracted and has a delightfully delicate coconut flavor. There is no difference between extra-virgin and virgin coconut oil, except sometimes an unwarranted pricetag.
Organic Coconut Oil
Organic means what it always means— certified by an independent organization to not use chemicals in any part of the process and to not be genetically modified.
Refined Coconut Oil
Refined means that the coconut oil has been processed to remove the taste and smell of coconut. If the coconut oil is not further labeled, it usually means that this has been done by chemical solvents that produce higher yields at a faster rate and for less money. However, this process can leave chemical residue in the oil and damage the beneficial properties of the end product.
Expeller-Pressed Coconut Oil
This is the only way you should ever buy refined coconut oil, otherwise, you don’t really know what process was used or what damage was done to the product. Expeller pressing the oil mechanically extracts the oil and then a steam deodorizing process leaves out the smell and taste without damaging the integrity of the product. This is the preferred product for many people, because the flavor of coconut will really limit your use of the product over time, whereas an odorless oil is extremely usable in DIY cosmetics.
Glyphosate-Free Coconut Oil
Glyphosate is a chemical pesticide that is sometimes used around coconuts. This label denotes that the coconut has been tested free of the chemical and is a cheaper, but still informative, label than the costly organic certification.
Wet-Milled Coconut Oil
Wet-milled means the oil is separated from the ‘milk’ in freshly grated coconut, without the coconut flesh being dried first. This is different than the mass-produced version where the dried coconut flesh, or ‘copra’, is refined and then processed from the oil. Wet-milled is more labor intensive and typically done in small batches. It also contains the highest nutritional value and antioxidant level of any coconut oil extraction technique.
RBD Coconut Oil
RBD stands for refined, bleached, and deodorized. It refers to an oil making process that starts with an unsanitary product. By the end of the process, the oil is thoroughly cleaned, but some of its natural properties have been damaged and it’s not fit for consumption. Frequently used as the coconut oil in lotions and soaps, this is the cheapest way to mass-produce coconut oil. RBD oil is also sometimes hydrogenated, a process that is completely unnecessary in coconut oil except for consumption in very hot climates. This version is not sold as food-grade in the United States.
Fractionated/ MCT/ Liquid Coconut Oil
These terms refer to the process of removing the lauric acid from coconut oil, thereby dropping its melting point. This is similar to the process of changing butter into ghee by removing the solids. The purpose of this is to make the oil fully liquid at room temperature. This destroys many of the beneficial health qualities, but it does make it easier to use as a massage oil and carrier oil. This is the form that Rocky Mountain Oils sells its carrier oil in. You can find it here.
These are the most common terms that will help you navigate the expansive coconut oil market. Virgin is the best if you don’t mind the taste, whereas expeller-pressed refined is the gold standard for an odorless oil. If all of these terms are overwhelming though, just buy from the best brand and don’t worry about the rest.
Tropical Traditions was the first company to sell a non-refined coconut oil in America and remains the best in a business that it basically founded. Started in 2001, Tropical Traditions is based in the Philippines and sells several different variations of coconut oil, all of excellent quality. Their Gold Label Virgin Coconut Oil is wet-milled in small batches by Philippine families in pristine facilities and has been tested to have the highest antioxidant concentration of any coconut oil on the market. Their Green Label brand is produced in larger batches, but still of the highest quality organic coconuts. Both the Gold and Green Label retain the coconut flavor. For a non-coconut flavored oil, the Organic Expeller-Pressed Coconut Oil is the way to go. For the best value, their Pure Coconut Oil is unrivaled. The Pure Coconut Oil is less expensive because it is not certified organic, but is from the same area as their much more expensive Gold Label and is tested glyphosate-free.
Whichever one suits your needs, their products are the best in every category. Tropical Traditions also sells their coconut oils in bulk, which is a fantastic feature. The oil is incredibly stable at room temperature and doesn’t go rancid like other oils. This means that you can buy it in large quantities and keep it in storage for over a year. Buying from Tropical Traditions in either their 1-gallon or 5-gallon, HDPE, food-grade pails is the best possible value that you will find.
You now know all of the best ways to use and enjoy your oil, as well as what to look for when you buy it. So go ahead! Make some soap! Lose some weight! Blend some essential oils! With a good coconut oil on your side, the options are endless.