Coconut oil is a wonderful option for both skin and hair. Imagining coconut palms beneath the tropical sunshine, it makes sense that this oil has cooling and soothing benefits for inflamed skin.
The unrefined oil is both emollient and slightly occlusive, providing a protective barrier on the skin’s surface. The refined liquid variety is not as beneficial to the skin, but it can be a nice option when a neutral-smelling carrier oil is desired.
A stable oil, coconut oil has a long shelf life of two years or more, and may help extend the life of products containing less-stable oils.
What is Coconut Oil?
Coconut oil is a saturated fat pressed from the tough white “meat” from within the center of the coconut. There are several options when choosing a coconut oil, and it’s a good idea to know the differences between them.
- Virgin or Extra Virgin Coconut Oil – This is the oil you will find on the shelves in grocery stores or natural foods markets. It is a solid, white oil at room temperature, but will become liquid above 78°F. Although you may see this oil labeled as “virgin” or “extra virgin”, there is no difference (in contrast to the same labeling for olive oil).
- Cold Pressed or Expeller Pressed Coconut Oil – Cold Pressed Coconut Oil is produced in a heat controlled environment at temperatures at or below 120°. This process allows the oil to retain its highest nutritional value. Cold pressed oil has both a mild coconut flavor and aroma. Expeller Pressed coconut oil is produced at temperatures over 200°, imparting the oil with a stronger coconut aroma and flavor.
- Refined vs. Unrefined Coconut Oil – Coconut oil labeled as “refined” has undergone processes aimed at improving texture, shelf-life, and eliminating aroma. These processes include degumming, bleaching (usually by filtering through clay), deodorizing (using heat), and neutralizing (with sodium hydroxide to reduce tendency for rancidity). Agents used in these processes are later washed from the finished product.1 Unrefined coconut oil is simply the oil pressed from the meat of the coconut (see cold and expeller pressed above)
- MCT and FCO – MCT (Medium Chain Triglyceride) oil and FCO (Fractionated Coconut Oil) are generally the same product – simply marketed for two different uses. MCT oil can be found as a nutritional supplement for internal use, touted for a variety of benefits including improved memory and energy. MCT oil may also be obtained from sources other than coconut, such as palm kernel oil. FCO is marketed for topical use.
The process to separate out the medium chain triglycerides from coconut oil is lengthy, involving heating and separating the oil’s fatty acid components, removing the heavier molecules so that it no longer solidifies at cooler temperatures. FCO has become popular for some aromatherapists in the past several years, and is loved for it’s neutral aromatic profile and consistent liquid quality, making it a blank slate to carry beautiful essential oil synergies.
Both MCT and FCO retain the cooling quality of coconut oil, but absorb into the skin quickly. Due to the removal of the heavier fatty acids, they are less nutritive, and are no longer as emollient or able to hold moisture in the skin.
Where does the oil come from?
The coconut palm (Cocus nucifera) is not classified as a tree, since it has no bark or branches, but is actually a perennial monocotyledon along with plants such as grasses and orchids. It is grown in coastal tropical areas, mostly in the Philippines, India and Indonesia.
Botanically speaking, the coconut itself is classified as a “drupe”. As with all drupes, coconuts have three layers: The green outer layer, or exocarp, the fleshy middle layer, called the mesocarp, and the hard endocarp surrounding the coconut “meat”. The “meat” within this last layer is what is pressed to obtain the oil we know and love.
What Makes Organic Cold Pressed Coconut Oil So Special?
In holistic aromatherapy, we opt for the most natural, least processed products whenever possible. For coconut oil, this would be the Organic Cold Pressed variety. It will be solid at room temperature, but liquid above 78℉ and have a mild coconut aroma. The low temperature extraction method retains the highest level of nutrients in the oil, and certified organic means the coconut palm has not been treated with harmful chemicals. Cold pressed coconut oil is often used in body butters and cleansers. Check out Plant Powered Beauty for how to make and use pure whipped coconut oil as a makeup remover.
Organic Cold Pressed Coconut Oil is overwhelmingly composed of saturated fatty acids with the following benefits for our skin:
Lauric Acid 47%
- Antimicrobial, which makes this oil a good choice for psoriasis or irritated skin.
- Anti-Inflammatory properties make this oil a nice option for non-weepy rashes, inflamed or sunburned skin.
Myristic Acid 16-21%
- Emollient quality for providing a barrier to help prevent transepidermal water loss.
- Can help to restore the skin’s natural barrier function.
- Anti-fungal quality adds benefits for fungal skin infections.
Other fatty acids present in coconut oil include capric, caproic, and stearic acids.
So, now that you know a bit more about coconut oil, here are the top 5 benefits of using organic cold pressed coconut oil on your skin or hair:
- Natural coconut oil is somewhat occlusive. This means that the oil sits on the surface of your skin for some time, creating a barrier to water loss, thus helping the skin retain moisture. It can also impart a nice glow.
- It is a very stable oil with a shelf life of two years or more.
- This oil is beneficial for all skin types. (Be aware that some people may not enjoy the feel of this oil and may even feel more dry after using it.)
- It has a cooling effect, making it a nice choice for inflamed skin or for those living in warmer climates. (Coconut oil may not be the best choice for those who tend to feel cold or live in cooler climates.)
- It has a protein structure similar to the protein in hair, making it a good treatment for dry or damaged hair.2
So, whether you go natural with organic cold pressed or like the idea of a non-greasy odorless base for a gorgeous aromatic blend, you’ll want to get to know coconut oil, and add it to your aromatherapy product making tool kit!
Kaufmann, Cher, Nature’s Essential Oils, Copyright© 2018, The Countryman Press p.248