Virgin Coconut Oil's Anti-inflammatory Effects
More Than Just Moisturizer: Virgin Coconut Oil’s Many Strengths
Virgin coconut oil is a natural oil extracted from mature coconut meat.1 What is the difference between virgin coconut oil (VCO) and non-VCO? True virgin coconut oil is cold pressed by wet extraction from coconut milk. Wet extraction is the process where first, coconut milk is pressed out of the coconut meat. Then, the coconut milk emulsion is separated into its oil and protein counterparts.2 Wet extraction is considered superior to dry extraction as the oil does not need to be subjected to refining processes such as degumming, bleaching, or deodorizing.2 Dry extraction will yield coconut oil that still needs refining, which is not considered virgin coconut oil.2
Traditionally, coconut oil has been used as an emollient in the treatment of xerosis seen in diseases like atopic dermatitis.3 However, the advantages of virgin coconut oil for the skin may lend itself to more than just hydration. Recently, coconut oil’s antimicrobial, anti-inflammatory, and sun protective actions have been explored.
Inflammation is the body’s immune response to any injury or disease, expressed on the skin as any redness, pain, itch, or swelling associated with many dermatological conditions. Inflammation may be mild redness that occurs with acne, but uncontrolled inflammation, such as inflammation resulting from diseases like bacterial sepsis, can be far more detrimental and even life threatening.4
Varma et al. sought to quantify the anti-inflammatory and skin protective effects of virgin coconut oil (VCO). They exposed human monocytes to LPS (a pro-inflammatory endotoxin found in the membranes of gram-negative bacteria), then treated the samples with VCO. Following a 24-hour incubation, the levels of TNF-a, IFN-g, IL-6, IL-5, and IL-8 were measured and compared to control samples that had not been treated with VCO. LPS increased cytokine secretion in the control human monocytes, while the cytokine level was reduced in a dose dependent manner in the samples treated with VCO.5
Coconut oil is composed of many medium and short chain fatty acids. Of note, the 12C lauric acid makes the oil lethal to bacteria.6 Particularly, lauric acid in its monoglyceride form, monolaurin, is especially bactericidial. Oyi et al. tested the efficacy of coconut oil cream on hands that were inoculated with cultures of S. aureus, P. aeruginosa, C. albicans, and A. niger. The organisms were applied to the back of the hands, VCO cream was applied and five minutes later a swab was taken from the area. The swabs were incubated overnight at 37 degrees Celsius in 5 mL of sterile nutrient broth. None of the organisms survived the cream treatment.7 Another study incubated S. aureus on Mueller Hinton Agar containing VCO at varying concentrations for 16-18 hours. The study showed inhibition of S. aureus growth on the agar dilution media at a minimal VCO concentration of 200 ml.8
Coconut Oil’s Effect on the Skin Put to the Test
In the study by Agero et al., the researchers extracted skin cells from both humans and mice, treating these skin cells in a petri dish with virgin coconut oil. Following this, the researchers exposed the skin cells to harmful chemicals that would irritate and inflame the skin, and exposed the cells to UVB light, which can cause signs of skin-aging and skin cancer. After this, the researchers found that virgin coconut oil could alter and strengthen the skin cells’ anti-inflammatory response. In fact, looking at the virgin coconut oil-treated skin cells microscopically, the researchers found that virgin coconut oil could suppress and neutralize the harmful molecules that caused skin inflammation and damage. This natural oil also bolstered key proteins of the skin and strengthened the skin barrier overall. With this, virgin coconut oil not only defended the skin against harmful agents, but also strengthened the outermost layer of the skin, protecting the skin from future damage and aging.9
Coconut oil’s many uses represent a novel approach to age old medical concerns such as bacterial infection, inflammation, and sun damage. Although there is support in the literature for the efficacy of coconut oil on skin, consult your doctor before attempting to treat yourself or others. Coconut oil should not be used as a substitute for antibiotics, steroids, or sunscreen unless directed by a physician. Proper sun protection should still be practiced by any one with normal to above average sun exposure.
- Villarino BJ, Dy LM, Lizada MaCC. Descriptive sensory evaluation of virgin coconut oil and refined, bleached and deodorized coconut oil. LWT - Food Science and Technology. 2007;40(2):193-199. doi:10.1016/j.lwt.2005.11.007
- Patil U, Benjakul S. Coconut Milk and Coconut Oil: Their Manufacture Associated with Protein Functionality. J Food Sci. 2018;83(8):2019-2027. doi:10.1111/1750-3841.14223
- Verallo-Rowell VM, Dillague KM, Syah-Tjundawan BS. Novel antibacterial and emollient effects of coconut and virgin olive oils in adult atopic dermatitis. Dermatitis. 2008;19(6):308-315.
- Tamayo E, Fernández A, Almansa R, et al. Pro- and anti-inflammatory responses are regulated simultaneously from the first moments of septic shock. Eur Cytokine Netw. 2011;22(2):82-87. doi:10.1684/ecn.2011.0281
- Varma SR, Sivaprakasam TO, Arumugam I, et al. In vitro anti-inflammatory and skin protective properties of Virgin coconut oil. J Tradit Complement Med. 2018;9(1):5-14. doi:10.1016/j.jtcme.2017.06.012
- Deen A, Visvanathan R, Wickramarachchi D, et al. Chemical composition and health benefits of coconut oil: an overview. J Sci Food Agric. 2021;101(6):2182-2193. doi:10.1002/jsfa.10870
- Oyi AR, Onaolapo J, Obi RC. Formulation and Antimicrobial Studies of Coconut (Cocos nucifera Linne) Oil. Research Journal of Applied Sciences, Engineering and Technology. 2010;2:133-137.
- Widianingrum DC, Noviandi CT, Salasia SIO. Antibacterial and immunomodulator activities of virgin coconut oil (VCO) against Staphylococcus aureus. Heliyon. 2019;5(10):e02612. doi:10.1016/j.heliyon.2019.e02612
- Agero ALC, Verallo-Rowell VM. A randomized double-blind controlled trial comparing extra virgin coconut oil with mineral oil as a moisturizer for mild to moderate xerosis. Dermatitis. 2004;15(3):109-116. doi:10.2310/6620.2004.04006