Coconut oil has been used for thousands of years and for many different ailments: from mouthwash to moisturiser! Recent research into coconut oil’s effectiveness has resulted in it becoming increasingly popular as an alternative remedy for treating eczema.
One of the great attractions of coconut oil is its natural origin – but can it really be that good? The ScratchSleeves team delve into the benefits of using coconut oil for eczema, how to use it and its many other advantages.
Is coconut oil an effective eczema treatment?
Good question. Coconut oil is a saturated plant fat consisting primarily of medium and short chain fatty acids. These fatty acid molecules are relatively small so are readily absorbed through cell membranes. In addition, these molecules are not easily oxidized so won’t create harmful free radicals. As a result of this composition coconut oil a really effective moisturiser for dry skin. It also has proven antibacterial, antifungal and even anti-viral components meaning that as well as moisturising, coconut oil combating the infections responsible for much of the eczema itch. Coconut oil is also packed full of vitamins that help nourish the skin.
A double-blind randomised control study* of 117 children carried out over 8 weeks in 2013 showed that coconut oil was markedly better in improving mild to moderate eczema than the mineral oil it was compared to. As similar mineral oils are used in the majority of eczema emollients, coconut oil represents a very interesting alternative eczema treatment. A similar study of adult eczema sufferers in 2008 has shown that applying coconut oil twice a day can decrease bacterial colonization (staphylococcus aureus) by 95 per cent in eczema sufferers (compared to a 50 per cent reduction in the group using an olive oil control).
This reduction is probably due to the presence of lauric acid in coconut oil. Lauric acid is a proven antibacterial and anti-fungal agent which is not present in olive oil. It is well known that bacterial infection aggravates eczema, so these proven antibacterial properties of coconut oil must play an important part in its effectiveness in treating eczema.
So, yes: there is strong evidence for coconut oil improving mild to moderate eczema (no trials testing its effectiveness on severe eczema have been published as yet) and reducing the bacterial activity which is thought to aggravate eczema. On this basis, we think that coconut oil a very interesting natural eczema treatment that is definitely worth trying for your eczema child.
*neither the parents nor the researchers carrying out the evaluations knew which children were treated with coconut oil as opposed to mineral oil control.
How to treat eczema with coconut oil
The studies mentioned above used virgin coconut oil as it has higher levels of antioxidants than refined oils. Virgin coconut oils produced by traditional, cold pressed methods have slightly high levels again. Refined coconut oils can also contain chemical residues from the processing, which could be creating sensitivity in certain skin types or conditions. One coconut oil product that should be avoided when treating eczema is liquid coconut oil (or MCT oil) as the antibacterial lauric acid is missing from this product. It’s worth mentioning that coconut oil has a melting point of 24°C, so here in the UK it will be solid for the majority of the year. Obviously this isn’t particularly useful when it comes to using the oil as a lotion but you can keep it liquid by adding around 5-10% virgin olive oil to warmed coconut oil.
Coconut oil can either be applied directly to the skin or used in cooking. When treating children, the topical application can be a more practical approach as you need to consume 2-4 tablespoons a day for it to be effective. For mild to moderate eczema apply a light coating of virgin coconut oil to the affected skin twice a day. For severe eczema apply a generous amount of coconut oil to a bandage and wrap around the affected area and repeat up to four times a day. You can also use coconut oil as a lubricant for baby massage – which can be a great way to help itchy little ones sleep. We find that homemade coconut oil soap (as made by Grandma ScratchSleeves) is a really practical way of incorporating coconut oil into our daily routine – and it’s brilliant for Grandma’s eczema-prone hands.
Advantages of using coconut oil for eczema
Coconut oil does more than treat eczema. It’s also great for hair and nails. Some of the other benefits of coconut oil include:
- Smells lovely
- Antioxidant effect so will keep healthy skin looking younger
- Nourishes skin with vitamins and minerals
- Adds shine to the hair (and discourages head lice!)
- Excellent makeup remover (for the adults, of course!)
- Totally natural – no chemicals
There are many other health benefits associated with coconut oil including improving or even reversing the effects of Alzheimer’s, type 1 and type 2 diabetes and hypothyroidism. This is a great website for more information about coconut oil.
In spite of their name, coconuts are not nuts at all. Coconuts are actually seeds and are very different from peanuts or tree nuts. While it is possible to be allergic to coconuts, this is such a rare allergy that testing for it is not routinely carried out, even in people with other nut allergies. However, coconut can cause contact allergic dermatitis. As with any contact dermatitis, an itchy blistering rash may arise a day or two after contact with the allergen, and take several days to clear.
A note of caution
As with all things eczema related, it is wise to patch test in a small area first and be sure to let tell your GP or dermatologist about any alternative remedies you are using. Read more about the effectiveness of alternative eczema treatments in our blog post here.
- The effect of topical virgin coconut oil on SCORAD index, transepidermal water loss, and skin capacitance in mild to moderate pediatric atopic dermatitis: a randomized, double-blind, clinical trial. MT Evangelista, F Abad-Casintahan, L Lopez-Villafuerte, International Journal of Dermatology. 2014 Jan;53(1)
- Novel antibacterial and emollient effects of coconut and virgin olive oils in adult atopic dermatitis. Verallo-Rowell VM1, Dillague KM, Syah-Tjundawan BS, Dermatitis. 2008 Nov-Dec
As well as sharing our experience of bringing up an eczema child (and favourite allergy friendly recipes), we also manufacture and sell our unique stay-on scratch mitts and PJs for itchy babies, toddlers and children. We now stock sizes from 0-16 years in a range of colours. Visit our main website for more information.
Our Editorial Policy
Here at ScratchSleeves, we aim to bring you trustworthy and accurate information. We collaborate with qualified dermatologists and doctors as well as drawing on peer-reviewed medical studies and our own experience as parents. All medical content is reviewed by a dermatologist or appropriate doctor prior to publication to ensure completeness, accuracy and appropriate use of medical language. Reviewer details can be found at the bottom of each reviewed post and also on our ‘Meet The Team’ page.
All scientific research referred to in our blog is found in peer-reviewed publications. All eczema related medical articles we refer to are included in the GREAT database (Global Resource of Eczema Trials) managed by the Centre of Evidence Based Dermatology at the University of Nottingham. This database brings together information on all randomised control trials and systematic reviews of eczema treatments. Trials are identified using a highly sensitive, comprehensive search strategy that is compatible with standard Cochrane methodology. Cochrane is internationally recognised as the highest standard in evidence-based health care. Links to the publications we refer to are listed at the bottom of each article.
The original editorial information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your doctor or other qualified healthcare practitioners regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it in because of anything you have read on the ScratchSleeves blog.