Coconut oil has been an integral component of beauty formulations around the world. This is especially true of the coastal and tropical regions.
Did you know that the word “coconut” finds its origins in the Spanish and Portuguese words from the 16th century? The word stands for “skull” since the fruit resembles the human head owing to the indents.
Coconut oil is widely used in cosmetics and is frequently added to soap formulations. The key to the power of coconut oil is its powerful hydration capability. The oil has also been used, since times immemorial, to treat infections, heal wounds, and protect the skin. It will also remove blemishes and keep the skin healthy.
Whether you wanted a natural replacement for chemical-laden cosmetic products or a way to rid your skin’s dryness in a natural manner, coconut oil is a great option to consider.
Table of Contents
- Historic Aspects of Coconut Oil
- The Components of Coconut Oil
- How is The Coconut Tree Grown?
- The Extraction of Coconut Oil
- Cold/ Expeller Press-Based Extraction/Dry Method
- Coconut Extraction Using Wet Process
- The Solvent Extraction Process
- Virgin Coconut Oil
- Copra Coconut Oil
- Fractionated Coconut Oil
- How is Coconut Oil Used?
- The Grades of Coconut Oil
- Coconut Oil Contraindications
Historic Aspects of Coconut Oil
Coconut is most known for its rich water content. Coconuts are commonly harvested for their water content. However, since ancient times, various parts of coconut and the tree have been used for a variety of purposes.
The tree is a part of the Palm family actually. Experts believe that it is the only plant species in the Cocos genus. Coconut oil, for hundreds of years, has been an important part of many beauty products across cultures. One of the key advantages of coconut oil is that it boosts hair growth.
Coconut oil will keep the skin moisturized and conditioned well and this will contribute to luster and hair strength. Even today, coconut oil finds numerous cosmetic applications: it is a key component of moisturizers and is often added to soaps.
The coconut, contrary to what the name suggests, is not a nut in the real sense of the word. The fruit is fleshy and has thin skin. The inner stone contains the seed. For centuries now, coconuts are processed in a way that the kernel is used to yield oil while the shell yields charcoal. The outer husk that is fibrous in texture is often used to make matting and ropes.
Coconut oil has been used for centuries and has been a part and parcel of the lives of people across the world. This is particularly true of the cultures in Africa, South America, the Indian subcontinent, Central America, Polynesia, and Asia.
The medicinal benefits of coconut oil for treating diseases of the body, mind, and spirit have been documented in ancient Sanskrit verses dating back at least 3,500 years.
Coconuts find mentions in numerous historical as well as fictional accounts. Coconuts are believed to have been used to make fiber in China in the 9th century. Even the legendary story Sinbad the Sailor in Arabian NIghts mentions the fruit.
It is said coconuts were also mentioned by Costas, an Egyptian traveler in the 5th century who saw an “Indian nut” in the course of his travels. Coconut oil was commonly used in hair care products in South Asia. It was used for keeping the hair dark, thick, and lustrous.
What’s more, coconut oil has also been used as a powerful remedy to treat burns, cuts, bruises, and wounds and helps facilitate rapid healing. The oil can also relieve several joint pain types and muscular discomfort. Coconut oil has also been used in making candles in India and Zanzibar.
Coconut oil was extensively used by Ayurvedic practitioners and the healers in South and Central America. It was used to heal cuts and wounds. Coconut oil was commonly used by mothers who used to massage their kids with the oil to help strengthen their bones. The oil was also known to protect the skin against infections and remove blemishes and marks.
It is believed that the name “coconut” owes its existence to the Portuguese. They have been known by various names including “Nux Indica” as Marco Polo called them in the 13th century. They were also known as “Nargils” in the 17th century as Sir Drake called them.
The name “coconut” finally came in the 16th century from the word “coco” in the Spanish and Portuguese languages. The word means “head” or, in other words, “skull”. This was owing to the shape of the coconut resembling the human head with its eyes and nose.
Nations where coconut was natively found still use coconuts to produce utensils, baskets, and musical instruments. Natives discovered that the flesh of the fruit could be used for a number of purposes apart from consumption as food. They used to boil the milk of the coconut to obtain the oil.
Coconut was also used as a sunscreen agent. It also functioned as a moisturizer and a conditioner that could restore the luster of damaged hair and skin. It was used as a remedy for treating head lice too.
The Components of Coconut Oil
Let us now dive deeper into the components that give coconut oil its amazing health benefits. We will discuss each of these components in detail and see what makes them really special.
Each of these components, that includes fatty acids and vitamins, has a vital role to play in making coconut oil a marvel of nature. In this section, we shall see the individual components of the oil and their respective unique properties that make them stand apart.
- Lauric acid is quickly absorbed by the body. This is owing to the fact that lauric acid is. medium-chain triglyceride compound, a saturated fat.
- Lauric acid acts against viruses.
- It also smoothens the skin and is a common component of soaps, salves, and body butters.
Caprylic Acid and Capric Acid
- These are medium-chain triglycerides and will be quickly absorbed into the body.
- The acids will stimulate the hair follicles.
- They have powerful antifungal and antimicrobial properties.
- Control the growth of bacteria and pathogens. This makes them better suited for skin that is prone to developing acne.
- Strengthen the hair, making them shiny as well.
- Known to moisturize the hair well and promote hair growth.
- Help wounds heal faster.
- Linoleic acids are powerful emulsifiers and are added to oils and soaps.
- Possess powerful anti-inflammatory characteristics.
- Help the hair and the skin retain moisture.
- Help treat acne and minimize outbreaks.
- Help make oils acquire a thin texture making them more suited for skin that is acne-prone.
- Oleic acids are known to make the skin soft, radiant, and supple.
- Help the hair grow thicker and longer while also strengthening them.
- Remove aging signs including fine lines and premature wrinkles.
- Remove dandruff and promote healthy hair growth.
- Raise immunity levels.
- Possess powerful antioxidant characteristics.
- Help keep joint stiffness, pain, and inflammation at bay.
- Polyphenols possess antioxidant properties.
- Lend a unique odor to coconut oil.
- Heal inflammation effectively.
- Help treat damaged and dry skin well.
- Make the skin elastic and reduce the signs of premature aging.
- Hydrate the skin and improve moisture levels.
- Keep the skin protected against UV radiation that can be harmful to the skin.
- Promote the growth of skin cells.
- Boost healthy hair growth.
- Improve blood circulation in the skin.
- Keep pathogens including harmful fungi, viruses, and bacteria away.
- Hydrate the skin well.
- Promote healthy hair growth.
- Remove dandruff.
Coconut oil is known to be readily and quickly absorbed in the skin. This is owing to the small-sized molecules present in the oil. These molecules are almost similar in size to small molecules of essential oils. This also means that blending essential oils with coconut oil will help them penetrate the skin faster.
Coconut oil does not clog the pores of the skin. It will help moisturize the skin and rid itchiness and other common skin problems. It is also ideal for treating skin plagued by dryness as it has intense hydrating and moisturizing properties. Coconut oil is also good for sensitive and irritated skin.
Coconut oil is known to create a barrier on the surface of the skin that will lock all moisture inside. This lubricates and softens the skin and also keeps fungus at bay. Coconut oil will also calm irritated skin areas and help treat conditions such as psoriasis, Athlete’s foot, and warts.
Coconut oil also soothes skin affected by blisters, sunburns, and the like. It also helps improve complexion as it will promote the growth of new skin cells. Coconut oil is also known to help promote a healthy metabolism and will keep cholesterol and blood pressure under control.
What’s more, coconut oil is also considered to be effective in treating kidney and liver ailments. The oil boosts digestion and regulates insulin. A massage with coconut oil is also found to be effective in reducing stress and anxiety.
The following summarizes the main health benefits of coconut oil:
Medicinal Benefits: Balancing, Stress-relieving, Anti-fungal, Digestive, Detoxicant, and Regulating
Cosmetic Benefits: Hydrating, Cooling, Emollient, Lubricating, and Soothing
How is The Coconut Tree Grown?
We do not yet know about the exact origins of the Coconut palm trees. A common belief is that coconuts first originated in the area spanning from India to Indonesia and it is from here that they spread across the world. This happened when they found their way into the Indian Ocean, staying afloat and reaching far away lands through the currents.
A major basis for this belief is the fact that the coconut is called “nyior” or “nyiur” in the Indonesia and Malaysia region. This is quite similar to the name “Niu” in Melanesia and Polynesia and even the Guamanian and Philippino name “Niyog”.
Today, coconuts grow in several countries around the world. The worldwide production of coconuts stands at about 61 million tons annually and most of it traces its origins in Asia’s tropical regions. Nearly 73% of the coconut production is sourced from India, Indonesia, and the Philippines.
Two species of the coconut are common: the Atlantic and the Pacific. Coconuts grow on the Cocos nucifera tree that is a large palm growing up to nearly 100 feet in height. Coconuts are commonly classified into Dwarf and Tall varieties.
Interestingly enough, the coconut is not a real nut in the technical sense. It is actually a drupe with a thin skin and a stone filled with a seed. This makes it similar to cherry, almond, plum, and olive.
The coconut has three layers, the endocarp, the mesocarp, and the exocarp. The mesocarp and the exocarp form the outer part and are known as the husk. The mesocarp assumes the form of fiber and is also called coir.
Once the husk has been taken off, you will be able to see 3 holes on the inner layer, the endocarp, as it is called. The holes are called the “eyes” of the coconut and make it resemble the form of a bowling ball.
These holes are actually the coconut fruit’s germination holes. Two pores will remain non-functional while one of the pores will help the shoot sprout when the conditions are right.
The coconut pores are the carpel of the flowers. The weight of a fully-grown coconut is around 1.44 kg. The Coconut tree needs sandy soil for proper growth. Further, it also needs plenty of sunlight, high levels of humidity, and continuous rainfall in addition to no canopies on the top.
Coconut trees can also survive in areas where rainfall is low if the temperature is warm and the environment is humid enough. They are commonly found near shorelines as they are very sensitive to salinity.
The tree can withstand extreme temperatures than can go down to the freezing point of water. Coconut palms are also grown in loamy, alluvial, and laterite soils in addition to marshy reclaimed lowlands. There shouldn’t be a hard surface beneath the soil and the latter should hold plenty of water with proper drainage.
In drier regions where no irrigation facilities are available, coconut trees do not unfurl their leaves. The older leaves are soon dehydrated and will shrivel with the fruits falling down.
The healthy coconut tree starts giving fruits within 6-10 years of its growth and the maximal production levels are attained when it is 15-20 years old. However, there should be proper care and the growing conditions should be ideal.
A span of 45 days separates the cutting down phases and the fruits that automatically fall when matured will be the best in terms of the oil yield. These coconuts will contain the highest levels of Lauric acid.
Coconut trees produce fruits all through the year and one tree produces about 100 to 120 coconuts every year. They grow in a bunch of 5-12 fruits and a new bunch grows and matures every month.
There are farmers who pluck coconuts before they mature and extract the oils using a chemical treatment to increase oil production.
The Extraction of Coconut Oil
After collection, coconuts that are to be used for “copra”, which is the meat of the fruit, are cut open with an ax in a field. The meat is taken out, aggregated, and then is carried to a drier. The drier could be a solar drier or a rack over the flame. A kiln can also be used to dry them.
The meat is dried for about 4 days. Nearly 6,000 coconuts are needed to produce 1 ton of copra. This is then put into bags and taken into commercial oil-seed mills. The copra usually goes rancid by this time and the extraction starts.
Cold/ Expeller Press-Based Extraction/Dry Method
Several methods are used to extract coconut oil. The cold/ expeller press-based process first involves taking the meat out and allowing it to dry in sunlight or a kiln. This creates copra after a drying duration of 2.5 hours at a controlled temperature.
Next, the copra will be cold-pressed or expeller pressed. A solvent can also be used to dissolve it. This will produce coconut oil. Also, copra meal is formed that takes the form of a soft and spongy mass. This copra meal is produced as a byproduct and is very rich in fiber and protein.
However, it is not suitable for human consumption. It is usually fed to ruminants. Coconuts that are not completely mature yield lower amounts of oil and produce inferior products. The oil that is produced is passed through a filter press that removes any sediment and pure and clear coconut oil is obtained.
Coconut Extraction Using Wet Process
This process makes use of raw coconut in lieu of dried copra. The protein content present in the fruit yields a mixture of water and oil. A separating process is used to collect the oil and remove the emulsion. The techniques used for this process are centrifuges, steam distillation, electrolysis, and shock waves.
A combination of different processes can also be used to extract the oil.
The Solvent Extraction Process
This method produces 10% more yield than the other methods. The solvent used in this method is hexane. The oil produced is refined to remove free fatty acids and to prevent the oil from turning rancid and also to increase the shelf life of the oil.
Virgin Coconut Oil
It is obtained from fresh coconut milk residue or the meat of the coconut. If the coconut oil is produced from coconut meat, it can be obtained by grating the fresh meat of the coconut and then allowing it to dry so as to reduce the moisture content.
A screw press is manually used to get the oil from the dried residue. When coconut milk is used to produce coconut oil, the meat is grated and blended with water and finally squeezed to get the oil.
Another technique involves fermenting the milk for nearly 2 days. The oil is collected and the cream is heated to remove any adhering oil. There is another method that involves the use of centrifugation to separate coconut oil.
The residue that is produced after coconut milk production is used to get the oil. Natural aroma is retained in virgin coconut oil. Once the coconut is cracked, the process to produce virgin coconut oil should start within an hour.
Copra Coconut Oil
This is bleached, refined, and deodorized oil, called RDB oil. It is a carrier oil and is obtained from copra by using a heated hydraulic press. All the oil present in this copra will be obtained through the pressing method but it is obtained in a crude state. This residue is brown in color and has impurities.
To purify it, it should be heated and filtered. This helps to bleach, refine, and deodorize the oil. The refining process for the oil makes use of chemicals and heating to produce the oil that is suitable for commercial uses.
To deodorize the oil, steam is passed through the oil at a temperature of 230 degrees Celsius. Bleaching makes the color of coconut oil lighter, turning it white from brown.
Refining the coconut oil will eliminate the scent and the therapeutic benefits of the oil. Thus, copra coconut oil is completely different from virgin coconut oil. RBD coconut oil is best suited for pharmaceutical and cosmetic purposes. It does not retain its natural fragrance.
Fractionated Coconut Oil
Fractionated coconut oil is also called liquid coconut oil. Steam distillation and hydrolysis are used to eliminate the long-chain fatty acids. This includes saturated fats such as lauric acid. The medium-chain triglycerides including capric acid and caprylic acid will stay undisturbed.
This oil is useful in therapeutic and medicinal applications as well as in cosmetics and as a carrier oil for essential oils. Since the long-chain fatty acids have been removed, fractionated coconut oil remains in a liquid state at room temperature and its shelf life is also increased. The moisturizing properties are still present in the medium-chain fats.
The antioxidants also continue to be present. These include vitamins A, E, and C. Fractionated coconut oil is commonly used in making massage oils, cosmetic products, and personal care. In fact, some experts believe that fractionated coconut oil has a higher degree of absorption into the skin. It is also less likely to clog the pores in the skin.
This is different from virgin coconut oil. The virgin oil is typically solid at lower ambient temperatures. Fractionated coconut oil, on the other hand, retains its liquid texture even at low ambient temperatures.
How is Coconut Oil Used?
Coconut oil finds use in numerous applications that range from cosmetic to medicinal. It can be used in soaps. Lotions, shampoos, oils, gels, candles, and sprays.
Coconut oil makes the skin soft and silky by cleansing and nourishing it. It is also used in massage for healing and relaxation purposes. It locks the moisture and keeps the skin hydrated.
A small amount of coconut oil should be used to massage the face to reduce the appearance and symptoms of aging and to moisturize the skin. This is also used as a makeup remover which also massages the face.
Coconut oil is often blended with essential oils to reduce cellulite. Since it has lots of fatty acids, it moisturizes the skin deeply. It is also a great idea massaging your feet with generous amounts of coconut oil. It will greatly benefit when it comes to removing dryness.
Coconut oil makes for a powerful replacement for cosmetic products. You could apply it to eyelids, cheekbones, and the eyebrow arches to help them attain a beautiful, healthy glow. You will also need less makeup when you use a coconut oil-based procedure.
Coconut oil can also help treat chapped lips. It can be melted and combined with the right essential oils to create a powerful lip balm. You could also make a body scrub that will remove ingrown hair.
The oil also has powerful disinfectant properties that help remove body odor. It is also a powerful deodorant, especially when blended with essential oils that are anti-microbial.
Coconut oil will also keep the scalp protected from dryness and keep dandruff at bay. If you blend coconut oil with the right essential oils, you can maintain a healthy scalp and lustrous hair with ease.
The oil can also be used to treat skin irritation caused by shaving. It can itself be used to fulfill the purpose of a shaving cream or an aftershave lotion that treats dehydration and itchiness.
Coconut oil has several compounds that lend it anti-bacterial, anti-inflammatory, and anti-oxidant properties. It will also keep blood sugar and blood pressure levels in check and regulate cholesterol levels.
The oil has been known to treat rashes, wounds, and burns. It is also effective in treating Athlete’s Foot and fungal infections. It will also keep insects, flies, bees, and mosquitoes at bay. The oil contains high levels of Lauric acid that lends it anti-fungal characteristics.
You could also use the oil to treat a sore. It will soothe the itching and help it heal faster. Coconut oil is also an excellent anti-aging agent. It will moisturize the skin and promote the growth of healthy skin, increasing skin elasticity. This also removes stretch marks and discoloration.
You could also massage the oil on the cheeks and the hands to remove spots. It is so gentle it could even be used on a baby’s skin. It can soothe diaper rashes as well. For relief from cold, the oil can be blended with spearmint essential oil and then rubbed to the chest. This will promote circulation and remove congestion.
The Grades of Coconut Oil
Coconut Oil Grade
Virgin Coconut Carrier Oil
Coconut Carrier Oil (RBD)
Fractionated Coconut Carrier Oil Medium-Chain Triglyceride 60/40
Coconut Organic Carrier Oil (Refined)
Coconut Virgin Organic Carrier Oil
Coconut Oil Contraindications
Remember that the coconut carrier oil is only for external use. If your skin is not too oily and has developed acne, you’ll find that coconut oil is very useful considering its anti-bacterial nature. However, if your skin is extremely oily, you might find that your condition appears to have worsened. This is because virgin coconut oil is a powerful detox agent that will remove toxins laden deep in the skin.
This gives a false impression of the worsening of the condition. However, the irritation will soon go away in a few weeks. This depends on the level of toxin build-up in your skin. If you do not wish to go this route, you can use coconut oil in the manner of a carrier with essential oils if you experience a lot of acne.
Allergic reactions to coconut oil are rare but they can happen. This includes eczema, anaphylaxis, swelling, nausea, hives, rashes, vomiting, and a rapid heart rate. Children who are allergic to peanuts and tree nuts will not likely experience allergies with coconut oil as coconuts are not nuts. However, it is best to consult an expert before using the oil.
Children who have hypothyroidism should also avoid the use of coconut oil as well as the other related products without consulting their doctor first. This is because the use of coconut oil can worsen the condition.
Pregnant and lactating women should also make it a point to consult their doctors before using coconut oil.
You should always do a patch test before using coconut oil. Apply a small amount of the oil on the inside arm and observe for a few days if you experience any allergic reactions. If you do, consult your doctor at once and stop using the oil. If you do not experience any reactions, the oil is safe to use.
So, what are your thoughts about the miracle that is coconut oil? How do you typically use it? Leave us your ideas in the comments section below!