Coconut oil exploded in popularity over the past decade, but some of its claims to fame have since been questioned or entirely debunked.
That said, coconut oil does provide some health benefits if you use it in moderation or under your doctor's guidance. Here's everything you need to know about coconut oil's benefits, unsupported claims and potential dangers.
Coconut Oil's Health Benefits
It's not ideal for every type of topical use — and should be eaten in moderation — but coconut oil may have some benefits as a remedy for certain health issues. Of course, always consult your doctor before trying to treat a condition at home.
1. May Soothe Itchy Ears
Itchy ears are quite common and often caused by infection, psoriasis or dermatitis, per The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston. Some people make it worse by using things like bobby pins, coat hangers or toothpicks to scratch inside the ear. (Note: Never do this, as it can harm your ear canal and lead to infection.)
When there isn't evidence of trauma or infection, your itchy ear can be treated with a mild steroid ear drop. Your doctor may also recommend the use of 70 percent alcohol as an ear drop, per the University.
Coconut oil is also a common home remedy for itchy ears (and other causes of itching like boils, for that matter), but it's important to consult with your doctor first to determine the cause of the itching. Virgin coconut oil can reduce the bacteria Staphylococcus aureus that tends to colonize skin with atopic dermatitis (eczema), per a November 2008 study in Dermatitis. In other words, its antibacterial properties may be helpful in treating itchy skin caused by eczema.
Your doctor will determine if you should use coconut oil for ear itching and the cause of your itchiness, whether it's eczema, flaky skin in the ear canal, dry skin inside the ears or something else.
Itchy ears can also be caused by wax buildup. Coconut oil is often touted as a home remedy for ear wax, but the Mayo Clinic actually recommends something else:
- Use an eyedropper to apply a few drops of baby oil, mineral oil, glycerin or hydrogen peroxide in your ear canal.
- Once the wax has softened after a day or two, use a rubber-bulb syringe to gently squirt warm water into your ear canal.
- Tilt your head and pull the outside of your ear up and back to straighten the ear canal. Next, tip your head to the side and let the water drain.
- Gently dry your ear thoroughly.
You may need to repeat this procedure a few times to eliminate excess ear wax. Your doctor may need to remove larger amounts of wax buildup for you.
Can You Use Coconut Oil for an Ear Infection?
Some people recommend coconut oil as a natural treatment for an earache or fungal ear infection, especially when mixed with a few drops of essential oil. However, there’s not enough research available to say with certainty that this remedy works. If you have recurrent ear infections, talk to your doctor before putting coconut oil in your ear.
Ear infections can be caused by a range of issues, including allergies, sinusitis, swimming, injuries, bacterial infections or following upper-respiratory illnesses, per Weill Cornell Medicine. It’s important to get medical help quickly to avoid a ruptured eardrum, hearing loss, balance function or even facial inflammation and paralysis caused by ear infections, rather than relying on DIYs like coconut oil.
2. Can Be an Effective Lubricant
Coconut oil can last longer and create less of a mess than other types of cooking oils when used as a sexual lubricant, per UnityPoint Health. However, it can degrade latex and make it less protective, so you should select another lubricant if you are also using diaphragms or condoms.
Unfounded Claims About Coconut Oil
The internet is teeming with claims about coconut oil that simply aren't backed by science. Here's what to know about uses for coconut oil that are not proven based on current research.
1. Does Not Treat Constipation
If you're having recurrent constipation, it's best to see your doctor to determine the underlying cause. Depending on what's causing your constipation, your doctor may recommend diet and lifestyle changes or natural laxatives — including those made with mineral oil — to help stool move through your colon more easily, per the Mayo Clinic.
But does coconut oil help with constipation? Some bloggers may recommend it, but there isn't enough evidence to show that this is an effective home remedy for constipation, and it's not widely recommended by health organizations. In other words, it's not yet certain if coconut oil can really help you poop, relieve constipation or increase bowel movements.
If you want to make dietary changes to help with your constipation, your best bet is to increase your fiber intake, which increases the weight of stool and makes it move through your intestines more quickly, per the Mayo Clinic.
Try to eat more fresh fruits and vegetables each day, and opt for whole-grain breads and cereals (just be careful to increase the amount of these foods in your diet slowly, because upping your fiber too quickly can actually cause constipation, too).
2. Should Not Be Used for Scabies
While coconut oil may help with general itching, it's certainly not enough to effectively treat scabies. Human scabies is caused when your skin is infested by the human itch mite (Sarcoptes scabiei var. hominis), per the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). This microscopic mite burrows into the upper layer of the skin and lays its eggs, which can cause intense itching and a pimple-like skin rash.
Treatments called scabicides that kill scabies mites and sometimes mite eggs in humans are only available with a doctor's prescription, per the CDC. There are no over-the-counter products that have been tested and approved to treat scabies, and coconut oil for mites is not a recommended remedy.
Scabies infestations are very uncomfortable, due to the intense itching that results from the activation of the immune system in response to mites, mite eggs and mite waste. While coconut oil may help ease the itch in the short term while you wait to see your doctor or fill your prescription, it is not an effective treatment or cure for scabies.
What About Coconut Oil for Ringworm?
On the note of uncomfortable, itchy conditions: Talk to your doctor if you’re curious about using coconut oil for ringworm and its symptoms, such as itchy and red skin. Although coconut oil is recommended by some people for ringworm, the treatment you use will depend on its location on your body and how serious it is, per the CDC. Some forms of ringworm need prescription antifungal medication.
3. Does Not Treat Herpes
There is no cure for herpes, per the CDC. Antiviral medications can prevent or shorten outbreaks, and daily suppressive therapy for herpes can reduce your likelihood of transmission to partners, but you certainly can't rely on coconut oil.
This purported use for coconut oil may stem from its potential antiviral properties, but there simply isn't enough evidence to back this up. Coconut oil is made up of about 50 percent 12-carbon lauric acid, and when that's digested, it produces monolaurin (both of which can kill bacteria, viruses and fungi), per SCL Health. However, scientists aren't sure the human body can produce monolaurin from coconut oil.
But what about coconut oil for cold sores, which are caused by the herpes simplex virus? Cold sores typically go away without treatment within two to four weeks, but there are several types of prescription antiviral medications to expedite the healing process, per the Mayo Clinic (which does not include coconut oil as a recommended home remedy for cold sores).
You can try over-the-counter cold sore remedies that contain a drying agent like alcohol or a cream combining rhubarb and sage. Propolis, or synthetic beeswax, is also available as a remedy and can shorten the duration of a breakout.
In short, there's no clear evidence that coconut oil helps herpes sores or blisters, even if it does have antiviral properties.
4. Has No Special Benefits for People With Type O Blood
In 1996, Peter D'Adamo published Eat Right for Your Type, a book based on the idea that people with different blood types thrive on different kinds of diets. If you ask D'Adamo, coconut oil is good for blood group O. However, there's no real scientific evidence to support his claims.
Researchers have looked into the Blood Type Diet and found that while many people do report benefits when following the diet, it's unrelated to their blood type and, instead, is a result of incorporating new healthy dietary and lifestyle changes.
Researchers concluded that no evidence currently exists to validate the purported health benefits of blood type diets in a May 2013 systematic review in the The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.
Following the Blood Type Diet could improve certain health markers like triglycerides, insulin levels and cholesterol, but it's unrelated to blood type, per a January 2014 review in PLOS One.
5. Does Not Improve Heart Health
The effects of coconut oil on heart health are widely debated. A February 2015 study in Applied Physiology, Nutrition, and Metabolism that was done on rodents found that coconut oil and exercise training combined helped improve blood pressure levels, but that's not enough to say that you should load up on the fatty stuff to improve your heart health.
Some people will tout how coconut oil is a miracle cure for heart health or weight loss because of its "special type" of saturated fat, but health organizations still don't recommend it.
Coconut oil is extremely high in saturated fat (50 percent higher than butter), per the Mayo Clinic. Even though saturated fat is known to raise cholesterol levels, which is linked to heart disease, champions of coconut oil believe that some of coconut's saturated fats called medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs) are good for you and may raise levels of beneficial HDL cholesterol.
However, coconut oil has been found to increase both good and bad cholesterol levels more than other plant-based oils like olive or canola, per the Mayo Clinic. And those fancy MCTs you hear about are only a small part of the total fatty acids in coconut oil.
High blood pressure and high cholesterol are linked, because clogged-up arteries mean the heart has to work harder to pump blood (which may raise blood pressure), per the Cleveland Clinic. Because of this, coconut oil could raise your blood pressure in the long run.
Based on the current research, it's best to opt for heart-healthy fats like olive oil, canola oil or the healthy omega-3s found in nuts and seafood. There is not enough evidence to say that coconut oil is good for high blood pressure or can lower your blood pressure, and it may in fact do the opposite.
What About Coconut Oil for Energy?
The MCT fats in coconut oil may help to boost thermogenesis and/or fat burning in the body. Because they can enter your cells without breaking down, MCTs can be used as a source of energy right away, per a June 2016 study in the Journal of Lipid Research.
That’s why when you look up how to use coconut oil or more generally what to do with coconut oil, some athletes will recommend you use coconut oil on toast, put coconut oil in protein shakes or have MCT oil before a workout.
However, there are not enough long-term studies that show there’s a need for most people to use MCT oil.
If you’re interested in feeling more energized naturally, talk to your doctor. There are several ways to do so, including controlling your stress, exercising, eating a healthy diet, limiting alcohol and drinking water, per Harvard Health Publishing.
6. Does Not Get Rid of Wrinkles
Coconut oil is often touted to help with wrinkles, smoker's lines and other signs of aging, but there isn't clear evidence to support that coconut oil is good for wrinkles on the face.
Instead, common ingredients that might result in some improvement in the appearance of your skin include retinoids, vitamin C, hydroxy acids, coenzyme Q10, peptides, tea extracts, grape seed extract and niacinamide — but most over-the-counter wrinkle creams will only slightly improve the appearance of your skin, per the Mayo Clinic.
Some people say a coconut oil face massage can be beneficial. But while the oil may give the appearance of smoothing out lines, it doesn't penetrate the skin or produce collagen, per the skin care company Skin Resource.MD. It also has one of the highest comedogenic ratings, meaning it can clog your pores easily, which could be an issue for sensitive or blemish-prone skin. This is one of coconut oil's disadvantages for skin.
The best ways to reduce premature skin aging include protecting your skin with broad-spectrum, SPF 30 (or higher) sunscreen every day, refraining from smoking, eating a healthy and well-balanced diet, drinking less alcohol, exercising most days, cleansing your skin gently twice a day and applying moisturizer daily, per the American Academy of Dermatology Association.
7. Does Not Treat Pink Eye
Pink eye, or conjunctivitis, causes red and swollen eyes (sometimes with discharge). It occurs when your conjunctiva — the clear tissue covering the white part of your eyes — is irritated by allergies or an infection, per the American Academy of Ophthalmology (AAO). Naturally, you may want to know how to fix pink eye fast.
Though most pink eye will resolve itself in a week or two, some forms of the condition are extremely contagious, per the CDC. Visit your doctor to determine if you can spread it or not.
You'll also need to see a doctor right away if you're in pain, having trouble seeing or becoming sensitive to light. Check back in with your doctor if your symptoms have continued for a week or more, your eye is producing a lot of pus or mucus or if you have other infection symptoms like fever or aches, per the AAO.
Although coconut oil is sometimes touted as one of the home remedies for a pink-eye infection, there's not enough research to prove its effectiveness, and it could potentially make the eye condition worse, according to the AAO. Instead, the organization recommends the following:
- Stop wearing contact lenses and eye makeup
- Use over-the-counter lubricating eye drops
- Take ibuprofen
- Put a warm, damp washcloth over your eyes for a few minutes
8. Is Not an Effective Natural Deodorant
It probably doesn't hurt to try coconut oil on your armpits, but there isn't any clear evidence that coconut oil is effective against Staphylococcus hominis, the type of bacteria responsible for creating stinky underarm odor.
In other words, some people say coconut oil can be used as deodorant — but just because it's been shown to be mildly antibacterial doesn't mean putting coconut oil on your underarms can protect against the specific type of bacteria that cause odors.
Coconut Oil's Risks and Drawbacks
Home remedies can be fun to try, but coconut oil can come with its own dangers. Here's what to keep in mind when you try using coconut oil at home.
1. High in Saturated Fat
One tablespoon of coconut oil contains 11.2 grams of saturated fat, per the USDA, which is the primary drawback of eating this oil.
The American Heart Association (AHA) recommends getting no more than 5 to 6 percent of your calories from saturated fat, which equates to about 120 calories (or 13 grams) of saturated fat per day for a 2,000-calorie diet. The AHA does not make exceptions for the MCT fats found in coconut oil.
Replacing foods that are high in saturated fat with healthier options can help lower blood cholesterol levels, per the AHA. That means replacing tropical oils like coconut oil or palm oil with healthier sources like olive oil.
2. May Increase the Risk of Slips and Falls
Coconut oil is invisible on surfaces and very slippery. Because of this, it may be risky to use coconut oil in the shower. (What's more, coconut oil can harden in pipes when they cool and can cause blockages, per AMLI Residential.) Any spills should be cleaned promptly to prevent slips and falls.
3. Could Contribute to Gallstones
Coconut oil may not be part of a healthy diet that prevents gallstones, which are hard pieces of material typically made of cholesterol or bilirubin that form in your gallbladder, per the National Institutes of Health (NIH). They can cause sudden pain and serious complications if left untreated.
Chronic alcohol abuse, viral C cirrhosis and nonalcoholic fatty liver disease are the underlying liver diseases most commonly associated with gallstones, per a June 2014 study in the World Journal of Gastroenterology. Foods high in saturated fat like coconut may not be good for your liver, either: Saturated fat can harm the human liver more than unsaturated fats or simple sugars, per an August 2018 study in Diabetes Care.
Note that gallstones are different from gallbladder sludge, a thick material that can't be absorbed by bile and builds up in the gallbladder — often in pregnant people or those who have lost weight very quickly, per Johns Hopkins Medicine.
To prevent gallstones, the NIH recommends eating healthy fats like fish oil and olive oil, which will help your gallbladder contract and empty on a regular basis. (A fatty diet can lead to gallstones, and remember, coconut oil is very high in saturated fat). It's also a good idea to eat more fiber-rich foods and fewer refined carbohydrates and sugar.
If coconut oil is a regular part of your diet, consider healthier cooking options to manage your fat intake and weight — and to prevent gallstones.
You should see a doctor right away if you have symptoms during or after a gallbladder attack, which may include pain in your abdomen lasting several hours, nausea and vomiting, fever or chills, yellowish color of you skin or whites of your eyes, tea-colored urine or light-colored stools, per the NIH.
4. Hydrogenated Coconut Oil Contains Trans Fat
If you see a jar of coconut oil labeled as "partially hydrogenated," it's best to avoid it. Although coconut oil mostly contains saturated fats, sometimes its small amount of unsaturated fats are hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated, per the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.
This is done to extend shelf life and maintain a solid texture even in warm temperatures, but the process creates trans fats, which should always be avoided.
Trans fat is the worst fat for your health, per the National Library of Medicine. Too much trans fat increases your risk of heart disease and other health issues by raising your LDL (bad) cholesterol, lowering HDL (good) cholesterol and causing weight gain. Your body doesn't need trans fat, so eat as little as possible.
Saturated fat has long been a coconut oil health controversy (with many people recommending it despite a lack of evidence), but one thing is clear: Hydrogenated coconut oil and its trans fat are a danger for your health.
How to Use Coconut Oil
If you want to use coconut oil in your everyday cooking, do so in moderation. The AHA recommends opting instead for unsaturated oils such as canola, corn, olive, soybean and safflower.
A serving size of coconut oil is 1 tablespoon, but keep in mind that this equates to 56 percent of your daily value for saturated fat and 121 calories.
Talk to your doctor about dosage if you're using coconut oil topically as a home remedy or treatment.
Is This an Emergency?
- The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston: "Itchy Ears"
- Dermatitis: "Novel antibacterial and emollient effects of coconut and virgin olive oils in adult atopic dermatitis"
- Mayo Clinic: "Home Remedies: Effective earwax removal"
- Weill Cornell Medicine: "What Can Cause Chronic Ear Infections?"
- UnityPoint Health: "Lube for Every Body"
- Mayo Clinic: "Constipation"
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: "Parasites - Scabies"
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: "Parasites-Scabies Treatment"
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: "Treatment for Ringworm"
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: "Genital Herpes Treatment and Care"
- SCL Health: "Coconut Oil: Friend or Foe?"
- Mayo Clinic: "Cold Sore"
- The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition: "Blood type diets lack supporting evidence: a systematic review"
- PLOS One: "ABO Genotype, ‘Blood-Type’ Diet and Cardiometabolic Risk Factors"
- Applied Physiology, Nutrition, and Metabolism: "Coconut oil supplementation and physical exercise improves baroreflex sensitivity and oxidative stress in hypertensive rats"
- Mayo Clinic: "Don't get tricked by these 3 heart-health myths"
- Cleveland Clinic: "Cholesterol: High Cholesterol Diseases"
- Mayo Clinic: "Wrinkle creams: Your guide to younger looking skin"
- Skin Resource.MD: "No, You Should Not Use Coconut Oil On Your Face"
- American Academy of Dermatology Association: "11 Ways to Reduce Premature Skin Aging"
- Journal of Lipid Research: "Short- and medium-chain fatty acids in energy metabolism: the cellular perspective"
- Harvard Health Publishing: "9 tips to boost your energy — naturally"
- American Academy of Ophthalmology: "Conjunctivitis: What Is Pink Eye?"
- American Academy of Ophthalmology: "Quick Home Remedies for Pink Eye"
- MyFoodData: "Coconut Oil"
- American Heart Association: "Saturated Fat"
- AMLI Residential: "10 Things That Should Never Go Down The Drain (And Why)"
- National Institutes of Health: "Definition & Facts for Gallstones"
- World Journal of Gastroenterology: "Gallstones in patients with liver cirrhosis: Incidence, etiology, clinical and therapeutical aspects"
- Johns Hopkins Medicine: "Cholecystitis"
- Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health: "Coconut Oil"
- U.S. National Library of Medicine: "Facts about trans fats"
- Diabetes Care: "Saturated Fat Is More Metabolically Harmful for the Human Liver Than Unsaturated Fat or Simple Sugars"
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: "Conjunctivitis (Pink Eye)"