What is coconut oil?
Coconut oil is more than just a healthy cooking alternative — its moisturizing properties can be great for your hair and skin. Some of its active ingredients are even thought to help minimize scars. Although more research is needed, the evidence is promising.
Read on to learn how it may affect different types of scars, how to use it at home, possible side effects, and more.
What are the purported benefits?
Most of the research on coconut oil has to do with wounds and dermatitis (eczema). In both cases, coconut oil can help by acting as a thick, moisturizing barrier as the skin heals. Such effects could, in theory, help with early scar treatment.
Coconut oil is also said to help boost collagen production. Not only could increasing collagen in the skin help with fine lines, it could also help minimize scarring by binding new skin tissue together.
Other purported benefits include making your skin tone more even, which could help with scar-related redness and other hyperpigmentation.
Although marketers often make these claims about coconut oil, more research is needed to actually back the claims up.
Much of these perceived benefits have to do with its naturally high vitamin E content. It’s still unclear whether coconut oil itself — and not its individual components — could definitively help with scarring.
What the research says about coconut oil’s effects on scarring
Scars are complex, and their treatment is perhaps even more so. If you’re considering coconut oil as an alternative treatment, it’s important to know that research about its effects is mixed at best. In some cases, the oil could cause more harm than good.
You should always talk to your doctor before using an alternative remedy. They can go over any potential side effects and other interactions.
Acne scars can develop after a breakout. This happens from a breakdown of the collagen fibers surrounding the pore. Ice pick, boxcar, and rolling scars are common types. You might be considering coconut oil to boost collagen and repair the skin. Some people even try the oil to get rid of dark spots left over from acne.
One key ingredient in coconut oil is the antioxidant vitamin E. However, research of its use for scars and other dermatologic conditions was considered inconclusive. This was based on a review of 65 years’ worth of research done on vitamin E, not coconut oil.
Vitamin E application is a popular practice, but there still needs to be more research to prove it makes a difference.
Lauric acid, another coconut oil ingredient, has also been studied for its potential in reducing Propionibacterium acnes (P. acnes) bacteria in certain forms of inflammatory acne. This could help prevent future acne lesions and the scars that often come with them.
Stretch marks occur when the middle layer of skin (dermis) stretches at a rapid rate. This can be a result of pregnancy or other weight gain. Once stretch marks occur, they’re difficult to get rid of.
Stretch marks can naturally fade in color over time, thereby becoming less noticeable. Still, you might be wondering if coconut oil can help speed up these effects.
A review of studies on various oils for stretch mark treatment found no real effect on these types of scars. More research is needed to see if coconut oil specifically offers any benefit for stretch marks.
Atrophic scars consist of depressed marks in the skin. Some of these can occur from acne in the form of icepick or boxcar scars. Others can occur from a previous chickenpox virus or injuries. These scars can be oval or round-shaped, with or without hyperpigmentation.
One theory is that coconut oil can produce more collagen in the skin. If you’re dealing with atrophic scars, it might seem that increased collagen could even out the depression marks in your skin. Research is needed to support this theory.
Any time your skin is wounded, scar tissue forms while new permanent tissues are being generated. Surgery is a more extreme example. Some people use vitamin E products immediately after a surgery wound has healed to help prevent scarring.
The research on coconut oil for surgical scars is mixed. One 1999 study found that vitamin E worsened surgical scar appearance on human participants.
These results differed from a 2010 rat study that observed improvements from wounds with coconut oil. Researchers in this study suggest that the oil lead to increased collagen production, which helped the skin tissues heal quicker.
Hypertrophic scars are those that have the most collagen losses. As your wound heals, a larger amount of scar tissue forms in a thick area. Although coconut oil is said to help with collagen losses, research on vitamin E for hypertrophic scars is mixed.
On the flip side, another study on post-surgery scarring found that vitamin E helped prevent keloids from developing after surgery. Keloids are types of hypertrophic scars that look like masses of raised tissues in a given area.
Given the mixed results between hypertrophic scarring and keloids from vitamin E, more research needs to be done on coconut oil.
Contracture scars are scars left over from traumatic injuries. Not only might you be dealing with the scar itself, but the area can be painful, too. Due to their severity, scar contractures are usually treated with skin grafting and other surgical procedures.
To prevent scarring from a traumatic injury, you might be considering coconut oil. Reports of older research found that vitamin E had no noticeable effect on contracture scars. More research is needed to confirm or update this finding.
How to use it
Coconut oil is available over the counter. You can buy it in pure form or as an ingredient within a product. For best results, use the product at least twice a day, morning and night. Follow all product instructions for correct dosage.
But before you get started, you’ll want to do a patch test first. This helps to determine whether you’re sensitive to the oil.
To do this:
- Apply a small amount on your forearm.
- Cover the area with a bandage.
- If you don’t experience any irritation or inflammation within 24 hours, the product is likely safe to use elsewhere.
No matter which form of coconut oil you choose, you need to wear sunscreen every day. Not only does this prevent sun damage, but it can also prevent your scars from darkening and becoming more noticeable.
Possible side effects and risks
Like any skin care ingredient, coconut oil can cause adverse reactions in some users. Performing a skin patch test is the only way to determine how your skin will react to the oil.
You shouldn’t use coconut oil if you’re allergic to coconut.
Products to try
When buying coconut oil, you have a few options. First, you can try pure coconut oil, such as this multipurpose product from Viva Naturals.
You can also try general skincare products containing coconut oil, such as Advanced Clinicals Coconut Oil Cream.
Or you can opt for products designed specifically for scar treatment. Popular options on Amazon include:
No matter which product you choose, always do a patch test first.
When to see your dermatologist
Although coconut oil is widely considered a natural product, its effects can be just as powerful as regular cosmetics.
It’s wise to check with your dermatologist before using any product to treat your scars at home. They may be able to recommend more effective alternatives.
If you do opt for coconut oil, watch for any unusual symptoms. You should also discontinue use if you experience any irritation and see your doctor if your symptoms persist.
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