Coconut oil is all the rage in natural beauty and health regimens. Countless blogs and natural health websites tout it as a miracle product, able to do everything from soothe cracked skin to reverse cavities. But when you break coconut oil down into its active parts, like lauric acid, things start to look less miraculous and more like science!
Lauric acid is a medium-length long-chain fatty acid, or lipid, that makes up about half of the fatty acids within coconut oil. It’s a powerful substance that is sometimes extracted from the coconut for use in developing monolaurin. Monolaurin is an antimicrobial agent that is able to fight bacteria, viruses, yeasts, and other pathogens. Because you can’t ingest lauric acid alone (it’s irritating and not found alone in nature), you’re most likely to get it in the form of coconut oil or from fresh coconuts.
It’s All About the Lauric Acid?
Though coconut oil is being studied at a breakneck pace, much of the research doesn’t pinpoint what in the oil is responsible for its reported benefits. Because coconut oil contains much more than just lauric acid, it would be a stretch to credit it with all of the coconut oil benefits. Still, a 2015 analysis suggests that many of the benefits tied to coconut oil are directly linked to lauric acid. Among the benefits, they suggest lauric acid could aid weight loss and even protect against Alzheimer’s disease. Its effects on blood cholesterol levels still need to be clarified.
This research suggests that the benefits of lauric acid are due to how the body uses it. The majority of lauric acid is sent directly to the liver, where it’s converted to energy rather than stored as fat. When compared with other saturated fats, lauric acid contributes the least to fat storage.
Bloggers and natural health websites often recommend coconut oil as a treatment for dry skin and conditions like psoriasis. Again, because lauric acid is only part of what makes up coconut oil, it’s difficult to say if the fat itself is responsible for these benefits, or if it’s a combination of coconut oil components.
Still, one study suggests coconut oil is just as safe and possibly more effective than mineral oil — a cheap and common ingredient in skin lotions — when it comes to treating abnormally dry skin. Another study found that merely adding virgin coconut oil to an existing skin lotion was able to increase both hydration and skin elasticity.
Because lauric acid has antibacterial properties, it has been found to effectively combat acne. The bacteria P. acnes is found naturally on the skin, but is responsible for the development of acne when it overgrows. The results of a 2009 study found that lauric acid could reduce inflammation and the number of bacterium present. Lauric acid worked even better than benzoyl peroxide, a common acne treatment.
Note: This doesn’t mean you should put coconut oil on your acne! The researchers used pure lauric acid, and suggested it could be developed into an antibiotic therapy for acne in the future.
Reaping the Benefits
You can reap the topical benefits of lauric acid and coconut oil by applying it directly to your skin. While this isn’t recommended in the case of acne, the risks are minimal for skin hydration and psoriasis.
In the Kitchen
You can also use coconut oil in cooking! Its sweet, nutty flavor makes it perfect for desserts, like our recipes for double-chocolate paleo brownies and paleo banana bread. You can also use it to sauté vegetables, or add it to mashed sweet potatoes or a Caribbean curry soup.