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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.
However, when you break coconut oil down into its active parts, things start to look less miraculous and more like science.
Lauric acid is one of those active parts. It’s a medium-length long-chain fatty acid, or lipid, that makes up about half of the fatty acids within coconut oil.
Lauric acid is a powerful substance that’s sometimes extracted from the coconut for use in developing monolaurin. Monolaurin is an antimicrobial agent that’s able to fight pathogens such as bacteria, viruses, and yeasts.
Because it’s irritating and not found alone in nature, you can’t ingest lauric acid on its own. You’re most likely to get it in the form of coconut oil or from fresh coconuts.
Fast facts about coconut oil
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 lauric acid with all of coconut oil’s benefits.
Still, a 2015 analysis proposed that many of the benefits tied to coconut oil are directly linked to lauric acid. They suggest that lauric acid could aid in weight loss and protect against Alzheimer’s disease, among other benefits. Its effects on blood cholesterol levels still need to be clarified.
This research suggests that the benefits of lauric acid are a result of how the body uses the acid.
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 such as psoriasis.
Again, because lauric acid is only part of what makes up coconut oil, it’s difficult to say if the fatty acid alone or a combination of coconut oil components is responsible for these benefits.
Coconut oil is highly moisturizing and considered safe to apply to skin, making it beneficial for treating abnormally dry skin.
A 2013 study found that merely adding virgin coconut oil to an existing skin lotion resulted in an increase in both hydration and skin elasticity.
Because lauric acid has antibacterial properties, it’s been found to effectively combat acne. The bacteria Propionibacterium acnes are found naturally on the skin. When they overgrow, they lead to the development of acne.
The results of a 2009 study found that lauric acid could reduce inflammation and the number of bacteria present. Lauric acid worked even better than benzoyl peroxide, a common acne treatment. A 2016 study also reconfirmed the acne-fighting properties of lauric acid.
This doesn’t mean you should put coconut oil on your acne. The researchers used pure lauric acid and suggested that it could be developed into an antibiotic therapy for acne in the future.
To reap the topical benefits of lauric acid and coconut oil, apply it directly to your skin. While this isn’t recommended for people with acne, the risks are minimal when it comes to addressing issues such as skin hydration and psoriasis.
Even if coconut oil isn’t quite the cure-all that others claim it to be, it still has multiple health benefits. Lauric acid may be directly responsible for some of those benefits.
Be mindful of how much fat you take in overall, but don’t hesitate to add coconut oil or lauric acid to your diet. Topical use may transform your skin care routine too.