You’ve probably heard about some of the health benefits of coconut oil. Research has shown that it may help boost brain function, increase good cholesterol, and even help with weight loss.

It can also benefit your skin in numerous ways, which is why it’s become a popular ingredient in many beauty products.

But what about using coconut oil for tanning? Does it allow you to get a golden glow from the sun without any risks or side effects? Can you tan safely with it? This article will help to answer those questions.

Spending too much time in the sun, especially without any sun protection, can damage your skin, cause premature aging, and lead to skin cancer.

In fact, according to the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD), skin cancer is the most common cancer in the United States. It’s estimated that 1 in 5 Americans will develop skin cancer in their lifetime.

The AAD also reports that the rate of melanoma, the most dangerous form of skin cancer, has risen 800 percent among women ages 18 to 39. Exposure to ultraviolet light from the sun or tanning beds is the biggest risk factor for the majority of melanoma cases.

Because exposure to UV light is the most preventable risk factor for skin cancer, the AAD advises against using tanning beds and encourages everyone to protect their skin from the sun’s harmful UV rays.

A 2009 study found that coconut oil had a sun protection factor (SPF) around 8. But, this study was conducted in the lab, and not on human skin.

It is estimated that coconut oil only blocks about 20 percent of the sun’s UV rays. This isn’t enough to protect your skin from the sun’s UVA and UVB rays–both of which can damage your skin.

According to the AAD, you need a sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher if you want sufficient UV protection, and you need to reapply it every two hours.

If you only use coconut oil on your skin, with no other sun protection, your skin won’t be getting the protection it needs, especially if you spend an extended amount of time outdoors. If you have fair skin, coconut oil will likely be even less effective at keeping your skin safe from the sun’s UV rays.

While it’s not advisable to rely on coconut oil for sun protection or a safe tan, it can help your skin in other ways.

Coconut oil has a high concentration of medium-chain fatty acids, which are a form of saturated fat. These fatty acids, which work in different ways on the skin, can provide a variety of benefits.

Can moisturize skin

People living in the tropics have used coconut oil as a moisturizer for centuries. In a small 2018 study, researchers found that participants with very dry skin saw a significant improvement in the hydration of their skin after using coconut oil for two weeks.

May reduce inflammation

A 2018 study suggested that coconut oil may have anti-inflammatory properties, especially for specific skin conditions. Chronic inflammation plays a key role in many different types of skin disorders, including psoriasis, eczema, and contact dermatitis.

According to a 2017 study, people who use coconut oil tend to experience less inflammation after being exposed to UVB radiation. Scientists believe the oil’s high levels of polyphenols and fatty acids could provide inflammation protection, along with a barrier-enhancing effect.

Has antimicrobial properties

Coconut oil can kill harmful microorganisms. The lauric acid in the oil contains monolaurin, which helps break down the membrane of lipid-coated bacteria. Coconut oil can kill pathogens on your skin, including bacteria, viruses, and fungi.

May help wounds heal

Some research has shown that coconut oil’s antimicrobial properties may help wounds heal faster.

In a 2010 study done on rats, virgin coconut oil sped up healing, improved the skin’s antioxidant status, and increased levels of collagen. Another animal study found that using coconut oil with an antibiotic helped to heal burn wounds.

  • Wear sunscreen. The AAD recommends using an SPF of 30 or higher, which blocks about 97 percent of the sun’s harmful rays. Apply sunscreen at least 15 minutes before going outside and reapply at least every 2 hours or every hour if you’re swimming or sweating.
  • Cover up. Wear protective clothing, wide-brimmed hats, and sunglasses when outside, especially between the hours of 10 a.m. and 4 p.m.
  • Seek shade. Stay in shady areas when possible to help protect yourself from the sun’s rays.
  • Avoid tanning beds. People who use a tanning bed before age 35 increase their risk for melanoma by 59 percent, and risk increases with every use.
  • Try a sunless self-tanner. Wait at least 12 hours after shaving to apply a self-tanner. Remember to apply sunscreen each time you go out in the sun, even if sunscreen is already included in the self-tanning product.

Although coconut oil can benefit your skin in many ways, it isn’t advisable to use it for tanning. While it offers some protection from the sun’s damaging UV rays, it doesn’t offer a high enough level of protection to prevent you from getting sunburned or suffering other types of long-lasting skin damage.

A safer alternative is to use a sunless self-tanner. These products are relatively inexpensive, and can give you a healthy glow without damaging your skin.