Can coconut oil make you beautiful?
London – Barely a day goes by without a new claim for the miraculous beauty benefits of virgin coconut oil.
‘Virgin’ means it is made from the first pressing of fresh, raw coconut with no chemicals added. If you believe the hype, almost every product in your bathroom cabinet could be replaced with the stuff. Think of the savings!
Gwyneth Paltrow and Sadie Frost apparently wash out their mouths with it, and supermodel Gisele Bundchen says she uses it on her skin after being in the sun.
Angelina Jolie is said to eat it for breakfast and fellow actress Blake Lively rubs it into the ends of her hair.
Solid and waxy-looking in the jar, it melts to an oil as soon as you handle it and is said to leave skin butter-soft.
There are countless websites devoted to the wonder oil, claiming it can successfully treat everything from stretch marks and cellulite to mosquito bites, sunburn and acne.
The lauric acid in it is credited with antibacterial, antifungal and anti-inflammatory properties, hence its popularity as an oral rinse.
Yet despite the surge in demand for coconut oil, there is little scientific data on its health benefits.
So are we right to be nuts about it?
I decided to put the beauty claims to the test. I would have my hair, mouth and skin analysed by experts, then replace my usual beauty products for a month with a jar of coconut oil (Groovy Food Organic Virgin Coconut Oil, £5.99 for 283ml jar at Waitrose). Here’s what happened...
Method: I put a penny-sized blob on two cotton wool pads and use it to remove eye-make up at night. Celebrity make-up artist Oonagh Connor says: ‘I’m already a fan of coconut oil. It’s great for getting make-up off – particularly waterproof eye make-up.’
Results: Oonagh says the coconut oil is working well for me. ‘It’s thick and can clog pores, so the trick is to use as little as possible. A tiny spot of coconut oil will lift off quite a lot of eye make-up.’
Will I Switch? Definitely. It lifts off make-up more easily than my usual oily make-up remover and leaves the area around my eyes feeling nicely moisturised, too.
THICK, SHINY HAIR
Method: I find most hair conditioners make my thin hair look greasy, so I stick to using it on the dry ends. I follow the same routine with the coconut oil.
Dr Elena Dimitrova, a clinical dermatologist and expert in hair loss at The Belgravia Centre in London, says: ‘Coconut oil may well prove useful in smoothing the hair shaft and improving texture, but it can’t create hair roots or halt hair loss caused by, say, hormones. So I’m sceptical that it will make your hair feel thicker.
‘Your hair is in very good condition and your pull test (a light pull which, in healthy hair, should cause no more than five hairs to come out) is within normal range.’
Results: Dr Dimitrova says: ‘You don’t have additional hair growth – I didn’t think you would – but the existing hair has been maintained in excellent condition even though you haven’t cut it.
‘After a month I would typically expect to see more hair breakage than this, so coconut oil has definitely been a good conditioner for your hair.’
Will I Switch? Not entirely. I’ll be keeping my usual conditioner because I usually blow-dry my hair after washing and the oil doesn’t work well with heat.
As I discover the hard way, heat breaks down the oil and creates an extremely unpleasant smell. But I’ll keep using the oil as an occasional leave-in conditioner at night.
Method: Apply some coconut oil to a cotton bud or clean mascara wand, then gently smooth from the base of the lashes to the tips. This is best done at night after you’ve taken your make-up off, as mascara doesn’t sit well on top of coconut oil.
Dr Dimitrova says: ‘As with your hair, the coconut oil cannot produce more eyelashes than you already have. I’m not convinced we’ll see much of a difference here.’
Results: Dr Dimitrova says: ‘I can’t see any change. Possibly it would help if your eyelashes were very brittle, but yours weren’t in bad condition in the first place.’
Will I Switch? As I’m still not very adept at getting the right amount of oil on the cotton wool pad when I’m using it as make-up remover, a lot of it gets on my lashes anyway, so I might do this accidentally - but I don’t hold out any hope that it will make them lusher or longer.
Method: I run a lot so my feet are a mess. I’ve got one black toenail and swollen toe, peeling skin on the end of all my toes and cracking under my heels. My routine for the month will be to melt a bit of coconut oil in my hand and rub it into the foot, especially the dry and cracked area.
I’ll then wrap my feet in clingfilm and, ideally, leave the oil on overnight. I’ve been advised not to wear socks, as the oil will sink into them instead of the skin. The routine must be repeated every couple of nights for mild dryness and every night for more severe cracking.
Adnan Nazir, of The London Foot Clinic, says: ‘It may well be a good moisturiser and could also improve the peeling skin on your toes. As to whether it helps that black toenail, I’ll be interested to see.
‘Don’t use it between your toes, though, as it could encourage fungal infection.’
Results: Mr Nazir says: ‘I’m really very impressed. There is a marked difference in the quality of skin on your feet, and that damaged toenail – which I would expect to take months to heal – has got a lot better in four weeks. I will definitely be recommending this in future.’
Will I Switch? Definitely. I’m really delighted with my prettier feet.
Method: The technique is called ‘oil pulling’ and involves swishing a tablespoon of oil around the mouth for around 20 minutes each day before you spit it out. This is said to reduce plaque and bacteria, and so helps to fight gum disease.
Cosmetic dentist Dr Mervyn Druian, from The London Centre for Cosmetic Dentistry, says: ‘Like many people, you have mild gum disease which makes your gums red and swollen in places and will make them bleed more easily.
‘Most tooth loss in adults is caused by gum disease, so it’s important to get on top of it. If oil pulling helps, great.’
Results: ‘In your case it hasn’t made any difference, I’m afraid. I’m not against the oil pulling but would advise my patients to use it alongside three-monthly visits to the dental hygienist.’
Will I Switch? No. It made no difference, oil pulling feels cloying and the taste of coconut is overpowering. I’ll go to see my hygienist instead.
Method: As the coconut oil gives quite a shiny finish, I used it at night with a tiny top-up in the morning, if needed.
Dr Sam Bunting, a Harley Street cosmetic dermatalogist, tells me my skin is prone to redness, flushing and the appearance of broken blood vessels. ‘I’d be very wary of using something as heavy as coconut oil,’ she tells me. ‘It has a high comedogenic rating (tendency to block pores) and for someone with quite reactive skin, I predict it may well cause break-outs and irritation.’
Results: Since using the coconut oil I have been suffering from patches of irritated skin and pimples in the folds between my nose and the corners of my mouth. Dr Bunting says: ‘This is almost certainly caused by the change in your beauty routine. Someone with your fair skin type also needs to use a high SPF every day, and a sunscreen won’t sit well on top of coconut oil.’
Will I Switch? No way. My skin looks red and splotchy. It’s oily on my forehead, dry around my mouth. Where’s my moisturiser?
Method: Mix two tablespoons of baking soda with two tablespoons of coconut oil to make a smooth paste. Add a drop or two of peppermint oil to make it taste a bit more like toothpaste.
Dr Druian says: ‘Home-made toothpaste doesn’t contain fluoride, which helps to prevent cavities and strengthen your enamel. Bicarbonate of soda is abrasive and can damage enamel.’ He is sceptical that it will have any whitening properties.
Results: I ditched this after five days. DIY toothpaste is horrible. Your mouth feels slimy and dirty, your breath doesn’t smell fresh and bicarb of soda feels too abrasive. My teeth are no whiter.
Will I Switch? Never.Daily Mail