There is so much buzz in the media about the uses and benefits of coconut, but is it just the next big product push?
By Adrienne West
Walk past a shelf in CVS or Whole Foods, and you will see the word coconut everywhere. Google coconut oil and it brings up more than 28 million hits. This latest health and beauty trend has a lot of people talking, but what is the science behind the hype? Should we be drinking coconut water, rubbing coconut oil on our skin and using coconut milk in our food?
Jane Mahan, a registered dietitian in Herndon, stresses the importance of a varied diet. “You don’t want too much of anything,” she says. “Virgin coconut oil is high in saturated fat that raises both good and bad cholesterol levels, so always get a checkup first from your doctor.” Mahan suggests conducting more research on websites like the Mayo Clinic and the National Institute of Health.
Sherma Jack-Brisseau, registered dietician and licensed nutritionist with Kaiser Permanente Mid-Atlantic Permanente Medical Group, says the trend of oil pulling can actually benefit you. “Swishing coconut oil for 10-20 minutes is helpful in cleansing the mouth, removing bacteria and detoxifying the gum areas,” she says. “First thing in the morning, you can use it while you are showering, and by the time you’ve finished bathing, the treatment is over and you can rinse your mouth.”
When asked if coconut water is better than plain water, she recommends looking at the packaging and considering where you purchase it. “Drinking coconut water has benefits because it is lower in calories as compared to soda or sugar-sweetened beverages,” she says. “It is higher in electrolytes like potassium and sodium. Commercially packaged coconut water may not have the same health benefits as natural coconut water that you may find at holistic markets.” Jack-Brisseau adds that “coconut milk is fine in small amounts for cooking” and that it’s popular in Caribbean and Thai dishes, but she warns against using coconut oil in the same way. “Coconut oil is considered a saturated fat, and we do not advise our patients to consume or to use it for cooking purposes,” she says. However, she notes it is okay to use it on the hair and skin.
We turned to a local skincare expert to get some further information on the topical use of coconut oil. Dr. Lily Talakoub, owner of McLean Dermatology & Skincare Center, speaks to its many uses: “Coconut oil is one of the best oils for the skin, and it can be used on any dry areas. It can help smooth the cuticle of the hair follicle to help damaged and broken hair, and you can use it as makeup remover. There are a lot of antioxidants, and it’s very hydrating to the skin.” Her favorite use for coconut oil is as a shaving lubricant: “It’s the best thing to use on your legs instead of soap or shave gel; it’s amazing.”
When asked for product recommendations, she didn’t have any specifically in mind, but she did caution about choosing the right type. “You don’t want to put nutritional coconut oil on the skin,” she says. “The solid oil products [found at the grocery store] can cause significant clogging of the pores and worsen acne. There are many products out there that contain cosmetic-grade coconut oil; you can find them at stores like Sephora.” Talakoub notes that you should test a dab of oil on the inside of your wrist first to check for an allergic reaction.
Try these products to incorporate this trend into your skincare routine: