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Coconut Oil for Eczema: Effectiveness, Benefits, and Uses

Posted on February 25, 2021
Medically reviewed by
Kevin Berman, M.D., Ph.D.
Article written by
Victoria Menard

Although there’s no cure for eczema (also known as atopic dermatitis), certain treatments and at-home remedies may relieve symptoms like dry skin, itchiness, and scaliness.

Coconut oil — an oil pressed from fresh or dried coconut meat with a paste-like consistency at room temperature — is one popular product that many members of MyEczemaTeam have tried to manage their eczema symptoms. It's important to consider the potential benefits of coconut oil and whether it can be used to manage your symptoms.

Is Coconut Oil Effective for Eczema?

The short answer, according to the National Eczema Association (NEA), is: It depends.

First, it’s important to note that coconut oil cannot cure eczema, but may help alleviate dryness and itchiness associated with eczema. There is no cure for the skin condition at this time, and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) must approve a medication before it can be considered to effectively treat a health condition.

That said, some of coconut oil’s properties may make it beneficial in the everyday management of symptoms like dry skin. As the NEA notes, one of the first steps to managing itchy skin caused by eczema is to prevent it with daily moisturizing, which helps replenish the skin barrier. Because coconut oil can penetrate the skin quickly and efficiently, it can help hydrate and fight itchiness associated with dry skin.

One member of MyEczemaTeam shared their experience using coconut oil compared to prescription treatments: “I think I’ve found what is helping: coconut oil! It’s taking a little longer than the steroid creams, but I can tell [there’s] a difference! I’ve been using it for three days now, and it seems to be working, slowly but surely!”

Research on the Benefits of Coconut Oil for Eczema

Although coconut oil isn’t FDA approved to treat eczema, several studies have identified skin benefits.

One study conducted in 2018 found that coconut oil has anti-inflammatory properties, which could help protect the skin from the inflammation characteristic of eczema and enhance the skin barrier function.

Another study published by the Journal of Traditional and Complementary Medicine revealed that coconut oil has antifungal and antibacterial properties. It was effective in reducing the presence of multiple pathogens (foreign bodies), including bacteria, fungi, and viruses. This is because coconut oil contains lauric acid, a fatty acid also found in breast milk that’s involved in fighting against bacteria, fungi, yeast, viruses, and other pathogens.

Because eczema is characterized by a reduction in the skin’s ability to protect itself from environmental factors like allergens and irritants, coconut oil’s antimicrobial properties may help manage symptoms triggered by these substances.

The 2018 study also found that coconut oil has anti-inflammatory properties, which could help protect the skin from the inflammation characteristic of eczema.

The potential uses of coconut oil have been studied regarding many different types of diseases. One study, in particular, focused on children with eczema. The study, published by the International Journal of Dermatology, found that virgin coconut oil applied topically for eight weeks improved skin hydration in children with eczema.

Potential Risks

It’s important to keep in mind that eczema is different for everyone. Everyone has different triggers, and some people may find benefits from coconut oil while others may not.

Some people may even have allergies to coconut oil. In this case, using coconut oil could actually worsen symptoms instead of improving them. For this reason, you should always talk to your doctor before beginning a new treatment or product, even if it’s natural.

How To Use Coconut Oil for Eczema

You can apply coconut oil to damp skin once or twice a day. Applying a thick layer of a moisturizer such as coconut oil within three minutes of getting out of the shower or bath can help protect the skin barrier. Coconut oil has a melting point of 78°F, so it often has a firm, paste-like consistency. When applying coconut oil to the skin, you may need to warm it in the palm of your hand.

Types of Coconut Oil

There are several different types of coconut oil, which vary according to how the oil is made. Several studies on coconut oil and eczema have used virgin coconut oil, as it has higher levels of antioxidants (substances that may prevent or delay certain kinds of cell damage) than refined oils.

Other types of coconut oil include refined coconut oil, cold-pressed coconut oil, and partially hydrogenated coconut oil. In some cases, chemical solvents may be used in the extraction process for refined coconut oil. These chemical residues may remain after processing, meaning refined coconut oil may create sensitivities in people with eczema.

How To Store Coconut Oil

Generally, coconut oil should be stored in a cool, dark location in a sealed container or in the refrigerator. Virgin coconut oil can last for two to three years when stored properly without exposure to heat or light. Do not use coconut oil and immediately dispose of it if it shows signs of spoilage, including mold, a yellowish tint, or an unpleasant smell.

Because coconut oil melts at 78°F, it may liquefy or become very runny on warm days. If this happens, stir the coconut oil well before using it or put it in the refrigerator to allow it to solidify, if you’d like a firmer texture.

MyEczemaTeam Members Comment on Coconut Oil for Eczema

Many MyEczemaTeam members have discussed using coconut oil to manage their symptoms. One member wrote: “I used some shea butter with coconut oil and haven’t itched all day.” Another member saw success after combining coconut oil with another product, writing: “I tried coconut oil and calendula mixed together. It’s helping so far.”

One member found more success trying a different natural remedy instead: “It’s day four of using avocado oil on my arms and face after the worst flare-up this summer. So far, it has proven to work better for me than coconut oil, hemp oil, and sunflower oil.” Ultimately, although both member stories and scientific studies have supported the possibility of coconut oil helping to manage eczema symptoms, it may not work for everyone.

Join the MyEczemaTeam Community

When you join MyEczemaTeam, you become part of a community of more than 34,000 members who know what it’s like to live with eczema. Members regularly share tips, ask for recommendations, and give advice on products that have helped them manage the symptoms of eczema.

Have you used coconut oil for your eczema? Share your eczema remedies by starting a conversation on MyEczemaTeam today.

Kevin Berman, M.D., Ph.D. is a dermatologist at the Atlanta Center for Dermatologic Disease, Atlanta, GA. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Learn more about him here.
Victoria Menard is a writer at MyHealthTeam. Learn more about her here.

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