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The particular fats and antioxidants in coconut oil show promise against a pediatric skin condition.
By Robby Gardner, Associate Editor
Coconut fruit is prized for its water content these days, but the oil that resides in the leftover coconut meat, or copra, has nutrients of its own. For this reason, researchers in the Philippines are onto a potential link between virgin coconut oil and relief of itchy skin.
Writing in the International Journal of Dermatology, researchers at Jose R. Reyes Medical Center in Manila recruited 117 children with mild to moderate atopic dermatitis-a skin disease characterized by severe itching and inflamed skin-to participate in a topical oil trial. For eight weeks, parents were instructed to apply 5 ml of virgin coconut oil or mineral oil, both known moisturizers, twice daily to their children’s bodies after warm bathing and at night.
After eight weeks, coconut oil users achieved greater improvements on the SCORAD (Scoring of Atopic Dermatitis) index, less trans-epidermal water loss, and greater skin capacitance, which is a measure of skin hydration.
The researchers claim this is the first study to use virgin coconut oil on children with atopic dermatitis, and, if further research supports their findings, virgin coconut oil would especially benefit children. An estimated 10–20% of children develop atopic dermatitis in their first decade of life, but only 1–3% of adults have the condition.
The positive effect of virgin coconut oil is likely a result of both its fats and its antioxidant compounds, according to the researchers:
It is postulated that the active components against inflammation are medium-chain fatty acids. When applied to the skin, medium-chain fatty acids react with the lipases of the resident flora of the skin and are turned into free fatty acids, which penetrate the dermis where they reduce cellular inflammation. The exact mechanism for this has yet to be elucidated. In addition, virgin coconut oil has been shown to destroy free radicals, compounds that may encourage skin inflammation. The antioxidant capacity of virgin coconut oil may be attributable to phenolic compounds such as ferulic acid and p-coumaric acid.
Virgin coconut oil may be preferred over refined coconut oil because the high-heat refining process does break down fatty acids (to increase shelf life) and antioxidants, both of which seem to play a role against atopic dermatitis.