The Coconut-oil Craze
With benefits that can include weight loss, white teeth, glowing skin, and shiny hair, coconut oil is the health and beauty cure-all du jour.
Move over, coconut water, your big sister has come to town. Coconut oil – specifically, virgin coconut oil extracted from the meat of the fruit – is suddenly on the lips (and in the mouths) of everyone from holistic-minded celebs (yes, Gwyneth is one of them) to the most skeptical mainstream doctors. Proponents claim coconut oil can boost metabolism, brighten teeth, and strengthen immunity. It is also taking a star turn in body balms, beauty treatments, anti-agers, and even hair products because of its ability to lock in moisture without petroleum-based ingredients or other chemicals.
Model Miranda Kerr is a charter member of the coco club. “I’ve been including coconut oil in my diet for years because of the health benefits,” she shares. “I add it to salads and smoothies, I cook with it, I smooth it all over as a hydrating treatment.”
“Coconut oil is unique in its chemical make-up,” reveals Bruce Fife, a nutritionist and naturopathic doctor, and the author of The
Coconut Oil Miracle. “Most of the fat we eat is made up of long chain fatty acids, which are processed differently. They’re sent to the liver, which recognises them as fuel.” Though coconut oil has about 120 calories per tablespoon, Fife swears it won’t pack on pounds. “It kicks metabolism into a higher gear, so you get a boost of energy and burn calories faster,” he explains. “and because fat tends to be more satisfying, it makes you feel full.” Fife, who recommends eating one to three tablespoons of virgin coconut oil daily, also touts its ability to fight inflammation. A good-quality option is Rainforest Herbs Organic Cold-Pressed Virgin Coconut Oil (RM45).
Christopher Ochner, an assistant professor at Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York and a nutrition and obesity expert, is reserving judgment. “There is anecdotal evidence that certain types of all-natural saturated fats have health benefits, but there is no convincing evidence that coconut oil speeds up metabolism or helps burn more fat.” But, Ochner adds, there may be something to another claim: “Medium-chain fatty acids may improve memory function as they promote the production of ketones, a source of fuel for the brain.” Fans are finding novel ways of going coco. Oil pulling may sound like something dreamed up by an aggressive auto
mechanic, but it’s actually an ancient ayurvedic dental remedy. The practice, said to whiten teeth by reducing plaque, improve gum health, and sweeten breath, is simple: Once a day, swish three spoonfuls of virgin coconut oil in your mouth for 20 minutes before rinsing. Marc Lowenberg, a New York cosmetic dentist who tends to the smile of Julianna Margulies, is giving the trend his blessing. “Most toxins are fat soluble,” says Lowenberg. “When you swish oil in your mouth, the toxins merge with oil so when you expectorate, you are spitting out toxins. Studies have shown that plaque levels are significantly reduced.”
The oil’s moisturising properties are even winning over dermatologists. “It gives the skin an instant glow, and it doesn’t cause breakouts, because of its antibacterial, antifungal, and antioxidant effects,” says New York dermatologist Paul Jarrod Frank. “And it has ferulic acid, which reduces inflammation. It works well with Retin-A or peels that cause dryness.” Which explains why spas are incorporating it into treatments. At Tanamera Wellness Spa, the Cocos Spa Treatment starts with a heavenly body massage using Tanamera Virgin Coconut Oil, followed by a steam in the sauna. Then, you are scrubbed with Tanamera Dessicated Coconut body polish before relaxing with a coconut milk body wrap and coconut milk bath. For everyday treatments, Burt’s Bees Coconut Foot Creme (RM72) and Sephora Collection Coconut Smoothing Body Scrub (RM29) are rich and addictive.
Hair is getting a tropical punch, too. Celebrity stylist Mark Townsend creates a special concoction for clients such as Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen. “I mix half a cup of raw coconut oil with a little jojoba, vitamin E, and olive, macadamia, and carrot oils,” he says. “If you put it on your hair when you’re at the beach or pool, salt and chlorine can’t penetrate.” Kerr says, “I also apply straight organic virgin coconut oil weekly as a natural hair treatment.”
Now, if only someone would tell us piña coladas are a health elixir, we’d be all set for summer.
Coconut oil is the latest essential for top-to-toe beauty