Quick: What can soothe sunburns, add gloss to your furniture, clean your teeth — and make the best-ever popcorn?
You may already be familiar with the superhero qualities that coconut oil has in the kitchen, but if you’re trying to reduce your toxic load, consider keeping a jar (or three) on hand for inedible uses as well.
“It’s a cost-effective and all-natural way to care for the skin,” says Josh Axe, DNM, DC, CNS, a certified doctor of natural medicine, doctor of chiropractic, and clinical nutritionist. In addition to being much less expensive than over-the-counter beauty products, Axe says, coconut oil “packs a ton of health benefits” even when not being directly consumed.
Coconut oil is better at penetrating the skin than most skin-care products, Axe says, because of its low molecular weight. That means you don’t have to ingest it to reap the benefits of the fatty acids that reduce inflammation. Coconut oil has been shown to improve chronic skin conditions such as eczema and psoriasis, the same properties that make it a great pick for sunburn relief, he says.
“Our skin is our largest organ, and it’s also quite porous, which is why it’s important to avoid products that contain harmful ingredients and can have a negative impact on health,” Axe says.
There are health concerns associated with many common cleaning and beauty products, especially since we tend to use them on a daily basis, notes Nneka Leiba, deputy director of research at Environmental Working Group.
“One single product may not be definitively to blame for a health issue,” Leiba says. “But if you’re a woman, years of applying 168 unique chemicals to your body a day, on average, may indeed affect your health.”
Here are nine ways to reap the benefits of coconut oil while avoiding worrisome ingredients:
Heal a Cold Sore
“The disinfectant and antimicrobial properties of the capric, caprylic, and lauric acids in coconut oil make it a great natural treatment for cold sores,” Axe explains. “Just dab a bit on the sore to speed healing, alleviate pain, and reduce the risk of scarring or discoloration.”
Use As Your Go-to Hair Care Product
In addition to detangling hair, coconut oil can fight dandruff and even prevent or treat lice infections, Axe says.
Try Oil Pulling
“Oil pulling is an ancient practice that removes bacteria from the mouth, promotes healthy teeth and gums, and even prevents cavities,” Axe says. “All you need to do is swish a tablespoon of coconut oil in your mouth for 10 to 20 minutes, and then spit the oil into the trash (not in the sink, as it could clog the drain).” Bonus: You may notice whiter teeth after regular use.
Swap for Some Medicine-cabinet Items
In addition to hair conditioner, coconut oil can replace shaving cream, aftershave, deodorant, diaper cream for babies, body scrub, and toothpaste (when mixed with baking soda). It’s also a great makeup remover (perfect for kids’ face paint, too!), lip balm ingredient, and acne treatment — a recent study found that lauric acid can kill the bacteria that promote inflammatory acne.
Coconut oil may take the ouch out of bug bites, poison ivy rashes, and even earaches (when melted, cooled, and applied via eyedropper).
Polish Your Furniture
Swirl a spoonful of coconut oil with some lemon juice, then wax on. Or rub plan coconut oil into dry wood. (Just don’t forget to dust the furniture first.)
Eliminate the X Factor
Not sure what that sticky mess is on your dining room table? Rub it out with a coconut oil and baking soda combo. The duo also works well for gum in your 3-year-old’s hair.
Stir into pet food or smooth onto fur for a glossy coat and to ward off fleas.
Keep Insects at Bay
It may be as simple as making your skin too slick for bugs to land on, so slather it on! Add other essential oils such as peppermint or tea tree to maximize effectiveness.