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Try Coconut Oil on the Skin to Relieve Itchy Eczema

The itchy rash of eczema can be maddening. One family found that putting coconut oil on the skin helped their son stop scratching.
Try Coconut Oil on the Skin to Relieve Itchy Eczema
Coconut oil on a bamboo mat

Eczema is not very well understood. Dermatologists call it “atopic dermatitis,” which implies that the red, itchy skin characteristic of eczema is fundamentally a type of allergic reaction. In most cases, however, this assumption about the nature of the rash does not help very much with the treatment.

Babies are often afflicted with eczema, and families struggle to find ways to get it under control. Strong topical medicines that blunt the immune system have been used to treat eczema (tacrolimus, pimecrolimus), but weakening the immune system can lead to serious infections or even cancer. Such drugs (Protopic and Elidel are the brand names) are not recommended for regular use, and are not recommended at all for youngsters under two years old. One family faced with this difficult condition finally found an easy natural way to treat it (putting coconut oil on the skin) that worked for their son.

Intractable Eczema Yields to Coconut Oil on the Skin:

Q. Our adopted son, now 11 years old, suffered from severe, often bleeding eczema for most of his life. A naturopath suggested using coconut oil topically. After using this daily for three months, the eczema vanished.

We had tried everything for nine years–diet and topical lotions and ointments. She said perhaps his body wasn’t getting some kind of mid-level oil. His eczema scars are also fading.

He used to scratch, scratch, scratch. That is no longer a problem, though we still slather coconut oil on him after he showers.

A. Eczema is a chronic skin problem in which the skin becomes inflamed, red and itchy. A rash with liquid-filled bumps sometimes develops.

Evidence for Coconut Oil on Eczema Rashes:

One study compared mineral oil to virgin coconut oil on the skin to treat symptoms of eczema (International Journal of Dermatology, Jan., 2014).  During the two months of the study, coconut oil performed better in easing the symptoms of these children, confirming your own experience.

Coconut oil is a source of medium-chain fatty acids. Perhaps that is what your naturopathic expert meant when she suggested your son needed some type of “mid-level oil.” This may or may not explain why it worked better than other creams and lotions.

We should warn that some people might have an allergic reaction to the coconut oil itself. Although this appears to be a rare reaction, it has been reported (Indian Journal of Dermatology, May, 2014).

What About Coconut Oil for REALLY Dry Skin?

Eczema is not the only skin problem people have to deal with. When the humidity drops and the furnace comes on, skin suffers. Some people develop a condition dermatologists call xerosis. Don’t you just love those dermatological tongue twisters. It comes from the Greek word xero, or dry.

People with xerosis have abnormally dry skin. An article in the journal Dermatitis (Sept., 2004) describes it this way:

“Xerosis is a common skin condition (1) characterized by dry, rough, scaly, and itchy skin, (2) associated with a defect in skin barrier function, and (3) treated with moisturizers. People in the tropics have effectively used coconut oil as a traditional moisturizer for centuries. Recently, the oil also has been shown to have skin antiseptic effects. A moisturizer with antiseptic effects has value, but there are no clinical studies to document the efficacy and safety of coconut oil as a skin moisturizer.”

The researchers set out to conduct just such a randomized double-blind clinical trial. They assigned 34 patients to apply either coconut oil or mineral oil to their legs twice a day for two weeks. They then performed a sensitive test to determine skin hydration.


“Coconut oil is as effective and safe as mineral oil when used as a moisturizer.”

We discovered a review of the “Anti-Inflammatory and Skin Barrier Repair Effects of Topical Application of Some Plant Oils” in the International Journal of Molecular Sciences (Dec. 27, 2017). Here is what the authors had to say about coconut oil on the skin:

“Coconut oil has been shown to be as effective and safe as mineral oil when applied as moisturizers for mild to moderate xerosis [abnormally dry skin]. In a study of pediatric patients with mild to moderate AD [atopic dermatitis], topical applications of virgin coconut oil was shown to be effective in decreasing the severity of the disease, ameliorating disease severity index, and improving barrier function. Topical applications of virgin coconut oil are effective in promoting WH [wound healing] through faster epithelization.”

Coconut oil has anti-bacterial, anti-inflammatory and antioxidant activity. Here’s a kicker. The scientists noted: “Topical coconut oil protects the skin from UV radiation.” In addition, an ingredient in coconut oil has both antiviral and antifungal activity. There are very few prescription skin creams that have such broad spectrum benefits.

Share your own experience with coconut oil in the comment section below.

Revised: 1/11/18

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About the Author
Terry Graedon, PhD, is a medical anthropologist and co-host of The People’s Pharmacy radio show, co-author of The People’s Pharmacy syndicated newspaper columns and numerous books, and co-founder of The People’s Pharmacy website. Terry taught in the Duke University School of Nursing and was an adjunct assistant professor in the Department of Anthropology. She is a Fellow of the Society of Applied Anthropology. Terry is one of the country's leading authorities on the science behind folk remedies. .
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