There are always trendy skincare products that come and go. But after using coconut oil on our 3 children's skin and hair over the past 4 years, it's clear that coconut oil for is more than just a trendy product for infants.
We've dived into the 'how's' and 'why's' of coconut oil's effectiveness as a personal care product and why it works so well. We've also looked at its specific use to treat cradle cap - something we've always found to be a problem for our kids.
Making coconut oil a key part of our kid's bath time routine and using it to massage skin and hair has been super helpful along the way to raising three mixed race kids with unique skin needs and frequent cradle cap problems.
Read more to find out:
- What makes coconut oil effective on skin and scalp?
- How can coconut oil help skin and scalp health for kids?
- How does coconut oil compare to other oils for skin and hair health?
- What makes a good quality coconut oil?
- How to make coconut oil at home?
- How to use coconut oil to treat infant cradle cap
- The best coconut oil and massage products for children
Coconut oil is effective. It's more than just a trend.
Coconut oil (partly for cooking as well as skincare) has been a hot product over the past 5 years. It came back into fashion after being maligned for 60 years because of its high saturated fat content.
In the 1950s we ditched it, along with lard and other singular nutritional entities, because we thought it caused heart attacks. But more recently coconut oil has been exonerated for eating (or at least certain types have - see more below). And aside from that, the benefits of the right kind of coconut oil - namely Virgin coconut oil - have been recognised for your skin and hair.
The science behind the benefits of coconut oil.
When it comes to consumption, coconut oil has one of the highest saturated fat concentrates (93%) of any food, but human food studies actually don't correlate consumption of coconut oil with increased risks of heart disease.
The triacylglyceride (TAG) composition of coconut oil is made up of more Medium Chain Fatty Acids (MCFAs) than regular vegetable oils and that makes coconut oil more water soluble and therefore more digestible.
In fact, the MCFAs in coconut oil even metabolise differently to other MCFAs because they contain a high contain of a particular carbon, Lauric acid. The presence of Lauric is what makes coconut oil unique. Lauric acid contributes far less to fat accumulation than any other fatty acid.
How does coconut oil help your skin and scalp.
When it comes to skincare, the type of coconut oil you use makes a big difference (see below on how to choose the right coconut oil).
But the general properties of coconut oil are also good for skin and hair. The high content of lauric as a fatty acid means it is more water soluble compared to other oils and that makes it great at locking in moisture in your skin. Infant skin is less naturally moisturising than adult skin, so locking in moisture and supporting the thinner Lipid skin barrier are really important for children.
When it comes to hair, the nature of coconut oil's high lauric acid content is again the hero. It's low weight and straight molecular chain means it can penetrate the hair shaft effectively. That means it can pass the scalp and attach itself to the proteins in the hair follicle. This is super helpful as it can prevent protein loss in damaged or undamaged hair when you wash with shampoos that might other strip the hair of these properties. Using coconut oil as a pre-hair wash treatment is therefore super effective.
Why is coconut oil so good for kid's skin and hair care in particular?
There are three key reasons why coconut oil is such a great moisturising solution for infants: safety, natural moisturising enhancement, antiseptic qualities and for dealing with cradle cap.
Coconut oil is a great, safe moisturiser for newborn babies.
Natural products that are safe enough to eat are a great place to start when it comes to looking after your kid's skin. The skin barrier for kids is thinner and lets more 'stuff in' so asking the question 'would I be happy if my child ate this' is a good place to start when it comes to choosing a moisturiser for your child. The answer for coconut oil is 'yes!' and that makes it a great place to start if you're choosing an unrefined coconut oil to rub into your baby's skin, you'll worry less about whether they're putting oily hands in their mouths and also about what's seeping into their skin.
Coconut oil is an excellent moisturiser and skin barrier protector.
First there’s all the dry, flaky skin your baby will have in the early days and weeks of being born and as we wrote above, coconut oil is great at naturally moisturising the skin in these situations. But coconut oil also helps lock in moisture because of the high content lauric found in the fatty acids. Baby skin is less naturally moisturising than adult skin so this is hugely helpful in protecting children's skin from drying out easily.
Coconut oil is great at treating cradle cap.
We tried a lot of moisturisers to treat cradle cap with our three children and coconut oil was the best option. Early intervention, applying coconut oil to their hair for a few hours on day when we knew they were going to have a bath was a game changer. Use of coconut oil in your baby’s hair, massaging it gently into their scalp will help clear up cradle cap near instantaneously. It treats hair right at the scalp, washes out fine and softens up hardened and crusty caps quickly.
Coconut oil can contain antiseptic properties.
Coconut oil contains Vitamin E which is great at reducing soreness and irritation. It can tackle inflammation and helps soothe and calm skin. This makes it great for babies with particular skin sensitive or with damaged skin from scratching. Virgin coconut oil in particular contains far more Vitamin E than copra refined and processed coconut oil so choosing the right coconut oil really matters.
How does coconut oil compare to other natural oils for skin and hair care.
Vegetable oils have a different molecular structure to coconut oil. Low chain fatty acids breakdown differently, they have different carbon lengths and different carbons and this means we digest them differently, and they have different applications when it comes to skin and hair care.
The lauric acid content of coconut oil makes it particularly useful at hydrating baby's skin and locking in proteins in their hair which other natural oils will not do.
Should you use synthetic baby oil on your baby?
Sometimes synthetic baby products get a bad wrap. But the truth is, a lot of 'natural' products are only naturally derived and replicate a natural product through a chemical process. Nothing is as pure as it seems.
Some synthetics like baby oil are also pretty effective. Johnsons baby oil - perhaps most famous in this category - is a combination of isopropyl alcohol and palmitic acid for example. In the case of palmitic acid, like lauric acid, it is a medium chain fatty acid which makes it a better product as an emollient. However, the specific properties of lauric acid still make coconut oil a better substitute.
Should you use olive oil on your baby's skin?
Not all oil’s are created equally when it comes to putting it on your baby's skin. You can see below the big difference between types of coconut oil production and how that can impact the quality of protection it gives your child's skin. But some oils are not at all appropriate for baby’s skin.
Olive oil is something often touted for adult hair. But recent studies show that olive oil should NOT be used on baby’s skin.
As this study found, even in adults, weekly treatments of olive oil skin led to mild erythema (rashes). The study found that regular use of olive oil damaged the integrity of the skin. As we shared here, a baby’s skin is even more fragile than adult’s skin and is far more permeable to the ingredients it comes into contact with. So these results matter for how you massage or treat dry skin.
Choosing the right coconut oil for infant skin.
First, a quick guide to the definitions of different coconut oil and what they mean:
What is natural coconut oil?
Doesn’t necessarily tell you much at all. ‘Natural’ can cover a whole range of products from the original through to ‘naturally derived’ chemically produced products. Beware of brands using natural instead of specific claims as they usually point to the fact that they're not very natural at all.
What is copra or refined coconut oil?
Copra, sometimes referred to as RBD coconut oil (Refined, Bleached and Deodorised) is a way of creating coconut oil that starts by crushing dried coconut kernals. The drying process sometimes mean's leaving the kernals out in fields that can develop bacteria.
The process also involves much higher temperatures in the process that can destroy some of the more heat sensitive benefits of using coconut oil. Copra or refined coconut oil contains less bioactive components, including Vitamin E which would otherwise be a key skincare benefit to using coconut oil
Why is virgin coconut oil so good for skin care?
Refers to how the coconut oil is extracted. If you use chemicals to extract the coconut oil, then it will not be virgin coconut oil. Virgin coconut oil is made by using fresh, wet coconut flakes and squeezing out the coconut oil and milk in an emulsion that is then separated through non-heat related processes. That preserves higher natural bioactive components that make it healthier to eat, as well as retaining ingredients like Vitamin E that are beneficial for soothing skin.
How to make coconut oil at home.
While you can buy coconut oil at good prices (see our suggestions for buying well priced 100% affordable virgin coconut oil from supermarkets), you might want to try making it at home.
If you’re concerned about what might go into an off the shelf product, or confused about what ‘cold-pressed coconut oil’ or ‘virgin coconut oil’ really mean then this might be the best solution.
We love this brilliant guide to making your own coconut oil from raw natural coconut oils using nothing but water and a nut straining bag. Follow this guide and you’ll have 100% pure coconut oil in just a few hours.
Treating cradle cap with coconut oil.
What is cradle cap?
Cradle cap is the common term for what medically is termed seborrheic dermatitis. This is not to be confused with atopic dermatitis which tends to be significantly itchy.
In comparison seborrheic dermatitis is pain free. In adults it is what we know as dandruff, but in babies, rather than powdery flakes it often looks like thick crusting.
Cradle cap is not often painful or itchy and won’t bother your baby. So if you leave it alone – and don’t pick at it! – it really won’t be a bother. Most children will simply see it dissipate as they grow up. If you’re at all worried about rashes, oozing, swelling or irritability, consult a doctor, but it’s often more distressing for you as the parent than the baby.
Seeing how it looks – especially if you find cradle cap on other parts of the body like the eyebrows or nappy area (all possible) – can be a little concerning, but it’s not anything to worry about. Greasy or yellow crusts, sometimes making the skin look red can be disconcerting when we’re often led to believe our baby’s will look perfectly photogenic.
What causes cradle cap?
The causes of cradle cap as not really known. It’s not a sign you’re doing or have done something wrong (phew!) and can affect babies between 3 weeks and 1 year old typically but can continue long after this as we have found.
It’s not caused by poor hygiene so don’t be concerned that you’re not bathing or washing your baby enough, though if you're looking for ways to remove it, the right personal care routine and products are the solution.
How to spot cradle cap in infants.
Typical signs of cradle cap:
- Patchy scaling or thick crusts on the scalp
- Either dry skin or oily skin with flaky white or yellow scales
- Skin that is flaky
- Mild redness on occasion (but not always)
How to treat Cradle Cap at home.
The perfect hassle-free solution is to just leave it alone. Most cradle cap will go away on its own. But if you’re looking to remove the effects here's what you can do:
1. Shampoo scalps with cradle cap more often than normal
While we generally propose bathing your kids less to protect their skin barrier. An extra shampoo of scalps with cradle cap will help soften and loosen cradle cap. You should never pick at cradle cap to remove it, but it can naturally flake through the process of oiling and shampooing.
2. Oil and massage your infant's cradle cap as part of their bath time routine.
As part of a regular bath time routine, try applying coconut oil to the cradle cap patch a few hours before their bath. This allows some time to absorb the oil into the crusty patch to help soften it. This can be gently massaged in (remember no picking of the crust) and then brushed through before and after the bath time shampoo to rinse it out. Coconut oil here is excellent at softening up the crust and priming it perfectly to be removed when you shampoo their hair at bath time.
3. Use our Pebbl bathtime brush for gentle exfoliation of cradle cap
One of the recommended ways of treating cradle cap is gentle and regular brushing of your baby's hair alongside oiling and shampooing their hair regularly.
The Pebbl's gentle silicone bristles and targeted shampoo release will make sure you are very gentle massaging and exfoliating your baby's hair as you apply the shampoo. This is a great way to help loosen softened patches of cradle cap as you wash them.
Our favourite coconut oil and massage products for babies and kids
- These jars of 100% organic virgin coconut oil are incredible value
- This range of coconut products for babies look great and are part of a wider range to give specific coconut treatments from top to toe
- This baby brush is perfect in combination with coconut oil to brush out loose cradle cap. Regular brushing in conjunction with coconut oil on the scalp is a great way to prevent cradle cap build up.
- Our own gently exfoliating and massaging Pebbl silicone bath time brush is perfect at shampooing baby hair without using too much soap and gentle exfoliating cradle cap patches.
- This baby mat and kit is a great massage set up if you’re looking to deliver regular oil massages for your baby