Coconut oil is effective in treating atopic dermatitis. (Photo by denn)
Atopic dermatitis is a skin condition in which the skin reacts easily to irritants and becomes red, dry, flaky and itchy. Atopic dermatitis is also characterized by a prevalence of a bacterium called Staphylococcus aureus (SA), which easily spreads and colonizes uninfected atopic skin. Early and proactive interventions with antiseptic lotions have been suggested for reducing SA colonization and thus dermatitis symptoms.
Some people swear by topical coconut oil in treating all sorts of skin disorders, including atopic dermatitis, but few studies have been done to test these claims. An interesting study by Verallo-Rowell et al. compared the effects of topical virgin olive oil and virgin coconut oil on people with atopic dermatitis. Both oils showed benefits, but in this case, virgin coconut oil was the clear winner.
The participants (aged 18 to 40 years) were randomly divided into two groups, with the first group given virgin olive oil and the other group given virgin coconut oil to be applied topically. The instructions read as follows:
Both groups included 26 people. SA cultures were collected with cotton swabs and analyzed before and after the 4-week study.
On the affected areas that include the test sites, apply 5 mL of oil two times a day and massage gently but thoroughly into the skin for several seconds. Do not apply other emollients, creams, or oil-based products that can mask the effect of the oil.
Coconut oil vs. olive oil: effect on Staphylococcus aureus colonization
20 of the 26 participants in the virgin coconut oil group had a positive SA culture at the beginning of the study. After four weeks of using the oil, only 1 subject remained positive; in other words, virgin coconut oil was effective in 95% of the participants.
In the virgin olive oil group, 12 of 26 participants tested positive at the beginning. At the end of the study, 6 of them tested positive. Thus, even though both oils reduced Staphylococcus aureus colonization in treated areas, virgin coconut oil was significantly more effective (50% vs. 95% improvement).
Coconut oil vs. olive oil: effect on atopic dermatitis severity
SCORAD ("SCORing Atopic Dermatitis") is a clinical tool for assessing the severity of atopic dermatitis. At the beginning of the study, both groups had similar SCORAD index scores. After four weeks, both groups had lower scores, with the scores of the virgin coconut oil users being even lower than those of the virgin olive oil users.
The image above shows an atopic dermatitis site before (A) and after (B) treatment with virgin coconut oil. The SCORAD index score in A is 35; in B, the score is 20. As you can see, the improvement is quite visible. Here's a quote from the paper:
The AD patients who were treated with virgin coconut oil in this study had significantly lower objective SCORAD scores for dryness and dryness-related conditions, such as excoriation and lichenification, and for erythema, edema, and papulation.
Topically applied virgin coconut oil reduced Staphylococcus aureus colonization in 95% of the patients, compared to 50% reduction from virgin olive oil. Coconut oil also improved atopic dermatitis severity scores more than olive oil. Twice a day application of virgin coconut oil may thus be helpful in treating atopic dermatitis.
For more information on skin and coconut oil, see these posts:
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Hyaluronic Acid for Skin & Hair – Experiment Conclusion
Coconut Lowers LDL, VLDL and Triglycerides, Raises HDL
Emu Oil and Hair Growth: A Critical Look at the Evidence