The coconut tree, Cocos nucifera, is a member of the palm tree family (Arecaceae) and the only living species of the genus Cocos. Despite its name, the coconut is botanically considered to be a drupe, not a nut. A drupe is a fleshy fruit with thin skin and a central stone containing the seed. Coconut oil is an edible oil extracted from the kernel or meat of mature coconuts.
Coconut oil is composed of many different types of fatty acids, including lauric acid (49%), myristic acid (18%), palmitic acid (8%), caprylic acid (8%), capric acid (7%), oleic acid (6%), linoleic acid (2%), and stearic acid (2%). Upon topical application, these fatty acids help to replenish the skin’s natural barrier function. A strong, intact barrier helps to prevent water loss, therefore keeping the skin hydrated and soft.
The medium-chain fatty acids in coconut oil have antimicrobial properties that can help protect the skin against harmful microorganisms. The antimicrobial effect is primarily due to lauric acid, which makes up almost 50% of coconut oil. Research has determined that lauric acid can kill off Propionibacterium acnes, the bacteria responsible for the development of acne.