Can Coconut Oil Help Treat Psoriasis?

Psoriasis is an autoimmune disease that causes a person to develop scaly patches, also known as plaques, on their skin. Psoriasis symptoms can include silvery scales and itchy, red patches.

The patches can appear on many parts of the body, including elbows, knees, scalp, lower back, and face. Some people also develop scaly patches on the soles of their feet and on the palms of their hands. The patches can be painful, itchy, and sometimes embarrassing.

What causes psoriasis?

psoriasis on the elbow
Psoriasis is a common autoimmune disease that causes skin cells to grow faster than normal.

Psoriasis develops when the immune system stops working normally and instructs the body to grow skin cells faster than usual. This means that the skin cells grow in a matter of days instead of weeks. The body does not shed the skin cells as it normally would. Instead, the cells start to build up on the skin, which causes the plaques to develop.

Psoriasis is a chronic condition that is normally passed on through families, but it is not contagious.

Psoriasis usually affects the skin, but some people have psoriatic arthritis. Symptoms for this include swollen joints and pitted, discolored nails.

A person with psoriatic arthritis may also experience stiffness. Although this stiffness is usually less severe than osteoarthritis, it can be very painful. People with psoriasis have a 30 percent chance of developing psoriatic arthritis.

There is no cure for psoriasis, but there are treatments available to control the symptoms.

What is coconut oil?

According to Harvard University, coconut oil is gaining popularity both as a topical treatment and as a cooking oil. The flavor makes it suitable as an ingredient for baked goods and other dishes. It is used, for example, in Thai food.

Coconut oil is composed of 90 percent saturated fat. This is a much higher fat content than butter, lard, or beef fat, but coconut oil helps to increase high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol or “good” cholesterol. However, coconut oil can also increase low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol or “bad” cholesterol.

Topical coconut oil can also be used as a beauty treatment in a number of ways. This include:

  • Reducing hair frizziness
  • Reducing stretch marks
  • Moisturizing the skin
  • Removing makeup

When applied to the skin, coconut oil can reduce skin inflammation. It can also help to relieve skin dryness because it reduces the amount of water lost from the skin.

Fatty acids also have skin-soothing benefits for treating psoriasis. Coconut oil might help to soften the skin because it contains the fatty acids lauric, capric, and caprylic acids.

Lauric acid also has antimicrobial activity, which helps to reduce the risk of skin infections and irritation.

Coconut oil as a treatment for psoriasis

When a person has psoriasis, the itchy and scaly plaques can be very dry.

Coconut oil and a coconut
Coconut oil may be used in cooking and as a beauty treatment.

When using topical medications, some people may find their skin becomes even drier. As a result, doctors will often recommend that individuals apply moisturizers with an ointment-like base to reduce dryness, according to the Mayo Clinic.

Coconut oil is an example of a moisturizing treatment for the skin, and applying it can help to reduce very dry skin, particularly in the winter. Coconut oil is available at most health food stores, either as a single oil or incorporated into lotions and ointments.

If a person has scalp plaques, the National Psoriasis Foundation recommend massaging the oil into the scalp. This can help to remove the plaques, as well as soften the scalp.

The Foundation also recommend adding coconut oil to a bath to soothe the skin as an alternative to traditional oatmeal baths.

The bath water should not be very hot. It is important to pat the skin dry and not rub it. A person with psoriasis can apply coconut oil to the skin immediately after taking a bath. Applying it two to three times a day gives the best results.

Mixing coconut oil with aloe vera can give it additional skin-softening properties.

Despite this anecdotal evidence, there is limited research on the effectiveness of coconut oil as a specific treatment for psoriasis.

The Natural Medicines Comprehensive Database point out that there is insufficient evidence to prove that coconut oil is effective in treating psoriasis.

Researchers have studied the application of the treatment before using ultraviolet light therapy, but the results were inconclusive.

Considerations for coconut oil

When applied topically, coconut oil is not associated with many adverse side effects, but it is rarely a sole treatment for psoriasis. It is normally used as a moisturizing therapy, alongside other treatments.

It is possible that a person could have an allergic reaction to coconut oil. An allergic reaction would cause additional redness, itching, and warmth at the affected skin site.

It is also possible that coconut oil may not work to reduce the symptoms of psoriasis. In this instance, a person may need to try other topical, moisturizing treatments to relieve the symptoms.

Other health benefits of coconut oil

Light therapy
Light therapy may be used to treat psoriasis. This treatment can include natural sunlight and artificial light.

The Natural Medicines Comprehensive Database rate coconut oil as “possibly effective” for the treatment of eczema, another skin condition that causes a dry, itchy rash.

It has been suggested, but not proven, that coconut oil can be used to treat a number of other health conditions. This include:

  • Chest pain
  • Chronic fatigue
  • Diabetes
  • Diarrhea
  • High cholesterol
  • Irritable bowel syndrome
  • Thyroid conditions

Other psoriasis treatments

The course of treatment a doctor recommends depends upon the type and severity of the disease. Treatments for psoriasis can include topical ointments, oral medications, and light therapy.

Light therapy

Light therapy involves exposing the skin to the sun or artificial ultraviolet lights. Exposure to light can cause the T cells in the skin that cause excess growth of skin cells to die. This slows the spread of psoriasis as well as inflammation from the condition.

Oral medications

A variety of oral medications is available on prescription. Examples include methotrexate, cyclosporine, or immune-modulating medications like infliximab (Remicade) or adalimumab (Humira).

Topical treatments

Topical skin treatments may be combined with light therapy, oral medications, or both. Examples include topical corticosteroids, retinoids, or calcineurin inhibitors like tacrolimus (Prograf) or pimecrolimus (Elidel).

A person with psoriasis may also use salicylic acid, coal tar, and moisturizers to reduce the itching effects of dryness and scaling.

Psoriasis can also be affected by external events and conditions. Examples include:

  • Taking medications that result in inflammation
  • Infections
  • Stress
  • Weather changes that cause the skin to dry

Alternative treatments for psoriasis can also include the following:

  • Aloe vera cream or ointment
  • Fish oil: The Mayo Clinic recommend taking up to 3 grams a day to potentially reduce inflammation associated with psoriasis
  • Oregon grape or barberry ointments

It is important to talk to a doctor before beginning any alternative treatments for psoriasis, to ensure that these treatments will not interfere with any prescription creams.