Why You Shouldn’t Slather Coconut Oil All Over Your Body If You’re Sunburned

Ah, coconut oil! The supermarket staple is the gift that just keeps on giving.

Seriously, not only does it smell like a much-needed vacay (just a whiff can transport you!), but it can also be used for everything from baking sweet eats to ridding your scalp of dandruff. One of its major claims to fame? Being super moisturizing thanks to its high lauric acid content, explains Mona Gohara, MD, associate clinical professor of dermatology at Yale School of Medicine.

Since coconut oil basically smells like the beach in a bottle, it does begs the question: Can I use coconut oil for a sunburn—or no?

First thing’s first: What exactly is this seemingly magical coconut oil?

To put it simply, coconut oil comes from the “meaty part” of the fruit. Hmm, delicious.

“More specifically, it’s a combo of natural fatty acids, including linoleic acid, and lauric acid—both of which have hydrating, anti-inflammatory, and antimicrobial properties. Plus, they’re known to strengthen the skin barrier,” says Gohara.

So, can I use coconut oil for sunburn relief?

While this arsenal of benefits might sound like a perfect match for red and raw skin, pros recommend using it more as a lotion for parched, lightly damaged skin than as a full-on treatment for scorched skin. Why? There’s no evidence showing that coconut oil is superior to tried-and-true burn treatments such as cold milk soaks and aloe vera, says Estee Williams, MD, assistant clinical professor of dermatology at Mount Sinai School of Medicine.

Still, there’s no denying it has the potential to speed up healing of sun-ravaged (read: mega-dry) skin and prevent infections thanks to its antimicrobial properties. “So, if you’re set on using coconut oil, best to do so after the skin has cooled down and started to recover a little,” says Williams.

Okay, so I’m burned—now what?

Step one: Put the coco to the side, girl; you don’t need it yet.

According to the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD), its essential you begin treating sunburn the minute you notice it. A good start? Applying a cold, damp washcloth—soaked with water or milk—for 10 to 15 minutes daily. Yup, you read that right. The proteins in milk (“any cow’s milk,” says Gohara) help coat and protect the skin.

After each cool-down sesh—which you should do as often as possible for a speedy recovery—pat dry and slather on some lotion. Moisturizing helps repair the damaged skin barrier and calm inflammation, both of which are the result of the UV rays killing skin cells (ugh), explains Gohara. And although any basic cream can do the trick, Williams is a fan of Cerave since it has “ceramides,” the lipids that are responsible for forming that protective wall. If your skin is really burning up (cue: Jonas Bros), add a layer of aloe vera before your usual cream routine to help ease the pain.

Now can I start using the coconut oil?

Not so fast there, champ. Just a few more steps before you can go crazy on the coco.

“When your skin barrier is compromised, water evaporates more readily,” says Gohara. “The more severe the burn, the more likely you are to lose water.” So, it’s even more important that you stay hydrated during this entire sunburn relief process. Keep up with the liquids—good ole H2O is the best replacement.

And if you start to experience extensive blistering all over, consult a doc. Although rare, this response can put you at further risk of dehydration and infection.

Finally, it’s time for the coconut oil!

After one to two days of treating your burns the old-school way, your skin should be calmer and healing well. And because of that, it’s safe to start oiling your bod. (Before you cover head to toe, however, try a little bit out on a small area to make sure you don’t have any negative or allergic reactions.)

Since it basically acts like a moisturizer, use coconut oil post-shower or bath just like you would do with lotion. If you want even more moisture, feel free to add a layer of cream after your round of oil—just apply an even lighter layer of oil so your skin can still breathe easy.

Pro tip: Since the oil can impede your body’s ability to release heat, steer clear of heavy application if you’re planning on going back into the high temps right away (bold choice, tbh). And, of course, don’t forget to put on sunscreen! SPF should be your BFF.

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