When a breastfeeding woman’s nipples are red, raw, and angry, she needs a solution yesterday.
So, without further ado, it’s time for another What the What, where we look to science for truth and cut out all the jargon angry nippled moms don’t have time for.
We know we know: coconut oil is all the rage. People on Pinterest are claiming it’s healed both their hair and their bad health. There’s some science to back up some of these claims, too. But the question we want to know: Is coconut oil strong enough to take on the challenge of a raw, baby-bitten nipple?
Yes, we say and here’s why:
Coconut oil naturally contains a bunch of phytonutrients & polyphenols which contain antioxidants as well as tissue-supportive & tissue-protective components.
When it comes to shopping, there are 3 types you’re choosing from:
Unrefined coconut oil (aka “raw coconut oil”, “virgin coconut oil” (VCO)
(Spoiler: this is the stuff you want to use)
This coconut oil, aka virgin coconut oil (VCO), is extracted from coconut meat, while still keeping all those magical phytonutrients & polyphenols. You know how there’s all that hype around extra virgin, cold-pressed, raw olive oil? Well, it’s not for nothing. These virgin oils -- be it olive, or coconut -- are in their purest forms, with all the special properties you’re paying for.
Refined coconut oil
Avoid this for treating your nipples. This type of coconut oil is extracted from dried coconut meat. Then, chemical solvents or physical extraction methods are used to draw just the oil out, leaving behind the essential nutrients we wanted in the first place. This type of coconut oil is just like the refined, processed, white carbs your mom warned you about! So basically, “refining” or “processing” is just a nicer way of saying “removing all the magical ingredients you thought you were getting”.
Liquid coconut oil (aka “fractionated coconut oil”, “cold-pressed coconut oil”)
This coconut oil is pretty much the same as refined coconut oil - it’s still not a great option. The only difference between liquid coconut oil and refined coconut oil is that liquid lacks lauric acid, the longest fatty acid in coconut oil (longer fatty acids raise the oil's boiling point, so it remains solid at room temperature). This leaves liquid coconut oil with shorter fatty acids, lowering the boiling point and causing it to become a liquid at room temperature, while refined coconut oil remains solid. Liquid coconut oil may be convenient for cooking, but we still want the first unrefined coconut oil option with all its golden ingredients.
Now here’s the million dollar question: why the heck is everyone so crazy about it?!
The real reason why coconut oil wins over lanolin has to do with the type of moisturizing protection it gives to the skin. In the game of moisturizers, there are two teams at play: occlusive and emollient. Your nipples want the latter.
Occlusive moisturizers (see: lanolin, petrolatum, mineral oil, etc.) build a layer of oil/wax over your skin to physically block moisture from leaving. While it does slow moisture from leaving your skin, if you already have dry skin to begin with, it won’t introduce any new moisture, therefore limiting the moisturizing effect.
Emollient moisturizers (see: coconut oil, fatty acids, etc.) however, help your skin’s natural water barrier retain moisture, similar to occlusive moisturizers but without being so greasy and with less skin irritation risk. Bonus: it even makes your skin look nice by smoothing those flaky skin cells down and filling skin gaps to reduce dry patches! Emollience for the win!
Virgin coconut oil is an emollient moisturizer, making it an incredibly natural and easy remedy for dry skin.
But wait, there’s more!
Coconut oil helps heal wounds.
Scientists are still investigating why virgin coconut oil made wounds heal faster in a 2010 scientific study, but they know VCO increased the cross-linking of collagen - the skin protein responsible for giving it structure and keeping it taut. Hello, young, healthy, healing nipples!
Low allergy risk
When applied topically, there’s not much risk involved with coconut oil. As with any new product though, just sample a dollop on the same part of your wrist for a couple of days to make sure.
...and the best for last: baby safe!
Coconut oil is gentle, so it’s great for babies’ delicate skin. In fact, it’s been found in 44.4% of pediatric products. Plus, it’s commonly used in cooking, so it’s safe for baby to sneak a taste of your coconut oiled boobs mid-feed.
Straight up: From makeup remover to hair preservation, this age-old, yet trendy oil is not limited to healing your nips. So now can you see why we’re coconuts about this stuff?!