Dermatitis is the inflammatory condition of the skin.
It is characterized by rash, reddened, swollen and itchy skin. There may be the occurrence of blisters, dandruff or crust formation or flaking off of skin as well.
Dermatitis may occur on any body part and is of many different types. Most common types are atopic dermatitis, contact dermatitis, and seborrheic dermatitis.
- Atopic dermatitis (also called eczema) usually begins at infancy and occurs between elbows, front neck, or back of knees. It involves red, itchy rash which upon scratching may leak fluid and may thicken or form a crust.
- Contact dermatitis is caused on any body part due to an allergic reaction to coming in contact with irritants like soap, plants (poison ivy), heavy metals, chemicals, essential oils, etc. The rash in this type may burn, itch or blister.
- Seborrheic dermatitis occurs on oily parts of the body such as facial skin, back, chest, etc. In this type, scaly patches are formed with redness and stubborn dandruff.
The cause of dermatitis is not known, but it is linked to asthma, allergies, unhygienic environment, certain medical conditions (e.g. Celiac disease, HIV, etc.). Some genetic factors are also thought to be involved.
Different types of dermatitis tend to come and go or improve and worsen depending on the season, the presence of an allergen, or other factors.
The most problematic aspect of dermatitis is the discomfort caused by it. It usually becomes painful and leads to distraction from daily work and loss of sleep.
Moreover, it increases the risk of infections. It may cause open sores which may be infected by a pathogen. Therefore, the treatment of dermatitis is very important.
Dermatitis treatment involves the use of corticosteroid creams, gels or ointments to reduce inflammation. Medicines like antihistamines (for itching), antibiotics (for infections), or immune-modulating drugs are also prescribed.
However, these treatment options may pose side-effects like skin damage and aging, nausea, weakening of bones, headaches, hypertension, immune disorders, etc.
Alternative natural treatment options have a great scope for dermatitis, to avoid these side-effects and achieve holistic benefits. Such an alternative is the commonly used natural product, coconut oil.
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What is coconut oil?
Coconut oil is the oil from the kernels or meat of the mature fruit of coconut palm or Cocos nucifera, belonging to the family Arecaceae.
The oil may be extracted either from the raw coconut meat (cold-press) or the dried copra.
This oil is commonly used in the tropical regions where the coconut palm grows.
It is used in cooking, cosmetics, as an emollient, as a lubricant or raw material in many industrial processes, for illumination, etc.
The coconut oil is primarily composed of saturated and medium chain fatty acids such as lauric acid, capric acid, myristic acid, palmitic acid, etc.
The oil has vitamin E, polyphenols, and phytosterols as well.
The constituents of coconut have antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial, and immune supporting properties.
These properties have medicinal benefits in heart diseases, diabetes, wound healing, skin problems, and many other disorders.
Benefits of coconut oil in Dermatitis
The anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial, emollient effects of coconut oil can be very useful in the treatment of dermatitis. These properties can take on the various aspects of this disease such as inflammation, dryness, and susceptibility to infections.
1. Coconut oil can reduce inflammation
Dermatitis is essentially an inflammatory disease. The changes in the skin functions brought about by various genetic and environmental factors are the main cause of the development of this disease.
These factors lead to an inflammatory response mediated by various inflammatory molecules like cytokines.
Coconut oil has anti-inflammatory activity, and it is known to inhibit chronic inflammation. It is mainly attributed to its polyphenol content, i.e. vitamin E.
Its fatty acid content such as capric acid and lauric acid are also known to have anti-inflammatory properties. These have been found to inhibit pro-inflammatory pathways (NF-kappa B pathway) and benefit in skin problems like acne.
The polyphenols and fatty acids of coconut oil protect the human skin from various environmental factors and reduce inflammation.
The application of coconut oil has been found to lower inflammation in the cases of contact dermatitis due to the action of its anti-inflammatory fatty acids.
What does it mean?
It means the application of coconut oil can help lower the inflammation in dermatitis patients. The polyphenols and fatty acids present in the oil have anti-inflammatory action.
2. Coconut oil improves skin barrier function and hydration
The disruption of the barrier function of the skin is the major reason for the development of dermatitis, especially atopic dermatitis.
As a result of inflammation or increase in the skin pH (caused by irritants like soap, detergents, etc.) the lipids in the skin cells degrade and give rise to dryness, itchiness and eventually scaling of the skin.
Therefore, restoring the skin barrier function, which leads to an improved hydration or moisture in the skin, is crucial to the treatment of dermatitis.
Coconut oil has been used as an emollient since ancient times. It moisturizes skin and improves dryness, scaling, and itching of the skin. It also does not change the pH of the skin thus, is safe to use.
It improves the barrier function of the skin as well.6
In the atopic dermatitis patients, topical application of virgin coconut oil has been found to moisturize the skin and reduce the skin dryness.
In a clinical trial, topical application of coconut oil on pediatric atopic dermatitis patients resulted in significant improvement in the hydration of the skin. As high as 46% patients showed excellent improvement and about 47% of the patients showed moderate improvement.
What does it mean?
It means the use of coconut on dermatitis patients (especially, atopic dermatitis) can enhance the barrier function and moisturize the skin. It results in the reduction of dryness, scaling, and itching of the skin.
3. Coconut oil can prevent infections
The loss of barrier function of skin and itching results in open sores.
These open sores invite infections as microbes like bacteria, fungi, and viruses find a nutritious environment to grow on.
The infections make the condition worse for dermatitis as they not only need additional treatment but also may further complicate the problems.
The microorganisms that commonly colonize dermatitis wounds are Staphylococcus species (bacteria), Malassezia species, Candia albicans (fungi), herpes simplex virus, etc.
Coconut oil has antimicrobial properties. It is known to act against various bacteria, fungi, and viruses.
Its components such as capric acid and lauric acid have been found to attenuate bacterial skin infections like acne.
Coconut oil has shown strong antifungal activity against different Candida species, including the resistant species.
The herbal formulation containing coconut oil has been found to inhibit Malassezia growth in dermatitis.
In a study, the application of virgin coconut oil on the skin of dermatitis patients with Staphylococcus aureus infection showed strong antibacterial action against the organism.
It can also prevent the growth of fungi and viruses and be effective in dermatitis treatment.
What does it mean?
It means the topical application of coconut oil can inhibit the growth of different microorganisms and thus prevent infections in dermatitis. It can result in an efficacious treatment of the disease.
The amount or number of time for the application of coconut oil in dermatitis is not specifically known.
With reference to the studies, about 10 ml of coconut oil can be applied on the affected areas 2-3 times a day.
It is also better to use virgin coconut oil as it has more and diverse nutrient content.
Coconut oil-based herbal creams, gels, or other formulations can be used as well.
Coconut is considered harmless for the topical use. However, taking certain precautions should be taken to avoid any adversity related to its use.
1. Before applying coconut products on the skin, a patch test should be carried out.
Coconut oil or coconut based cream, etc. may cause skin irritations such as redness, swelling, and itchiness. A patch test should be conducted on an unaffected part of the skin prior. If any problem is seen, it is better to avoid its use.
2. Over-application of coconut oil should be avoided.
Since the ideal application amounts of coconut oil are not known in this disease, it is better to avoid too much coconut oil on the skin. Excess of oil may trigger acne like problems.
3. Coconut oil should be free of contamination.
It is very important for the coconut oil to be used for dermatitis or other skin problems to be free of contaminants. It is so because the presence of adulterants may aggravate the itchiness or inflammation. Moreover, if microorganisms are present, there may be an increased risk of infection.
4. Avoid dipping hands/ fingers in the coconut oil after touching the affected area.
If one is using fingers/hands for the oil application on the affected area, it must not be dipped again in it to avoid the contamination of the oil.
Coconut oil can be explored in the case of dermatitis.
The anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial and emollient effects of this oil are very useful in taking care of the different aspects of this disease.
Coconut oil reduces inflammation and improves the moisture in the skin. It attenuates the dryness, itchiness and other such uncomfortable symptoms.
Moreover, it prevents the microbial growth in the areas affected by this disease. It has a great implication against the additional problems posed by the infection.
Above all, it is safe for the topical use which adds to its efficacy and efficiency.