What Is Extra Virgin Coconut Oil Good For? How Is It Different From Regular Coconut Oil?

Reviewed By Ionut Ignat, (RDN, PHD, MD), Registered Dietitian Nutritionist
Written by Swathi Handoo

Coconut oil works wonderfully well for treating hair and skin issues. But with passing time and increasing demand, it has undergone refinement and adulteration. This has affected its nutrient core.

Fortunately, the unrefined and less-processed variant of this oil is gaining popularity. It is called ‘virgin’ coconut oil or ‘extra virgin’ coconut oil. This oil is extracted from the fresh meat of coconut kernels. It retains the micronutrients and has a long list of benefits (1).

Continue reading to understand how safe this oil can be for your health.

Note: There is no difference between extra virgin and virgin coconut oil. They have a similar composition. Legally too, these terms are used interchangeably.

What Is (Extra) Virgin Coconut Oil?

Extra Virgin Coconut Oil is obtained from the fresh meat of mature coconut kernels. This oil is extracted either by mechanical or natural processes (1), (2). As the coconut meat is untreated and raw, the oil thus obtained is termed as ‘virgin’ coconut oil.

Virgin coconut oil extraction process may/may not require heating. But it does not involve any chemical processing whatsoever. A machine presses fresh coconut meat to yield milk and oil, and this process is called cold pressing (1), (2).

The milk is separated from the oil by various biophysical techniques. The remaining oil has a high smoke point (about 350°F). This virgin coconut oil can be used for sautéing or baking, but it might not be appropriate for deep-frying or high-heat cooking (1).

Virgin coconut oil is not just another cooking oil variety. There is more to it.

What Is Special About Virgin Coconut Oil?

Since there is minimal processing or heating involved, virgin coconut oil retains most of its nutritional components. It is rich in unsaturated fatty acids and has zero cholesterol.

Above all, virgin coconut oil retains its antioxidant properties – a reason it is gaining importance in the fields of science and wellness.

Recent studies state that it is more effective than refined, bleached, and deodorized (RBD) coconut oil in lowering LDL and cholesterol levels.

The cholesterol-lowering properties of virgin coconut oil, in turn, protect your heart, brain, liver, kidneys, and other vital organs.

Want to know how?

Jump to the section below.

Virgin Coconut Oil Vs. Regular/Refined Coconut Oil

If fresh, ‘wet’ meat from the coconut kernels is used to extract the oil, the product is ‘virgin’ coconut oil.

If fresh coconut meat is dried with quick heating, it will harden to give you the ‘copra’ (or dried coconut). This copra is machine-pressed to extract the oil. The obtained refined oil is steamed or heated to deodorize the oil.

Finally, it is “bleached” by filtering through clay to remove any impurities and pathogens. This final product would be ‘refined’ coconut oil.

Virgin coconut oil is healthier than its refined variant. However, the former could be less heat stable than the latter.

That’s because refined oil has added chemical solvents (like hexane) that increase its smoke point (to 400-450°F). These solvents, if used regularly, can cause harm.

What Are The Benefits Of Virgin Coconut Oil?

Virgin (or extra virgin) coconut oil has excellent moisturizing and antioxidant properties. It can be used to manage skin issues, microbial infection, and boost immunity.

1. Repairs Your Skin


Coconut oil has almost all the properties of a perfect skin care solution. It is an antioxidant, antimicrobial, anti-inflammatory, and vulnerary (wound healing) agent. This oil can be used to treat chronic skin disorders like eczema and atopic dermatitis (4).

Its fatty acid profile includes 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%). These penetrate effectively through multiple skin layers (4).

Applying the oil topically can improve your skin’s barrier function and offer UV protection.

Virgin coconut oil inhibits the production of pro-inflammatory compounds and helps heal wounds and scars (5).

2. Aids Weight Loss

Most oils have long-chain fatty acids that increase blood cholesterol levels. These fatty acids are difficult to be broken and cannot assimilate easily in your bloodstream. Using oils that contain short-chain or medium-chain fatty acids can prevent hypercholesterolemia (high blood cholesterol levels) (6).

Virgin or regular coconut oil contains medium-chain and long-chain fatty acids. Medium-chain fatty acids don’t raise blood cholesterol as much as long-chain fatty acids do. They also are not stored in your body’s fat tissue (6), (7).

Research also proves that those following a diet rich in medium-chain fatty acids lose more weight than those on a diet consisting of short-chain fatty acids. Hence, incorporating oils like virgin coconut oil in cooking may have positive effects on weight loss (7).

3. Promotes Healthy Hair Growth

Applying coconut oil to hair has shown to reduce protein loss. Compared to sunflower oil and mineral oil, coconut oil penetrates better into the hair shaft. Mineral oil cannot chemically interact with proteins to trap/conserve them (8).

Whereas, coconut oil has lauric acid as its principal fatty acid. Lauric acid interacts better with hair proteins. Hence, using coconut oil on damaged or undamaged hair, or during pre-wash or post-wash gives the best results (8), (9).

Such oils reduce the formation of split ends in your hair. They can fill the gap between hair cells and protect them from harsh chemical damage (9).

4. Protects From Dental Caries


Virgin coconut oil has broad-spectrum antimicrobial activity. Most of the bacteria causing dental caries are susceptible to this oil (10). This is why it is commonly used in oil pulling.

Gargling/swishing coconut oil in your mouth can help get rid of dental plaque and gingivitis. It can eliminate Escherichia vulneris, Enterobacter spp., Helicobacter pylori, Staphylococcus aureus, and fungal species, including Candida albicans, C. glabrata, C. parapsilosis, C. stellatoidea, and C. kruse (11).

Lauric acid is the chief active component in coconut oil. Research points out that lauric acid has anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial activities. These properties of active components make virgin coconut oil a cheap and safe dental care aid (10), (11).

5. Manages Fungal Infections

Women are more prone to yeast infection or candidiasis. Men can develop balanitis – a yeast infection that weakens the immune system. It might also be caused due to diabetes and obesity (12).

Traditional Chinese medicine prescribes a diet rich in virgin coconut oil to manage fungal infections. Several fungal species are susceptible to virgin coconut oil. This oil was found to be 100% active against Candida species of fungi in laboratory experiments (13).

Lauric acid and its derivative, monolaurin, alter the microbial cell walls. Monolaurin can penetrate the cells and disrupt the membranes. The anti-inflammatory activity of this oil reduces the severity of fungal infections (13).

6. Might Reduce Cancer Risk

Medium-chain fatty acids are essential for individuals with low (suppressed) immunity. Virgin coconut oil is one of the best dietary sources of these fats. Compared to other oils or butter, it was found to have better protective activity against breast and colon cancers (14).

Often, those undergoing chemotherapy feel weak with low or no appetite. Adding this oil to their diet can boost their nutritional status, energy, and metabolism, thanks to the lauric acid (14), (15).

Coconut oil administration showed anti-proliferative effects on colon and breast tumors in rat studies. But, it can increase serum cholesterol levels. Researchers claim that higher cholesterol levels can have protective effects against tumor development in animals (15), (16).

In short, consuming virgin coconut oil is beneficial to your overall health.

Here is its nutritional profile-

Nutritional Profile of Virgin Coconut Oil
NutrientUnit1 TBSP or 14.0g
Total lipid (fat)g14
Carbohydrate, by differenceg0
Fiber, total dietaryg0
Sugars, totalg0
Fatty acids, total saturatedg11.999
Fatty acids, total transg0

Health enthusiasts around the world are replacing mineral and refined oils with this unprocessed oil. Now you know why! You can also try using it for cooking simple recipes.

However, virgin coconut oil might be unsuitable for deep frying and prolonged cooking at high temperatures. So, choose your recipes wisely. Here are some ideas.

How To Use Virgin Coconut Oil

Sauces and dips (like mayonnaise, vinaigrette) taste excellent when made with this oil.

Bullet-proof coffee is another fantastic recipe if you are a coffee addict.

Smoothies, meal drinks, ice creams, no-bake cakes, etc. taste richer and are more filling when made with coconut oil.

Sautéed vegetables, including potatoes, have higher nutritional value if prepared this way.

With zero cholesterol and abundant lauric acid, looks like virgin coconut oil is here to stay.

Sadly, that might not happen.

Researchers warn us about using it regularly. Scroll to the next section to know the side effects of virgin coconut oil.

Does Virgin Coconut Oil Have Side Effects?

Yes, it is healthy. But the fact remains that coconut oil is a reservoir of saturated fatty acids (SFAs). SFA-rich diets have been linked to serious metabolic disorders (17).

However, there is limited research and data to support this notion. Although virgin coconut oil spikes the total cholesterol levels, there is not enough proof to link its consumption to increased cardiovascular risk (17).

Not all studies showed an increased mortality rate when tested with this oil.

It is, therefore, suggested to limit the intake of virgin coconut oil to about 10% of your total energy intake (17).

If you have a 2,000-calorie-a-day diet, not more than 120 calories should come from saturated fats. This is about 13 g of saturated fat per day. That should be just over the amount found in 1 tablespoon of coconut oil (18).

Plan your meals accordingly. Invest in a small and good-quality virgin coconut oil pack. You can also apply it to your hair and skin to enjoy its emollient benefits.

Above all, you can apply it to your hair and skin to enjoy its emollient benefits.

In the following section, we have discussed a few important points about using virgin coconut oil that you must know.

How To Know If Virgin Coconut Oil Is Spoiled/Expired

  • Virgin coconut oil should stay for about 2-3 years if stored away from heat and light.
  • If the oil smells rancid or has changed its color, discard it.
  • Stale/spoiled oil might get chunky in hand. Discard if you see this.
  • You might have fungal molds growing on the oil surface in the tin. You can often scrape those spots and use the rest.

In Summary…

Virgin coconut oil is an unrefined form of coconut oil that also is the least processed. Traditional medicine uses this oil to treat various ailments of the skin, hair, mouth, and the immune system.

Though we have listed evidence for its benefits and side effects, we suggest you discuss using virgin coconut oil with your healthcare provider. If you still have any queries or comments, leave them in the comments box below.

Tell us how you liked this read. Share your feedback.


  1. Coconut Oil” The Nutrition Source, Harvard T.H.Chan School of Public Health, Harvard University.
  2. Effect of Virgin Coconut Oil (VCO) on Cardiometabolic…” ClinicalTrials.gov, US National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health.
  3. A Comparative study of storage stability in virgin…” International Food Research Journal.
  4. Anti-Inflammatory and Skin Barrier Repair Effects…” International Journal of Molecular Sciences, US National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health.
  5. Effect of topical application of virgin coconut oil on…” Skin Pharmacology and Physiology, US National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health.
  6. Coconut oil for weight loss: Does it work?” Weight Loss, Healthy Lifestyle, Mayo Clinic, Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research (MFMER).
  7. Weight-loss diet that includes consumption of medium-chain…” Author manuscript, HHS Public Access, US National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health.
  8. Effect of mineral oil, sunflower oil, and coconut oil on…” Journal of Cosmetic Science, US National Library of Science, National Institutes of Health.
  9. Hair Cosmetics: An Overview” International Journal of Trichology, US National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health.
  10. The Comparative Antimicrobial Effect of Activated Virgin…” Advances in Health Science Research, Atlantis Press, Academia.
  11. Effect of coconut oil in plaque related gingivitis…” Nigerian Medical Journal, US National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health.
  12. Traditional Chinese Medicine for the Treatment of Yeast Infections” Pacific College of Oriental Medicine.
  13. In vitro antimicrobial properties of coconut oil on…” Journal of Medicinal Food, US National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health.
  14. The effects of virgin coconut oil (VCO) as supplementation…” Lipids in Health and Disease, US National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health.
  15. The lauric acid-activated signaling prompts apoptosis in cancer cells” Cell Death Discovery, US National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health.
  16. Dodecanoic-Acid in Extra Virgin Coconut Oil, May Reduce…” International Journal of Science and Research, Academia.
  17. Daily Consumption of Virgin Coconut Oil Increases High…” Evidence-based Complementary and Alternative Medicine, US National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health.
  18. Coconut Oil: A Heart Healthy Fat?” IFAS Extension, University of Florida.

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Swathi holds a Master’s degree in Biotechnology and has worked in places where actual science and research happen. Blending her love for writing with science, Swathi writes for Health and Wellness and simplifies complex topics for readers from all walks of life.And on the days she doesn’t write, she learns and performs Kathak, sings Carnatic music compositions, makes plans to travel, and obsesses over cleanliness.