tentative pre-review: coconut oil

Just because I know my skin reacts to 99.999% of known substances in the universe is no reason why I should not keep trying stuff out on it. And there, ladies and gentlemen, is where there may be a really interesting (and sometimes epic) conflict between rationality and common sense. This is very interesting to me right now because part of my current work—in my real life existence—kinda sorta involves these very topics. Long story. Much of it probably not very interesting to anyone else, even people in my field of work. And we’re a pretty geeky field.

But I digress.

Always a good way to start a post.

Previous use of coconut oil: using a random jar of cheap coconut oil for cooking, which had pretty much no scent: suggesting, with hindsight, that this was a refined  bleached deodorized one. 

  • on skin: total zittoriffic catastrophe of dramatic proportions
  • on hair: heavy greasy disaster, plus outbreaks of breakouts on surrounding skin
  • [edit. forgot to add:] and, obviously, used as food: success, been doing this with all manner of coconut oil & other parts of that great and noble fruit for years, decades, …
    NB: Occasional food use only, not using this as a regular cooking/eating oil—extra-virgin olive, canola/rapeseed, and hemp seed for that—for preventative health reasons: minimal saturated fats in diet, partly as both of us have inherited the classic north-west European genetic propensity to cholesterol and heart disease issues.

Conclusion: disaster.

I’d also had zittiness with many/most products containing straight-up coconut oil. Except lip-balms. And some hair-stuff: for example Phyto Phytojoba and Desert Essence Coconut shampoos. Hmmm. That is not consistent with stating that “coconut oil does not work on me.”

So count that as two reasons not to dismiss the stuff entirely. [Three, when you add being able to eat it without breaking out.]

Here begins a new experiment.

THE PRODUCT

Dr Bronner’s fair trade organic virgin (whole-kernel, fresh-pressed, cold-pressed, unrefined) coconut oil. The jar with the brown label, not the white one.

Like other coconut oils, this one is white. Solid at room temperature: looks like a slightly crystalline cousin of lard. Melts at just under body temperature (24C as opposed to 37C). When in liquid form, it is a very light, fine, clear oil. Once heated and melted to liquid state, it can also be resolidified by cooling (ex. in the fridge). It’s not harmed by heating and cooling, though the structure may change, becoming more crystalline than before, with bigger crystals. The refined bleached deodorized version (= that first one I used) is odourless. The virgin version smells of coconut. I haven’t met the other versions in real life (fractionated, hydrogenated), so can’t comment on them. Stable, slow to oxidize  keeps for a long time (years).

To use, scoop some out of the jar using fingers or a tool (ex. a spoon or spatula). To apply it to skin or hair (or for food use), there are three options available:
(1) heat it: in a pan, in a microwave, in a bain marie, etc.
(2) simply melt by rubbing it between fingertips and rubbing the fingers and palms of hands together, spreading the oil over that whole surface
(3) apply a lump directly to skin, it’ll melt on contact: rub in from there. The easiest method if using a large quantity over a large surface area. (The same may apply in cooking; ex. if basting a whole ox/woolly mammoth on the barbecue).

For more on coconut oil, its production, and its properties: see this Wikipedia entry.

dr bronner's coconut oil

REASON FOR SELECTION

1. VIRGIN

I’d gathered/gleaned, from talking to people who use coconut oil on their hair, from MakeupAlley boards & product reviews, and from assorted hairy online communities (longhair, etc.) that virgin coconut oil was the one to try.

Virgin = cold-pressed; if anyone tries to sell you “extra-virgin”, by the way, they are either ignorant or a charlatan who’s trying to rob you blind. There’s no such thing, and can’t be, given the differences between olives and coconuts, and the differences in oil extraction methods for both. Go look it up if you don’t believe me.

There are plenty of virgin coconut oils around. Many in cooking aisles of shops. Variable prices. Other sorts of coconut oil: not from the whole kernel, refined, extracted and processed in other ways, made from fresh or dried coconut, etc.

2. ORGANIC

I also preferred to buy an oil that was ethically produced: in terms of environmental impact, sustainable agriculture, and human rights.

The first two of these additional criteria translate, as is often (but not always or necessarily) the case, to “organic.”

Please note, and note well: I don’t buy the argument that organic is always best. Especially when thrust at me by a glassy-eyed cultist blind believer working at Whole Foods (not to say all WF employees are like that, of course), the kind who’ll go on to talk dirty about “chemicals” and “toxins” and after about thirty seconds I will want to slap them. After a minute, if I do not walk away, I will start to have cravings for a Big Mac with every extra known to McMan. And the probability of punching will move from a steady increase to an exponential curve. So, in the interests of non-violence, the WFer’s safety, my sanity, and my continuing vegetarianism (with very occasional cheating with local sustainable wild yadayada fish especially our marvellous BC smoked salmon)… it is best for such conversations to be avoided or aborted.

3. FAIR TRADE

Dr Bronner’s, however, has the added feature of being fair trade (and at a fair mid-range price). Here is what the good people of Dr B have to say about their sourcing:

In the spirit of Dr. Emanuel Bronner’s vision of Constructive Capitalism, Dr. Bronner’s began in 2005 a complex mission to source all of our main ingredients from certified Fair Trade and organic sources […and…]  from developing countries. Our goal of going organic and fair trade is to ensure that everyone along our supply chains – farmers, farm workers and workers in processing – receives fair compensation. Also all farming and processing should be done in a way that minimizes harm to the environment and sustains fertility and productivity of the land by organic means. We also wanted to contribute to local development projects in our producing communities through a Fair Trade premium.

Five years later, our Serendipol project in Sri Lanka has become the world’s foremost source of certified organic and fair trade Virgin Coconut Oil (VCO). It not only supplies Dr. Bronner’s growing demand for cosmetics grade coconut oil, which gives our soaps its rich and cleansing lather, but also since October 2010 Serendipol supplies premium quality oil for Dr. Bronner’s own line of food grade VCO. And with resurging interest in healthy coconut food products, we also supply other socially responsible firms in the U.S. and the EU.

Back in 2005 there was no (and still is no) other significant supply of fair trade organic coconut oil; thus, we decided to make our own. After a couple years of intensive planning leading out of post-tsunami relief efforts, in 2007 we formed our subsidiary Serendipol (Pvt) Ltd. (from “Serendib” the old Arab name for Sri Lanka and the Sinhala word for coconut “pol”) with our Sri Lankan partners Sonali Pandithasekera and Gordon de Silva. Serendipol took over a run-down desiccated coconut mill in Sri Lanka’s “Coconut Triangle”, constructed and remodeled buildings and installed new coconut processing technology.

GROWING COCONUTS ORGANICALLY

[…] Serendipol initiated a program of soil maintenance that is starting to pay off for our farmers. Our own composting plant supplies organic fertilizer at cost, and our field officers along with outside experts advise on mulching, intercrops, pest control and animal husbandry. Combined, these measures are gradually increasing coconut yields by some 30-50%. Despite initial skepticism and inertia, higher yields along with the organic premium we pay, motivates our farmers to improve land stewardship and working conditions for their casual workers. Thus, our project is helping to revitalize an industry that has deteriorated in past decades but has the potential to provide a fair livelihood to a large population in rural Sri Lanka – in a sustainable manner.

COCONUT OIL PRODUCTION – FAIR AND SUSTAINABLY

At the same time, our factory has grown fast. With 160 employees we have fast become the largest agricultural employer in the neighborhood. Most of our staff lives within 2 miles from the factory. They enjoy superior compensation and working conditions, have opportunities for growth, and a constructive relationship and dialog with the management. This creates a working atmosphere that attracts workers and professionals from the surrounding area. The factory also showcases virtually complete recycling of all process by-products and waste: husks are sold for fiber and coco peat, coconut shells generate steam in our boiler and are sold for charcoal and activated carbon, the seed cake is sold for animal feed, and the wastewater is treated and used for irrigation and groundwater recharge. Interestingly, all these markets were well established before we even started, we just have to sell the by-products. An ecologist’s dream – and one reason we had selected Sri Lanka.

A key element of all our fair trade projects is the “fair trade premium”. Dr. Bronner’s and increasingly other buyers contribute 10% on the cost of coconuts and labor into a “fair trade fund”. Spending decisions are jointly made by representatives of farmers, farm workers, factory workers and the company management. As of late 2010 the Serendipol fair trade fund, which now receives some $ 250,000 per year in premium, has funded more than 150 projects, small and large, such as procuring critical medical equipment for several local hospitals, providing schools with toilets and books, as well as projects for our workers, such as home improvement funds and school supplies. The committee is now taking on the task of helping disadvantaged rural communities, often farm workers without political clout, to connect to the grid and have their own water supply – at amazingly low cost. Operation and administration of the systems remain with the community. Connecting a village to power also fosters empowerment. […]

GLOBAL COOPERATION

Dr. Bronner’s fair trade projects also exemplify how global Fair Trade can foster direct trade and training relationships between small partner firms in developing countries — not just with buyers in the West. Canaan Fair Trade, our Palestinian fair trade olive oil supplier, buys coconut oil for its soap production from Serendipol. Exchanges of agricultural field officers and of accounting staff between Serendipol and our palm oil sister project Serendipalm in Ghana shows the great potential for productive and enjoyable cultural exchange between people who would otherwise never meet – even though they have much to share. […]

Jolly good. So that’s the oil. Comes in a large jar, costs in the region of $9.00 – 15.00, and can also be used for eating and cooking. Which I have of course done too: smelling good + application using fingers = finger-lickin’ good™. On which note—

—with apologies for that being the only available version on The Tube Of You; and RIP MCA: respect and remembrance.

THE EXPERIMENTS

1. SKIN

Applied to skin on various parts of my anatomy. Provisional results:

  • lips
    → good
  • hands
    → OK, sinks in fast, not as moisturising as meadowfoam (sinks in at a similar rate) in the longer term, i.e. beyond 5 minutes
  • nails & cuticles
    → good. My skin is very dry there, and responds well to many oils, butters, and waxes.
  • elbows, feet
    → ditto
  • face, neck, throat, upper arms
    → no go: itching and the start of bumps within 10 minutes. Not immediately, which is always a pleasant surprise.
  • armpits:
    → fine, no irritation. Tested this out as an alternative to my current deodorant, which includes coconut oil (plus starch & bicarbonate of soda): the layer of potassium alum spray in both armpits, then coconut oil on top on one and my coconutty deodorant on the other. Doesn’t work as well: not a pongy disaster, but some odour by lunchtime after applying in the morning.

2. HAIR

My hair is fine, but there’s a lot of it (thick). Dryish. Wavy, in some parts actively curly or frizzy. Ranges between a general 2b and areas of 3a/3b. Elastic, porous, responds well to protein. Currently (see previous post) in good condition.

Coconut oil is being applied in the following ways, with the following provisional results:

  • to dry hair after washing
    • on the ends and on frizzly bits on the underside and sides
      → good so far
  • to hair before washing
    • on dry hair, just on the lengths and ends
      → good so far
    • on dry hair, all over
      → better than the previous option
    • on dampened hair
      →  didn’t work as well, hair was more lank and greasy; this might work better on coarser curlier hair
    • on dry or damp hair + covering up the hair
      →  hair more lank and greasy; again, might work better on coarser curlier hair. It was, I should add, from sites for curlier hair that I got both tips.
    • the same, but for varying lengths of time:
      → work in progress. Aiming to find the optimum time, i.e. least time for maximal results.

      • The Research suggests 12-14 hours overnight, but this was on coarser drier hair than mine
      • I’ll be testing out 4 hours, 2 hours, 1 hour, 30 minutes, and 15 minutes
  • to hair during the washing process
    • on wet hair, after shampoo and rinse, before conditioner (conditioner just applied on top, rinsed out after a few minutes)
      → good so far

Methods of application:

  •  for use as a defrizzing aid on hair ends and underside: scoop out a tiny quantity the size of a grain of rice. Melt between fingertips. Rub between palms of hands and over backs of fingers. Run hand through hair in the appropriate areas, in a vague fluffing kind of way. Rub remaining oil over hands, do not touch hair again, rinse off surplus.
  • as a pre-wash treatment: similar technique, but using more oil. Scooping it out in small quantities and melting that between fingertips each time. As opposed to scooping out a larger quantity, or melting it in a microwave or a bain-marie.
  • during the washing of hair: wash hair, rinse, then take a small quantity spread gently through the ends and frizzy underbits of hair, then apply conditioner. Leave that to sit for a few minutes while doing other shower stuff, then rinse out.

Re. my use of “worked,” “good/better/ not as well”: standard of comparison = similar methods but different oils. Some comparisons:

  • vs. olive, avocado, argan: coconut oil feels lighter to the touch and penetrates hair better and faster. After washing out, hair is not greasy, not even slick; a little more shiny perhaps, but still feels soft.
  • I’ve also used these and others mixed in with conditioners, or applied to hair before conditioners, or used on scalp when it’s dry and/or eczematic. The others (recently anyway, as in, within the last few years): sweet almond, meadowfoam seed, borage, hemp seed, jojoba.
  • and vs. silicone-based concoctions as leave-in frizz-tamers

Standards of comparison:

  • what the oil and the hair feel like on application of oil to hair
  • the oil’s effects on hair shortly afterwards: after 5 minutes, 15, 30, etc.; whether it’s sitting on the hair surface, or has been imbibed by it
  • results once hair is dry: hair smooth, soft, not frizzy, not greasy (clumped up, stringy, etc.), shiny (not dulled by surplus grease), detangled so that fingers can be run through it, some swing and bounce
  • state of scalp and surrounding skin (ears, neck, etc.): no itching, no irritation (let alone pain), no bumpy precursors to clogs or zits. There should basically be no detectable sensation at all. And no flaking, dryness, scabbiness, bits falling off, etc.
  • state of hair a day later; if it greases up fast to an intolerable unliveable extent, how fast it does so: ex. within hours or by the end of the day (vs. the usual state of affairs: 2 to 3 days, sometimes up to 4)
  • behaviour of hair on the next wash: need for extra shampoo, or two, or a different shampoo

There will be updates. This experiment is in initial stages…

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