Used as an effective moisturizer, antioxidant and all-around health aid, coconut oil is a great addition to your beauty cabinet.

Coconut oil has been gaining more and more attention recently as a natural beauty product that’s generally free of chemicals, solvents and pesticides. Truth be told, it’s already been used for centuries in tropical locales such as Polynesia and Southeast Asia to soften and protect skin and to give hair a rich, shiny luster.

Polynesian women are exposed daily to the hot, blistering sun and the chafing of the ocean breeze, yet they are frequently noted for having beautiful skin and hair. Coconut oil is likely one of the reasons, as it helps protect skin not by blocking the sun, but rather by neutralizing UV rays with its natural antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. And while studies have shown that it actually has an SPF rating of about 8, coconut oil allows the suns rays to enter the skin to produce vitamin D, which is so essential to good health.

Some Pacific Islanders and Asian people’s use coconut oil as a medicine, applying it like an ointment to heal burns, cuts and other injuries, as well as certain infections. I’ve personally seen chronic skin problems that have persisted for years improve dramatically after a few weeks of using coconut oil.

Coconut oil is also a great hair conditioner that helps to give the hair shafts body.Used regularly as a hair product, coconut oil can help control dandruff by killing the fungus that causes the condition. Coconut oil is also a great hair conditioner that helps to give the hair shafts body. This benefit assists in protecting hair from damage such as split ends and gives the hair a luxurious, youthful shine.

Coconut oil acts like commercial creams and lotions by providing immediate relief to dry, chapped skin. It also heals and fortifies by acting as an antioxidant, protecting it from destructive free radicals that can damage and discolor your skin. It can help head off liver spots and other blemishes caused by aging and overexposure to sunlight. By keeping connective tissues strong and supple, it also prevents the skin from sagging and wrinkling.

Coconut oil creates a protective chemical barrier that helps to shield the body from harmful germs. It contains a special group of germ-fighting fatty acids with antifungal properties that help kill bacteria, viruses and fungi that can cause disease and skin infections such as ringworm, jock itch, toenail fungus and common acne.

When its eaten in substantial amounts, coconut oil acts like a health tonic, improving the absorption of vitamins and minerals in the foods that are consumed at the same time. Included in this group are fat-soluble nutrients such as vitamins A, D, E and K, beta-carotene and CoQ10. It also enhances the absorption of important minerals such as calcium and magnesium that are essential for building and maintaining strong bones and teeth. In addition, it is rich in lauric acid, which a study from the American Society for Nutrition suggests is effective at raising good HDL cholesterol.

Coconut oil is found as an ingredient in a variety of creams and lotions. As an effective, natural and relatively inexpensive treatment for many skin conditions, I find that the natural oil also works great by itself.

Bruce Fife, C.N., N.D., is an author, speaker, certified nutritionist and naturopathic physician who has written over 20 books, including The Coconut Oil Miracle and Coconut Cures: Preventing and Treating Common Health Problems with Coconut. A leading expert on dietary fats and oils, he is the publisher of the Healthy Ways Newsletter and serves as the president of the Coconut Research Center, a nonprofit organization whose purpose is to educate the public and medical community about the health and nutritional aspects of coconut and related foods.