Soaking your body in coconut milk isn’t just an indulgent treat; it offers dozens of benefits for your body and skin.
By Felicia M. Tomasko
Ahh, the scent of coconut. For me, the smell evokes memories of childhood beach trips where my skin would inevitably become gritty with sand and sunscreen. As an adult, the aroma of pure, fresh coconut takes me to a secluded beach with palm trees overhead, fronds swaying in a warm breeze. These associations lend an air of decadence to a massage or body treatment with coconut milk or coconut oil. While the heady scent and smooth texture of coconut oil smothered on the skin may feel like pure indulgence, coconut is actually a very nourishing ingredient for the skin and body.
In our diets, coconut is healthier than once believed. Unfortunately, it is generally lumped in with saturated fats. However, the medium chain fatty acids that make up coconut oil are distinct from the saturated fats found in animal products. Research shows that coconut oil does not have the same cholesterol-raising effect as animal fats.
Nutritionist Mary Enig calls coconut oil a “functional food,” meaning it offers benefits to health beyond mere nutritional statistics. Her research focuses on one of coconut’s medium chain fatty acids, lauric acid, which is also found in breast milk. Lauric acid is antiviral and antimicrobial. Naturopath Bruce Fife considers coconut oil the healthiest oil on earth, and many researchers feel that the medium chain fatty acids such as lauric acid will prove to be as important as essential fatty acids in our diet.
Thai food and most Southeast Asian cuisines are characterized by their use of coconut milk, oil, and meat to provide a base and creamy condiment for main meals as well as desserts. Melanie Sachs, author of Ayurvedic Beauty Care (Lotus Press, 1994), trains spa and massage therapists worldwide; she advises her spa staff to consume coconut oil for energy. “One tablespoon of coconut oil is incredible to eat. It provides stabilizing energy, not just a quick buzz,” she says.
Just as eating coconut replenishes our energy, applying it to the skin offers rejuvenating benefits. At the Spa Bellagio in Las Vegas, one of their most decadent treatments is the Deep Coconut Surrender, designed to hydrate and protect the skin from the desert’s dryness. During the seventy-minute deep tissue treatment, you’ll be massaged with warm rocks and hot towels, and drizzled with warm coconut milk along your spine and legs.
Far from the desert, the iconography of coconut has an idyllic home in the Pacific Islands, particularly in Hawaii. Befitting a Hawaiian spa, coconut appears frequently on the Spa Grande spa menu of Maui’s Grand Wailea Resort Hotel & Spa. One option is the Coconut Euphoria experience, which begins with a scrub of Hawaiian coconut oil and exfoliating sugar and then continues with a plunge into a coconut milk bath.
If you choose to indulge without crossing the Pacific, stateside options abound. Covering the body in coconut is also part of the Hawaiian Journey at the Claremont Resort and Spa in the Bay Area’s Berkeley Hills. During the treatment, you’ll be bathed in herbs, scrubbed with pineapple, papaya, and volcanic clay, then smoothed with warm coconut oil, before receiving a traditional Hawaiian Lomi Lomi massage.
Barbie Maddox, director of spa services at the Cliffs Resort in Shell Beach, California, chose to incorporate coconut into the treatment menu because of its softening qualities, noting that it offers a silky texture without the stickiness found in many lotions. Maddox describes the resort’s Pacific Paradise coconut body treatment as a mini-vacation in itself. Upon relaxing on the table, you are polished with a body scrub infused with enzyme-rich papaya. Warm coconut and kukui oil are then massaged deeply into your skin.
Other landlocked spas also rely on the benefits of coconut. At the Crossings in Austin, the Thai Lemongrass Body Scrub begins with a body mask made from coconut, rice, and vetivert. While the scrub is working its magic on your skin, your therapist works a different brand of magic with Thai massage techniques on your tired feet.
Applying coconut oil to the body is not only nutritious; the lotion has medicinal properties, particularly in Ayurvedic medicine. John Douillard, chiropractor, Ayurvedic physician, and author of The Encyclopedia of Ayurvedic Massage (North Atlantic Books, 2004), recommends coconut oil to quench an excess of the fiery pitta dosha. If your pitta fire is burning too brightly you may notice that your cheeks are flushed or reddened, you may feel irritable, or have a general feeling of being overheated. Applying coconut oil to your feet and scalp before bed in the hot summer months can act as a virtual air conditioner, cooling your body and promoting sound sleep. Women with hot flashes may also find relief through applying coconut oil.
Coconut’s evocative fragrance and silky texture revitalize both body and soul. Even if you don’t have time for a trek to the beach, coconut oil creates dreams of palm fronds and crashing surf, providing a miniature vacation without packing or jet lag.next page >