Should You Use Coconut Oil for Dry Eyes?

Dry eye syndrome (also called dry eye) is a condition where the eyes don’t make enough tears or the right kind of tears.

Dry eye can cause a stinging or burning sensation in your eyes, or feel like there’s something in your eye. It can cause redness and irritation, blurred vision, and tearing up in the eyes. It may also make wearing contact lenses uncomfortable or painful.

Dry eye can be treated in a number of ways. One home remedy for dry eye that is recommended by some experts is virgin coconut oil, which may have antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties, as well as moisturizing compounds that may help reduce tear evaporation.

Jar of coconut oil with coconuts

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Health Benefits of Coconut Oil for Dry Eye

Protective Layer

The tear film spreads over the eye when you blink to keep the eye’s surface smooth and clear, and to maintain good vision.

The tear film is composed of three layers:

  • An oily layer: The outside of the tear film; makes the tear surface smooth and prevents tears from drying up too quickly
  • A watery layer: The middle of the tear film; makes up most of what we see as tears; cleans the eye and washes away particles that should not be in the eye
  • A mucus layer: The inner layer of the tear film; helps keep the eye moist by spreading the watery layer over the eye’s surface

Dry eye can result if the eyes don’t make enough tears or if something affects one or more layers of the tear film.

No human trials have been conducted on coconut oil as a treatment for dry eye, but a study of rabbits showed that coconut oil can create a protective layer over the tear film. This can prevent evaporation and reduce dry eye.

Antibacterial and Anti-Inflammatory Properties

Some studies have shown that the lauric acid in coconut oil appears to inhibit the growth of some bacteria. Others indicate the potential of coconut oil in the treatment of inflammation. In theory, this means virgin coconut oil could help dry eye if it has a bacterial or inflammatory component, but this use has not been studied.

A Note About Studies on Coconut Oil

The Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health notes that many of the health claims made about coconut oil refer to research that used a special formulation of coconut oil made of 100% medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs). This is not the commercial coconut oil commonly available at most supermarkets.

In addition, many of the studies on coconut oil are performed in vitro (meaning outside of the body, for example in a petri dish) or are animal studies. More human studies are needed before concrete health claims can be made.

Possible Side Effects

In the 2015 study on rabbits, virgin coconut oil showed no signs of harming the animals’ eyes. This suggests that virgin coconut oil may be safe for human eyes, but this has not been confirmed with research.

Dosage and Preparation

Because it has not been studied in humans, there is no standard dosage or preparation for the use of coconut oil in the treatment of dry eye.

Some eye clinics suggest soaking a cotton ball in virgin coconut oil and placing it on the closed eyelid or lids several times a day until no longer needed.

Other experts advise using coconut oil in its liquid form as eye drops, but proceed with the following only after consulting with your eye doctor:

  1. Partially fill a small bowl with hot tap water.
  2. Place about a teaspoon of virgin coconut oil into a different, smaller bowl.
  3. Place the smaller bowl in the larger bowl, and allow to sit until the oil is liquefied. Do not microwave the coconut oil, as this changes the molecular structure of the oil and kills the lauric acid.
  4. Let the liquefied oil cool.
  5. Using a small glass dropper, withdraw some oil from the bowl.
  6. Tip your head back and put a few drops of the oil into each eye. The eyes may be cloudy for a few minutes.
  7. Repeat twice a day, morning and evening, for a week.

Note that these and any recommendations for use of coconut oil in the eyes are subjective and not proven. Always consult an eye doctor before putting coconut oil or other substances in your eyes.

Coconut Oil for Blepharitis

Blepharitis is a condition involving inflammation of the eyelids. It can be caused by a number of factors, but in about half of cases, the condition is triggered by a type of mite called demodex folliculorum. Recent research suggests that coconut oil may be helpful in managing the symptoms.

In a 2020 study, coconut oil was applied over the lid margins of people with a demodex infestation. When they were reevaluated at the three-week mark, all the participants were symptom-free. While not eliminated, the mite count dropped by 52.8%. Still, more research is needed to evaluate the use of coconut oil as a treatment for blepharitis.

What to Look For

If you decide to use coconut oil for dry eye, choose virgin coconut oil. Since it is unrefined, it retains higher levels of antibiotic and anti-inflammatory compounds like lauric acid. Refined coconut oil also sometimes uses chemical solvents, which may be harmful to eyes.

More Home Remedies for Dry Eyes

Conventional treatments for dry eye include commercial eye drops and prescription medications, and if dry eye is severe enough, surgery or a procedure to place small plugs in the tear ducts may be necessary.

Often, mild to moderate dry eye can be treated with home remedies. If you are put off by the lack of human studies on the use of coconut oil for dry eye, you can try another method of relief, such as:

  • Avoiding irritants like smoke, wind, and air conditioning
  • Using a humidifier in your home or workplace
  • Limiting screen time and taking screen breaks to give your eyes a rest
  • Wearing wraparound sunglasses outside
  • Staying hydrated by drinking plenty of water
  • Getting enough good quality sleep
  • Applying warm compresses on your eyes
  • Massaging your eyelids
  • Using a gentle cleanser meant for eyelids
  • Blinking more

In addition to lifestyle changes, a 2012 study showed an increase in tear production after caffeine consumption. More research is needed to see if caffeine is effective as a treatment for dry eye.

A Word From Verywell

Coconut oil has been recommended as a treatment for dry eye by some eye clinics and anecdotal evidence on websites. However, it has not been evaluated for efficacy and safety on humans. If trying coconut oil, proceed with caution and only under the advice of your eye doctor.

Many other home treatments for dry eye can be used in addition to or instead of coconut oil to help you find relief from dry eye. There are also medical treatments available.

If your eyes are irritated, make an appointment with your eye doctor or healthcare provider to check if dry eye is the culprit, and see what they suggest to help.

Frequently Asked Questions

Is it safe to apply coconut oil on and around your eyes?

The safety and efficacy of coconut oil used in the eyes has not been determined in humans through research. One study on rabbits indicated it was not harmful to the rabbits’ eyes.

Anecdotal evidence suggests that the treatment is not harmful to human eyes, but it cannot be deemed safe with certainty until it is studied. Always ask your eye doctor before putting coconut oil, or anything else, in your eyes.

What natural treatments lubricate dry eyes?

Warm compresses on the eyes, staying hydrated, and blinking more are ways to naturally lubricate your eyes. Measures such as using a humidifier, protecting your eyes from irritants such as smoke and dry air, and limiting screen time can also help with dry eye.

Does petroleum jelly work the same way as coconut oil for dry eyes?

Petroleum jelly products like Vaseline can provide a lipid layer that may protect the skin around the eyes. However, petroleum jelly cannot be liquified like coconut oil, so should not be used in the eye. Further, it does not contain the same antibacterial and anti-inflammatory compounds that coconut oil provides.

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10 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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