It's a shame. You buy all these fancy oils thinking that you're going to slay in the kitchen, but then the bottles just sit in the cupboard for months, gathering dust. Well here's some good news for you: Cooking oils have value beyond the kitchen. They can improve the health of your skin, mouth, and hair. The high-quality ones, anyway: Cold-pressed virgin and extra-virgin oils are loaded with phytochemicals, plant-based compounds that do your body good.
Sadly, the benefits don't hold up with heavily refined oils—which canola, corn, and vegetable oil always are—says Katrine Van Wyk, a health and nutrition coach and author of Best Green Eats Ever. Healthy compounds are typically stripped out during processing, so you're probably better off leaving those bottles in the back of the cupboard. Here's how to put the fancier ones to work.
Protect your face against dry winter air
Used as a face wash, natural oils have an uncanny ability to hydrate your skin. Extra-virgin olive oil is especially high in vitamin E and other antioxidants that help protect against the kind of damage that reveal the effects of aging. And the EVOO works even better if you blend it with coconut oil, which delivers skin-soothing medium chain fatty acids along with antimicrobial and antifungal properties, says Josh Axe, a clinical nutritionist and founder of Exodus Health Center. Add a few dashes of an essential oil like lavender or tea tree, and you have a product that could probably fetch a small fortune in a boutique skincare shop. As a bonus, your All-Natural Rejuvenation Potion (you can come up with a better name on your own time) is 100 percent free from parabens and fragrances, both of which are used routinely in commercial moisturizers, but can cause irritation or even disrupt hormonal processes, says Van Wyk.
Wash away pimples
Mix a half-teaspoon of olive oil with a quarter teaspoon of lemon juice. The oil's antioxidants will work to heal, while the juice functions as a astringent to minimize scarring, says Michele Green, a board certified cosmetic dermatologist based in New York City. The blend isn't as potent as the medicated creams she prescribes, but it has the advantage of being non-irritating and non-drying. Plus you don't have to make an appointment to get it. To use it, rub it onto your breakout spots before you go to bed and leave it on while you sleep. In the morning, rinse with warm water, and then use the bathroom mirror to take a good hard look at that radiant complexion of yours.
Clean out the funk in your mouth
Swishing a mouthful of oil once a day can help eliminate plaque and gingivitis. One small study found that adolescents swishing with coconut oil improved their oral health after a week, and their plaque and gingivitis levels continued to fall over the entire duration of the 30-day study. The reason: Fatty compounds in oil attract the fatty membranes around the bacteria in your mouth. That pulls them away so you can spit them out.
It's also possible that swishing with oil will help keep your teeth white. The idea isn't well researched, but it comes from a common practice in Ayurvedic medicine, an ancient holistic healing system from India. Either way, you can burn up a whole lot of unused oil by making homemade toothpaste, says Axe. Combine 4 tablespoons of coconut oil, 2 tablespoons of baking powder, 20 drops of either cinnamon or clove oil, and 20 drops of peppermint oil.
Strip away makeup without roasting your skin
You know how oil attracts the fatty membranes surrounding bacteria? It does the same for the fatty membranes surrounding the pigments in your makeup, says Green. (The whole world is made of fat, it seems.) Plus, as a replacement for your commercial makeup remover, oil is gentler and free from synthetic chemicals. "You can actually trust that the oils are not just removing the makeup but are also moisturizing, protecting, and healing your skin," says Axe. "That's especially important around sensitive areas like the eyes." Use it like you would a face wash: Rub it on, and rinse it off.
Soften your hair
Any old oil will do, but again, coconut oil is particularly useful, says Van Wyk. It delivers a hearty dose of lauric acid, a saturated fat that can cut down on split ends and dryness, restoring your unruly winter fray back to its natural state of lusciousness. So rub one to two teaspoons of coconut oil—or, hell, whatever oil you're trying to clear out—into your hair before you go to bed at night. Make sure you get all the way down to your scalp, and if your hair's long, put it up to keep the oil from splattering everywhere. Then sleep with your head on a towel or in a shower cap, and wash the oil out in the morning.