Coconut oil craze: Flash in the pan, or versatile tool?

- Money doesn't grow on trees, but a way to save money might: Coconuts can be a creative way to cut costs.

Coconut oil is growing in popularity as a replacement for butter and other oils, even creamer in your coffee. It's also being used instead of expensive beauty products.

Entrepreneur Erin Meagher left her high school teaching job to follow her passion for coconut oil, opening a production facility in Tampa in 2009.

"Ok so we need to gear up," she says, telling us she never thought coconut oil would become her life. She was so intrigued by the health benefits, the business teacher started researching online. She's never looked back.

We put on our hairnets and suited up to head behind the scenes.

"This is our production facility where we package our coconut oil," she says. The first stop is a huge container of oil ready to be packaged.

"This entire thing is 1000 liters of coconut oil," she continues. "Inside it's a bag of liquid." She sloshes it around and tells us there are heating pads underneath in case the oil solidifies in cooler weather so they can heat it back up to liquid and put it into the production line.

Consumer demand for Meagher’s fair trade coconut oil has her planning on doubling the size of the facility, she says while taking us down the assembly line, demonstrating how the induction seals go on the jars, the lids, the date codes and the labels.

They sell her private-label coconut oil, and an unrefined version that goes to Publix and Walmart, by the pallets.

Meagher says the most surprising thing about coconut oil to her is how difficult it is. "It's a really hard process; very painstaking manual labor -- press it to get the oil out of the meat, but then when you do it has so many uses."

Those many uses are all over the internet when it comes to skin and hair routines.  But there’s something keep in mind before you go coco-nuts in the kitchen.

The American Heart Association recently warned that coconut oil contains the same level of saturated fat as beef drippings or butter, triggering a big battle with those who claim the science is more complex, and coconut oil is a "good" saturated fat that can help with cholesterol levels.

In the bathroom, coconut oil can work great as a moisturizer, especially to soothe sunburns.  Some people use it in the shower instead of shaving cream.

And as a makeup remover it can help remove heavy foundation, but we found it especially effective on eye makeup, breaking down waterproof mascara and heavy eyeliner so it came off with a tissue in an easy swipe.  It also can help tame eyebrows instead of a pricey gel.

Another use is oil pulling. It's from the ancient tradition of Ayurvedic medicine from 3,000 years ago, and has recently become a huge trend. Oil pulling is swishing with coconut, sesame, or sunflower oil for about 20 minutes and then spitting it out.

The internet is full of claims that oil pulling cures eczema, arthritis, gum disease, bad breath, and even whitens your teeth.   Dentists largely say it won't hurt, but you shouldn't replace your usual toothpaste and brushing routine with it.

Coconut oil can also be used as a deep conditioning treatment, for an hour, or even overnight, smoothing broken ends and hydrating dry hair. 

Allure magazine says the average American woman will spend $15,000 on beauty products in her lifetime.  And beauty retailer Skinstore says we spend $8 a day on skin and face care.  So at $6 to $10 a big jar, coconut oil could be a way to put your money where your mouth is -- to save.

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