Lauric acid, although slightly irritating to mucous membranes, has a very low toxicity and so is used in many soaps and shampoos. Sodium lauryl
sulfate is the most common lauric-acid derived compound used for this purpose. Because lauric acid has a non-polar hydrocarbon tail and a polar
carboxylic acid head, it can interact with polar solvents (the most important being water) as well as fats, allowing water to dissolve fats. This
accounts for the abilities of shampoos to remove grease from hair.
Another use is to raise metabolism, believed to derive from lauric acid's
activation of 20% of thyroidal hormones, otherwise which lay dormant. This is supposed from lauric acid's release of enzymes in the intestinal tract
which activate the thyroid. This could account the metabolism-raising properties of coconut oil.
Because lauric acid is inexpensive, has a long shelf-life, and is non-toxic and safe to handle, it is often used in laboratory investigations of
melting-point depression. Lauric acid is a solid at room temperature but melts easily in boiling water, so liquid lauric acid can be treated with
various solutes and used to determine their molecular masses.