Why You Should Be Slathering Yourself in Coconut Oil

The benefits range from hydration to healing.

<p>Getty Images</p>

Getty Images

Coconut oil is a unique natural oil, a powerhouse moisturizer that also offers other skin benefits: it's anti-microbial, soothing, and much more. However, experts do share that it’s not necessarily good to use coconut oil on the face if breakouts or clogged pores are a concern. Typically, it's best when used on the body to avoid any potential downsides of incorporating this natural oil into your regimen.

Meet Our Expert

  • Marisa Garshick, MD, a board-certified dermatologist in NYC and New Jersey

  • Deanne Mraz, MD, co-founder of Modern Dermatology in Westport, Connecticut, and assistant professor of dermatology at Yale School of Medicine

  • Purivisha Patel, MD, a board-certified dermatologist in Memphis as well as the founder of Visha Skin Care.

We spoke to top dermatologists from across the country to find out how to use coconut oil in a skin-care routine and why, plus when to avoid it. Read on for everything you need to know.

What Is Coconut Oil?

“Coconut oil is the oil that is derived by pressing fresh coconut meat of the coconut palm fruit or dried coconut kernels called copra,” Dr. Garshick explains. However, not all coconut oil is created equal. “Virgin coconut oil uses fresh meat, while refined coconut oil and cold-pressed coconut oil often use copra,” she adds. Because this unique oil is not just rich in fatty acids, it's also edible, it's used for many purposes ranging from cooking to health, beauty, and wellness products. “If you’re using pure coconut oil on your skin, ensure quality by using purified, cold-pressed coconut oil in liquid form,” recommends Dr. Mraz.

Benefits of Using Coconut Oil on Skin

<p>Getty Images</p>

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The pros of using coconut oil on skin range from hydration to healing. “The benefits of using coconut oil can include helping to moisturize the skin and retain moisture, reducing inflammation, promoting wound healing, as well as offering antibacterial properties,” says Dr. Garshick. According to Dr. Mraz, most of coconut oil’s benefits “are due to the high concentration of lauric acid, which has antimicrobial plus anti-inflammatory properties, as well as linoleic acid which hydrates and softens the skin,” she says. These two benefits of coconut oil are important: “Antimicrobial properties help reduce surface bacteria on the skin and may aid in wound healing,” Dr. Mraz says. “Anti-inflammatory and antioxidant benefits can reduce inflammation in the skin and neutralize free radicals to reduce oxidative damage and stress on the skin.”

Coconut oil is also a stellar moisturizer. “Coconut oil has hydrating and emollient properties that can repair the skin's barrier function,” explains Dr. Mraz. “Coconut oil creates a protective layer at the skin's surface, locking in hydration and supporting the skin barrier.” Experts also point out that coconut oil may be particularly beneficial for those who suffer from specific skin concerns, such as atopic dermatitis, eczema, or psoriasis. “Coconut oil might be helpful on patches of eczema and psoriasis that benefit from a reduction in inflammation,” Dr. Mraz says. Dr. Garshick notes that some research on the benefits of using coconut oil for atopic dermatitis are promising. “Some studies have shown that it can help atopic dermatitis by nourishing the skin, supporting skin-barrier function and decreasing trans-epidermal water loss,” she says.

How to Use Coconut Oil in a Skin-Care Routine

Experts agree that because coconut oil is a highly comedogenic oil (it can clog pores), most skin cannot tolerate it when used on the face, making coconut oil much more efficient in other aspects of a skincare routine including for lips and the body or as a cleanser only. They also note that its makeup also makes it beneficial in hair care as a deep hydrator. “I like it to also specifically treat dry patches on the body like the knees and elbows,” Dr. Mraz says.

According to Dr. Patel, “Coconut oil is rich in fatty acids, which is why it can help with dry skin and acts a a good emollient,” she says. “I recommend to use it on lips and on sunburns — coconut oil in lip balms helps to protect and coat the lips, and coconut oil can be used for sunburn relief due to its moisturizing and anti-inflammatory properties.” She also notes that coconut oil is also an excellent makeup remover, especially when trying to wash away water-resistant formulas. “It’s a good makeup remover but must be washed off in a double cleanse, as it can be occlusive and increase breakouts,” she adds. Dr. Garshick recommends incorporating coconut oil into your body-care routine. “To get optimal benefits using coconut oil, it is best to apply it to the body after bathing on damp skin,” she says. “This will help to best moisturize and protect the skin and lock moisture in.”

When to Avoid Using Coconut Oil

When it comes to use on the face, “while coconut oil is safe for all skin types, it is especially good for those with dry skin and should be avoided in those with oily or acne-prone skin,” says Dr. Garshick. “Coconut oil is comedogenic due to its thick, waxy-like oil structure that can trap moisture and block pores. Therefore, those with oily and acne-prone skin should refrain from using it as a moisturizer or make-up remover, being that it does have the potential to clog pores which can lead to acne.” Dr. Patel also says to steer clear of using coconut oil on the groin and armpits. “It can increase the risk of folliculitis, which is a small infection of the hair follicles,” she says.

Frequently Asked Questions

When is the best time to use coconut oil on skin?

“Stick to your nighttime skin-care routine for using coconut oil when possible, as it can interfere with SPF absorption and protection in the daytime hours,” says Dr. Mraz.

Are allergic reactions to coconut oil possible?

“Yes, they are possible but rare, and they would likely present as a rash,” says Dr. Patel. 

Can coconut oil help hydrate hair like how it moisturizes skin?

“Coconut oil may help to improve the appearance of dry or damaged hair and dry scalp, because it’s rich in fatty acids that help to nourish both the hair and scalp like it does with skin,” says Dr. Garshick.

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