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Ingredient spotlight: Coconut oil for the skin

Using coconut oil for your skin comes with pros and cons.

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Curology Team
Jan 13, 2023 · 5 min read

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We’re here to share what we know — but don’t take it as medical advice. Talk to your medical provider if you have questions.
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  3. > Ingredient spotlight: Coconut oil for the skin

You’ve probably heard of coconut oil. After all, people use it for cooking and so much more, including teeth and hair care. So, you might be wondering if it’s good for your skin, too. While this emollient may help hydrate the skin and repair its barrier function, it’s also comedogenic, which means it can clog pores and lead to breakouts. Here’s the 411 on coconut oil for the skin and a comparison of its risks and benefits.

What is coconut oil?

Coconut oil is an edible oil extracted from the kernels of mature coconuts harvested from palm trees (beach vacation, anyone?). There are two main types of coconut oil: copra oil and virgin coconut oil. Both have similar fatty acid profiles, but virgin coconut oil contains higher amounts of certain nutrients, such as vitamin E, and dietary bioactive compounds, including polyphenols. One of the reasons coconut oil has become so popular in the health world is its medium-chain fatty acids, which are thought to provide certain health benefits.¹

The coconut tree is found in warm, humid climates, and its many uses have led some to refer to it as the “tree of life.” Around the world, different cultures have cultivated the coconut tree, and coconut oil has traditionally been used for many different conditions, including cancer, diabetes, dry skin, and psoriasis.² It’s also used in many skin and hair products.³

We understand you might be wondering if coconut oil is good for dry skin. Unfortunately, the answer’s a bit complicated. Coconut oil is an occlusive moisturizer, which means that it sits on top of the skin and traps moisture underneath. Occlusive moisturizers help prevent the evaporation of water from the skin—also called transepidermal water loss (TEWL)—by forming a barrier. This barrier allows the skin’s deeper layers to replenish the stratum corneum’s water content.⁴

But before you rush to add it to your routine, take note: Despite its hydrating properties, coconut oil may clog your pores—more on that below.

very tall florida palm

Is coconut oil good for your skin?

So, what does coconut oil do for your skin? This accessible and relatively inexpensive oil is often touted as a skincare cure-all, with diehard fans insisting it makes their skin glow. We did some research to get to the bottom of these claims, and although coconut oil does have a handful of impressive potential benefits, it has a few cons, too.

The potential benefits of coconut oil for your skin include the following: 

  • Added hydration: Virgin coconut oil has been used as a moisturizer for centuries by people living in tropical regions.⁵ Its occlusive properties help lock moisture into the skin. 

  • Fights infection: Coconut oil may be helpful as an antibacterial or antifungal agent to treat skin infections. While its mechanism is still poorly understood, it may be that the medium-chain fatty acids in coconut oil disrupt bacterial, fungal, and viral cell membranes, providing a potential antimicrobial effect.⁶

  • Anti-inflammatory properties: Research shows that coconut oil may have anti-inflammatory properties.⁷

And here are a few potential drawbacks of coconut oil to watch out for: 

  • Highly comedogenic: Although some people use it as a natural makeup remover, we don’t recommend it. Coconut oil is comedogenic and can clog your pores! 

  • May lead to acne: Due to its comedogenic properties, coconut oil is likely unsuitable for acne-prone skin, and it may contribute to breakouts. 

  • Inadequate sun protection: You may have heard coconut oil is an effective natural sunscreen. It may provide up to SPF 8⁸ but does not effectively protect the skin from sunburn. We’re all about sun protection at Curology, and we recommend always wearing a broad-spectrum sunscreen that’s at least SPF 30.

fresh coconut milk oil

How to use coconut oil for your skin 

When it comes to skincare products, it may be best to skip coconut oil altogether. Our licensed dermatology providers advise against using coconut oil on your skin because it’s comedogenic (pore-clogging), meaning it may trigger or aggravate acne.⁹ If you find that your skin can tolerate coconut oil and you want to use it, use your best judgment. That said, it may be best to use a non-comedogenic face oil, such as jojoba oil, to avoid potential problems.

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Curology was founded in 2014 by board-certified dermatologists. We’re a full-service skincare service that provides products made with proven-effective ingredients. Our prescription formulas treat acne, fine lines, wrinkles, hyperpigmentation, and rosacea. We also offer advice about which ingredients are the best (and worst) for your skin here on our blog.

Our experts can help take the guesswork out of your skincare routine by providing a custom treatment plan and personalized prescription formula to help you meet your skincare goals. We’ll determine the products you need to help you tackle your skin concerns.

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FAQs

Is it okay to use coconut oil on your face every day?

As mentioned above, coconut oil may clog your pores and contribute to acne—a great reason to avoid using it on your face. For daily use, coconut oil may work better as a body moisturizer. Try using it on your arms, legs, and less breakout-prone areas. If you’re determined to try coconut oil on your face, we suggest testing it on a small patch of skin first.

Can coconut oil help remove dark spots?

Coconut oil is a natural health trend with proven staying power, and some even claim that it lightens the hyperpigmentation in dark spots, sun spots, and melasma. However, this hasn’t been scientifically proven, so we suggest sticking to clinically backed active ingredients (and sun protection!) to reduce those dark spots.

Does coconut oil have side effects on the skin?

When applied to the skin, coconut oil’s primary side effect may be clogged pores and acne. If you have oily, acne-prone skin, we recommend something that won’t clog your pores.

• • •

P.S. We did the homework so you don’t have to:

  1. Wallace, T.C. Health Effects of Coconut Oil-A Narrative Review of Current Evidence. J Am Coll Nutr. (2019).

  2. Elmore, L. Treatment of Dermal Infections With Topical Coconut Oil. Natural Medicine Journal. (2014).

  3. Abel Francis, Anitta Shojan. Comedogenicity of Oils. International Journal of Contemporary Medical Research. (2019).

  4. Harwood, A., Nasserredin, A. Moisturizers. StatPearls. (2022).

  5. Varma, S.R., et al. In vitro anti-inflammatory and skin protective properties of Virgin coconut oil. J Tradit Complement Med. (2018).

  6. Elmore, L. Treatment of Dermal Infections With Topical Coconut Oil. Natural Medicine Journal. Ibid.

  7. Peedikayil, F.C., et al. Comparison of antibacterial efficacy of coconut oil and chlorhexidine on Streptococcus mutans: An in vivo study. J Int Soc Prev Community Dent. (2016).

  8. Kaur, C.D., Saraf, S. In vitro sun protection factor determination of herbal oils used in cosmetics. Pharmacognosy Res. (2010).

  9. Francis, A., Shojan, A. Comdogenicity of Oils. International Journal of Contemporary Medical Research. Ibid.

Meredith Hartle is a board-certified Family Medicine physician at Curology. She earned her medical degree at Kirksville College of Osteopathic Medicine in Kirksville, MO.

• • •
Our medical review process:We’re here to tell you what we know. That’s why our information is evidence-based and fact-checked by medical experts. Still, everyone’s skin is unique—the best way to get advice is to talk to your healthcare provider.
Curology Team Avatar

Curology Team

Meredith Hartle, DO

Meredith Hartle, DO

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