Should You Use Coconut Oil on Your Skin? Here's What Dermatologists Say
Coconut oil is one of those ingredients that has as much potential in the kitchen as it does your skincare routine. But for every article that touts it as a beautifying elixir, another says that coconut oil for skin is overrated. So how beneficial is adding coconut oil to your skincare routine, really?
That depends, starting with the type of coconut oil you use on your skin. "Coconut oil is extracted from the meat of mature coconut fruit, which are found on specialized palm trees called cocos nucifera (coconut trees)," says Suzanne Friedler, MD, board-certified dermatologist with Advanced Dermatology PC in New York. "There are different mechanical and chemical processes that are used to manufacture coconut oil—for use in skincare, unrefined (virgin or extra-virgin) cold-pressed coconut oil is what's recommended."
This is because when coconut oil is cold pressed, meaning the oil is removed without the use of heat, the process is thought to retain more of the oil's nutrients compared to other processing methods. (More on that later.)
As for how these nutrients can help give your skin a boost and whether coconut oil is a good addition to your skincare routine, here's what dermatologists know so far.
The Pros and Cons of Using Coconut Oil for Skin
One of the starring roles coconut oil can play in your skincare routine is that of a moisturizer, thanks to it being rich in medium-chain fatty acids—most notably, lauric acid, which has some serious antibacterial and antimicrobial skills, and linoleic acid, a rockstar hydrator.
Coconut oil's emollient properties can be beneficial to repairing the skin's barrier function (the outermost layer of skin that defends your body against environmental threats), making it an especially helpful addition to your skincare routine if you have dry, sensitive skin or atopic dermatitis.
Besides being super hydrating, coconut oil has the ability to act as a protective layer that sits on top of the skin and locks in moisture, while also preventing transepidermal water loss (where water passes through the skin and evaporates into the air).
This protective layer helps repair cracks in the outer layers of the skin more efficiently, making it harder for harmful bacteria—such as Staphylococcus, a bacteria commonly found on the skin—to invade and cause an infection, says Friedler.
Coconut oil also contains anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties that, when combined with its hydrating and emollient effects, have the potential to accelerate wound healing.
And because its antioxidant properties can help neutralize and prevent free radicals from UV rays and pollution, "applying coconut oil after sun exposure may be beneficial for the skin," says New York City-based board-certified dermatologist Hadley King, MD. One caveat: Don't put coconut oil on a sunburn—because it acts as a sealant, doing so will trap in the heat and worsen the burn. Once your skin has had a few days to heal (and no longer feels like it's on fire), you can then slather on coconut oil to heal and rehydrate.
Should You Use Coconut Oil for Your Face?
Despite the antibacterial and antimicrobial properties of coconut oil, however, it's not the greatest acne-fighter. "Coconut oil is fairly comedogenic, meaning it can clog pores and contribute to acne," says King. "If you have oily skin and are acne-prone, coconut oil shouldn't be applied to acne-prone areas." Steer clear of applying coconut oil to your face, chest, upper back and shoulders, as these areas of skin have the most oil glands, and do test patches on other areas of your body before going all in.
"I also don't recommend coconut oil for use as a sunscreen," says Friedler. "There's not enough evidence to support its use in this role." Coconut oil is estimated to have an SPF value of 8 and blocks only 20% of the sun's rays, according to the Mayo Clinic. It's recommended your skin be protected instead with broad-spectrum sunscreen that's at least SPF 30.
How to Choose the Best Coconut Oil for Skin
Both refined and unrefined coconut oils have triglycerides (fatty acids) and would be excellent moisturizers. But because unrefined coconut oil has a higher content of phytonutrients (compounds produced by plants to help protect them from environmental threats, such as antioxidants), it's the best choice for skincare.
"The high temperatures used in the manufacturing process for refined coconut oil remove many of the oil's antioxidants, which is why skincare experts recommend using unrefined coconut oil for the additional benefits," says King.
Going with an organic cold-pressed coconut oil means a gentler processing method is used that doesn't include pesticides, chemicals or additives in the finished product—another huge plus for your skin.
When you're ready to add coconut oil to your skincare routine—as a moisturizer, lip balm, shaving cream, or all of the above—consider taking one of these popular options for a spin.
All Good Organic Coconut Oil Skin Food
This coconut oil is hand-crafted in small batches with organic unrefined coconut oil that's both USDA and Leaping Bunny certified. It's also available in scents, like lavender and lemongrass, so you can enjoy relaxing aromatherapy benefits while you moisturize.
Coco & Co. Organic Pure Extra Virgin Coconut Oil
Coco & Co.'s coconut oil is made using the freshest coconuts—no older than three days—and a meticulous extraction method that results in crystal clear coconut oil that won't go rancid.
Kopari Organic Coconut Melt
Kopari Organic Coconut Melt is made in sustainable, solar-powered labs in Southern California using only fresh, organic coconuts.
Nutiva Organic Cold-Pressed Coconut Oil
Nutiva partners with organic farmers for fresh, organic coconuts and stringently adheres to USDA-certified organic and non-GMO guidelines. The popular brand uses an all-natural cold press extraction process to yield pure, nutrient-rich coconut oil.
Viva Naturals Unrefined Cold-Pressed Coconut Oil
Viva Naturals cold-pressed coconut oil is USDA-certified, non-GMO and is grown and harvested organically without the use of harmful chemicals or additives.