Is coconut oil good for your skin?

Our skin care experts set the record straight

Beauty Crew Beauty Writer / January 16 2020

Coconut oil. In recent years it’s been touted as the answer to pretty much ALL our beauty woes – including frizzy hair and chapped lips. But is coconut oil good for skin?  

According to celebrities like Gwyneth Paltrow, Kourtney Kardashian and Emma Stone, coconut oil is one of their natural go-tos for hydrating, moisturising and even removing makeup.

But is coconut oil safe, are the benefits of coconut oil on skin legit, and are there any associated risks to slathering it on liberally? We spoke to cosmetic chemist and founder of Hop & Cotton, Ee Ting Ng, as well as skin specialist and owner of Skin Clinic Blyss, Jodie King.

What are the benefits of using coconut oil on your skin?

According to Ng, like other plant oils, coconut oil can improve dry skin by helping your skin retain moisture. “By reducing water loss (also known as trans-epidermal water loss), [coconut oil] helps increase the water content in our skin,” says Ng.

“Water is crucial in maintaining the barrier function of our skin to keep unwanted microbes out, prevent dryness and allow all other skin functions to perform optimally like repair and desquamation. These benefits are not a result of coconut oil per se, but the occlusive nature of it being an oil.”

King adds that like many other oils, coconut oil can reduce the appearance of surface fine lines. “Due to the hydration of the skin, coconut oil can soften the appearance of fines lines,” says King. 

Ng explains, “These superficial lines are caused by separation of the outermost skin cells, which have dried out and curled up at their edges. Coconut oil moisturises by flattening these edges, thus ‘filling’ in these gaps, making them less apparent.”

While coconut oil can help temporarily smooth and minimise the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles, it won’t completely get rid of them or prevent them from developing. “There is no scientific evidence to say that coconut oil will improve wrinkles,” says King.

Is coconut oil bad for you if you have acne?

While coconut oil may smooth and soften your skin, experts advise against using coconut oil for acne. Ng says the idea that coconut can fight acne comes from a misconception over the type of lauric acid found in coconut oil.

Lauric acid is known for its antibacterial effect against P.acnes – the bacteria that causes acne. It has been suggested that because coconut oil is high in lauric acid, it should be antibacterial and thus able to fight acne. However, Ng says that although pure lauric acid possesses antimicrobial activity against P.acnes, coconut oil doesn’t actually consist of the right type of lauric acid. “Coconut oil, which is made up of complex fatty acids glycerides (lauric acid being just one of the fatty acids), actually has poor antibacterial action against P.acnes. Additionally, coconut oil itself is inherently acnegenic, so it is not a good option for anyone who is acne-prone,” says Ng.

Coconut oil is considered a comedogenic product, meaning it can actually clog your pores and cause your skin to breakout, so you should “In theory, coconut oil should reduce the inflammation that causes acne, but it is a saturated fat that forms a barrier on the skin and in turn clogs the skin’s pores and leads to more acne.”

How can I use coconut oil on my skin?

Ok, so acne-prone skin may not be a good candidate for coconut oil, but for anyone with normal to dry skin that is looking to try their hand at some DIY uses of coconut oil for skin, there are a couple of options. Just start off slow when using pure coconut oil (no more than a few times a week) to make sure you don’t have any adverse reactions. 

#1 / As a pre-cleanser

Using a coconut oil makeup remover is great because it’s hydrating and can effectively remove makeup without irritating the skin. Because it is rich in fatty acids, coconut oil glides onto your skin and solubilises any water-resistant materials used in makeup products. This means you can easily dislodge makeup without pulling and tugging at your skin. Just make sure the coconut oil is properly washed off so it doesn’t clog your pores.

#2 / As a face mask

If you have dry skin, try a DIY coconut oil face mask. Combine two teaspoons of coconut oil with 1.5 teaspoons of raw honey. Mix well and apply to your entire face. Leave it on for around 30 minutes (never overnight) to give skin a potent hit of hydration for soft, glowing and radiant skin.

#3 / As a body moisturiser

Packed full of fatty acids, try a coconut oil body moisturiser in lieu of your regular body lotion. Slather it on after a shower to lock in moisture, focusing on areas that tend to get extra dry, like your elbows, knees and feet.

Does it matter what type of coconut oil you use?

According to our pros, raw coconut oil is best. “Virgin coconut oil (VCO) is the preferred form as it has not been subjected to high heat during extraction. VCO also contains antioxidants like phenolic and coumaric acids, which prevent free radical damage.”

For a good coconut oil for face and body try Coconut Revolution Organic Coconut Oil Beauty Jar.

Curious about what other pantry staples are good for your skin? Find out if you can substitute your moisturiser for olive oil, and discover why you should be slathering honey on your skin.

Have you used coconut oil in your beauty routine before? How do you like to use it? Let us know in the comment section below.

Main image credit: Getty

Erin Docherty is a Beauty Writer for BEAUTYcrew, Beauty Editor for Women's Health magazine and a Grooming Writer for Men's Health magazine. She has a keen interest in cosmeceutical skin care and is currently working on minimising her 9-step skin care routine – because ain’t nobody got time for that. When she’s not writing about the latest beauty news, or applying copious amounts of serum, you can find her spending all her money in Sephora.