Coconut oil might as well be magic, because its multitasking powers are everything. Have you ever looked up its benefits? There's literally a list of 100 uses on Google. At Byrdie, we're proponents of using this hardworking oil every single day. It has been claimed to whiten your teeth, remove makeup, help with diabetes, make your nails longer, and may even burn fat. Sure, there's been some controversy over coconut oil this past year, but as true skincare fanatics, we couldn't help but wonder: Is coconut oil okay for acne-prone skin?
Everyone deals with breakouts from time to time, and since this magic oil is good for just about everything else, inquiring minds want to know if it's an acne fighter, too. So we turned to the experts—in this case, dermatologists Dendy Engelman, MD, and Nava Greenfield, MD, of Schweiger Dermatology Group—to get the answer to our burning question.
Meet the Expert
- Dendy Engelman, MD is a board-certified dermatologic surgeon with a focus on cosmetic enhancement procedures for both the face and body as well as skin cancer treatment. She is also a fellow of the American Academy of Dermatology, American Society of Dermatologic Surgery, and American College of Mohs Surgery.
- Nava Greenfield is a medical dermatologist at Schweiger Dermatology Group in NYC. Her work has led to contributions to publications such as The Journal of Dermatological Treatment.
Keep reading for the verdict.
Is Coconut Oil Effective for Treating Acne?
"While coconut has amazing moisturizing and antibacterial properties, it may not be the right product to treat acne," confirms Engelman. "In fact, coconut oil is considered a four on the zero-to-five comedogenicity scale, which is a list of pore-blocking ingredients graded from non-pore-blocking to incredibly pore-blocking as the number gets higher. Now, that doesn't mean you should swear off coconut oil: I love coconut oil as a makeup remover or as part of your cleansing routine."
And Greenfield agrees. "Coconut oil has not been shown to improve the comedones or inflammatory papules or cysts of acne," he tells us. "It can be used as a hydrating product for skin, and hydration is important for treating acne. I would recommend using straight coconut oil from the supermarket instead of creams that have coconut oil as an ingredient. The creams will have other products in them as well, which may not be ideal to treat acneiform skin."
What does Coconut Oil Actually Do for Your Skin?
"People with oily or acne-prone skin sometimes tend to use more aggressive products that can strip the skin of its natural oils, causing the skin to overcompensate by producing more oil and therefore exacerbating existing acne conditions," explains Engelman. "Coconut oil can bind with sebum and other lipid-soluble surface impurities, pulling out dirt and unclogging pores while nourishing your skin with vitamin E, omega-3 fatty acids, and lauric acid." Studies have shown that lauric acid possesses antimicrobial, antifungal, and anti-inflammatory properties.
"For maximum effectiveness, massage it between your hands to take it from a solid form to a liquid consistency," Engelman continues. "Do note that it's important to remove all traces of the coconut oil by following with a gentle cleanser like Cetaphil Gentle Skin Cleanser ($9). Coconut oil is solid at room temperature, so it may clog pores, and you definitely don't want that."
How Can You Tell if Coconut is Good For You?
"When my patients want to try a new product, I always advise them to patch-test so that in case they do have an allergic reaction, their face is not angry red or breaking out," suggests Engelman. "While it is uncommon, some people can be allergic to coconut. Pure coconut oil can have a very different effect than coconut oil. Coconut oil is a great ingredient and a great moisturizer, but it may not be the best for acne treatment. It can be a crucial step in your treatment regimen, but it's definitely not a miracle cure-all."
Does coconut oil clog pores?
Can you use coconut oil for acne scars?
Possibly, but there are better options for treating acne scars. A study found that coconut oil does show promise in increasing collagen production and improved wound healing, however more research is needed. It won’t help much with deep scars. If coconut oil clogs your pores and makes you break out, however, then it also defeats the purpose. Treatments including microneedling, laser treatments or chemical peels are much more effective methods for treating acne scars.
Can eating coconut oil help with acne?
In vitro or test tube studies have shown that ingesting coconut oil does have anti-inflammatory benefits on the skin, however the American Heart Association does not recommend it as it raises harmful LDL cholesterol levels. Your best bet is to stick to these 20 foods scientifically proven to clear up your skin.
Korrapati D, Jeyakumar SM, Putcha UK, et al. Coconut oil consumption improves fat-free mass, plasma HDL-cholesterol and insulin sensitivity in healthy men with normal BMI compared to peanut oil. Clin Nutr. 2019;38(6):2889-2899. doi:10.1016/j.clnu.2018.12.026
Huang WC, Tsai TH, Chuang LT, Li YY, Zouboulis CC, Tsai PJ. Anti-bacterial and anti-inflammatory properties of capric acid against Propionibacterium acnes: a comparative study with lauric acid. J Dermatol Sci. 2014;73(3):232-240. doi:10.1016/j.jdermsci.2013.10.010
Nevin, K. G., & Rajamohan, T. (2010). Effect of topical application of virgin coconut oil on skin components and antioxidant status during dermal wound healing in young rats. Skin Pharmacology and Physiology.
Varma, S. R., Sivaprakasam, T. O., Arumugam, I., Dilip, N., Raghuraman, M., Pavan, K. B., Rafiq, M., & Paramesh, R. (2019). In vitro anti-inflammatory and skin protective properties of Virgin coconut oil. Journal of Traditional and Complementary Medicine.
Harvard T.H. Chan. 2018. Coconut Oil.