Coconut oil hasn’t just become a staple in the kitchen; it’s now a regular on the beauty circuit too. Praised for nourishing us on the outside as well as the inside, we’ve got the stats to prove it, and according to industry number crunchers at Mintel, there has been a 178% increase in the amount of global facial skincare launches containing coconut oil over the past five years. Which is pretty impressive, especially when you consider that that’s skincare alone, and doesn’t include any of the body creams or hair masks that hero the oil.
But while we’re all for a multitasking balm and our penchant for natural, raw ingredients grows stronger, there’s a debate circling around as to whether we should be using coconut oil as a moisturizer. Cleanser, of course. Oils are brilliant at attaching themselves to makeup and breaking down the bonds so you can just wipe it away (that’s why biphase oil makeup removers are always the best). However, as a leave-on product, is it really that good for skin? There’s no denying it can feel a bit heavy and sticky, and it’s quite nice when you get to remove the oily residue post-cleanse.
We put it to a team of dermas and facialists to see if they’re for or against the tropical topical.
Should you use coconut oil as a moisturizer?
In the “yes” camp is celebrity facialist Michaella Bolder. Praising its affordability and multitasking benefits, she slathers a dime-sized amount of the oil onto her skin post-cleanse and serum application before bed. “The small molecules of organic coconut oil are absorbed quickly, meaning they can get to work immediately on conditioning and softening the cells. Its high concentration of fatty acids also aids skin regeneration by healing the root cause of skin imbalances that can lead to breakouts, dehydration or dry, flaking skin,” she told us.
Using it in the morning on punishingly cold days before her day cream and SPF, Bolder believes that even after a week of incorporating it into her routine, her skin holds onto moisture longer, which resides in a glowier outward appearance. She also raves about its vitamin E levels and the fact it can increase cell turnover without damaging the hydro-lipid layer (the waterproof film that protects skin from aggressors).
Oculoplastic surgeon Maryam Zamani, MD, is another pro giving coconut oil the thumbs up. “It’s packed full of antioxidants and vitamins, which promote cellular repair and protect against premature aging, and it can be a great natural moisturizer for those with dry skin concerns (especially eczema and psoriasis), as it penetrates into the deeper layers beneath the skin’s surface, unlike a lot of high-street moisturizers,” she says. Which, when she puts it like that, gives it a big fat winning streak in skincare goals.
And it seems its reparative skills stretch further than adding moisture. “Thanks to its high content of lauric acid (more than 50%), it has excellent antimicrobial properties,” says Anne Wetter, MD, clinical dermatologist and co-founder of Allel Skincare. Relevant why? Because it can help maintain the microbiome, aka the skin’s natural flora that when imbalanced could lead to anything from rosacea to spots. Why else would Wetter use it as a moisturizer? “It’s anti-inflammatory, so it helps soothe rashes or mosquito bites and makes a good after-sun treatment.”
When shouldn't you use coconut oil as a moisturizer?
Like anything you apply to your skin, it’s not going to work for everyone, and while Wetter will happily recommend it to some, she’s keen to note that it’s not a universal magic oil. Nicholas Travis, founder of Allies of Skin, told us that anyone who suffers from acne or spots should absolutely avoid keeping it on the skin: “Coconut oil is highly comedogenic and will form a barrier that can block and suffocate pores,” he explains. We see. That ability to lock in moisture also means germs and bacteria stay cocooned in the same spongy, warm environment, which is the last thing you need if you’re blemish or blackhead-prone.
He also flags that it doesn’t have a great nutrient profile compared to oils such as baobab, rosehip or tamanu. So while the simplicity of just one ingredient sounds appealing, it’s not always best. Which is the stance that Donna Tait, skincare therapist and educational director at Katherine Daniels Cosmetics, takes: “By using an oil like this alone, you’re depriving the skin of a range of other hydrating and nourishing ingredients. Moisturizers are formulated with a range of ingredients that work on multiple levels to replenish the skin, which is why I’d always recommend a professionally formulated moisturizer designed to treat your skin type and condition.”
Stefanie Williams, MD, dermatologist and medical director of Eudelo, echoes Tait’s coconut oil concerns. “It’s very hydrating so does offer benefits for people with dry skin, however, we have much more sophisticated moisturizers these days, which combine synergistic emollients and humectants. It’s been used on the skin for centuries, but 300 years ago, we didn’t have the same sophisticated and high-tech skincare we have today.”
Wait, Now I'm Even More Confused…
There’s a coconut oil compromise, although apologies if you’ve got super-sensitive or acneic skin—turn away now because under no circumstances should you be using coconut oil as a moisturizer. For everyone else, we picked up these tips from the pros:
1. It’s ideal for evening applications, but if you do apply it in the morning, always make sure you use SPF 30 to 50 on top, as it offers no UV protection.
2. Rather than using it alone, combine it with other ingredients. Facialist Abigail James suggests partnering it with a hyaluronic serum. “Coconut oil is quite thick and heavy, so marrying it with a product that has a lightweight consistency works really well.”
3. To up those nutrients, Bolder likes to blend her coconut oil with a few drops of essential oils—ideally lavender, rosehip or geranium—for a more targeted nighttime remedy.
4. Make sure your coconut oil is organic. That means it won’t contain any additives and you know you’ll be feeding your face with the best of the best.