What's the Verdict on Using Coconut Oil for Skin? We Settle the Debate

Skin experts weigh in.

Updated 09/23/19
Model with glowing skin

Originally touted as a be-all and end-all solution for practically every hair, skin, and diet woe, coconut oil has had its fair share of ups and downs. Some experts have been tapping the brakes (at least where the oil’s dietary benefits are concerned), which begs the question: what about coconut oil for the skin? Just because some studies argue against its health benefits when consumed orally, must we really stop slathering the vitamin-rich elixir all over our bodies as well?

The answer: no, not necessarily. Coconut oil is good for your skin because of its natural antibacterial properties, but it may increase breakouts in acne-prone skin. Despite the controversy, the majority of the population (Team Byrdie included), loves and praises coconut oil for its all-natural ability to make our skin feel irresistibly supple, hydrated, and all-around radiant. We also appreciate that it’s one of the most accessible and least expensive items in our day-to-day routine. What’s more, there are so many amazing ways to incorporate it into your beauty regimen, so we enlisted help from experts Carl Thornfeldt, MD, a board-certified dermatologist and Danielle Conte, creator of Conscious Coconut, to give us the lowdown on this popular skincare ingredient.

How Coconut Oil Works

We probably don't have to tell you coconut oil is the oil that is derived from coconuts—that much is self-evident. But it's the components that make up coconut oil that are important to point out here. According to some studies, the lauric acid found in coconut oil can have antimicrobial properties, which can help kill bacteria on the skin and reduce inflammation. Additionally, coconut oil contains high levels of linoleic acid, an unsaturated omega-6 fatty acid, which can be used as an emollient and skin soother.

Is Coconut Oil Safe?

According to our skin experts, unless your skin is especially prone to congestion and pesky breakouts, coconut oil can do wonders for the skin, thanks to its robustly nutrient-dense makeup. However, if your pores tend to clog easily and blackheads are the bane of your existence, you might want to avoid coconut oil, which is heavy and regarded as one of the more comedogenic oils on the market (i.e. it’s more likely to prompt a pimple or two). Or, apply it exclusively to your body parts, which have far fewer oil glands than the face and scalp.

How to Use Coconut Oil in Your Skincare Routine

If you’re looking to streamline your beauty and skincare routine (and keep it gloriously au naturel), try reaching for coconut oil in lieu of your go-to facial moisturizer or body lotion. According to Conte, the oil is the quintessential multitasker—thus, perfect for those who don't want to spend a lot of time getting ready.

Meet The Expert

Danielle Conte is an expert on the topic of coconut in skincare and the creator of Conscious Coconut, fair-trade, organic, cold-pressed coconut oil.

“For beauty, coconut oil is rich in medium-chain fatty acids, which helps retain the moisture content of your skin while helping it look and feel silky smooth," she says. "It also exfoliates the outer layer of dead skin cells, making your skin softer. It has high quantities of vitamin E, an essential nutrient for healthy skin growth, repair, and the prevention of premature aging."

According to Conte, a quality coconut oil is a wonderful all-natural ‘anti-aging’ moisturizer when applied topically. When absorbed into your skin and connective tissues, coconut oil helps to reduce the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles by helping to keep your connective tissues strong and supple. It also helps exfoliate the outer layer of dead skin cells, making your skin smoother.”

Coconut oil is also a brilliant and effective way to wipe away makeup after a long day. Not only does the oil attract dirt and buildup, but according to Thornfeldt, it’s also a natural antibacterial and anti-yeast agent. But as with anything we apply to our skin, quality is key. According to Thornfeldt, low-quality coconut oil can be highly processed (and possibly contaminated), which can lead to breakouts and other skin irritations. To be safe, he recommends sticking to a certain formula when making your selection: “I recommend that you only use purified, cold-pressed coconut oil in liquid form,” he says.

Meet The Expert

Carl Thornfeldt, MD, is an Idaho-based dermatologist and the founder of Epionce Skincare.

To use the oil as a makeup remover, simply rub it into your palms to warm and liquefy, then start massaging it into your complexion, slowly dissolving the post-workday grime. To finish, rinse with warm water and pat dry.

If you wear a lot of product, consider using the double-cleanse tactic and repeat the above steps to ensure every last trace of foundation and mascara has been completely melted away.

Some of Our Favorite Products With Coconut Oil

Conscious Coconut
Conscious Coconut Coconut Oil $17

This handy, travel-ready tube contains organic, cold-pressed, small-batch coconut oil that can be used all over the body. Even better, Conscious Coconut also supports fair trade practices and responsibly sources its coconut oil.

RMS Beauty The Ultimate Makeup Remover Wipes
RMS Beauty The Ultimate Makeup Remover Wipes $16

Before you go dipping your fingers into the jar of coconut oil you use to cook and rubbing it onto your face to remove your makeup, use these convenient and sanitary single-use wipes instead. Once you give them a try, you'll come to find these cooling, gentle sheets are not your average makeup wipes.

Kopari Coconut Melt
Kopari Coconut Melt $28

Made with just one ingredient, 100% pure, organic, unrefined coconut oil, this multipurpose product will quickly become your new go-to for everything from hydrating your hair to nourishing even the driest skin. Just work a little into the palm of your hands until it liquefies, then massage it into the area that needs it.

The Final Takeaway

If you don't have breakout-prone skin, coconut oil is fine to use as a part of your skincare routine. If your skin is on the congested side, try reaching for other oils like calendula, hemp seed, rosehip, or tamanu, which are typically less likely to cause breakouts in oily skin types.

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