It's easy to understand the allure of coconut oil. Not only is it botanically considered a drupe (which is fun to say), but it also hails from Mother Earth (not a factory), smells nice, rings in at less than $10 per tub, and comes in clutch if you're making a batch of sweet potato fries. And if you haven't been living under a rock for the past five years, you'll also know all facets of the beauty industry (from skincare to haircare to makeup) have developed a healthy knack for incorporating the stuff.
In fact, many brands present the oil as a "hero" ingredient and many models swear by it for their polished strands and flawless complexions. Which, in retrospect, is interesting because coconut oil can also cause pretty epic cases of lip acne.
For more on what causes lip acne—and how to treat it—we spoke to dermatologists Suneel Chilukuri, MD, and Craig Austin, MD. Keep reading to find out what causes lip acne and how to prevent and treat it.
Meet the Expert
- Suneel Chilukuri, MD, FAAD, FACMS, is the founder and director of Refresh Dermatology. He is also a board-certified, internationally recognized expert on cosmetic and reconstructive surgery with over 20 years of professional experience.
- Craig Austin, MD, is a board-certified dermatologist and dermatopathologist, who specializes in aesthetic skin enhancements. He is the creator of the skincare line Cane+Austin.
Types of Lip Breakouts
• Pimples: A type of acne formed when clogged hair follicles become inflamed. This common breakout may appear when using a product to which you might be allergic.
• Cold sores: Lesions filled with fluid, developed due to infection with the herpes simplex virus. These often appear during times of cold or flu.
Causes and Prevention of Lip Acne
• Comedogenic ingredients: A product that blocks the pores of the skin, causing blackheads and pimples as a result. One example: Coconut oil. Interestingly, many experts in the beauty field (i.e., hairstylists, dermatologists, and estheticians) abhor the "miracle product's" reign. Here's the baseline: Coconut oil is one of the most comedogenic oils there is. Thus, while coconut oil is widely considered by many as a one-stop solution for virtually every kind of ailment, it may just be too thick for use on acne-prone skin.
"While coconut oil is the latest fad due to the fact that it is full of healthy essential fatty acids and antioxidants, these fatty acids are useful orally for increasing our 'good' cholesterol (HDL)," Chilukuri confirms. "However, the antioxidant benefits of topical coconut oil are often masked by its tendency to clog skin pores. Extra-virgin coconut oil actually has the highest potential of blocking the hair follicle openings under which sebaceous (oil-producing) glands reside. Even processed coconut oil (which is fractionated and smaller molecularly) may clog the follicular openings."
• Allergies: Each person's skin reacts differently to ingredients—especially something comedogenic like coconut oil. "Coconut oil is one of the thicker oils, and the thicker the oil, the harder it is to get adequately absorbed by your skin, so it essentially sits on top of the dermis and forms a film over the pore," says Austin. "Bacteria and dead skin cells will then fester under the skin and cause your body to produce excess sebum, which can result in acne."
Say goodbye to problem ingredients.
Lip balms have a tendency to slip and slide, so any pore-clogging ingredients can wreak havoc on the surrounding skin. Though it might sound dramatic, that means banishing your vast arsenal of glosses, balms, and salves could be the solution for clear skin.
As all-natural as it may be, coconut oil is a known comedogenic product, meaning it can easily clog pores, as mentioned above. In fact, on the comedogenic scale, used by many beauty companies—which ranks oils and butters on a scale of zero to five, according to how pore-clogging they are—coconut oil usually ranks a solid four. Fortunately, there are alternatives. Argan oil, sunflower seed oil, neem oil, and jojoba are all hydrating, rich moisturizers, that won't lead to clogs. Non-comedogenic oils will not only help hydrate the skin, but they could reduce breakouts, as well, as they will help ensure the skin doesn't overproduce sebum.
Look for lip balms fit for sensitive skin.
Many lip care products feature coconut oil as their starring ingredient (despite the fact the oil doesn't really have any legitimate moisturizing benefits). Therefore, if you find coconut is leading to breakouts, you likely can no longer use the majority of lust-worthy lippies out there. That being said, there is an arsenal of coconut oil–free lip products on the market, many of which fall much lower on the comedogenic scale and never trigger a pimple.
Some of them still feature oils as their main ingredients, albeit oils like castor, camellia, and marula, which tend to fall much lower on the scale of comedogenic skin offenders.
Keep scrolling for seven of the best coconut oil-free lip balms—lip acne be damned.
Ahhh, the cult classic in the chicest little tub. The ingredient list is short and simple, featuring surgical-grade pure white petroleum, lanolin, white beeswax, and the brand's "trade secret" strawberry flavor, which is like an elevated version of cherry-flavored ChapStick.
This pretty little green tube offers a flattering tint of color, smells amazing, boasts organic ingredients, and simultaneously keeps a pout soft and supple. In lieu of coconut oil, its MVP oils included olive, apricot, green tea, avocado, and the list goes on.
This camellia oil–enriched lip balm from Tatcha is as luxe as it gets. It's infused with 24-karat gold, and offers a hit of shine and moisture.
This whimsical balm from Glossier is a cult favorite, and it's easy to see why. First, it smells like cake. Second, the main ingredients (castor oil, beeswax, and extracts from rice bran, rosemary, and cupuaçu fruit) likely won't clog the pores around your mouth. But they will leave you with a hydrated, glossy, ever-so-slightly glittering finish.
A blend of vitamin C and a host of berries—strawberry, cranberry, and blueberry among them—create a film on the top of the lips, locking in moisture overnight.
This formula is kind of a hybrid between gloss and balm, so it won't dehydrate the lips like so many other balms on the market. (Why is it so many beauty products do the opposite of what they're supposed to?) Rich with luxurious marula oil (which tends to be less comedogenic and ultra-moisturizing), it's anchored with vitamin E and CoQ10.
It's hard to beat a beauty product that can multitask. This French beauty from Votre Vu is one part balm, one part hand cream (see those adorable stacked caps?). It's available in two different versions, but we're partial to the one with the raspberry-tinted balm (it's super-subtle) and almond-infused hand cream (it smells like heaven on Earth).
Cleveland Clinic. Cold sores. Updated September 12, 2019.
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