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The Truth About Coconut Oil and Acne

The Truth About Coconut Oil and Acne

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Coconut oil does have skin benefits, but is a clearer complexion one of them? A top dermatologist clears up the confusion about this natural oil. 

 

Lately, coconut oil has garnered such a virtuous reputation amongst skincare bloggers, if you squint, you may actually see a tiny halo floating above your jar. It seems like this natural ingredient can do no wrong. What’s fueling the coco craze? It contains heart- and skin-healthy fatty acids and it’s an antioxidant, mega moisturizer, and has both antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory properties—just to name a few of its benefits.

Those antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory effects are likely the reason why coconut oil is often talked about as a potential treatment for acne, a skin condition triggered by both bacteria and inflammation. But breakouts are also spurred by excessive oil production, so is it smart to slather a rich oil on your face when you’re prone to blemishes?  “There’s a huge hype surrounding coconut oil and acne,” says Linda Stein Gold, M.D., a dermatologist in West Bloomfield, Michigan and an Acne Store advisory board member. “And while there’s always a kernel of truth to all the stories you hear about it, it’s not necessarily the best for acne-prone skin.” Here, Stein Gold sets the record straight.

Is coconut oil good for acne?

Probably not. Coconut oil contains a fatty acid called lauric acid, “which is actually effective at fighting the type of bacteria involved in the formation of acne,” says Stein Gold. “And lauric acid also has some anti-inflammatory properties.” Here’s the issue: The studies on coconut oil’s anti-inflammatory effects on skin were done in vitro, meaning on skin cells in a petri dish, not on a human. [1]  That’s an important distinction: “There’s no proof that coconut oil can help fight acne in living, breathing human subjects,” says Stein Gold.

Coconut oil may actually contribute to acne breakouts

The other issue with coconut oil and acne is that it’s highly comedogenic. That’s doctor-speak for: It can make acne worse. “Labeling something as comedogenic means it’s likely to clog pores and cause blackheads or whiteheads,” says Stein Gold. In fact, on a scale of one to five with five being the most comedogenic, coconut oil comes in at a four. So, there’s not just a chance it will clog your pores, there’s a really good chance it will. “If you’re acne-prone, I’d definitely avoid it,” Stein Gold recommends.

So, despite some evidence that coconut oil quells inflammation and kills acne-causing bacteria, it’s not ideal. “We have a lot better treatments available that have been proven to be effective,” says Stein Gold.

Coconut oil can be a great moisturizer though

This natural ingredient may be a good choice for some people. In addition to showing coconut oil’s anti-inflammatory properties, the study above also suggests it can reinforce skin’s protective barrier—and when the barrier is compromised, tiny tears allow moisture to escape and give irritants and allergens a fast pass to skin’s deeper layers. In fact, additional research shows that coconut oil improved barrier function and decreased water loss better than mineral oil. [2]

Coconut oil may even help with eczema

In a study in the journal Dermatitis, coconut oil has been shown to decrease staphylococcal colonization, a type of bacteria involved in atopic dermatitis, a form of eczema. [3] At the end of the day, if you have very dry skin or eczema, coconut oil may save your skin, but use it sparingly around acne. “If people want to put it on their body—their hands or legs—and they’re happy with the results, I’m fine with it,” Stein Gold says. “I just wouldn’t put coconut oil on acne-prone areas.”

References:

[1]: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6335493/

[2]: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/24320105/

[3]: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/191344  

Dr. Linda Stein Gold

Dr. Linda Stein Gold, Chair of the Acne Store Board of Dermatologists, is the Director of Dermatology Clinical Research and Division Head of Dermatology at the Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit. She received her medical degree from University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine in Philadelphia, completed an internship in the Department of Internal Medicine at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia.

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