With the rising popularity of coconut oil, many people have become interested in how to use coconut oil for skin care.
Unfortunately, because applying coconut oil to the skin is a relatively new concept for most people, the whole process can seem confusing, and slightly intimidating.
I’ve put together a simple guide that explains everything you need to know about how to use coconut oil for skin care. We’ll talk benefits, different ways to use coconut oil in your skin care routine, and how to know when coconut oil is not right for your skin.
Coconut Oil vs Coconut Butter
Manufacturers produce coconut oil through four methods: centrifuged, cold-pressed, fermented, and expeller pressed. While the mechanics of each method is different, it all the same basic process:
- Take the white meat from a mature coconut
- Remove all water, fibre, and protein.
- That’s it!
You’re left with a shelf-stable oil that is solid at room temperature, has a high smoke point, and is full of MCTs (medium chain triglycerides).
What are MCTs?
MCTs are a type of saturated fat. Your body can break them down easily, and uses them as a quick source of energy. In addition, scientists are studying the benefits of MCTs for many different conditions. They have shown particular promise for blood sugar balance, cognitive function, and heart health.
Coconut butter is made when some of the white meat flesh is added back into the oil. This gives the butter more fibre, a more solid texture, and makes it less prone to melting when heat is applied. It will soften, sure, but not turn to an outright liquid.
Why Use Coconut Oil for Skin Care
Coconut oil is the oil extracted from the edible, fleshy “meat” of a coconut. It’s a natural saturated fat and is compromised almost entirely of medium-chain fatty acids. While that may not seem like anything extraordinary, coconut oil is one of the only sources of medium-chain fatty acids, which is what makes it so incredibly for the skin.
Lauric acid, the predominant medium-chain fatty acid found in coconut oil, has proven antibacterial, antiviral, antifungal, and anti-inflammatory benefits. Other chemical substances in coconut oil, including phytonutrients and polyphenols, act as antioxidants and have other tissue-supportive and tissue-protective properties.
Studies show that these beneficial properties not only make coconut oil an incredible moisturizer, it also helps to reduce bacteria associated with acne, infections, and other skin conditions, and can improve wound healing by increasing collagen cross-linking.
But what if I have oily/dry/combination skin?
Even with the literature in favour of using coconut oil for skin health, many people get hung up on the idea of adding oil to their skin – or assume that because they have oily skin, coconut oil skin care practices won’t work for them. But good news… coconut oil works for all skin types.
Dry skin occurs when our skin lacks appropriate oil, resulting in rough, dry or flaky skin. Applying a nourishing oil like coconut oil topically helps restore the lipid barrier, which reduces water loss, inhibits peroxidative and oxidative damage, and improves antimicrobial function.
If your skin overproduces oil, applying nourishing oils helps exfoliate skin because it breaks up and dissolves excess oil without stripping the skin of its natural lipid barrier. In fact, while sebum’s association with acne is poorly understood, some research suggests it might have more to do with sebum quality, not quantity. This is why practices, like cleaning your face with coconut oil or using nourishing oils as a facial moisturizer, can work incredibly well for all skin types.
The Best Coconut Oil for Skin Care
While it may seem like a rather simple and straightforward product, there are an endless variety of brands and types of coconut oil on the market, which makes choosing the best coconut oil for skin care all the more confusing.
To put it simply, there are three main types of coconut oil: unrefined coconut oil, refined coconut oil, and liquid coconut oil.
Unrefined coconut oil is coconut oil that has been extracted from fresh coconut meat, using methods such as wet-milling or quick drying. This process keeps all the naturally occurring phytonutrients and polyphenols intact.
Refined coconut oil is oil that has been extracted from previously dried coconut meat with chemical solvents or through physical extraction methods. Coconut oil produced this way must be purified through refining, which means some of the beneficial nutrients in coconut oil are lost.
The last type, liquid coconut oil, is coconut oil with lauric acid removed. What’s left is two other medium-chain fatty acids with lower melting points.
So, which coconut oil is best?
Organic, unrefined coconut oil is the best coconut oil for skin care because it contains all the naturally occurring phytonutrients and polyphenols.
How to Use Coconut Oil for Skin Care
Before we move into all the fantastic ways to use coconut oil for skin care, I highly recommend testing coconut oil on a small area of your skin before moving forward with any new protocols. It’s best to apply coconut oil to your face and body in the same spot for 3-4 days in a row, which will allow you to know if you have any abnormal reactions to coconut oil.
While coconut oil is great for all skin types and works well for most people, there is no such thing as one size fits all skin care. We are all incredibly individual people with varying genetic backgrounds, and just because something does or doesn’t work for another person does not mean it will or won’t work for you. Keep an open mind, and be willing to use the feedback your skin gives you to find what protocols will work best for your skin.
Coconut Oil for Face Washing
You can wash your face with coconut oil, or a combination of oils, using a protocol called the oil cleansing method. Using the principle of “like dissolves like” – the basic concept is this: the natural oil you massage into your skin dissolves the oil that has hardened on your skin with impurities and/or clogged your pores. When you apply steam from a warm wash cloth to your face, the pores open and the natural oil lifts any dirt or makeup out of pours, which can be easily wiped away.
Coconut Oil for Moisturizing
You’ve probably read a lot of back and forth about coconut oil for moisturizing. So, let’s put speculation aside, and look at the literature. There are four studies that have looked at the moisturizing effects of coconut oil. When looking at treatment for conditions associated with dry, itchy skin, studies show coconut oil significant improves dryness and does so better in comparison to other oils because of its antibacterial and emollient effects.
Studies also show that coconut oil reduces protein loss remarkably for both damaged and undamaged hair because of its molecular weight, and straight linear chain. Lastly, coconut oil has been found to improve collagen cross-linking and increase antioxidant enzyme activity when applied regularly.
While these studies don’t prove that coconut oil works for everyone, it does show coconut oil is an effective, and superior moisturizer for face and body.
Coconut Oil for Stretch Marks
Because coconut oil improves collagen cross-linking and can restore lipid barrier function, it also may be an effective treatment for stretch marks. While there is no scientific literature that exists that shows coconut oil improves stretch marks, the beneficial properties of coconut oil, and the empirical data that exists suggests coconut oil can reduce or prevent stretch marks.
Coconut Oil for Skin Conditions
If you suffer from skin conditions associated with dry skin such as atopic dermatitis (eczema), or xerosis, studies show coconut oil can improve skin hydration and lipid barrier function, and reduce skin infections.
Coconut oil was also found to improve wound healing by increasing collagen cross-linking and antioxidant enzyme activity, which suggest coconut oil might be a sufficient way to treat minor cuts, scrapes, and abrasions. Personally, this is why I recommend applying coconut oil to many common skin conditions such as razor burn, ingrown hairs, and yes – pimples that have been “picked at.”
And lastly, through a practice called oil pulling, coconut oil has been found to reduce plaque-related gingivitis.
Coconut Oil for Hair
Because of coconut oil’s molecular weight and shape, coconut oil is able to penetrate deeply into hair, which reduces protein loss for both damaged and undamaged hair.
Coconut oil may also improve dandruff and dry scalp because of its antimicrobial properties. If you’re looking to get started using coconut oil for hair, trying doing a coconut oil hair mask and consider following it up with a DIY apple cider vinegar hair rinse.
Got lice? Coconut oil, in combination with anise spray, was found to be significantly more effective than pediculicide for eliminating lice. Hopefully, this will never be information you’ll have to put to use.
Coconut Oil for Acne
Does Coconut Oil Cure Acne? Technically speaking, coconut oil does not cure acne.
But it does help with acne to a good extent. That’s because it contains antimicrobials that kill excess acne bacteria.
When acne bacteria multiply to a degree that gets out of hand, inflammation takes place and dead skin cells are shedding at faster rate. These dead cells then clog pores easily, causing pimples to pop up and forming acne.
Preliminary research suggest coconut oil may be an effective treatment for certain types of acne, including Propionibacterium acnes, and has the potential to act as an alternative treatment for acne vulgaris.
Because of its antimicrobial properties, coconut oil was found to be 15 times more effective at inhibiting bacteria growth associated with acne over benzoyl peroxide (BPO), a popular topical antibiotic medication for mild to moderate acne. Studies have also found coconut oil effectively reduces inflammation and swelling associated with acne because of its anti-inflammatory properties.
Another way coconut oil benefits acne is that it helps to detox your body if taken oraly. Toxins are the prime cause of acne. That’s because when you weigh your body down with dioxins, steroid hormones andacidic ash from meat and other highly processed food, your liver suffers as a result.
One of your liver functions is to deactivate androgens, which are hormones that trigger your oil glands to secrete skin oil. When your liver gets overloaded with toxins (“thanks” to your junk intake), deactivation of androgens becomes less effective leading to more androgens not deactivated.
Result? More skin oil will be produced, and your skin becomes oily and acne-prone.
So, when you use coconut oil for acne treatment, it helps to strengthen your liver so that your liver can effectively deactivate the androgens and hence, prevent excessive skin oil secretion.
When you got less skin oil, acne bacteria will stop multiplying since less food is present for them and your dead skin cells will shed at normal rate, reducing the odds of them clogging your pores.
Despite the fact that coconut oil benefits acne, it’s never a permanent cure for acne since acne is not an infection like flu where you simply just kill the flu virus with coconut oil and it’s gone, but rather a condition that is primarily caused by unhealthy way of living.
A dramatic makeover to your diet and lifestyle is the key to an effective and long-lasting cure for acne.
While this does not mean coconut oil is the solution to acne, it does suggest coconut oil might help improve acne for some people. If you’re looking to experiment with using coconut oil for acne, I recommend first using coconut oil as a face wash. You can also apply coconut oil directly to acne as a moisturizer, which may also improve collagen cross-linking (wound healing), antioxidant enzyme activity, and lipid barrier function.
BONUS! Yes, coconut oil can do that.
So, what other random ways can you use coconut oil for skin care? Coconut oil can be used in place of shaving cream because when applied, it creates a moisturizing layer of protection on the skin. Many conventional shaving creams or foams tend to increase drying, making skin prone to becoming dry or itchy after showering.
Coconut oil is also a fantastic massage oil and personal lubricant. It’s soft, has a nice scent, and doesn’t dry out or get “sticky” with friction. (Note: it is unclear whether coconut oil works with latex condoms, so if you don’t want babies, use another natural lubricant with condoms.)
Because of its antimicrobial properties, coconut oil also works great as a deodorant. You can use it by itself, with baking soda.
How to Know if Coconut Oil is Not Right for Your Skin
As mentioned before, there is no such thing as one size fits all skin care. While coconut oil is completely safe, and has no reported reactions or allergenic effects, it’s best to test coconut oil on a small area of your skin prior to using any new coconut oil skin care protocols.
Coconut is often hailed as the ultimate health food. But coconut, just like any other food, can be dangerous if you’re allergic to it. Coconut oil allergies are not as prevalent as other types of allergies, such as peanut allergies, but they do occur.
If your skin becomes more dry or flaky with the use of coconut oil, you’ll want to stop using coconut oil until you can further assess the underlying cause of your dryness. Coconut oil is not a drying ingredient, however – it can be drying for people who suffer from dehydrated skin.
Dehydrated skin is skin that lacks water, even in the presence of sufficient oil. Because of coconut oil’s molecular weight and shape, it penetrates deeply into skin, which may create the feeling of dryness on the surface of the skin.
The most effective treatment for dehydrated skin is to drink sufficient water, and balance your water intake with appropriate levels of electrolytes like sodium, potassium, magnesium, and calcium. To do this, you can add a pinch of unprocessed sea salt to the water you drink, which will give your cells the minerals they need to absorb water appropriately.
So, what if coconut oil doesn’t work for me?
If coconut oil isn’t right for your skin, rest assured – there are plenty of other oils you can use. I recommend first trying out sweet almond oil or jojoba oil, as they are both great for all skin types.