Coconut oil for acne falls into a growing category of DIY acne treatments: those that might be able to help based on their individual properties, but lack empirical evidence to prove their effectiveness. Still, despite the lack of research, it might be worth it to take a chance on coconut oil—if you know what you’re doing. Before trying any new DIY acne remedy, you need to know how it works, what elements of acne it can treat and whether or not that lines up with the kind of acne you have, and how to use it to see the best results. Here are six pieces of advice about using coconut oil for acne that answer all of those questions and more.
1. There’s not enough evidence to prove that it’s a good idea to use coconut oil for acne.
The first thing you should know before using coconut oil for acne is that there is not technically any scientific proof that it works. However, we want to emphasize that this is not unusual, and it doesn’t mean coconut oil is just a fad with no basis in fact. Few researchers spend too much time studying DIY remedies because the medical field is now considered one for professionals only, and home remedies are not taken very seriously. However, this was not always the case, and this doesn’t mean home remedies are a hoax.
When it comes to coconut oil, your best bet is to do your research and make the most informed decision you can based on your individual situation. If you’re new to the world of skin care, or if your acne just popped up recently, we encourage you to explore your treatment options, but we want to emphasize one thing: the most effective way to treat acne is with products that are gentle, and that you can use every day. Consistency and gentility are key in skin care. Many products out there promise to get rid of acne right away, and to do so, they make their products far too harsh. This results in clear skin that appears right away, but it quickly disappears when the product starts to irritate the skin and generate more acne.
Avoid all that frustration and find products dedicated to keeping your skin clear for the long-term, not just one week from now. Exposed Skin Care’s full line of products include a mixture of scientific and natural ingredients that combine to create a gentle but effective formula. And with the simple three-step system available in our Basic Kit, you can use these products every day to ensure clear skin.
2. Coconut oil is a saturated fat, but new research says that might not be a bad thing.
The field of nutrition is always changing, sometimes faster than our society can keep up with. For instance, scientists used to believe that saturated fats were bad for your health, and unsaturated fats, in moderation, were good for your health. However, that information is outdated, and has been for a while. But in general, most people still believe that all saturated fats are bad. The news that fats are more complicated than just “saturated” or “unsaturated” is starting to spread recently, thanks in part to coconut oil, which is a saturated fat.
What researchers are finding is that whether a fat is saturated, meaning all of its molecular bonds are filled, or unsaturated, meaning some of its molecular bonds are doubled, leaving others empty, is somewhat irrelevant. The real measure of health benefits to be gleaned from fat is the length of its fatty acid chains. Long fatty acid chains are typically considered less healthy than their shorter counterparts because they take a lot of energy to digest, which means you can’t get as much net energy out of them. Although coconut oil contains some long-chain fatty acids, it also contains a large amount of a substance called lauric acid, a medium-chain fatty acid which can provide a decent amount of energy while breaking down with relative ease. And the benefits of lauric acid don’t stop there.
3. The lauric acid in coconut oil could help fight two leading causes of acne.
Lauric acid is one of nutrition’s favorite fatty acids right now, and for good reason. Lauric acid is antimicrobial, meaning it can kill many forms of bacteria, viruses, and fungi, and it can reduce inflammation, which is often the catalyst for flare-ups in a variety of conditions and disorders. Both of these properties make it an ideal fatty acid for treating acne.
Acne is caused by three main factors: inflammation, bacteria, and oil production. Coconut oil is already an oil, so it can’t help much on that front, but the lauric acid in coconut oil can provide significant assistance in reducing the impact of inflammation and acne-causing bacteria.
Acne begins when the skin is inflamed. This often happens due to stress or mild irritation, like extra pollen in the air or scratching and picking at the skin. When the skin is inflamed, it swells slightly and the pores constrict, trapping oil, dead skin cells, and sometimes bacteria. If few bacteria get lodged in the pore, then the oil and dead skin cells form a whitehead or blackhead. Anti-inflammatory agents, like the lauric acid found in coconut oil, can significantly reduce blackheads and whiteheads by reducing or preventing the initial inflammation that causes acne.
When it comes to bacteria and acne, one particular type is often to blame: p. acnes. Without inflammation, p. acnes really aren’t so bad. They always live on the surface of your skin and don’t cause acne until inflammation strikes and they get trapped in a pore. There, their numbers multiply quickly and generate a minor infection, which turns in to a pimple, and if things get out of hand, a cyst. However, lauric acid can help prevent all of this because it has been proven to kill p. acnes specifically at a high rate.
4. Coconut oil ranks a little too high on the comedogenicity scale
The comedogenicity scale is a measurement of how likely it is that any given substance will clog your pores. This is an especially helpful tool if you have acne, so you know what kinds of products to avoid. Using this scale, we can see that using coconut oil for acne, for all its benefits, may have one serious drawback.
Although coconut oil can help reduce the effects of two of the three main causes of acne due to its lauric acid levels, it can actually contribute to the third. When our bodies produce too much oil, acne is often a result, and when we apply too much oil, or the wrong kind of oil, to our skin, the we run into the same problem. Excess oil, whether its our own or externally applied oil, can clog pores, which traps more oil, dead skin cells, and possibly bacteria under the skin, where all kinds of acne can form, from blackheads to cysts.
Because coconut oil is more likely to clog pores than some other oils, it is not recommended for people with an oily skin type. However, if you have dry or sensitive skin, coconut oil could be an ideal DIY solution. Dry skin doesn’t produce enough oil to keep the skin protected from irritants, so it is often inflamed which means it can be very acne-prone. Sensitive skin may produce a normal amount of oil, but is extra sensitive to irritants regardless of that oil. In both these cases, the added protection and moisture that coconut oil can offer may be the perfect solution.
5. There are specific kinds of coconut oil that may have differing effects, so read the label carefully
If you’ve ever wandered down the coconut oil aisle at the grocery store, you may have noticed a thousand different types of coconut oil. Do you want virgin coconut oil? Organic? Refined? Unrefined? Some of these differences matter when it comes time to choose the best coconut oil for acne, but others don’t. We can help you tell the difference.
Let’s talk about the “organic” label. If something has the official USDA organic label, then it means it was grown without the use of pesticides. If it says it’s organic but doesn’t have a USDA label, then it very well may be lying, and you should avoid it whether or not you care about organic, because you should only buy products you trust. Most people alive right now have grown up eating and using plant products grown with pesticides, and many of us are not affected by them, so if you’ve never noticed a problem with any of your plant-based foods or products before, you probably don’t need to worry about getting organic coconut oil. That being said, because pesticides were the norm for so long, many people are just now discovering that their sensitivities or chronic pains can be traced back to pesticides. If your skin is sensitive, you may want to go for the organic brand.
Refined vs. Unrefined
When it comes to coconut oil, refined and unrefined can have a few different meanings, so we recommend paying more attention to the other labels described here when searching for the right coconut oil for acne. Generally, refined means that the oil has undergone some process of purification, and unrefined means the oil was extracted from the coconut in the least obtrusive way possible. You can even make unrefined coconut oil at home, if you want. However, some sources provide a slightly different definition. Refined could also mean that the coconut oil has been “purified” using chemical means, which could strip away some of its health benefits or cause sensitivity issues for some people. When it comes to using coconut oil for acne, we think its more important to find brands that are virgin or extra virgin grade, and list specifically how the oil was refined. If a specific method for refining isn’t listed, then it was most likely refined using chemicals, and probably won’t provide you with the health benefits you’re looking for.
Virgin vs. Extra Virgin
We should discuss the difference between virgin and extra virgin coconut oil: there isn’t one. Unlike olive oil, which differentiates between virgin and extra virgin based on the number of impurities, coconut oil is not regulated in that same way. Virgin and extra virgin coconut oil both mean that the oil was extracted from the “meat” of the coconut without the use of chemicals. This is a good thing to look for when purchasing coconut oil for acne, but other labels can express this same sentiment. “Centrifuge extracted,” “cold pressed,” and “expeller pressed” all indicate that the oil was removed from the coconut by mechanical, rather than chemical, means.
6. You can use coconut oil for acne in one of two ways (or both!)
There are two ways to obtain the health benefits of coconut oil to improve your acne. First, you can apply the coconut oil directly to your skin, and second, you can add coconut oil to your diet. Both have benefits and drawbacks, and for some people, both methods could combine to make for a helpful addition to a consistent skin care routine.
Applying coconut oil directly to your skin allows the lauric acid to work to its full extent. P. acnes bacteria only live on your skin, and in order to kill them, the lauric acid has to come into direct contact, which means adding coconut oil to your diet won’t help with bacteria specifically. But when applying coconut oil directly to your skin, you are likely to run into a previously mentioned issue: clogged pores. If you have oily skin, the negatives probably outweigh the positives here, and we might recommend dietary coconut oil instead.
Adding coconut oil to your diet doesn’t allow the lauric acid to kill p. acnes bacteria, but it can help reduce overall inflammation. This can help with acne, because it prevents pores from closing up and trapping oil and dead skin cells, but it can also help with a variety of conditions, including stress, which has been linked to acne. Dietary coconut oil won’t give you quick results, but it could make you healthier overall.