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With the rising popularity of coconut oil, many people have become interested in how to use coconut oil for skin care.
In fact, coconut oil skin and hair care products are popping up just about everywhere, and in many stores – you’ll find jars of coconut oil hanging out alongside bottles of conventional lotion.
Unfortunately, because applying coconut oil to skin is a relatively new concept for most people, the whole process can seem confusing, and slightly intimidating.
And believe me – oh have I been there. Years ago, I did such a remarkable amount of research on using coconut oil for acne, face washing, and moisturizing that I completely paralyzed myself from trying anything because I didn’t know who to trust, or where to start.
So, to save you time and uncertainty, 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.
To get started, simply press the “easy” button.
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 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 favor 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 (becuwrinkles!), and improves antimicrobial function.
If your skin overproduces oil, applying nourishing oils helps exfoliate skin because it breaks up and dissolves excess oil without striping 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. Look for coconut oils described as “virgin,” “cold pressed,” or “raw.” I personally use Radiant Life Virgin Coconut Oil, Tropical Traditions Virgin Coconut Oil, or Nutiva Virgin Coconut Oil.
If you’re limited by finances, options, or can’t stand the smell of coconut oil, use an organic refined coconut oil. Look for ones designated with terms like “expeller-pressed.” I recommend Tropical Traditions Refined Coconut Oil or Nutiva Refined Coconut Oil.
If you know you are prone to comedogenic acne, or – experience comedogenic acne with unrefined or refined coconut oil, you’ll want to use a non-comedogenic oil like liquid coconut oil, which doesn’t contain solidifying fatty acids. (More on that below!)
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.
Now, let’s have some fun.
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.
Depending on your skin type, you can use just coconut oil, which is a carrier oil, or a combination of a carrier oil and an astringent oil, which is great for deeper cleansing. Check out my complete step-by-step tutorial on how to clean your face with coconut oil for more information.
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. I recommend applying coconut oil directly, or making coconut oil whipped body butter for a more luxurious experience. If you’re traveling, I recommend using Tropical Traditions Moisturizing Cream.
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.
I recommend applying coconut oil directly to stretch marks, or making a homemade tiger salve for added nourishing effects.
Coconut Oil for 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.
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.
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, scraps, 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.”
Coconut Oil for Hair
As hinted at above, coconut oil is a fantastic way to build healthy, luscious locks. Because of coconut oil’s molecular weight and shape, coconut oil is able to penetrated 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.
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, or – you can purchase coconut oil deodorants like Stick Up from Primal Life Organics, or Stinkbug Naturals.
And lastly, you can actually use coconut oil as a base for homemade toothpaste. Check out my homemade toothpaste recipe to get started.
Um, that’s great. But what about storage?!
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.
So, how will you know if coconut oil is not right for your skin? Typically, people experience one of two reactions. First, if you experience an increase in comedogenic acne, you should stop using coconut oil on your skin. Comedogenic acne is typically smaller is size, appears in multiples, and will have a rash-like appearance. While comedogenic acne can appear anywhere, it most commonly occurs on the forehead, checks, and chin.
Liquid coconut oil is a better option for people who are prone to comedogenic acne because the fatty acids with a higher melting point are removed.
Second, 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. To improve this, I recommend mixing coconut oil with shea butter, which has humectant and emollient properties. Check out this whipped body butter recipe for reference.
While other oils or can absolutely be helpful, 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.
It’s important to note, if you have a reaction to coconut oil on your face, you may still be able to use coconut oil on your hair or body. If that’s the case, try using jojoba oil or sweet almond oil for face cleansing, or this DIY facial moisturizer.
For more recommendations on other oils to try, check out my list in how to clean your face with coconut oil.
That about wraps it all up! Do you use coconut oil for skin care? Share any ideas, thoughts, or questions below!