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The Whole Truth: Is Coconut Oil Good for Acne?

Is coconut oil’s one pitfall that it’s not-so-great for your breakout?

Coconut oil has been used as a natural moisturizer for centuries. It soothes, moisturizers, heals, and it smells like a delicious piña colada. But is coconut oil good for acne?

The debate on whether or not coconut oil is good for acne has been roaring for years. Some dermatologists are adamantly against using coconut oil on your face, while others can’t recommend it enough.

Let’s jump into the science of coconut oil, and pull out fact-based evidence for and against its use on acne.


Facts Supporting that Coconut Oil is Good for Acne

There are reasons that coconut oil continues to be used for acne. If it didn’t work at all, we wouldn’t need to write this article. Let’s look at the facts.

#1: Coconut Oil Kills Bacteria

Coconut oil is naturally antibacterial; because acne is caused in part by the overgrowth of bacteria in your pores, coconut oil aids in mitigating its growth and spread.

Coconut oil also has a particularly high volume of medium-chain fatty acids (MCFAs). MCFAs are antibacterial, antifungal, and anti-inflammatory – all huge boons to people suffering from acne.

The most highly touted MCFA in coconut oil is lauric acid. Lauric acid is coconut oil’s chief MCFA, making up 50% of the MCFAs in coconut oil, and a powerful antibacterial acid. In its isolated form, lauric acid was shown to kill the bacteria that causes acne, called P. acnes.

In fact, in a 2009 study, lauric acid was shown to fight acne better than benzoyl peroxide.

Furthermore, in a randomized controlled trial, virgin coconut oil was found to clear 95% of infection in patients with eczema.

#2: Coconut Oil Moisturizes & Heals Damaged Skin

Your skin has a natural biome that protects it against bacteria and infection, much like your gut biome. Taking probiotics to support the good bacteria in your stomach is analogous to keeping your skin properly hydrated and nourished to support your skin health.

In other words, you have to keep your skin hydrated in order for it to fight bacteria. Many cleansers and face washes strip your skin of its natural oils, giving it that “squeaky clean” feeling, but removing its defenses.

Coconut oil is an effective moisturizer and skin protectant. It’s also been shown to promote healing and reduce the appearance of scars. This is a life-saver for people who suffer from scarring caused by acne.

#3: Coconut Oil Reduces Inflammation

Coconut oil is an antioxidant and it’s anti-inflammatory. It reduces swelling and redness caused by acne and may help prevent further aggravation.

In a trial with young rats, topical application of virgin coconut oil on skin wounds caused them to heal “much faster.” Results that would normally be seen by day 14 were seen on day 10. This study has yet to be reproduced on humans, but the implications are promising.


Facts Against Using Coconut Oil for Acne

Now we know that coconut oil is antibacterial, moisturizing, healing, and anti-inflammatory. So why isn’t coconut oil good for acne?

#1: Coconut Oil is Comedogenic

A comedogenic product is one that clogs pores. Substances like coconut oil are too thick to absorb into your pores, and may block the opening instead.

The biggest issue with coconut oil for acne is that it scores a 4 on the comedogenic rating scale (which ranks from 1 to 5) – that’s a little too high for comfort!

Coconut oil clogs pores, preventing your skin from naturally expelling sebum, dirt, and debris. While coconut oil may kill bacteria on the surface of the skin, bacteria can still grow beneath the clog.

This is mainly a problem for people who have oily skin. Your natural sebum will continue to be produced within the pore, making your acne worse. However, people with dry skin may not experience outbreaks due to coconut oil.


How to Use Coconut Oil for Acne

Dermatologists at Skin Resource.MD. recognize that the anti-inflammatory and moisture-trapping properties of coconut oil aid in healing and moisturizing your skin. Coconut oil is also full of vitamin E and fatty acids that help fight premature aging and wrinkles.

However, while acknowledging coconut oil’s many benefits, these same dermatologists recommend against using coconut oil on your face. To be safe, we err on the side of caution and only apply it from the neck-down as a moisturizer. 

Ultimately, while there are many other factors that contribute to breakouts (such as pore size and and how oily or dry your skin is), the fact remains that coconut oil has a high comedogenic rating. For us, this makes using coconut oil for acne a questionable choice.

Controlling Oily Skin

If you have oily skin, the American Association of Dermatologists recommends using an oil-free moisturizer on areas of skin that have a lot of sebum-producing pores (namely, your face, back, and shoulders).

You may use coconut oil in a cleanser as long as it’s removed directly after use. The oil cleansing method is a great way to get the skin-healing and nourishing effects of coconut oil without clogging pores.

Since acne is caused in part by a build-up of dead skin cells which trap oil and dirt, using a coconut oil facial scrub nourishes your skin while removing dead skin cells and debris. You can exfoliate once or twice a week with a coconut-based scrub.

Hydrating Dry Skin

According to dermatologists, coconut oil may not cause acne in people with eczema or dry skin. Coconut oil is soothing on dry skin. It’s anti-inflammatory properties are especially helpful for those of us with eczema, psoriasis, and acne-induced swelling.

Every skin type is different, however. Using coconut oil to moisturize your skin may take some trial and error. You may find that less is more. Try using it conservatively.

If applying coconut oil to your face causes acne outbreaks, stop applying it. Eating coconut oil will give you the same anti-inflammatory benefits without causing acne.

Coconut Oil Products to Try for Acne

All but one of these products are wash-off cleansers, scrubs, and soaps. Leaving coconut oil on your skin for an extended period of time can worsen acne, especially for people with oily skin. These products use coconut oil conservatively to soothe, hydrate, and nourish.

Honeyskin Face & Body Cleanser

Cruelty-free, Organic ingredients
Made with soothing Manuka honey, coconut oil, and aloe vera, this face and body cleanser is hydrating and gentle. If you have acne, eczema, rosacea, psoriasis, or seborrheic dermatitis, you’ll find this cleanser melts away inflammation and encourages your body to heal the skin. This cleanser is pH balanced and made with natural ingredients that won’t dry you out.

Palmer’s Coconut Sugar Facial Scrub

Cruelty-free, Vegan product, Sustainable production
For a polished shine and gentle exfoliation, Palmer’s Coconut Sugar Facial Scrub delivers a dose of vitamin E in conjunction with hydrating shea butter, cocoa butter, and coconut oil. Buff away acne-causing debris while protecting your skin’s natural barrier.

Rise N’ Shine’s African Black Soap

Cruelty-free, Gluten-free, Vegan, GMO-free
If you haven’t already tried the wonder that is African Black Soap, there’s no better time than now. Rise ‘N Shine’s black soap is crafted from raw ingredients sustainable sourced from Ghana. Black soap is gently exfoliating and chock full of vitamins and minerals. Rise ‘N Shine adds hydrating shea butter and coconut oil to keep your skin hydrated as you battle acne.

Shea Moisture 100% Extra Virgin Coconut Oil

Cruelty-free, Vegan
For you DIYers who want to find out if coconut oil is good for acne on your own, Shea Moisture offers 100% extra virgin coconut oil at a steal. If you don’t know whether or not to get refined vs. unrefined coconut oil, or have questions about quality, go with Shea Moisture.

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