Is coconut oil good for your skin?
How to use it, Benefits
In this Article (Index)
Benefits of Coconut Oil
What is Coconut Oil?
Coconut oil is an edible oil obtained from the mature coconuts of the coconut palm (Cocos nucifera). The oily meat and the kernel are treated by different methods to obtain the oil (cold extraction, fermentation and cold pressing are preferred over hot methods because heat can degrade the antioxidants in the oil).
Virgin coconut oil (VCO) is extracted from the fresh kernel without the application of heat and is the purest type of coconut oil; it has a distinctive coconut flavor and smell.
It has a high saturated fat content. Saturated fats lack double carbon-carbon bonds and are in a way less reactive than unsaturated fats -such as olive, sunflower, or canola oils.
Being saturated makes it more resistant to oxidization in contact with the air, so it takes longer to go rancid.
Coconut oil is a colourless liquid at a temperature of 86°F (30°C) and above. It will be solidified at a temperature of 77°F (25°C).
It is composed of many free fatty acids including lauric acid (52%), myristic acid (19%), caprylic acid (9%), capric acid (8%), palmitic acid (7%), oleic acid (6%), linoleic acid (2%), and stearic acid (2%).
Lauric acid is also known by its scientific name: dodecanoic acid. It is a saturated medium-chain fatty acid with twelve carbon atoms in its chain, and it gets its name because it was first discovered in 1842 in bay leaf (Laurus nobilis), and it has a typical pleasant odor. Its salts are found in many cosmetic applications. Myristic acid with 14 carbons in its backbone is the second main component of coconut oil. It gets its name from the nutmeg tree (Myristica fragans) where it was discovered in 1841.
The coconut has been used for milennia in Southeast Asia, husk fiber to make carpets, its meat and milk as food, fermented and also processed to extract oil. In In Fiji, coconut oil is used to prevent hair loss, in Haiti oil is applied as an ointment to burns, in Indonesia, the oil is used as a wound ointment (2).
In the French Polynesia, coconut oil scented with tiare (Gardenia taitensis) flowers macerated in the oil is used daily by women "for the softness and the care of body and hair... men also groom themselves by applying monoi from time to time on their body; mostly to protect themselves from twigs scratches before a hunting expedition in the bush or from the cold during fishing or navigation" (3).
Coconut oil contains antioxidants in a range that varies from 70 to 650 mg⁄kg depending on the extraction method, variety and geographical location. RBD (Refined, Bleached and Deodorized) oil have lower values than Virgin Coconut Oil (VCO).
The following phenolic compounds can be found in all VCOs: Caffeic acid, catechin, p-coumaric acid, ferulic acid, and syringic acid. Other antioxidants such as chlorogenic acid, cinnamic acid, epigallocatechin, gallic acid, vanillic and epicatechin appear in certain oils. Many of these compounds are also present in other oils, like olive oil (4).
Cosmetic Uses of Coconut Oil
Hair Health and Beauty
As a hair combing "cream"
Rele and Mohile (2003) (5) studied its application as a treatment to prevent combing damage to the hair and compared it with mineral oil, and sunflower oil:
- Coconut Oil reduced protein loss remarkably for damaged and undamaged hair when used as a pre-wash and post-wash product.
- Mineral oil and sunflower oil didn't prevent protein loss.
The authors believed that the low molecular weight of coconut oil allows it to penetrate the hair shaft, its linear-shaped molecule (as opposed to the bulky chain of unsaturated linoleic acid present in sunflower oil) make penetration easier.
This reminds us of the traditional Polynesian use of Monoi oil to treat the hair.
This was also reported by Wallace (2019): coconut oil can preventing hair damage due to protein loss during combing and ultraviolet (UV) exposure (16).
Coconut Oil to treat dandruff
Saxena et al., (2021) examined the effect of topical application of coconut oil on the scalp microbiome (bacterial and fungal) in a clinical trial involving a group of 140 Indian women and found that it has a positive effect on these microbial communities promoting the growth of certain bacteria associated with a healthy scalp such as C. acnes and Pripionbacterium sp. Additionally these microorganisms provide Biotin and other B-vitamins beneficial for the microbial community living on the scalp. Biotin is also linked to "reduce[d] cellular inflammation and improve skin barrier quality, scalp health and hair growth" (6).
Skin lotions and creams
Dry Skin Treatment
Agero and Verallo-Rowell (2004) (10) compared coconut oil with synthetic mineral oil as a moisturizer for xerosis, a common condition whose symptoms are dry, scaly, itchy, and rough skin. They found that the effects and safety of both oils were similar and that the "xerosis.... showed a general trend toward better... improvement with coconut oil than with mineral oil."
Virgin Coconut Oil based body lotion recipe
This recipe for a mineral oil free, Virgin Coconut Oil body lotion was published by Satheeshan, Seema and Meera Manjusha (2020) (8). It is a moisturizer, has antiseptic properties activity and protects the skin from UV radiation.
The ingredients used in this recipe are: Virgin coconut oil, Aloe vera gel, Bee wax, cocoa butter, and essential oils (rose, lavender, peppermint). The proportions are shown in the following table:
Virgin Coconut Oil
Melt the beeswax and cocoa butter in a stainless steel double boiler (a bowl or pot placed over a larger pot containing simmering water). Once the preparation melts, add the virgin coconot oil to the mixture and continue the melting process. Mix.
Strain the moilten wax and oil blend using a muslin cloth while it is still warm and flowing. Let it cool for about 20 minutes.
Once cool add the Aloe vera and whip with an electric handheld beater until it turns fluffy and light. Add a few drops of essential oils and mix. Bottle and place in jars.
Coconut oil's antimicrobial properties
Further up we mentioned that VCO was an antiseptic, in fact, "Coconut oil in concentrations of 5% to 40% (w/w) exhibited bactericidal activity against Pseudomonas aeruginosa, Escherichia coli, Proteus vulgaris, and Bacillus subtilis." (8)
Other studies have also reported its antimicrobial properties: Peedikayil (2016) (9) found it effective against Streptococcus mutans and Shilling (2013) (102) against Clostridium difficile.
Can coconut oil be used on the face?
If your skin is greasy, or prone to acne, consider avoiding facial creams that contain coconut oil.
Cosmetic ingredients are ranked according to a comedogenic scale that rates how they clog pores, a comedone is a blackhead or whitehead. Originally designed to safeguard the workers in the chemical industry, whose skin could touch nasty chemicals, in 1979 Dr. Albert Kligman (11) applied the concept to skin care and created the comedogenic scale. The ingredients were tested on animals (rabbit ears!) and then checked to see if the developed comedones rating the chemicals according to the degree of outbreak.
Using this comedogenic scale that uses a numbering system from 0 to 5 you can rank coconut oil:
- Will not clog pores
- Very Low chance of pore clogging
- Moderately low likelyhood it will clog pores
- Moderate likelyhood
- Fairly high probability of clogging
- High likelyohood of clogging pores
On this scale, Coconut oil ranks with a 4, in comparison olive oil has a 2. This would imply that coconut oil has a fairly high chance of clogging face pores and research supports this: Francis and Shojan (2019) (12) advise that "application of coconut oil,... to acne prone skin is not advisable..."
However are we certain that rabbit ears or models based on them replicate how the human skin works? Furthermore, is the assumption that skin care products are comedogenic just because some of their ingredients are comedogenic? Research has cast doubts on this assumption. Draelos and DiNardo (2006) (13) conducted a study and concluded that "finished products using comedogenic ingredients are not necessarily comedogenic."
It is important to point out that virgin coconut oil (VCO) has been used as a mosturizer for hundreds of years in Southeast Asia. It soothes and moisturizes the skin, and is non irritant, not phototoxic and has antiinflammtory properties as reported by Varma et al. (2018) (14) who reported that their studies "clearly established that VCO is a non skin irritant and non phototoxic... [and] the first report on anti-inflammatory and skin protective benefits of VCO."
Also bear in mind that topical coconut oil protects the skin from UV radiation (15).
Will coconut oil help my eczema?
Although coconut oil has many health benefits, and has been shown to reduce the presence of microorganisms (bacteria, fungi and viruses) in atopic dermatitis (not eczema) (19), you should always talk to your doctor before using any kind of home-remedy to treat eczema.
Should you have an allergy to coconut oil, it could worsen your symptoms instead of helping them.
Coconut oil risk: allergy
Coconut oil is edible and used as a food across the globe. It isn't a nut like wallnuts, hazelnuts or peanuts where allergies are relatively common.
But it is a fact that very rarely, some people suffer allergic reactions to coconuts. So coconut allergy is a rare event (18).
Anagnostou (2017) (17) reported a case of coconut allergy in a child that was previously tolerant to coconut and regularly exposed via both the skin and gastrointestinal route.
Contact dermatitis to Coconut products
Some chemicals obtained from Coconut, such as coconut diethanolamide, cocamide sulfate, cocamide DEA, and CDEA can provoke contact allergic dermatitis. Note that the list does not mention Coconut Oil, only products manufactured from coconuts (18)
As there are some skin types that are allergic to coconut oil, we strongly recommend that you test any the coconut oil product on small patch of skin in a less sensitive area of your body before wider use on more sensitive areas like your face.
Learn more about How to know if you have sensitive skin?
References and Further Reading
(1) Lin TK, Zhong L, Santiago JL, (2017). Anti-Inflammatory and Skin Barrier Repair Effects of Topical Application of Some Plant Oils. Int J Mol Sci. 2017 Dec 27;19(1):70. doi: 10.3390/ijms19010070. PMID: 29280987; PMCID: PMC5796020.
(2) Lima EB, Sousa CN, Meneses LN, Ximenes NC, Santos Júnior MA, Vasconcelos GS, Lima NB, Patrocínio MC, Macedo D, Vasconcelos SM, (2015). Cocos nucifera (L.) (Arecaceae): A phytochemical and pharmacological review. Braz J Med Biol Res. 2015 Nov;48(11):953-64. doi: 10.1590/1414-431X20154773. Epub 2015 Aug 18. PMID: 26292222; PMCID: PMC4671521.
(3) Jost X, Ansel JL, Lecellier G, Raharivelomanana P, Butaud JF, (2015). Ethnobotanical survey of cosmetic plants used in Marquesas Islands (French Polynesia). J Ethnobiol Ethnomed. 2016 Nov 29;12(1):55. doi: 10.1186/s13002-016-0128-5. PMID: 27899137; PMCID: PMC5129640.
(4) N. Jayathilaka, K.N. Seneviratne, (2022). Phenolic antioxidants in coconut oil: Factors affecting the quantity and quality. A review. Grasas y Aceites 73 (3) July-September 2022, e466 ISSN-L: 0017-3495 https://doi.org/10.3989/gya.0674211
(5) Rele AS, Mohile RB., (2003). Effect of mineral oil, sunflower oil, and coconut oil on prevention of hair damage. J Cosmet Sci. 2003 Mar-Apr;54(2):175-92
(6) Saxena R, Mittal P, Clavaud C, Dhakan DB, Roy N, Breton L, Misra N, Sharma VK, (2021). Longitudinal study of the scalp microbiome suggests coconut oil to enrich healthy scalp commensals. Sci Rep. 2021 Mar 31;11(1):7220. doi: 10.1038/s41598-021-86454-1. PMID: 33790324; PMCID: PMC8012655.
(7) Agero AL, Verallo-Rowell VM., (2004). A randomized double-blind controlled trial comparing extra virgin coconut oil with mineral oil as a moisturizer for mild to moderate xerosis. Dermatitis. 2004 Sep;15(3):109-16
(8) KN Satheeshan, BR Seema and AV Meera Manjusha, (2020). Development of virgin coconut oil based body lotion . The Pharma Innovation Journal 2020; 9(5): 96-101.
(9) F. Peedikayil, et al., (2016). Comparison of antibacterial efficacy of coconut oil and chlorhexidine on Streptococcus mutans: An in vivo study. J Int Soc Prev Community Dent. 2016 Sep-Oct; 6(5): 447-452. 2016 Oct 24. doi: 10.4103/2231-0762.192934
(10) Shilling M (2013). Antimicrobial effects of virgin coconut oil and its medium-chain fatty acids on Clostridium difficile. Antimicrobial effects of virgin coconut oil and its medium-chain fatty acids on Clostridium difficile
(11) Kligman A and Kwong T. (1979). An improved rabbit ear model for assessing comedogenic substances. British Journal of Dermatology, 100: 699-702
(12) Abel Francis, Anitta Shojan, (2019). Comedogenicity of Oils. International Journal of Contemporary Medical Research ISSN (Online): 2393-915X; (Print): 2454-7379 ICV: 98.46 Vol. 6:8 Aug. 2019.
(13) Zoe Diana Draelos, Joseph C. DiNardo, (2006). A re-evaluation of the comedogenicity concept. The Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology, Vol 54:3, p507-512, Mar 2006 https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jaad.2005.11.1058.
(14) Varma SR, Sivaprakasam TO, Arumugam I, Dilip N, Raghuraman M, Pavan KB, Rafiq M, Paramesh R, (2018). In vitro anti-inflammatory and skin protective properties of Virgin coconut oil. J Tradit Complement Med. 2018 Jan 17;9(1):5-14. doi: 10.1016/j.jtcme.2017.06.012. PMID: 30671361; PMCID: PMC6335493.
(15) Lin, T.-K.; Zhong, L.; Santiago, J.L., (2018). Anti-Inflammatory and Skin Barrier Repair Effects of Topical Application of Some Plant Oils. Int. J. Mol. Sci. 2018, 19, 70. https://doi.org/10.3390/ijms19010070.
(16) Taylor C. Wallace, (2019). Health Effects of Coconut Oil—A Narrative Review of Current Evidence. Journal of the American College of Nutrition, 38:2, 97-107, DOI: 10.1080/07315724.2018.1497562.
(17) Katherine Anagnostou (2017). Coconut Allergy Revisited. Children (Basel). 2017 Oct; 4(10): 85. 2017 Sep 29. doi: 10.3390/children4100085
(18) Australasian Society of Clinical Immunology and Allergy (ASCIA) 2019. Coconut Allergy.
About this Article
Is coconut oil good for your skin? How to use it, Benefits, A. Whittall
©2023 Fit-and-Well.com, 16 Aug. 2023. Update scheduled for 16 Aug. 2025. https://www.fit-and-well.com/wellness/coconut-oil-for-skin.html
Tags: coconut oil, risks, coconut oil and your skin