coconut oil

Emollients , Plant Extracts

Non-volatile plant kernel oil whose high saturated fat content has emollient properties for skin. Coconut oil is a rich source of medium-chain fatty acids, also known as medium-chain triglycerides. Used by itself as a moisturizer, coconut oil’s effectiveness is similar to that of mineral oil. [1, 2]

All reports of using coconut oil (virgin, which means unrefined) to heal acne are anecdotal, which means you just have the claims of others, not solid research, to go on. However, there is one study showing that lauric acid, the major fatty acid in coconut oil, has antibacterial activity against acne-causing bacteria (Latin name Propionibacterium acnes, or P. acnes). Although one study isn’t much to go on and the research did not demonstrate that the lauric acid reduced or eliminated acne, it’s still intriguing. It seems that when lauric acid derived from coconut oil is applied to skin via liposomes (a type of delivery system), it fuses with the cell membrane of the acne-causing bacteria, where it then releases its fatty acid as the liposome dissolves, killing the acne-causing bacteria. [3] This isn’t the same as applying pure coconut oil to skin; that is, the delivery systems varied and the study addressed topical application of only lauric acid, not of pure coconut oil, so we don’t know if pure coconut oil would have similar results on acne bacteria.

Coconut oil has a growing reputation of being a viable “non-toxic” natural ingredient to use instead of your usual sunscreen—don’t fall for it! Some health-themed websites are advising consumers to slather on extra-virgin (minimally processed) coconut oil instead of an SPF product, with the claim that it’s been used by Pacific Islanders for “thousands of years.” This is a dangerous idea, and demonstrates that folklore and anecdotal evidence can’t hold a candle to what scientific research has shown to be factual. [4]

If you want to use coconut oil, whether extra-virgin, cold-pressed, or not, to improve dry skin or add a sexy glow to your legs, go for it; but, if your skin will be exposed to UV light, you must follow it with a well-formulated sunscreen rated SPF 30 or greater to ensure you’re truly protecting your skin. To reiterate: There is no scientific evidence that coconut oil protects skin from sun damage. You can choose to follow the direction of some ostensibly well-meaning natural health sites, but we assure you that doing so will be to the detriment of your skin.

References Cited:

  1. Evangelista M, Abad-Casintahan F, Lopez-Villafuerte L. The effect of topical virgin coconut oil on SCORAD index, transepidermal water loss, and skin capacitance in mild to moderate pediatric atopic dermatitis: a randomized, double-blind, clinical trial. Int J Dermatol. 2014;53(1):100-8.
  2. Verallo-Rowell V, Dillague K, Syah-Tjundawan B. Novel antibacterial and emollient effects of coconut and virgin olive oils in adult atopic dermatitis. Dermatitis. 2008;19(6):308-15.
  3. Yang D, Pornpattananangkul D, Nakatsuji T, Chan M, Carson D, Huang C, Zhang L. The antimicrobial activity of liposomal lauric acids against Propionibacterium acnes. Biomaterials. 2009;30(30):6035-40.
  4. Kaur C, Swarnlata S. In vitro sun protection factor determination of herbal oils used in cosmetics. Pharmacognosy Res.. 2010;2(1):22-25.

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Paula Begoun is the best-selling author of 20 books on skin care and makeup. She is known worldwide as the Cosmetics Cop and creator of Paula's Choice. Paula's expertise has led to hundreds of appearances on national and international television including:

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The Paula's Choice Research Team is dedicated to busting beauty myths and helping you solve your skincare frustrations with research-supported expert advice—so you'll have the facts you need to take the best possible care of your skin.

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