Is Coconut Oil Actually Good for Your Skin?

Let's set the record straight.

Photo: Getty Images/InStyle

Coconut oil belongs to an elite group of natural ingredients that can be used in the kitchen as well as in your beauty routine. However, while coconut oil had a major moment in skincare, its time in the spotlight wasn't without controversy.

The benefits of oil pulling and using coconut oil for hair growth are debatable, but there is science behind the positive effects coconut oil can have on the skin.

"Coconut oil has primarily anti-inflammatory and hydrating properties in the skin," says Dr. Mona Gohara, board-certified dermatologist and associate clinical professor of dermatology at Yale School of Medicine. "This is not just speculative, there is actual scientific corroboration for this." Dr. Gohara points out one study that found coconut oil to be hydrating for adult atopic dermatitis (eczema).

"For thousands of years, tropical countries have been harvesting coconuts, and a large amount of these populations depend on coconut palm for their livelihoods," says Krupa Koestline, clean cosmetic chemist and founder of KKT Consultants. "This is because, uniquely, all parts of the coconut palm have high nutritional and economic value."

Maybe you're hoping that jar of raw coconut oil in your kitchen can double as a one-step skincare routine or you want to get some of its benefits by using products infused with it. Either way, the two experts help us set the record straight on how to properly use coconut oil on your skin.

How Do You Use Raw Coconut Oil on the Skin?

Coconut oil is known for containing lauric acid, which is antimicrobial and can fight acne-causing bacteria, and also contains other saturated and unsaturated fatty acids.

When looking for raw coconut oil, Koestline says that virgin coconut oil is what's been studied and shown to be beneficial for dry skin, like those who have eczema. "Virgin coconut oil (VCO) has been evaluated extensively for its potential as an antioxidant and anti-stressor with promising results, attributed to its polyphenol content," she explains. "It has shown to reduce inflammation, lipid per oxidation, stress reduction after exercise or chronic cold exposure."

Are Skincare Products With Coconut Oil in Them as Effective as Pure Coconut Oil?

On top of a better user experience, pre-formulated products can boast additional benefits. "They can be equally effective or more effective if combined with other hydrators," says Dr. Gohara. "Also premixed products may be a bit more cosmetically elegant to use."

Koestline recommends a formulas that also contain additional nourishing ingredients like "plant-derived oils, butters, and waxes like jojoba oil, hemp seed oil, and even floral oils like camellia oil." There's also a good reason why it pops up in moisturizers. "As coconut oil is used in a lot of hydrating formulations, you'll often see it with aloe vera and hyaluronic acid as well."

VIDEO: Is Coconut Oil Actually Good for Your Skin?

What Skin Types Can Use Coconut Oil?

While coconut oil can help minimize breakouts, it's also said to be comedogenic, leading to clogged pores and acne. Both Dr. Gohara and Koestline say this is a myth. When an ingredient is comedogenic, it's not necessarily comedogenic in the final formula. However, those with oily or acne-prone skin may want to do a patch test before using coconut oil or products containing it — especially considering that this topic is widely up for debate amongst the skincare community.

Koestline points out that a number of factors can contribute to clogged pores in addition to skincare, including "hormonal changes, diet, stress, poor hygiene, or skincare."

Coconut oil is safe for all skin types to use, but Dr. Gohara reiterates that any ingredient, including coconut oil, can be an irritant for some people. "Like any other new product a potential irritant or allergic reaction is always a possibility," she says. "This is not unique to coconut oil!"

Shop Coconut Oil Skincare Products

01 of 05

Nutiva Coconut Oil

A jar of Nutiva Coconut Oil

There are a few items from your kitchen that you'd also slather on all over your body, but this jar of virgin coconut oil is one of them.

02 of 05

SheaMoisture 100% Virgin Coconut Oil Daily Hydration Body Oil

A bottle of SheaMoisture 100% Virgin Coconut Oil Daily Hydration Body Oil

This body oil harnesses the hydrating benefits of certified fair trade coconut oil and Acacia senega. Use it as a moisturizer or add a few drops to your bath.

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Eminence Organic Skin Care Coconut Age Corrective Moisturizer

Eminence Organic Skin Care Coconut Age Corrective Moisturizer

This moisturizer targets signs of aging and is formulated for balanced to dry skin types. It's powered by a blend of coconut oil, coconut water, a natural alternative to retinol (chicory root oligosaccharides and tara tree gum), swiss green apple stem cells, and vitamin C.

04 of 05

Herbivore Coconut Milk Body Polish

A jar of Herbivore Coconut Milk Body Polish

Gentle, yet effective, Herbivore's coconut-infused body scrub exfoliates the skin while simultaneously replenishing moisture.

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RMS Beauty Ultimate Makeup Remover Wipes

A packet of RMS Beauty Ultimate Makeup Remover Wipes

The coconut oil makeup remover hack in wipe form, these sheets remove makeup without drying or irritating the skin.

From non-toxic makeup and skincare to sustainability practices, Clean Slate is an exploration of all things in the green beauty space.

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