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9 min read / 29 January 2024 / yasmin sharp

Coconut Oil for Skin: Benefits and How to Use It

Explore the natural wonders of coconut oil for skincare, from hydration to healing.

 

Using coconut oil for skin benefits the body in lots of ways, and scientific research continues to unearth new and exciting discoveries that allow it to help our general well-being.

Whilst some believe coconut oil should only be used in the kitchen, a growing number of people are discovering how including it in their daily skincare routine can make all the difference to how they look and feel.

It also has the added benefit of being 100% natural, so if you are looking to move away from commercial products towards a more organic regime, now is the perfect time to learn how coconut oil could work for you.

Is coconut oil good for your skin?

Coconut carrier oil is ideal for use on skin, helping to provide moisture, hydration, protection and nourishment.

However, whilst it works perfectly well in most instances, like all popular treatments there can be some confusion about what it is and isn’t suitable for.

For example, whilst some people state otherwise, coconut oil should not be used as a replacement for sun cream, as it has a very low SPF of about 8.

To ensure broad-spectrum protection from the sun, a cream with an SPF of at least 30 should be applied.

As we describe in more detail below, animal studies have shown that coconut oil could be effective at reducing acne.

However, human testing is limited at this point, so there is a chance that it could irritate the skin further.

Rosehip oil can be used as an effective alternative for anyone with these issues, as it is less likely to cause breakouts.

That being said, using coconut oil on most skin types will prove beneficial, so you shouldn’t worry too much if you're unsure which products tend to work best for you.

Woman applying moisturiser to her face in a mirror

Coconut oil for skin benefits: How can it help you?

Coconut oil for skin benefits include the potential to:

1. Provide anti-inflammatory and antibacterial properties

Coconut oil is high in lauric acid, a healthy fat that provides a healthy number of antibacterial properties that are great for skin.

Once applied, this can help to remove harmful bacteria such as staph, whilst also creating stronger protection from external factors.

Researchers have found that lauric acid can work as an anti-inflammatory agent, helping to protect the skin and reduce its inflamed appearance.

As we explain in more detail below, this is why coconut oil is often used by people with conditions such as eczema or psoriasis.

2. Improve antioxidant status

Free radicals in the body tend to be more stabilised when antioxidants are present, as they can neutralise reactive atoms that can be responsible for causing inflammation.

In a 2013 animal study, rats were fed various types of oils, including olive oil, sunflower oil and coconut oil.

When the 45-day study reached its conclusion, it was found that antioxidant status was improved the most by virgin coconut oil, whilst also being the most effective at preventing oxidative stress.

3. Clean and hydrate skin

In addition to lauric acid, coconut oil is also packed with medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs) that help to retain moisture levels in the skin.

Hydration and protection levels can also be easily maintained once the oil is applied to the skin thanks to its fast absorption rate.

One of the oil’s key components is linoleic acid, which has established a reputation in scientific circles as a fantastic hydrator.

Many regard this as one of the best coconut oil for skin benefits, as these compounds not only help to lock-in moisture but researchers have also learned that they can reduce levels of trans epidermal water loss (TEWL) – a process that sees water escape and evaporate through the skin.

4. Ease eczema and psoriasis symptoms

Whilst coconut oil should not be used as a replacement for prescribed medication, it could prove useful as a complementary treatment to calm some eczema and psoriasis symptoms.

Research is ongoing in this area, with one study that compared the effects of coconut oil and olive oil in 52 adults with eczema, finding that skin dryness could be reduced by coconut oil, whilst also treating eczema.

Similar results were also displayed in another test, revealing that the application of coconut oil was able to reduce the severity of the condition by as much as 68%, making it a far more effective treatment than mineral oil.

Coconuts still on the branches

5. Smooth and soften skin

Another fatty acid contained in coconut oil is capric acid, which is particularly helpful at helping to repair dry or cracked patches on your complexion.

Capric triglyceride is an emollient, which smooths and softens skin after application without leaving it feeling heavy or greasy.

This also makes coconut oil the ideal base for DIY exfoliants, as it encourages the removal of dead skin cells so you can enjoy a fresh, radiant glow on your skin after it has been applied.

6. Help reduce the signs of ageing

Coconut oil for skin benefits also presents the possibility of using it to combat the signs of ageing by ensuring your connective tissues remain strong and supple, which allows for more elasticity.

Regular application of the oil can gradually help to form a more youthful appearance by reducing fine lines and wrinkles.

It achieves this by encouraging more production of collagen, which replaces dead skin cells and gives strength and structure to skin.

A simple way of putting this to the test is to include coconut oil in your daily skincare routine and monitor any changes over the next few weeks.

7. Treat and soothe acne

There has been a considerable amount of research carried out that suggests coconut oil can be useful in the treatment of acne.

For example, one study demonstrated that the strain of bacteria linked to acne could be eliminated by lauric acid, which accounts for almost half the fatty acids in coconut oil.

Benzoyl peroxide has played a central role in the medical treatment of acne for more than 50 years, although animal and test-tube studies have shown that lauric acid can be more effective at preventing acne growth.

Capric acid also contains antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties and as this 2014 study demonstrates, it can successfully reduce inflammation and acne by killing off bacteria.

8. Promote wound healing

Applying coconut oil to your skin may prove beneficial when it comes to wound healing, helping to speed up the repair process.

Researchers conducting a rat study found that when virgin coconut oil was applied to their skin, wounds were healed faster, whilst collagen and antioxidant levels were increased.

In a separate animal study, results showed that when coconut oil was combined with an antibiotic and applied to the skin, it proved very effective at healing burn wounds.

The oil’s antimicrobial properties could also be used to prevent infection, which can be a major issue that makes the healing process more complicated.

Halved coconut on some sand with shadows of the leaves over

How can I use coconut oil for skin?

Using coconut oil for skin benefits the dermis and epidermis in lots of ways, and it doesn’t take much to add it to your daily skincare routine.

There are several different methods for using coconut oil, with the most popular being as a moisturiser for both the body and the face.

If you want to replace a commercial body lotion or facial cream may contain synthetic irritants, then using coconut oil could be a useful option.

  1. Using small amounts of the oil, apply to the face and body until it has been fully absorbed into the skin (remember, less is always more!).
  2. You can also use coconut oil as an effective lip salve as it hydrates the lips in a similar way to other areas of the face. By leaving it to soak into your lips overnight it can help to relieve dryness, which can be particularly helpful during the winter months.
  3. Coconut oil can also work as a natural makeup remover, giving you an alternative option if you want to make the switch from a commercial, chemical-based product.
  4. Before applying coconut oil to your skin, you should warm it up in your hands to aid absorption. Add as much as you need until all the makeup has been removed, before rinsing off the residue with warm water.
  5. You can also use this technique as an effective way to cleanse your face, especially after you have been engaged with an outdoor activity.

Black and white illustration of coconuts

Frequently asked questions about coconut oil

Can I use coconut oil on sensitive skin?

Coconut oil for skin benefits also extend to use on sensitive skin.

This is because, like most plant-based carrier oils, coconut oil is gentle on skin and is able to hydrate it without stripping out its essential nutrients.

In fact, it is considered to be so safe that many people also use it to treat and calm conditions associated with eczema and psoriasis.

Does coconut oil clog pores?

Even though it is rich in anti-inflammatory and antibacterial properties, you may want to use an alternative to coconut oil if you have oily skin or are prone to regular breakouts.

Coconut will easily absorb into most skin types without clogging pores, although some people who have excess oil in their glands may encourage further issues by using it.

Can I wash my face with coconut oil?

Coconut oil works very well as a facial cleanser, giving you the option to apply it in the morning or before bedtime to help rid your skin of harmful bacteria.

All you have to do is simply apply it to your skin, let it settle for a few minutes, then wash off with warm water.

 


 

References

[1] Sandeep R. Varma et al. (2019) In vitro anti-inflammatory and skin protective properties of Virgin coconut oil https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S2225411017300871?via%3Dihub

[2] R F Grimble (1994) Effect of virgin coconut oil enriched diet on the antioxidant status and paraoxonase 1 activity in ameliorating the oxidative stress in rats - a comparative study https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/7922442/

[3] S Arunima et al. (2013) Effect of virgin coconut oil enriched diet on the antioxidant status and paraoxonase 1 activity in ameliorating the oxidative stress in rats - a comparative study https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/23892389/

[4] Mara Therese Padilla Evangelista MD et al. (2013) 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 https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/ijd.12339

[5] Vermén M Verallo-Rowell et al. (2008) Novel antibacterial and emollient effects of coconut and virgin olive oils in adult atopic dermatitis https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/19134433/

[6] Vermén M Verallo-Rowell et al. (2008) Novel antibacterial and emollient effects of coconut and virgin olive oils in adult atopic dermatitis https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/19134433/

[7] Darren Yang et al. (2009) The antimicrobial activity of liposomal lauric acids against Propionibacterium acnes https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/19665786/

[8] Teruaki Nakatsuji et al. (2009) Antimicrobial property of lauric acid against Propionibacterium acnes: its therapeutic potential for inflammatory acne vulgaris https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/19387482/

[9] Wen-Cheng Huang et al. (2014) Anti-bacterial and anti-inflammatory properties of capric acid against Propionibacterium acnes: a comparative study with lauric acid https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/24284257/

[10] K G Nevin et al. (2010) Effect of topical application of virgin coconut oil on skin components and antioxidant status during dermal wound healing in young rats https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/20523108/

[11] Pallavi Srivastava et al. (2008) Burn wound healing property of Cocos nucifera: An appraisal https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2792613/

[12] S O Norris et al. (1990) Physiology of wound healing and risk factors that impede the healing process https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/2223320/

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Medical Disclaimer

The content in this article is for informational and educational purposes only and is not intended to take the place of medical advice. Please consult your personal physician for any advice or treatment regarding specific health questions. Neither the article editor, writer, nor the organisation of Nikura takes any responsibility for possible health consequences following the information given in any article. All readers should consult their physician before taking any advice given within these articles.

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