The Real Truth About Using Coconut Oil on Your Face
by Heather Smith on Jul 09, 2023
Coconut oil is hailed as a superstar in personal care and is often seen as the holy grail of natural skin care products. However, if you've done a Google search for "Can I use coconut oil on my face," you've probably seen mixed results.
It can be confusing.
The reason it's confusing is because the answer is yes and no; however, for most people the answer is no. Most people should avoid using coconut oil on the face.
The skin on your body is different from the skin on your face, and the body benefits from coconut oil much more than the face.
In my education and deep research into all things related to carrier oils, I've learned exactly what makes one oil better or worse for the face - and I'll answer that for you in this article.
By the end of this read, you'll be better equipped to weigh the pros and cons of incorporating coconut oil into your skincare routine - and you'll know exactly where, when, and how best to use it.
- Coconut oil is a natural moisturizer that hydrates and nourishes the skin and hair - providing a protective barrier to lock in moisture.
- Coconut oil is best for the skin on the body, mainly when you have dry skin. It's also excellent as a conditioning hair oil, a personal, intimate lubricant, and an oil cleanser for 2-step cleansing.
- Coconut oil is not the best oil for your face for two reasons:
- It has a higher likelihood of clogging pores which can worsen acne and inflammation.
- It's missing all the excellent skin benefits from monounsaturated omega fatty acids like linoleic acid.
What Makes Coconut Oil Different from All the Other Oils (and why it isn't best for your face)
Oils made from seeds and nuts comprise the bulk of what is used today in the skincare industry. Many have unique properties that aren't found in many (or sometimes any) other oils.
Some examples: pomegranate oil has punicic acid, abyssinian oil has erucic acid, ricinoleic acid is found in castor oil, and borage and evening primrose oils are full of GLA. Each oil is unique, and the phytochemical composition and fatty acid profile make them (or break them) as a face oil.
Coconut oil is entirely different from other oils. The phytochemicals and fatty acids are opposite of what you find in many other oils.
The main difference? Coconut oil contains saturated fats and medium-chain fatty acids.
Decoding the Fatty Acid Profile of Coconut Oil
The primary fatty acid in coconut oil is lauric acid, which accounts for approximately 50% of its total fatty acid content. In addition, coconut oil contains other medium-chain fatty acids such as capric, caprylic, and myristic acid, contributing to its moisturizing properties.
Unlike most other oils that contain high amounts of mono and poly unsaturated fats, coconut oil is primarily composed of saturated fats—particularly medium-chain fatty acids (MCFAs), giving it its unique characteristics.
At the heart of coconut oil's uniqueness is lauric acid—a saturated, medium-chain fatty acid that makes up around 50% of the oil's total fatty acid content. It's worth noting that lauric acid has demonstrated antimicrobial properties, offering protection against certain bacteria, viruses, and fungi.
Aside from lauric acid, coconut oil contains capric, caprylic, and myristic acids, each contributing to its moisturizing properties and overall skin benefits.
Fatty Acids and Pore Clogging: The Science Behind It
Fatty acids are vital for skin health. They help maintain the skin barrier, retain moisture, and reduce inflammation. However, not all fatty acids have the same effect on the skin.
For instance, while linoleic acid (found in high amounts in oils like safflower and sunflower) is known for its anti-inflammatory properties and its ability to unclog pores, oleic acid (abundant in oils like olive and avocado) is more occlusive. It can potentially block pores, leading to breakouts, especially in those with acne-prone skin. Having a proper balance between the two is what makes some oils, like argan (which contains high levels of both), so versatile. The oleic acid moisturizes and the linoleic acid reduces inflammation and free radical damage. This ratio between oleic and linoleic acid is why marula oil also makes it onto our list of oils to avoid for your face.
Coconut oil's primary fatty acid, lauric acid, is a saturated fat with small molecular size due to its medium-chain structure. Being a small molecule allows the lauric acid to penetrate the skin more easily. While this provides excellent moisturizing benefits, it can also get into pores, leading to blockages and acne.
With a comedogenicity score of 4-5, coconut oil is best for moisturizing your body, not your face.
Bottom line, does coconut oil clog pores? Yes, for a large proportion of people.
Anti-Inflammatory vs Pro-Inflammatory Fatty Acids
Inflammation is the body's natural response to injury, including skin damage. Fatty acids play a crucial role in managing this response. For example, omega-3 fatty acids exhibit potent anti-inflammatory properties, like alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) found in flaxseed oil and gamma-linolenic acid (GLA) in borage and evening primrose oils.
Unfortunately, coconut oil lacks these anti-inflammatory omegas and is not considered an anti-inflammatory oil.
So, coconut oil offers excellent benefits for specific skincare needs due to its unique fatty acid profile. However, it is not the best choice for facial skincare, especially for those with pore-clogging or inflammation concerns. Instead, other oils rich in linoleic acid, ALA, or GLA offer more beneficial properties for face care.
How to Use Coconut Oil the Right Way
Where coconut oil really shines is for use on other parts of your body.
Coconut oil has a long history of use for personal care purposes - body moisturizer, massage oil, cuticle treatment, stretch mark treatment, hair oil, cleansing oil, personal lubricant for intimate activity - the list goes on and on.
The main benefits of coconut oil are in its ability to richly moisturize and deeply nourish. That makes it the most useful for your body as a moisturizer or massage oil.
Turning Up the Heat: Coconut Oil as a Personal Lubricant
Diving into an excitingly different use, did you know this tropical treasure can also spice up your intimate moments as a natural sexual lubricant? Coconut oil, known for its skin moisturizing properties, can provide much-needed slickness and comfort during intimacy.
It has been shown to be effective in reducing friction during sexual activities due to its higher viscosity and lubricity. Furthermore, organic coconut oil is free from harmful chemicals and synthetic ingredients, making it a safer choice for sensitive areas.
Several clinical studies have also confirmed its effectiveness and safety in intimate situations. However, it's critical to note that while coconut oil is safe for skin application, it's not compatible with latex condoms.
Taming the Mane: The Magic of Coconut Oil for Dry Hair
Coconut oil makes its way onto the top of our list of best hair oils. Specifically, dry hair benefits most.
Deep Conditioning: Coconut oil is known to penetrate deeper than other conditioners, as it is composed of 90% saturated fat, which helps to nourish dry skin and hair from within.
Detangling: Due to its slick nature, coconut oil helps to untangle stubborn knots, which can significantly reduce hair breakage.
Shine and Softness: Regular use of coconut oil can give your hair a glossy shine and make it soft to touch.
Scalp Health: Its antimicrobial properties can help to treat common scalp care issues such as dandruff.
Remember, it's best to use hair oils at night before you know you'll shampoo the next morning. Don't do extra washing! Just shampoo like you normally would.
If you're looking for a beard oil or balm, be cautious with coconut oil. Although it's excellent for hair, the pores on your face are still much more likely to clog. If your beard and face are extremely dry, trying it is reasonable. However, there are still better oils and butters for facial hair that don't have the pore-clogging risk.
Coconut Oil for the Oil Cleansing Method
When used as a cleanser, coconut oil can penetrate deeply, promoting a healthy and radiant glow. It can also be used as a gentle yet effective makeup remover, including for waterproof makeup.
Due to the issues with pore-clogging, coconut oil should be used as step-1 for the 2-step oil cleansing method. We would not recommend it be used as a cleansing oil alone unless you will be doing step 2 to make sure you've removed the excess. Since unclogging pores is the name of the game, if you're worried you can still use other oils for cleansing.
A Tale of Diverse Skin Types
I know some of you are thinking - but I always use coconut oil, and my face looks great! If that's you, then keep doing it!
The most important thing about any facial skincare product or treatment is that it is tailored to your skin type and that you have the results you're looking for.
Many people use and swear by coconut oil for the face. Even though it's generally not best for everyone, if it works for you, then don't stop. There is no harm. When it comes to face oils, the nuances are vast and everybody's skin is different.
The people who use coconut oil on their face and see the most benefits are those with very dry skin. People with oily skin and acne are best to avoid it. Sensitive skin is usually ok to try unless there is a known allergy or sensitivity.
Regarding skin colour, there is some internet back-and-forth about whether coconut oil is specifically better (or worse) for black skin. As a skincare formulator, I recognize how little research goes into determining the best ingredients for melanin-rich skin. I think the same rules apply no matter where your skin falls on the Fitzpatrick scale - pore clogging is pore clogging, and if you suffer from it, then you should not use coconut oil on your face.
The Sustainability of Coconut Oil Production
You might be surprised to learn the substantial statistics connected to coconut farming and its implications for the beauty industry.
The worldwide demand for coconut oil is increasing due to its perceived health and beauty advantages.
Coconut farming is mainly in developing countries, which leaves potential for agricultural or humanitarian exploitation.
The spike in demand may cause deforestation, soil erosion, and even exploitation of local farmers.
According to a recent report, coconut farming is responsible for 1.5 million hectares of deforestation in Southeast Asia alone, and the annual rate of deforestation is increasing by 5%. Furthermore, the majority of coconut farmers suffer from poverty, with wages falling well below the minimum wage in most countries.
Another staggering statistic is this: according to IUCN's Red List of Threatened Species (divided by the global oil production for each crop), coconut threatens 18.3 species for every 1 million tons of oil produced, they report. Those numbers for olive oil and palm oil are 4.1 and 3.8 species, respectively; for sunflower oil, it's 0.05.
Social Impact: Unmasking the Realities of Labor Practices in Coconut Farming
Though the glossy appeal of your favourite products can be inviting, an uncomfortable truth is hidden behind them: the harsh labour practices in the coconut farming industry. Unmasking this reality, the production of coconut oil has a substantial social impact.
Coconut farmers, mostly in developing countries, are not adequately compensated for their labour. Reports suggest that wages are low and working conditions are often poor, with some farmers earning less than $1 per day.
As an informed consumer, it is essential to be aware of these issues and choose brands that guarantee fair labour practices. Your selection of coconut oil can either perpetuate these problems or contribute to a meaningful transformation of the coconut farming industry.
Frequently Asked Questions
Q: What alternative natural oils can be used on the face instead of coconut oil?
You can use a range of natural oils for your face instead of coconut oil. We have written extensively about face oil and have linked to many of our articles throughout this one. Even though coconut oil might be a good option for some people with dry skin, check out this list of the best oils for dry skin to get started on an approach that is much less likely to clog pores or cause breakouts.
If you specifically have oily skin or acne, this is our article on the best face oils for acne-prone skin.
Q: Are there any potential allergic reactions to coconut oil when used for skincare purposes?
Yes, some people may experience allergic reactions to coconut oil when used for skincare. Symptoms can include redness, itching, swelling, and hives. Always patch-test a new product before applying it to your face, and talk to your dermatologist if you're worried.
How does coconut oil compare to other common facial oils in terms of cost?
Coconut oil tends to be less expensive than other popular facial oils like argan or jojoba oil. However, prices can vary depending on the brand, the quality of the oil, and where you purchase it. If you find a high-quality, organic, fair-trade supply, then you're going to pay a premium - but it's worth it.
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