Once and for all, is coconut oil good for your skin? We asked the experts

With the thousands of skincare ingredients available on the market, it can be a pretty difficult task finding the perfect one for you. Which is why when the humble coconut oil started gaining popularity amongst celebrities and estheticians as an essential beauty product, it seemed as though this was the easy (and cheap) ticket to great skin.

However, over the years it has since become the most controversial ingredient to date. Why? There simply isn’t enough scientific evidence to validate its benefits.

So, beauty-must or beauty-gone-bust? We asked experts to give us a definitive answer on whether coconut oil really is good for your skin.

Firstly, what is coconut oil?

Coconut oil is an edible oil extracted from the kernel of older coconuts. Harvested from the coconut palm (Cocos nucifera) throughout the tropical world, it’s long been the number one source of fat in the diets of millions of people.

It’s solid at room temperature, but can soften or even melt when heated.

A single tablespoon of coconut oil contains almost 14g of total fat, 12g of which is saturated fat and less than 1g each of the heart healthy mono and polyunsaturated fats. Of the saturated fat content, 6g per tablespoon or almost half is lauric acid, a type of fat known as a medium chain triglyceride (MCT).

Why is coconut oil being used as an ingredient in beauty products?

Despite the controversy, go to any beauty aisle and you’ll be sure to find a number of products listing coconut oil as the hero ingredient – which again, makes it very confusing as to whether the ingredient is good or bad for your skin.

Dr Michele Squire, PhD-qualified scientist and owner of personal skincare coaching business Qr8, explains exactly why a growing number of beauty brands are adding coconut oil into their products.

“Companies now understand the importance that maintaining our skin barrier is to our skin health,” Squire explains. “Our skin takes a beating from cleansing, pollution and environmental exposure, UV exposure (and free radicals) and exfoliation. Our epidermis responds by making and secreting more lipids to restore the skin barrier. In young skin, this internal barrier repair process is relatively quick (50-60 per cent repair within 12 hours), but older skin takes up to a week to completely repair its own skin barrier after each insult.”

So, to help protect and repair this skin barrier, manufactures are supplementing products with “cholesterol, free fatty acids and ceramides” – coconut oil being one of these lipids.

What is coconut oil good for?

“Coconut is considered by some a good ‘natural’ skin care product that has several skin benefits including killing microorganisms, treating acne, a great moisturiser and an anti-inflammatory,” explains Dermalogica Director of Education, Emma Hobson.

Squire explains it’s also useful for people with atopic dermatitis and dry skin (especially due to ageing) thanks to its emollient, humectant, antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties.

However, both Hobson and Squire stress these benefits are lacking scientific research.

“There is no credible scientific research to substantiate the above mentioned benefits when using pure coconut oil on the skin,” Hobson simply states.

And for those who think coconut oil will help treat acne, you might want to think again.

“There is no science supporting its antimicrobial benefits in acne, as the acne studies were conducted using lauric acid, not coconut oil,” Squire adds. “These studies have led to the theory that coconut oil (which contains approximately 50 per cent lauric acid as its free fatty acid component) might help acne.”

What are the downsides?

Yep, you guessed it: acne… and also clogged pores and blackheads.

“Pure Coconut oil has been found to be comedogenic; it’s a very thick, occlusive oil, which means it can cause skin congestion resulting in breakouts,” Hobson says.

This is due to the oil’s high concentration of saturated fat, according to dietitian Susie Burrell.

“The consistency of coconut oil, a result of its saturated fat, means that it is less likely to permeate the skin and rather sit on the top,” Burrell explains.

Those with sensitive skin should be extra cautious and start with applying it only to a small section of the skin to ensure it doesn’t case irritation or blocked pores.

Moreover, Squire explains “it’s not an occlusive so won’t prevent trans-epidermal water loss” and those with dermatitis or dry skin “should be under the care of a dermatologist – not self-medicating with coconut oil.”

Final say

So, yay or nay to slathering your face with coconut oil?

Dr Squire = No.

“Our skin is a complex organ so one oil is never going to do everything! Some people use coconut oil for everything – cleansing, moisturising, hair treatments etc. It’s useful, but not a one-hit-wonder.”

Emma Hobson = No.

“I would not recommend this to be used on the skin.”

Susie Burrell = No.

“I would never use it on myself nor recommend it to my clients.”

So yes, that’s a definite no.

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