Is Coconut Oil Right For Your Face? How To Tell + 5 Ways To Use It For Dewy Skin
Jamie Schneider is the Beauty & Wellness Editor at mindbodygreen, covering beauty and wellness. She has a B.A. in Organizational Studies and English from the University of Michigan, and her work has appeared in Coveteur, The Chill Times, and Wyld Skincare.
Ah, coconut oil. If you've ever encountered the all-natural beauty fave, you likely fall into one of two camps: You either hail it as a multipurpose hero (great for hair and skin), or you bolt every time someone merely mentions the words lauric acid.
Allow us to say it up top: Coconut oil simply does not work well for some people, especially on the face. But for others, oh, does it work like a charm. Here's exactly how to tell if coconut oil is right for you and how you should slather it on for the best results.
Benefits of coconut oil for skin.
There are more than a few reasons coconut oil is touted as a holy grail in natural skin care. First up: Coconut oil is rich in fatty acids that nourish and smooth the skin.
One fatty acid in particular—lauric acid—has antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties; it's even been shown to kill 1Propionibacterium acnes (P. acnes)1, which is the bacteria that leads to inflammatory acne (note: Since the study in 2009, P. acnes has been recently renamed Cutibacterium acnes2, or 2C. acnes2).
Additionally, coconut oil is super moisturizing3: Research shows it can help increase moisture levels in the skin4 (it has an occlusive effect, meaning it seals in hydration), as well as improve skin barrier function5—perhaps that's why those with eczema flares and psoriasis typically find it so skin-soothing6.
5 ways to use coconut oil for the face.
OK, so the scientific data abounds. But how exactly do you incorporate coconut oil into your skin care routine? Take a gander:
As an overnight treatment.
"If your skin is tolerable to the oil (dry and dehydrated skin types, for example), then leaving it overnight can be beneficial," says celebrity facialist Cecilia Wong, founder of Cecilia Wong Skincare. Although, those with oily or acne-prone skin might want to steer clear of this treatment (more on that later).
But if your skin is in dire need of some moisture, simply slather on coconut oil after cleansing ("Be cautious in mixing it with other serums or moisturizers, as it can be too greasy," notes Wong), and let it seep into your skin as you sleep. You might want to avoid tossing and turning that night, lest you transfer all that oily goodness onto your pillow.
As a face mask.
That's not to say you have to take the overnight route: Coconut oil actually makes a great wash-off treatment as well. Wong suggests mixing the oil with yogurt for a creamy, DIY face mask base—the lactic acid in yogurt will gently exfoliate, while coconut oil effectively locks in moisture.
If you're feeling fancy, she suggests sprinkling in a few other ingredients like turmeric or maca powder. The DIY world is your oyster, here.
As an oil cleanser.
Those already on the oil cleansing bandwagon know well: Oil dissolves oil, so using an oil-based cleanser can help remove any excess sebum on your skin, as well as daily dirt and grime. Not to mention, cleansing with oil can protect the natural lipid layer of your skin rather than stripping the barrier down.
Although, "If you decide to use it as a cleanser," says esthetician Tami Blake, founder of Free + True, "make sure to double cleanse and follow up with a gentle gel or cream cleanser or warm towel to remove any leftover oily residue."
As a makeup remover.
If you don't wish to go for a full-on oil cleanse, coconut oil makes a great natural makeup remover for even the most stubborn of shades (again, oil dissolves oil, and makeup tends to be oil-based).
Just massage the oil in circular motions wherever you wish to melt makeup (be gentle on the eye area), and rinse with warm water before reaching for cleanser.
As a lip balm.
The moisturizing properties of coconut oil make for a rich, buttery lip salve. "Coconut oil has skin-soothing, emollient, and barrier-supportive properties," says Blake, all of which are necessary in a stellar lip balm.
Especially for those who suffer from lip eczema, coconut oil itself is a wonderful natural ointment; as you may know, the best remedies for eczema tend to have a minimal ingredient list (as extra ingredients can risk triggering even more irritation). Coconut oil, it turns out, is a single-ingredient wonder that's perfect for alleviating any painful flares.
You can either combine the oil with other good-for-you ingredients for a DIY confection or stick to straight coconut oil and call it a day. Simply warm up a scoop between your fingers before swiping it on your lips. Bonus: The natural oil sheen helps your pout look juicy, too.
Who shouldn't use it?
You've likely heard it once or twice: Coconut oil can be comedogenic. If it works, well, it works in a major way—but for some, applying coconut oil can clogged pores. (However, this is up-for-debate by some; some argue that the comedogenicy of coconut oil is greatly exaggerated. You really just have to try it to find out if it works for you.) The issue comes down to the lauric acid. Lauric acid can accumulate in the top layer of skin without penetrating—which is why some argue it can cause a pore-clogging film on the skin. However, lauric acid also has antimicrobial properties, which many argue can help tend to acne. Ultimately, the consensus is still out on this issue.
So let's say you have normal-to-dry skin. Is coconut oil a must-have? Again, it's not so simple: "The only way to know if virgin coconut oil works for your skin is to experiment," says Blake.
Try one of the aforementioned uses above, and see how your skin reacts. If your skin feels dewy and healthy, feel free to stock up on versatile coconut oil. If you face breakouts, perhaps opt for a lightweight, noncomedogenic oil like jojoba, argan, grapeseed8, or sunflower seed oil.
How to choose the best coconut oil for the face.
"Not all coconut oils are created equal," says Wong. Meaning, you don't want to pick up a regular kitchen-grade oil and smear it on the delicate skin of your face.
At the very least, look for unrefined (or virgin), organic coconut oil. According to board-certified dermatologist Jessie Cheung, M.D., founder of Cheung Aesthetics and Wellness, this means it's made from fresh coconut and is able to retain the antioxidants and anti-inflammatory benefits. You may also want to look for brands that are fair-trade certified and non-GMO.
However, reaching for a virgin version may depend on your skin type: Virgin coconut oil is solid at room temperature (it contains saturated fats) and has a much heavier weight. That's why, according to Blake, it can sit on the skin and clog pores.
Rather, if you have any fractionated coconut oil on hand (it stays in a liquid state, as the process removes the long-chain fatty acids), it can penetrate the skin more easily and may lead to fewer breakouts.
"Compared to raw coconut oil, which can feel oddly greasy and dry on the skin, fractionated coconut oil soaks in quickly and does not leave an oily feeling on the surface of the skin," natural skin care expert Sarah Villafranco, M.D., founder of Osmia Organics, tells us about the types of coconut oil. Of course, sourcing is still important—no matter the type of oil, make sure it's certified to USDA-standards.
Scroll through some of the most common inquiries about using coconut oil.
Is coconut oil good for your face everyday?
Short answer? It's all up to your skin type.
If your skin runs especially dry, you might fare well with moisturizing coconut oil every single day. If you have oily, combination, or acne-prone skin, you might want to use sparingly (if at all) or only apply on very chapped areas. Remember: Coconut oil can be comedogenic. But if your skin needs the heavy-duty moisture, by all means, carry on daily.
Does applying coconut oil on the face cause facial hair growth?
A common question among Reddit threads that we should debunk: There is no evidence to suggest that coconut oil can cause facial hair growth.
Perhaps the confusion stems from coconut oil's hair-healthy properties; since it has a low molecular weight9, it's able to penetrate easily into the hair shaft and absorb better than other common oils. So it effectively moisturizes the strands, rather than sitting on top of them—and keeping hair happily moisturized is key for supporting faster growth.
But no oil causes hair growth, per se, no matter how hydrating and antioxidant-rich it may be. So while coconut oil can help moisturize the strands you already have (which can support beard growth, if that's what you're after), it won't have you sprouting brand new facial hairs.
Is coconut oil good for under-eyes?
Coconut oil can be helpful for hydrating the delicate under-eye area, considering it's thin and more prone to dryness. Studies have even shown it can promote collagen synthesis and cell turnover8, which might make it an effective treatment for dark circles.
Might is the operative word, here: There are no studies yet to show that coconut oil can improve under-eye circles in particular—but its moisturizing and anti-inflammatory properties could potentially help soothe the area.
However, coconut oil may be too heavy for the under-eye skin. Too-heavy creams and oils can trap keratin in the pores and cause tiny white or yellow bumps (known as milia), which is common where the skin is thinner—like around the eyes and lips. Again, it depends on your individual skin's needs.
Does coconut oil help fine lines?
Keeping skin moisturized is crucial not only for delaying the onset of fine lines (by supporting the skin barrier) but it can also plump up the skin and ease the appearance of any folds.
"Keeping the skin well moisturized will help reduce the appearance of any lines," board-certified dermatologist Jeremy Fenton, M.D., of Schweiger Dermatology Group in NYC and Long Beach, New York, tells us about managing neck wrinkles.
Coconut oil also has some purported benefits for cell turnover and collagen production, which could help enhance skin texture. Additionally, coconut oil has been shown to block 20% of UV rays10—considering 90% of visible signs of aging can be attributed to UV exposure11. That’s no reason to toss your proper sunscreen, but it does show how coconut oil can potentially help delay the onset of fine lines.
For some (typically those with dry skin), coconut oil is a moisturizing workhorse that can keep your face looking dewy and fresh; for others, coconut oil is a recipe for clogged pores and acne. If you do find coconut oil works well for your face, there are a variety of ways to incorporate the fatty-acid-rich oil into your skin care routine—slather on, and soothe.
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Jamie Schneider is the Beauty & Wellness Editor at mindbodygreen. She has a B.A. in Organizational Studies and English from the University of Michigan, and her work has appeared in Coveteur, The Chill Times, and Wyld Skincare. In her role at mbg, she reports on everything from the top beauty industry trends, to the gut-skin connection and the microbiome, to the latest expert makeup hacks. She currently lives in New York City.