Coconut oil. You must have lived under a rock for the last 5 years or so if you haven’t been told of its alleged magical properties. People have used it for everything, and not just in their recipes. Rubbing into their skin, hair and lips for such purposes as removing make-up, moisturising, teeth whitening, hair oil, an alternative to eye cream or as a lip balm.
Coconut oil is not as innocent or beneficial as it may at first seem though. I’m going to tell you my experience and then give you the science.
My Experience With Coconut Oil
Regular readers will remember that I received a sample of this stuff a while back from Birchbox and was a bit miffed by it at first. Eventually used it as a lip balm which at first I quite liked and I even bought another coconut oil brand to continue trying it with. This was to my folly I now have to admit.
After a while I noticed I was having to use more and more lip balm for lips to feel good. They were very dry, tight and uncomfortable. I also noticed an increase in blocked pores around the edges of my mouth. Not pleasant. After switching product back to L’Occitane lip balm everything went back to normal. At this point my science brain kicked in – what if coconut oil is not what we’ve been sold? Despite what the many influencers and self-styled “beauty gurus” of YouTube or the faddists of Instagram might say, coconut oil is really not all that.
Coconut oil is mostly made up of is made up of medium chain triglycerides, which are triglycerides whose fatty acids have a carbon length chain of 6 – 12. Coconut oil contains the following fatty acids:
- Lauric acid 44-52%
- Myristic acid 13%-19%
- Palmitic acid 8%-11%
- Capric acid 6%-10%
- Caprylic acid 5%-9%
- Oleic acid 5%-8%
- Stearic acid 1%-3%
- Palmitoleic acid up to 2.5%
- Linoleic acid up to 1%
- Caproic acid up to 0.8%
- Arachidic up to 0.5% Data source
Lauric and myristic acids in particular are comedogenic; this means they cause blockages in our pores. They can aggravate already acne prone skins and cause blackheads in the rest.
The rating scale goes from 0 to 5. Products and ingredients with a rating of 0 generally won’t clog our pores while those with a rating of 5 are disasters waiting to happen.
Coconut oil is regularly listed as a 4 on the scale, which is fairly high and sometimes as a 5. Of the fatty acids in coconut oil lauric acid is rated 4 on its own while myristic acid has a 3 rating and oleic acid is given a 5 by some sources. Capricylic acid alone has a rating of 2 however when formed into a triglyceride as in coconut oil has a comedogenicity rating of 5.
Lauric acid has also been shown to disrupt the skins natural barrier and to significantly accumulate in the stratum corneum which ultimately causes both congestion and irritation. It’s used as a ‘pusher’ in some products to cause them to be absorbed more quickly.
The fast and high penetration of lauric acid accounts for the extremely lightweight feel of coconut oil that people love. The oil doesn’t sit on the surface of the skin and feel “greasy”.
Over time this barrier disruption can lead to dry skin or hair – the exact opposite of what you were hoping for. The anti-microbial properties may also disrupt the balance of necessary “good” bacteria on your skin as anti-microbials are not picky – they just kill everything!
Low Skincare Value
Coconut oil also has basically no vitamin or mineral content. It has no carotenoids, no useful vitamins (eg. vitamin A or niacin), no phytosterols – it’s just fats in a jar. I’ve seen websites and YouTube videos saying it has “high vitamin E” but that claim is not borne out when you look into it. The vitamin E content of coconut oil is a negligible 0-1%.
TLDR; The Real Facts About Coconut Oil
- Causes breakouts in oily and acne prone skins because it is comedogenic.
- It penetrates and accumulates in the stratum corneum causing congestion and irritation.
- Disrupts the skins natural barrier which can lead to dry skin.
- Has almost zero nutritional content especially for topical use
- Has anti-microbial qualities – but can upset the balance of good bacteria
Yes, some people do get on with coconut oil as every skin is different. However for those of you in the comments sections and product reviews wondering why you are dry or spotty after using this stuff, I hope I have shed some light on exactly why you aren’t alone. If you would like to use a facial oil with good skin care benefits I would suggest rosehip oil.