Skin Coach Q&A: Coconut Oil and Acne

coconut oil

Question:

Coconut oil seems to be the cure all for everything, even acne. What is the benefit of coconut oil for the skin? Do you believe it helps with acne?

Erin’s Answer:

I’ve noticed the coconut oil trend seems to be gaining more and more momentum. Nearly every client I see has a sister-in-law who just swears by it, and online research turns up lots of support in favor of coconut oil for the skin. I agree it’s great to eat, and I recommend using it in place of other fats during cooking. I also consider it beneficial for some topical uses, but NOT for acne.

Coconut oil is highly pore clogging

If you have ‘that’ sister-in-law, please read on. Coconut oil has long been recognized as pore clogging (comedogenic) by cosmetic chemists. The problem, as with most comedogens, is that it can take weeks or even months for the breakout to become apparent. For this reason, people often unwittingly continue use, not realizing that trouble is brewing deep inside their pores. As true with all acne rules, this does not apply to someone without the genetic predisposition to break out. These people are typically free to use most anything and won’t be bothered by it.

But some people say it HELPED their breakouts

There are other conditions that mimic acne, a common one being fungal folliculitis that causes small raised bumps often mistaken for pimples. Deeper folliculitis can create bigger ‘zit-like’ lesions. I have a theory that, due to its anti-fungal properties, coconut oil is effectively clearing this condition. It would be an easy mistake to make. I see clients who regularly present with this fungal rash-like condition, and they always think it’s acne.

I can see how someone might notice an improvement in their fungal folliculitis rather quickly, and not develop increased acne lesions until a month (or two or three) later. At that point, it would be easy to miss the connection between the coconut oil and the acne. Instead, they’d want to keep using the oil, thinking ‘It cleared me up before, so I’ll stick with it.’ After all, can Google and the sister-in-law both be wrong? (insert evil laugh)

My best advice is to not use coconut oil topically where you tend to break out with acne, and if you choose to use it elsewhere, like your feet, wash your hands with soap afterward to prevent unintentionally transferring to your face, chest or back.