By Dr Alina Sholar, MD
The use of coconut oil as “skincare” is an all-out raging trend. An internet search for ‘coconut oil for skin care’ returns thousands of results that declare coconut oil a miracle for cleansing, moisturizing and healing the skin.
This couldn’t be further from the scientific truth.
Skincare science says:
* Coconut oil disrupts the skin’s natural barrier function and can promote aging. Healthy skin has a thin, protective layer on its surface, referred to as the acid mantle. This acid mantle is made up of sebum (free fatty acids) excreted from the skin’s sebaceous glands, which mixes with lactic and amino acids on the skin surface to create the skin’s ideal pH, which should be slightly acidic – at about 5.5. Despite the fact that coconut oil is touted all over the internet as a moisturizer, coconut oil often increases skin’s dryness. This seems counterintuitive, but the application of oil disrupts the skin’s natural barrier function of the acid mantle that prevents the evaporative loss of water from the skin. Your skin produces its own sebum to moisturize the skin, retain hydration, and maintain the proper slightly acidic pH balance. By applying more oil, the surface skin cells communicate to sebum-producing glands to create less natural fatty acids because it is already oil-rich. However, it’s rich with the wrong oil. Adding the coconut oil throws off the natural sebum balance and alters the pH to be a bit more alkaline, which also halts the natural skin enzyme capabilities to allow for skin cell shedding. The alkaline pH also promotes bacterial growth. Bacterial excretions worsen the pH imbalance and jumpstart an inflammatory reaction. The resulting barrier function loss is pro-inflammatory, dehydrating, and ultimately pro-aging- the opposite of the intention for the coconut oil use.
* Coconut oil does not provide hydration. Because oil and water do not mix- in fact, they repel one another- coconut oil cannot deliver water (hydration) to the skin whatsoever. To put any oil on top of dehydrated skin may make it feel smoother initially, but the skin will still lack the hydration that makes it soft, supple, elastic, and youthful. It will still look dull, crepey, and have a rough texture.
* Coconut oil is rated 4-5 out of 5 on the comedogenic scale, meaning it is a high offender of the cause occlusion, clogged pores, pimples, blackheads, milia or whiteheads.
* Coconuts are considered a tree nut, so if you are already sensitive to any type of nut or have an allergy, coconut oil could cause an allergic or inflammatory reaction that appears as itchiness, red bumps or a rash.
* Coconut oil used on the face has been linked to an increase in contact dermatitis. This risk increases if the skin is already broken for any reason, such as post-procedure or with open acne lesions.
* While coconut oil is known to contain skin soothers like omega-3 fatty acids and lauric acid, it contains such small amounts that they have not shown to be beneficial. Lauric acid has demonstrated in studies to fight the propionibacterium acnes (P. acnes) bacteria that is responsible for some acne breakouts, but the small amount of lauric acid in coconut oil is overcome by the total oil content that will occlude the skin. The better option is to use clinical products that contain lauric acid instead.
* Coconut oil has no natural vitamin or mineral content that serves the skin. It’s fats flying solo. I’ve seen blog posts claiming it has “high Vitamin E content” but that claim is not scientifically substantiated.
The bottom line is this: don’t simply let current trends influence your skincare, no matter how many internet influencers, nutritionists, estheticians, or even some physicians tout it. Go with the science instead.
This post was contributed by Dr. Alina Sholar, my personal Botox injector and overall beauty designer. She is an Austin,TX Board-Certified Plastic Surgeon, owner of Skin•Science•Soul MediAesthetics, and owner and President of Serenity Medical Centers, LLC. You’ll be reading a lot more from Dr. Sholar here on FitFluential– so feel free to leave your questions for her on this topic or others in the comments.