Many of us seeking healthier, more natural skin care alternatives are ditching conventional creams and moisturizers and reaching instead for pure, virgin coconut oil. Look online and you'll see the virtues of coconut as a moisturizer extolled over and over again, and studies supporting the topical application of coconut oils to improve dry skin conditions and combat acne. I am absolutely thrilled when I speak to someone who is using coconut with good results! But honestly, I get more reports to the contrary. Take a look around the internet and you will read enough anecdotal evidence suggesting a real problem with it.
I get negative reports from all kinds of people, especially those with normal to dry skin, and those who get clogged pores. Those who suffer from both conditions fare the worst. They describe their skin becoming dry and flaky, often complaining of new bumps, clogged pores and comedones, and even dry patches with new outbreaks and bumps. This might happen right away, or after some time. Making it hard to pinpoint what is the cause of the problem. Many resort to using even more coconut oil to heal their dry skin, and the problem continues.
So what happens when skin gets dry, flaky, itchy? A strong lipid barrier resists penetration by the acne causing bacteria which lives on our skin. Dry, itchy, flaky skin are symptoms of an impaired lipid barrier. When this happens, it becomes vulnerable to penetration by pathogenic bacteria. Once the bacteria penetrate the skin's first line of defense, and even though coconut oil has proven antibacterial qualities, it is not enough to now control outbreaks. The result is dry patches of skin with bumps and clogged pores which can erupt into pimples and acne.
WHO PROBABLY WON'T GET GOOD RESULTS USING COCONUT OIL TO MOISTURIZE? If you have dry skin then pure coconut is probably not going to give you the results are hoping for. It might be pure and natural, virgin cold-pressed and organic, but there is a very, very good chance it will contribute to dry, flaky skin, clogged pores, and comedones.
WHO MIGHT GREAT RESULTS WITH PURE COCONUT OIL? If you have oily skin which does not break out, then you might be among the lucky few who can use coconut oil as a moisturizer and get good results! But keep reading anyway in case your results vary over time!
So what's GOING ON?
Often I am asked by people who have taken up the use of coconut oil as a leave on skin treatment oil for recommendations to relieve these problems. The first thing I do is take some time to explain the unique chemistry of coconut oil and how this might be contributing to these issues. I also explain how adults develop food sensitivities and how that might manifest in skin issues, and lastly I explain the "Comedogenic Rating" of coconut oil and how that applies to eating coconut oil, and using it topically.
FOOD SENSITIVES - COULD COCONUT OIL BE A FACTOR IN ACNE?
To start, let's look at food sensitivities. Yes, coconut oil is a healthy traditional food, yet very few people know that it can negatively impact our skin from the inside. Over exposure to novel foods after childhood can cause food sensitivities which often manifest in skin issues. Yet while allergies to coconut and coconut oil are, in fact, rare, we know that over exposure to novel foods after childhood can cause sensitivities which often manifest in skin issues. There are studies showing coconut oil can decrease skin dryness and reduce the levels of acne causing bacteria on the skin, but there is so much anecdotal evidence to the contrary that additional studies are warranted.
The vast majority of American's over 20 did not grow up consuming coconuts and coconut oil from a very early age! It was deemed unhealthy due to its high saturated fat content. During the tragic decades when saturated fat was falsely demonized as killers, we were told to avoid it so we did! Now that this false doctrine has been dismantled we are returning to cooking and eating coconut oil again. And herein might lie a problem; unless you grew up eating coconuts at an early age, or come from an ethnicity which historically consumed lots of them, you might have developed a sensitive to this food! So if you are not getting the results you had hoped for, I would first consider eliminating coconut oil from the diet and skin care for a period of time and see what results you get.
COCONUT OIL - AN OIL WITH ONE OF THE HIGHEST PORE CLOGGING RATING!
Next, it is important to consider the pore clogging ability of anything we apply to our faces, and for those who suffer from acne, it should not be overlooked as a comedogenic when consumed as well!
WHAT IS COMEDOGENIC OR ACNEGENIC? The technical term for acne is Comedo. Comedo is formed from dead skin cells and skin oils (sebum). If the comedo is closed at the skin's surface, it's a "whitehead". When it's open at the skin's surface, and you can see the plugged follicle darkened by melanin buildup, it's a blackhead. If there is no opening at the surface, it's a "closed Comedone).
IS NON-COMEDOGENIC A VALID CLAIM? There is no way, no how, any skincare manufacture can verify that their product is not going to cause acne. No independent organization, nor the FDA, verifies “non-comedogenic” claims and no tests exist which can objectively determine this. Any company can claim the term “non-comedogenic” or “won’t clog pores” on its label, but there is no oversight body which will independently verify this.
Comedogenic (or the more popular term acnegenic) refers to the likelihood an ingredient will cause acne. An ingredient with a lower number is considered less comedogenic. On most Comedogenic (clog poring) Ratings Charts Coconut oil is among the ingredients which gets the highest ratings - a whoppping "4"! And while everyone is unique and has different reactions to different things, controlled studies have been performed which support these findings.
0 - An oil which is very, VERY unlikely to cause, contribute to, or make clogged pores worse.
1 – A slight chance that this oil will cause, contribute to, or make clogged pores worse.
2 - Most people this oil will not cause, contribute to, or make clogged pores worse. HOWEVER, those who DO tend to develop clogged pores might find this oil to cause, contribute, or make clogged pores worse over time.
3 – A lot of people will break out using this oil, but some will not. If you tend to get clogged pores and outbreaks this oil will most likely cause, contribute, or make clogged pores worse over time.
4 - The majority of people will break out using this oil.
5 - A comedogenic rating of 5 is basically a guaranteed of breaking out. Very, very, VERY few people can tolerate oils with a rating of 5, but they do exist!
FATTY ACID COMPOSITION OF COCONUT
Few people are knowledgable of the fatty acid composition of different fats and oils and the affect they have when applied topically. Some fatty acids are considered "dry" or astringent, while others are considered emollient.
Lauric Acid, the main fatty acid in Coconut oil, is considered a dry, astringent fatty acid. Soap makers know that 100% coconut oil soap makes a really hard, long lasting bar of soap that works great as a stain remover and laundry detergent, but NOT so nice for skin! 100% Coconut oil soap NOT a good choice for bath and body because it WILL MOST LIKELY cause dryness, itching and flaking! Pure Coconut oil applied topically can cause the same problems. The problems are made much worse in dry, arid climates.
TRY THESE INSTEAD!
I incorporate coconut oil into many of my products, including some of my cleansing oils blends. Coconut oil has great cleansing properties! And these blends are meant to be rinsed off, not left to on the skin. So by no means think I avoid coconut oil entirely; it has an important role to play in my blends, but I DO NOT include it in my facial oil and body oil blends!
For facial oils, and all my oil blends that are meant to be remain on your skin, I love Sweet Almond Oil and Olive Oil Squalane. I use these alone and in blends. I have lots of other favorites of course! But I'll start off with a short introduction to these ... stay tuned for a more in depth look!
SWEET ALMOND OIL
Sweet Almond Oil - Ancient cultures revered this emollient nut oil for treating dry skin conditions such as psoriasis and eczema, and to reduce scarring. It smoothes and rejuvenates skin and has been used for centuries to improve complexion and skin tone. It absorbs quickly and has a golden hue and a subtle nutty aroma. It has a long shelf life and is rich in many vitamins and minerals. Comedogenic rating = 2.
Olive Oil Squalane
Recently olive oil squalane oil has been studied for its almost miraculous "healthy-aging" and skin softening properties, also reknown for it's ability to reduce fine lines and wrinkles. Our skin produces its own version of this vital oil, but over time produces less and less. It soaks in fast and leaves almost no residue! It is extremely stable oil, very resistant to rancidity and gets a comedogenic rating of 0. It is scentless and clear.