Back when I was a wee child (okay, a teenager), I used to slather my face with coconut oil, because it was the #hip thing to do, and because anything natural that smells like an Almond Joy can't be bad for you, right?
For a few years, I was correct. My teen face was as smooth as butter and I had the glow of an Instagram filter, pre-Instagram. Flash-forward, and my adult face threatens to break out in zits and blackheads if I so much as look at a jar of coconut oil. Why? Who knows. The devil works in mysterious ways. And by the devil, I mean pores.
Apparently, I’m not alone in my mixed results, as evidenced by the stream of texts I get from friends who are either raving about their coconut-oiled skin, or begging me for help with their post-coconut-oil breakouts. So rather than give you a one-and-done answer as to whether or not you should slather it on, I’ll lay out the facts and let you decide.
Be Prepared to Break Out
Sorry, coconut oil, but you’re a bad friend. At least, to anyone with acne-prone skin. “Despite being touted as beneficial, coconut oil is so heavy that it has the potential to clog pores,” says dermatologist Joshua Zeichner, M.D., director of cosmetic and clinical research at Mount Sinai Hospital. Basically, because coconut oil is one of the thicker, richer oils, it often just sits on top of your face—rather than absorbing fully into your skin—forming a little seal over the pore.
In fact, coconut oil has a rating of four on the zero-to-five comedogencity scale (i.e. a really loose list of how pore-clogging certain ingredients are), which means it’s highly risky for anyone who regularly struggles with acne.
Don’t Use It to Cure Your Zits
Coconut oil has gotten major buzz in the last year as miracle zit fixer, thanks to the fact that its naturally high in lauric acid, an anti-microbial and anti-fungal fatty acid. But that doesn’t necessarily make it effective.
Theoretically, the properties in coconut oil should be beneficial to acne—vitamin E and linoleic acid soothe irritated skin, while lauric acid kills bacteria—but coconut oil hasn’t actually been shown to improve acne in any studies. It has, however, been anecdotally known to break you the hell out (see above). So why take the risk if you’re already battling zits, when you can use ingredients specifically formulated to safely treat your acne (like my four favorite, and surprisingly gentle, acne-fighters, below)?
Know That Your Mileage May Vary
There is a possibility—a very small one—that coconut oil could be a magic wand for your face. “Ultimately, the way your skin reacts to products is determined by your genes,” says Dr. Zeichner. “Some people are ultra-sensitive to a variety of external factors, including coconut oil, while other people can tolerate almost anything with no problems.” Annoying right? (Lookin’ at you, Sally).
Unfortunately, the only way to tell if coconut oil will work with your skin is to play a game of chance. Or, not. “With so many other well-formulated cleansers, moisturizers, and acne-products products on the market, I don’t usually recommend my patients take the risk with coconut oil,” says Dr. Zeichner. But hey, you do you!
And if you do break out, you can always cover it up with so really excellent foundation. Yes, you know I have recommendations for those, too. Happy slathering!