The Real Scoop on Coconut Oil

By Hannah Wisterman
Blog Content Contributor

As many makeup artists will tell you, the first step to any great makeup look is good skincare. For some of us, this takes a little more work than others, and so hearing reports of a wonder-product that can do it all with drastic results can be really exciting. For the past couple of years, coconut oil has been touted as that wonder-product. Use it on your hair! Use it on your legs! Use it in cooking! Use it as makeup remover! Use it as moisturizer! The “natural beauty” community, especially, has fully embraced the power of coconut oil. However before you join the cult, there are a few things you should know about what coconut oil can do—both positive and negative.

coconut head
For some people, coconut oil is the farthest thing from a good skin care choice. Photo by Janessa Rutiaga.

First and foremost, coconut oil is not a “one size fits all” product. Rule of thumb: very few things in the entire universe are one size fits all, especially when it comes to skin. I learned this the hard way in the fall of 2016, when I started regularly using coconut oil on my face, which prompted a near-apocalyptic breakout that lasted for months. My skin was inflamed and plagued with blemishes that would not budge, despite all my best efforts. When I explained my plight to a friend, she spotted the issue right away: coconut oil is comedogenic, meaning that it’s way more likely to clog your pores. This can produce and aggravate acne and blackheads. People with dry and even normal skin can usually afford to use comedogenic products, but for oilier skin like mine it can be a nightmare. I cut out coconut oil in December, switched to oil cleansing the following March, and still had to deal with nasty breakouts for another few months. The battle to repair my skin was no joke. I wish I had heard the words of Dr. Stefanie Williams earlier: “Coconut oil should also be strictly avoided in anybody suffering with breakouts.” That is crucial: coconut oil will not clear up breakouts. It will make them worse. The moral of the story? Coconut oil can’t do it all.

So before you dive into slathering coconut oil on your skin, consider whether it might conflict with your skin type, or if its benefits would really be worth the trouble. According to skincare experts, coconut oil generally shouldn’t be your number one choice– and if you do choose it, choose a cold-pressed option.

Coconut oil in hair care is a similar story: it comes down to your type. Unsurprisingly, since coconut oil has a tendency to seep into the pores of your skin, it also has a tendency to seep into the shaft of your hair strands. According to cosmetic chemist Ni’Kita Wilson, coconut oil protects porous hair from swelling with too much water and straining the hair cuticle. For low porosity hair, coconut oil may block moisture from getting into the strands entirely, drying it out.

What to do with that information? First—and this might seem gross, but bear with me– find a stray stand of your hair and drop it into water. If it takes a while to sink, you have low porosity hair. If it sinks immediately, high porosity. And if it’s somewhere in between… well, your hair is somewhere in between. From here, you can decide whether to use coconut oil on your hair, among many other haircare decisions.

Coconut oil undoubtedly has many uses and benefits, and I am all for trying new things and neat tricks for health and beauty. But before you commit to a popular “life hack”, you should evaluate whether it would be best for you.

Featured image by Hannah Wisterman.

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