What Is Coconut Oil?
Coconut oil has been touted as a cure all for anything from weight loss, teeth whitening, skincare to haircare. Coconut oil’s sudden popularity, particularly in skincare and hair care may have something to do with its rich fatty acid content, moisturizing properties and antibacterial abilities. Recently, experts have been warning about the overuse of coconut oil, particularly when consumed but also when it comes to its use on the skin and hair.
Firstly, what is coconut oil? Coconut oil is the oil that is derived from the flesh of the coconut. This extracted oil contains a number of different compounds and like most plant-derived ingredients, isn’t just one ingredient. Coconut oil is made up of lauric acid, linoleic acid, unsaturated omega-6 fatty acids and vitamin E. SOme studies have suggested that coconut oil may help to soothe the skin, have antimicrobial properties and act to create a protective barrier on the skin.
the good:Coconut oil is a great source of fatty acids and vitamin E that may help to protect the skin and hair from moisture loss.
the not so good:Coconut oil has been linked with clogging and breakouts so if you have congestive skin or reactive skin it may not be the best option for you. Coconut oil, like any plant-based ingredient, actually contains a complex mix of compounds, it isn’t just one ingredient. While this can be a good thing, it can make it difficult to identify what is causing irritation or breakout if you experience either of these things with using coconut oil.
Who is it for?All skin types except those that have an identified allergy to it.
Synergetic ingredients:Works well with most ingredients.
Keep an eye on:Keep an eye out for more research on this ingredient.
Is Coconut Oil Good For Your Skin and Hair?
Using coconut oil on your skin versus on your hair are two very different things. The skin’s needs in terms of protection, hydration and ability to clog are very different from the needs of the hair follicle.
Coconut oil when used topically or on the skin is thought to help improve moisture, protect the skin against infections and may be involved in reducing inflammation.
Ccoconut oil creates a protective film on the surface of the skin. This helps to prevent water loss to the environment or what is called transepidermal water loss or TEWL. TEWL occurs when the skin’s natural barrier is unable to keep moisture from evaporating into the air. As we age the skin barrier is less able to hold moisture in, which is why aging skin is often more dehydrated and dull.
Some studies have indicated that coconut oil may have mild antimicrobial effects, meaning that it may be protective against mild skin infections such as those associated with acne. This is due to the presence of lauric acid, a component of coconut oil.
This potential benefit of coconut oil is not particularly well studied, however a study published in the Journal of Traditional and Complementary Medicine in 2019 suggested that coconut oil may have a anti-inflammatory effect on the skin and may help to protect the skin by improving the skin’s natural barrier. It is important to remember that one study doesn’t indicate a causational relationship and more research is needed before this potential benefit can be attributed to coconut oil.
Coconut oil is commonly used to hydrate the hair as a mask treatment or as an ingredient in formulated hair care products.
As an oil coconut oil is able to coat the hair, if used before washing, and reduce the amount of friction that the hair experiences, this reduces damage. Coconut oil is also able to reduce the amount of water that penetrates the hair shaft by repelling it. Water gets into the shaft through the scales that make up the outer protective barrier of the shaft. The water causes the hair shaft to swell, using coconut oil before washing, repels the water and reduces damage to the shaft.
Now, many oils can perform this task as they will lubricate the hair and repel water but coconut oil is able to penetrate deeper into the hair shaft, amplifying these abilities. This is due to the small size of the coconut oil molecule which allows it to penetrate deeper and form a tighter protective barrier to water.
This makes coconut oil a fantastic treatment for dry or textured hair as it protects it from further dehydration and damage.
What Are The Side Effects of Coconut Oil?
Coconut oil is not for every skin type. If you have skin that is prone to congestion or breakouts then you may want to avoid using pure coconut oil on your skin or even skincare or cosmetic products with a high concentration of coconut oil. Coconut oil is considered to be comedogenic which means that it can clog the pores. If you have skin that clogs easily and is prone to blackheads, coconut oil may exacerbate this, particularly if used for a long period of time. If you have acne prone skin then the anti-inflammatory benefits of coconut oil may seem appealing but there are other ingredients out there such as avocado oil that may be better suited.
If you have dry, dehydrated or barrier disrupted skin then coconut oil- based products may be able to help protect the skin and trap moisture in. Coconut oil can also be a great body moisturiser for those who can’t use it on their face, this is because the body’s skin has fewer oil glands than the face.
Is Coconut Oil Safe?
With all plant-based ingredients there is a risk of reaction as they are complex ingredients made up of many components. Coconut oil is also not well researched, as its popularity and benefits to the skin are only just beginning to be investigated. So if you have sensitive, congestive or acneic skin be mindful of potential sensitivity, reaction or congestion if you are wanting to give coconut oil a try.
The Cosmetic Ingredient Review Expert Panel, a group responsible for evaluating the safety of skincare and cosmetic ingredients has reviewed a number of edible oils, including coconut oil. The available data suggests that there is a small risk of irritation to the eyes when using pure coconut oil but that mostly it was considered to be safe and non-sensitizing.
Lin, T, Zhong, L, & Santiago, J, 2017. ‘Anti-Inflammatory and Skin Barrier Repair Effects of Topical Application of Some Plant Oils’, International Journal of Molecular Sciences, vol. 19, is. 1, pp. 70.
Karagounis, T, Gittler, J, Rotemberg, V & Morel, K, 2018. ‘Use of “natural” oils for moisturization: Review of olive coconut, and sunflower seed oil’, Pediatric Dermatology, vol.36, is. 1.