Because of coconut oilâ€™s many health properties, some people have started using it to treat acne. This involves applying coconut oil directly to the skin, as well as eating it.
However, while coconut oil has been studied for various health benefits, very little scientific research has examined its ability to fight acne.
What causes acne?
Acne can form when hair follicles become clogged by oil and dead skin cells, leading to plugged pores.
Pores are little holes in your skin, often referred to as hair follicles. Each hair follicle is connected to a sebaceous gland, which produces an oily substance called sebum.
When too much sebum is produced, it can fill and plug the hair follicle. This causes bacteria known as Propionibacterium acnes, or P. acnes, to grow.
The bacteria then get trapped in the plugged follicle. This can result in skin inflammation, which leads to acne.
Symptoms of acne include whiteheads, blackheads, and pimples. Some cases are more severe than others.
Many factors contribute to the development of acne, including:
- hormone changes
- genetics diet
Acne starts when oil and dead skin cells clog up skin pores, causing inflammation. Many factors contribute to this condition.
The fatty acids in coconut oil help kill the bacteria that cause acne
Coconut oil consists almost entirely of medium-chain fatty acids (MCFAs).
MCFAs have strong antimicrobial effects, which means they can kill disease- causing microorganisms.
More than 50% of the fatty acids found in coconut oil are the medium-chain type, such as lauric acid (2).
Lauric acid may help kill harmful bacteria, fungi, and viruses in the body. On its own, lauric acid has been shown to kill P. acnes (3, 4).
In one study, lauric acid was more effective at killing these bacteria than benzoyl peroxide â€” a popular acne treatment. It also showed therapeutic potential against inflammation caused by the bacteria (5, 6).
In another study, lauric acid was combined with retinoic acid. Together, they inhibited the growth of the acne-causing skin bacteria (7, ).
Coconut oil also contains capric, caproic, and caprylic MCFAs. While not as powerful as lauric acid, some of these are also effective against the bacteria that cause acne (9, 10).
This property only works when applying coconut oil directly to the skin, since this is where the acne-causing bacteria are located.
Coconut oil is high in medium-chain fatty acids that have been shown to kill the acne-causing bacteria called Propionibacterium acnes.
Applying coconut oil to your skin can moisturize it and help with healing
Many people with acne suffer from skin damage, which can lead to scarring.
Moisturizing your skin is an important step in keeping it healthy. Thatâ€™s because it needs adequate moisture to fight infection and heal properly (11).
Research shows that applying coconut oil to skin can help relieve dry skin while fighting bacteria (12).
In fact, studies show that using coconut oil as a moisturizer is as effective or more effective than using mineral oil (13, 14).
Additionally, coconut oil may help heal your skin and prevent it from scarring.
In one study, rats with wounds treated with coconut oil experienced less inflammation and increased production of collagen, a major skin component, promoting wound healing (15, 16).
As a result, their wounds healed much faster.
Keeping your skin moisturized may reduce the risk of developing acne scars (17).
Coconut oil effectively moisturizes the skin. It may also help heal skin damage and reduce scarring.
Eating coconut oil may help fight inflammation
The fatty acids in coconut oil may also fight acne-induced inflammation.
Multiple test-tube and animal studies have demonstrated the antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties of coconut oil (18, 19, 20, 21).
These findings suggest that eating coconut oil may help reduce the redness and swelling of inflammatory acne. However, this effect needs to be confirmed in studies including humans.
Eating coconut oil may help reduce the inflammation associated with acne, but more research is needed.
Applying coconut oil to the skin is not recommended if you have oily skin
Eating coconut oil isnâ€™t problematic for most people.
However, some people apply it directly to the skin as a facial cleanser or moisturizer.
This may be beneficial against acne, but itâ€™s not recommended for people who have very oily skin.
Coconut oil is highly comedogenic, which means it can clog pores. Consequently, it may actually make acne worse for some people (22).
When applied to the skin, coconut oil may clog pores and make acne worse. It is not recommended for those with very oily skin.
The bottom line
Coconut oil is high in lauric acid, which helps kill the bacteria that cause acne.
Applying coconut oil to the skin can kill acne-causing bacteria and increase moisture, which may also reduce acne scarring.
However, coconut oil may not help people with very oily skin.
To avoid making acne worse, you may want to check with a dermatologist or healthcare professional before trying it out.
However, eating coconut oil is safe. Studies showing health benefits used 2 tablespoons (30 ml) per day (23).
If you want to try it, see if you can find virgin coconut oil.