Coconut Oil for the Skin: Topical Benefits and Usage
Coconut oil has grown in popularity for a variety of reason over the last few years- and for good reason. Many studies have shown it to be beneficial in many different ways when used on a regular basis. I was first introduced to the skin benefits of coconut oil when my young son was suffering from a pretty persistent case of cradle cap, and since then, it has been a staple in my household for everything from dry skin to skin irritations (just to mention the topical applications).
The skin benefits of coconut oil may vary from person to person, but just about everybody can find a use for it in some way or another. Whether you are looking for an addition to your beauty regimen or need a mild astringent for sensitive skin, this is an oil you may want to consider. Read on below for a healthy list of all the different ways you can add coconut oil to your routine.
What is Coconut Oil?
Coconut oil is extracted from the meat and kernel (called copra oil) of a mature, ripe coconut. The high saturated fat content allows it to have a long shelf life - which can last 6 months or longer, which makes it a great value. Saturated fat is resistant to spoilage, but it also makes it a bit of a controversial product for consumption. You can read more about internal use in our articles that cover the Benefits of Coconut Oil and Coconut Oil Usage.
It is processed in many different ways, and depending on the way you would like to use it, you may be interested in one sort of oil over the other. Topical use of an oil often requires using more than other types of uses, so you may want to consider the price point of the varying processes depending on how much you plan on using regularly.
This chemical process renders a solid fat oil. This is popular for salves and mixtures that require essential oil dilution for easy, more solid topical applications.
Virgin and Extra Virgin
Another term that has no measurement or industry standard applied to it. Virgin oils are typically expressed from a dried coconut in an unprocessed manner, such as the pressing method.
The term raw describes an oil that has not been cooked or processed. Usually, these are describing a pressed substance and may be considered organic, virgin, or extra virgin on labels.
Cold Pressed and Expeller Pressed
Cold-pressed methods create an oil extraction that is about as pure as it can be collected. Expeller pressed does include a heating method, but it is still a high-quality oil. Plus, it yields a higher amount of oil and is often less expensive.
Organic is supposed to describe a pure substance, untouched by processing. Unfortunately, there is no measurement of this and may vary in definition from one company to another.
Coconut oil is solid in cooler temperatures but becomes a liquid in warmer temperatures. Fractionated oil undergoes a process in which the long-chain fatty acids have been removed, which is what allows it to become a solid. The removal leaves it in a liquid state and is popular for mixing with essential oils blends and its easy application.
Refined vs Unrefined
Chemically treated oils that underwent heated, filtered, deodorized, or neutralized processes. Unrefined defines minimally heat processed oils and leaves behind an oil that still contains the smell as well as other raw components of the coconut.
How is Coconut Oil Used on the Skin?
Obviously, the use of coconut oil on the skin in a topical manner is in relation to the physical application of it to the surface of the skin. There are some studies that touch on ingesting it for beneficial skin results, but these studies seem to have many variables and are fairly inconclusive. Plus, there are many other studies surrounding it for other types of health benefits concerning ingestion.
Coconut Oil Allergies
Coconut allergies do exist, although they are extremely rare and not often recorded for study. These are typically mild and may leave a slight irritability or redness on the surface of the skin. But if you are concerned about any issues, you can run a skin test or use it under the supervision of a doctor.
Skin Benefit Reference Guide
The benefits of use on the skin are well documented. Below, I’ve provided a fairly comprehensive list of benefits and uses. The anti-inflammatory, antifungal, antioxidant, and antibacterial properties are helpful in easing many skin afflictions. Plus, it is highly moisturizing and provides an excellent skin barrier.
Many health and beauty products already contain coconut oil and for good reason. It is often an ingredient in soaps and lotions and is considered a neutral addition for troubled and sensitive skin types. Plus, it is mild and can be used regularly.
General Skin Care Use
When used as is or mixed into your favorite balms, salves, and lotions, coconut oil supports the protective barrier functions of your skin and allows the natural moisture found in the epidermis to help hydrate and smooth the skin with regular use. It helps mask dry and chapped surfaces, softens rough skin on knees and elbows, and allows the skin to stretch over in a more supple manner.
Psoriasis and Eczema
Both psoriasis and eczema are characterized by atopic dermatitis with scaly, thick patches of skin. Both can benefit from a moisturizer to help soften the skin to allow for healthier skin to appear underneath. It also is an antibacterial and anti-inflammatory, both of which can be beneficial with these conditions. And although the oil will not work as a stand-alone treatment, it is considered fairly effective in helping to ease the discomfort of the condition.
This is gentle enough for the most sensitive of skins and works wonderfully on cradle cap, which is simply the body making too much sebum which creates a scaly look on the top of the head. The moisture provided from the oil plus the soothing anti-inflammatory properties helps make the removal of the skin easier and keeps it from coming back. There are many recipes that include it as a way to help get rid of it.
Legs and Underarms
When shaving, the oil helps soften skin and provide a smooth yet lightweight surface to help your razor glide more easily. It does not build up on the skin and can also help razor burn from occurring. Applying a thin layer after shaving helps seal in the moisture and softens the root of the hair to avoid any bumps.
Since it is not very greasy, and actually feels a bit ‘dry’ overall, it makes the perfect foundation for massage as it glides easily over the skin. It is not heavy or messy and works well as a carrier for essential oils to add both aromatherapy and other benefits to your skin.
Many people regularly use a sugar or salt scrub to help loosen a dry skin and provide a smooth surface. This oil is the perfect base to make your own as it allows the integrity of ingredients to stay intact and doesn't include any harsh chemicals. When used with essential oils, you have a natural scrub for your skin’s health.
Coconut oil actually has a natural SPF of about 4-5, which may not seem like much but does provide what is equivalent to the natural protective pigmentation of dark-skinned individuals. Plus, it has antioxidants to combat UVA and UVB rays. You can easily mix coconut oil with other protective ingredients, such as zinc oxide, to create a nourishing and protective skin barrier.
Obviously, if nothing else you can use coconut oil as a general moisturizer to help protect your skin's natural moisture barrier. It soaks into skin quickly without leaving an oily residue and helps smooth skin all while providing excellent antibacterial and antioxidant properties.
A popular go-to for facial skin uses, it is non-greasy and does not clog pores as easily as other types of oils. Plus, with the natural anti-inflammatory and antibacterial properties, it can often help soothe irritation and even clear up a problematic skin. Many acne prone skin types are overdried through treatments, causing the skin to create even more oil to try and balance it out. These are the oils that can clog pores and create further breakouts, creating an endless cycle of dry flaking skin and acne flare-ups.
Use as a stand-alone wash or added to an existing regimen, and work it over the face and neck in gentle circular motions. This helps to moisturize the skin, support the natural protective barrier, and wash bacteria and dirt away. It also can sooth sun and wind burn. It serves as a good wash away application if you are not interested in leaving it on for a long period of time.
Often, makeup removals are harsh and may irritate sensitive skin. Furthermore, it can be damaging to the thin, soft skin of the eye area and create eyelash breakage. A little oil on a cotton pad wiped over the face and eyes will remove makeup in a gentle manner. It also hydrates the skin and strengthens lashes.
Chapped lips need both a way to remove dead skin, as well as a moisture barrier. An application of the oil helps loosen dead skin, and it also can be mixed with a sugar to help scrub away what is left. It also softens rough patches and provides a good base for lip color.
The dewy look has always been a popular choice for makeup application with many people using synthetic ones to provide a light shine to highlight certain facial features. A little coconut oil can provide a similar look without clogging pores or exposing self to chemical powders.
Foundation Primer and Base
Prepping your skin prior to applying a foundation is a must to avoid over-drying and a seamless application of your coverage. Smoothing oil over your face, or even adding it to your pigment foundation, is a good way to help provide a good hydrating base. The natural SPF is also helpful.
General Facial Moisturizer
Providing a highly hydrating facial ‘mask’ or lotion to your skin prior to bedtime can be extremely beneficial in replacing lost moisture and helping to smooth fine lines and wrinkles. Some of these moisturizing cream treatments can be thick or contain ingredients you may be sensitive to. Try smoothing a thin layer of oil over your face to leave on overnight as a replacement to these more expensive options.
Whereas coconut oil has a long list of benefits for overall health purposes, its most popular use covers more on skin care. As a highly moisturizing oil and one that has many natural benefits, it is well worth adding to your skincare routine. Your entire body can take advantage of its use to help with beauty and skin care, as well as to help alleviate any skin related issues you may be experiencing.
We’d love to hear below your favorite uses, and what success stories you may want to describe. If you have any questions or comment, please let us know below, and as always, please share.