Despite what you’ve read, coconut oil is bad for your skin.

Yes, your skin needs an emollient moisturizer to help prevent water loss. This is especially important for dry skin, atopic dermatitis, and many other skin conditions.

And yes, coconut oil is one (of many) natural oils that is often used as a moisturizer.

Health blogs claim that coconut oil is some sort of health panacea — “It’s a miracle for everything!” they say.

But the truth is, when applied to your skin, coconut oil can make your skin worse.

Especially when you’ve got some sort of skin condition plagued with chronic rashes. Since I started talking about this, increasingly more of my readers admit to me that coconut oil has worsened their skin conditions.

I’d rather not see you continue to suffer.

Before we go any further, let me tell you that this article isn’t meant to knock coconut oil. I’m by no means anti-coconut oil. But what I will share is an important reminder that you may need to re-evaluate how committed you are to slathering it on your skin.

And I’m not at all alone in my concern about the overuse of coconut oil in skincare.

This topic initially came to my attention in 2018 after speaking with several of experts featured in the Eczema & Psoriasis Awareness Week.

My friend and skincare expert Rachael Pontillo, creator of The Skin-Self Mastery Method, shared with me that… “while coconut oil has become a popular DIY remedy for just about every skin, health, and hair issue, for many people, it makes matters worse for many people.”

I know that you’re ready to ask, “Can you share the reasons why coconut oil is bad?”

So here are four reasons why I don’t recommend that you put coconut oil on your skin (and what you should use INSTEAD).

 

This coconut oil is too alkaline

1 – Coconut oil is too alkaline for your skin

Your skin has a natural pH level and it’s not a good idea to disrupt it – not even with a natural product like coconut oil.

pH is a measure of acid-base strength on a scale from 0-14. Pure natural water is right in the middle with a neutral pH of 7.

On one end are acidic substances (pH from 0-6) and the other end are basic (or alkaline) substances (pH of 8-14).

While the numbers 1-14 seem small, they’re actually powers of 10. Each unit of pH is 10 times stronger than the one next to it. That means that your skin with a pH of 5 is at least 100 times, more acidic than neutral pure water.(1)

We know that washing with soap and detergents can worsen atopic dermatitis because of their high pH values. In fact, using soap and detergents is one of the most common causes of dermatitis of the hands and can trigger flares of eczema.(2)

Studies show that washing with soap increases the skin’s pH by up to 3 pH units (it can become up to 1,000 times more alkaline) and that effect lasts for 90 minutes!(2)

This increased pH irritates the skin, thinning its protective outer layer known as the stratum corneum. This plays a role in creating a state of “Leaky Skin” that also helps perpetuate an imbalance in your skin’s microbiome.

That all said, coconut oil has a pH of 7-8. If healthy skin’s natural pH is around 5, it means that coconut oil is 100-1,000 times more alkaline than your skin.

And unfortunately, applying something that can alter the pH to such a degree like coconut oil can perpetuate a state of dysbiosis of your skin’s microbiome and Leaky Skin.

 

Vegetables sealed in a plastic bag unable to breathe

2 – Coconut oil is too saturated

I know how this will sound as we shift our beliefs about saturated fat in the diet, but…

Saturated fat applied to your skin can worsen some skin conditions.

Coconut oil is 90% saturated fat.(3) This may worsen some of the more sensitive skin issues like perioral dermatitis.

Coconut oil has large molecules and is absorbed slowly. This means it stays on top of the skin and can cause an occlusive barrier.

While it still… “provides protection, it ends up acting more like a plastic bag on the skin,” says Pontillo.

This is a problem because coconut oil doesn’t allow for your skin cells to breathe or detoxify.  It also “interferes with normal lipid production, and can feel physically and emotionally suffocating (remember, the skin is a key part of the nervous system because it contains thousands of nerve endings per square inch),” says Pontillo.

Another reason why you don’t want an occlusive barrier of saturated fat on your skin is because it can also increase heat in the body. One of the skin’s main functions is body temperature regulation. “Many people with chronic rashes and sensitive skin already have trouble releasing heat, so this could exacerbate your situation further,” says Pontillo

 

Washing with anti-bacterial soap

3 – Coconut oil messes up your skin’s microbiome

Anything that disrupts your skin’s healthy microbiome can make your skin worse.

You’ve heard to ditch your anti-bacterial soaps and hand sanitizers because they increase your risk of skin rashes like eczema and psoriasis, right?

Well, if your skin has a rash, one of the major problems is dysbiosis of the skin’s healthy microbiome. Your skin’s microbiome helps your skin stay healthy and maintain a tight barrier from the outside world.

Coconut oil can kill microbes including bacteria, viruses and fungus. A solution with as little as 5% coconut oil is bactericidal to several types of bacteria.(4)

One of the antimicrobial components found in coconut oil is the fatty acid called monolaurin. Monolaurin makes up about half of the fat in coconut oil and it kills bacteria by disintegrating their outer membranes.(4)

Theoretically, it makes sense to use an anti-microbial like coconut oil on your skin if you have dysbiosis, but it doesn’t always work that way.

While certain fungal rashes might benefit from using a natural antimicrobial as a spot treatment, regular use is not a good idea. “Even natural antimicrobials can disrupt the balance of the skin’s microbiome which can affect your immune system and barrier function, increase inflammation, and lead to dysbiosis,” says Pontillo.

Bottom line? Just because coconut oil has anti-microbial properties doesn’t mean you should put it on your skin, despite what you’ve read.

If you want to rebalance your skin’s microbiota, there are other ways like using probiotics on your skin.

 

Various skin oils

4 – There are better options for your skin than coconut oil

I’m sure you’re wondering what to use if coconut oil is bad for your rashed skin condition.

Don’t worry! There are a lot of other natural oils to use on your skin that are probably a better fit.

The natural plant oils that I recommend include jojoba oil, avocado oil, sesame oil, sunflower seed oil, and olive oil. These each have different components in them and help your skin from the outside-inward in different ways.

Jojoba oil is excellent for your skin mainly because of how similar it is to human sebum. If you’re not familiar with the term sebum, it’s an oily substance naturally produced by your skin that lubricates and waterproofs your skin.(5)

There are a number of proven anti-inflammatory effects associated with jojoba oil. It can help with skin repair for acne and many types of dermatitis (e.g. atopic, seborrheic, and eczematous). Jojoba oil is also recommended for many skin conditions like infections and aging.(4)

Avocado oil is another healthy oil to try. It contains many vitamins, minerals, and skin-supporting oils like linoleic acid. It’s excellent for dry, damaged, or chapped skin.(4) And I’ve had a number of readers share with me how helpful avocado oil has been for supporting softer, calmer skin.

Sesame oil is an anti-inflammatory oil that promotes healthy skin barrier function. Because it has significant antioxidant activity, sesame oil has been used to relieve pain and inflammation in joints by massaging it into the skin in traditional Taiwanese medicine.(4) It also is a staple of ancient Ayurvedic skin care practices.

Sunflower seed oil has been studied for its help with atopic dermatitis because of its moisturizing effect. It has a high concentration of a fatty acid called linoleic acid which helps the skin barrier by enhancing the outer layer of skin cells.(4)

Tested in both adults and children with atopic dermatitis, sunflower seed oil works as a great moisturizer. Even a 2% solution of sunflower oil improves skin conditions similar to using a steroid cream.(6,7)

Olive oil is another natural oil that your skin might love! It’s often studied side-by-side with sunflower seed oil, and several studies show them to be equally beneficial for skin health. When applied to babies’ skin, they rank similarly on hydration, reduction of water loss from the skin, as well as pH and redness.(4)

 

Coconut oil as a skincare product

Do you need to entirely stop using coconut oil on your skin?

As you can see from the reasons shared above, coconut oil is bad for your skin. And it’s not going to help you get the results you’re looking for no matter the promises of magic you’ve read about on natural health blogs.

I too was quite surprised by this information when I initially heard it. But after speaking to so many experts and hearing from clients about their own personal experiences, I felt compelled to share.

Frankly, I feel that coconut oil presents more challenges than solutions if you’ve got chronic skin rashes (even if your skin is pretty clear and you’re not experiencing a flare).

Its pH can disrupt the skin’s pH and thin its outer layer. It’s too saturated which can form an occlusive layer on top of the skin preventing it from breathing and releasing excess heat. It is also a strong antimicrobial which can disrupt the skin’s natural microbial balance.

So do you have to cut out coconut oil completely from your skincare routine?

No, but you may want to minimize your skin’s coconut oil exposure.

To do this, stop using straight coconut oil on your skin.

And cut out or minimize products where coconut oil is one of the main ingredients of the product (which can be hard if you’re buying more “natural” products).

Most of all, why use coconut oil when there are other, far better options available that I’ve shared above?

LEAVE A COMMENT BELOW — I’d love to hear your experience using coconut oil on your skin and your thoughts on what is definitely a controversial topic!

 

References

1 – https://www.sciencebuddies.org/science-fair-projects/references/acids-bases-the-ph-scale

2 – https://www.jidonline.org/article/S0022-202X(15)34442-0/fulltext#s006

3 – https://examine.com/supplements/coconut-oil/

4 – https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5796020/

5 – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sebaceous_gland

6 – https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20199440

7 – https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20964572


Jennifer Fugo

Jennifer Fugo, MS, CNS is an integrative Clinical Nutritionist and the founder of Skinterrupt. She works with women who are fed up with chronic gut and skin rash issues discover the root causes and create a plan to get them back to a fuller, richer life.


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