5 reasons why you should consider using coconut oil to treat dry skin

By Audrey Noble

Photo: Getty

Suffering from dry skin? Here's why you should consider reaching for coconut oil for supple and moisturised skin

Using coconut oil for your skin may not be the first, second, or even 10th thing to come to mind when you want to combat dryness. But it might be time to strongly consider it.


Coconut oil is known for its many health benefits and as a natural emollient, but it is also packed with nourishing ingredients that can be just as effective — if not better than — some of your favourite skincare products. (And the fact that it is easy to find and can be pretty wallet-friendly doesn’t hurt either). Don’t just take our word for it, though. Below, see what the experts had to say about why you should consider coconut oil for your skin and how to properly incorporate it into your routine. Dry skin be damned.

What is coconut oil?

Coconut oil comes from coconut meat, which is the white part you see when you cut into one. Studies show that this natural oil is made up mostly of fatty acids, like lauric acid, myristic acid and linoleic acid, and provides a lot of benefits when used in cooking or our haircare and skincare regimes.

Where our skin is concerned, its main benefit is that it can act as a natural moisturiser, but Joshua Zeichner, MD, associate professor and director of cosmetic and clinical research of dermatology at Mount Sinai Hospital, says that it is also useful in treating the skin in other ways. Mostly, it’s best used as a moisturiser, cleanser and treatment for inflammatory conditions.

Coconut oil is useful in so many ways, but, according to the experts, it has five main skin benefits:


Provides and locks in moisture

One of the main reasons to use coconut oil for your skin is to add moisture. Hadley King, MD, a New York City-based board-certified dermatologist, says that it makes an excellent moisturiser because it is rich in fatty acids called triglycerides, and has emollient properties that soothe dry skin and lock in moisture. Zeichner adds that because coconut oil is rich in fatty acids, it can help hydrate and soften the skin.


Dissolves make-up

Zeichner says that coconut oil can safely be used as a make-up remover, even around the eyes. “Oil dissolves oil, so it can bind to make-up, allowing it to be removed from the skin,” he says. You simply need to gently rub it into your skin, like you would an oil cleanser, before washing it off. Remember this the next time you need to cleanse off hard-to-remove liner or mascara.


Fights off bacteria

King goes on to say that coconut oil also contains lauric acid, which has anti-fungal and antibacterial properties. Zeichner adds that lauric acid is also thought to be antimicrobial, so it may lower levels of acne-causing bacteria on the skin and help reduce inflammation.

While there are some claims that coconut oil can treat dandruff due to its antimicrobial properties and the fact that lauric acid can lower levels of yeast known to drive the flaky scalp conditioner, Zeichner says its effectiveness is still unclear when it comes to treatment.


Protects and boosts skin barrier function

Coconut oil is also rich in antioxidant properties, which can help protect the skin from environmental aggressors. “It can help neutralise and prevent the free radical damage that comes from UV rays and pollution,” says King. This also helps the skin fight off premature fine lines and other signs of ageing.


Supplements essential oils

Zeichner says that coconut oil is commonly used as a carrier oil for essential oils. Essential oils need to be diluted before being applied to the skin – adding coconut oil will help protect the skin while reaping all the benefits from whatever essential oil you want to use.

Coconut oil can help neutralise and prevent the free radical damage that comes from UV rays and pollution

Hadley King

The side effects

King says that coconut oil is fairly comedogenic, so it can clog pores and cause breakouts. Those with sensitive, oily, or acne-prone skin should proceed with caution if they want to incorporate it into their regimen. She adds that coconuts are also considered tree nuts and may cause a rash or other types of allergic reaction if you’re someone with a nut-related allergy.

As a dandruff treatment, Zeichner emphasises that more studies need to be done to prove its efficacy. Not fully removing coconut oil from your scalp can actually make dandruff worse and create an oily environment that will encourage the overgrowth of yeast. So if you use coconut oil on your hair and scalp, be sure to thoroughly cleanse it afterwards.

How to use coconut oil

Cold-pressed coconut oil, refined coconut oil and virgin coconut oil — there are many types of coconut oil you can use. But for the most part King says there are few differences between organic and processed coconut oil and that the best one for your skin depends on personal preference and what will work best for your skin type.

King says that both refined and unrefined coconut oils contain triglycerides, so either one will be an excellent moisturiser option. Unrefined coconut oil, AKA virgin coconut oil, has a higher content of phytonutrients and antioxidants. But virgin coconut oil is heavy and can have a greasy texture, so she recommends using it as a final step in a nighttime routine.

Refined oil removes many of the antioxidants due to the high temperatures used in the manufacturing process, but it doesn’t smell as potent as pure coconut oil (if the smell is something you oppose). Fractionated coconut oil, which is an odour and tasteless oil that is derived from regular coconut oil, is less likely to clog pores but offers fewer antioxidant benefits.

Application is fairly simple too. You just use coconut oil in place of your normal moisturiser or body lotion, but remember to use SPF if you’re using it on your skin in the day, and you’ll be good to go.

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