The Type of Coconut Oil to Avoid If You Don't Want a Breakout

Sep 10 2018 - 5:45am

It pains me to admit when I'm wrong. It tastes like swishing around a spoonful of coconut oil in your mouth might: unpleasant, unnecessary, and, well, just plain wrong.

But I know too much now. I've learned too many things to keep quiet, and it needs to be said: coconut oil is horrible for your hair and skin.

Listen, I am not perfect; I jumped on the coco bandwagon. I reposted the memes. ("Bad hair day? Coconut oil. Dry skin? Coconut oil. Boyfriend acting up? Coconut oil.") I even produced a video several years ago discussing all the ways you can use it: on your hair, skin, and nails; in your daily life for things like getting rings off your finger. It was an instant hit, amassing seven million views on Facebook within a few days. And now it's been reported that cooking with coconut oil [1] isn't that great for you, either. Seems like nothing is coming up coconuts lately.

But the truth is, coconut oil does soften your hair and removes makeup well. I've learned through more research (and personal horror stories), though, that it can also ruin your hair color and cause breakouts. One thing the aforementioned video made clear? That people are genuinely curious about coconut oil, and it's worth discussing what type is actually beneficial to use on your skin and hair. But first: the hard truths you need to learn, ahead.

Truth #1: It's Going to Clog Your Pores

One quick search about coconut oil and you'll find that it's a number four on the comedogenic scale — five being the highest. Read: it clogs the hell out of your pores. That said, it's a "safe ingredient [2]," according to the EWG, when it comes to toxicity or being harmful to the skin, but that doesn't necessarily mean it's good. Biba de Sousa [3], an esthetician, is known for giving Miley Cyrus [4] clear skin and has been passionate about breaking this newfound love of coconut oil as a skincare product for years.

"To any person who is mildly acne-prone, it will give you blackheads and inflamed acne," de Sousa said. She admits there are some beneficial properties of coconut oil, as it's a saturated fat, so it doesn't have mineral or essential acid content, which is helpful for building ceramides in the skin. Ceramides are lipids in the skin that bind it together, and as we age, we lose them, which weakens our skin and can result in dry, wrinkled, and rough-textured skin.

Truth #2: It Will Dry Out Your Skin . . . Eventually

De Sousa caveats her ceramides comment by adding that coconut oil has a large molecular structure, meaning it doesn't absorb into the epidermis and can create a film on the skin, resulting in dehydration. "I see this each time clients exclusively use oils for their skin care," she said.

De Sousa says that even though the skin initially feels silky and soft, the effect is only temporary since you're not properly moisturizing the skin. When you apply coconut oil, you're telling your skin that it doesn't need to produce as much natural oils. This ultimately dries it out in the long run and can lead to "microscopic cracking," irritation, and stress, according to de Sousa. Additionally, coconut is, well, a nut and can affect those with nut allergies.

Truth #3: It Can Damage Your Hair Color

As for your hair, colorist Chad Kenyon [5] agrees that coconut oil isn't great. "Raw coconut oil is extremely unpredictable in how it reacts when used as a topical treatment for human hair, both colored and virgin hair," Kenyon said. "Coconut oil often penetrates the hair cuticle more than many other oils found at the supermarket, but that is not necessarily a good thing. It is simply not compatible with most, if not all, professional salon hair coloring." He added that coconut oil has turned his clients' color brassy or flat.

Truth #4: It Might Make Your Other Hair Treatments Less Effective

This depends on the type of coconut oil you're using, though. "Different oil extraction methods used by coconut oil brands, usually involving heat, change the pH of the oil itself, and the pH can greatly affect the efficacy of a hair product or treatment," Kenyon said. "For instance, when we do a single process hair color, we are using a developer, or peroxide, to open the hair cuticle so that we can successfully deposit the hair color inside the hair cuticle. We then use ingredients and products with a low pH to close the cuticle, sealing in the color. The varying methods of oil extraction and different degrees of heat make raw coconut oil unpredictable and effectively unreliable as a hair treatment."

How to Pick the Correct Coconut Oil For Your Face and Hair

If you're a diehard coconut oil fan and you don't want to give it up, good news: you don't necessarily have to. You should reach for fractionated coconut oil, not the unrefined virgin kind you pick up at most grocery stores. So what is fractionated oil? For starters, you'll find it most commonly at health food stores, apothecaries, and vitamin shops. Most coconut oils liquefy with heat and solidify at room temperature; fractionated coconut oil does not.

"Virgin coconut oil contains both long and medium chain fatty acids; the long chain fatty acids are heavier and can take a while to absorb, which ends up binding to the dead skin cells and clogging the pores," said Los Angeles-based esthetician Courtney Chiusano [6]. "Fractionated coconut oil has been refined to contain mostly medium chain fatty acids called caprylic acid, which absorb much quicker into the skin, making it a better option. Caprylic acid is a powerful antibacterial, antifungal, and antiviral, making it great for everything from acne to rashes. It's also anti-inflammatory, which helps calm the skin."

Fractionated oil can lose some of the benefits due to the refining process, but it's a double-edged sword: would you rather soothe your skin but experience a breakout the next day? That's why, in my opinion, fractionated coconut oil is a better choice, especially if you're prone to acne and clogged pores.

Thanks for coming to my TED Talk.

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