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Ingredient Spotlight: Coconut

Ingredient Spotlight: Coconut

Coconut. It’s undeniably great in a pina colada, and its shells can make a unique undergarment - but does it belong in your skincare? For many who laud it as the ultimate hydrator and tropical treat, the answer is undeniably yes. But there are also those who find the ingredient comedogenic and congesting to the skin.

So what’s the truth? Here’s what we know.

The History and Popularity of Coconut Products

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The use of coconut and coconut derivatives is nothing new. The fruit itself has been a staple food and wellness ingredient in tropical and subtropical countries like Papua New Guinea and the Polynesian Islands for centuries, and studies have linked its consumption to a decreased risk of certain diseases in such areas

In Sri Lanka, for example, coconut had been the primary source of dietary fat for thousands of years. In 1978 the per capita consumption of coconut was equivalent to 120 nuts/year. At that time the country had one of the lowest heart disease rates in the world.

In recent years, its popularity spread to western countries. It reached the height of its popularity in 2015 when coconut oil was lauded as a miracle ingredient that could improve immunity, boost metabolism, smooth skin, and even help fight tooth decay (remember when oil pulling was all the rage?).

Unfortunately, it began to lose its luster when the American Heart Association said that the fruit had too much saturated fat to be consumed, and many skincare experts began to claim that it was actually pore-clogging and damaging to the skin.

The Truth About Its Health Benefits

So what’s the truth here? Well, when it comes to consumingcoconut oil, the reality is that it ishigh in saturated fats, and researchers are still debating about whether or not that’s a bad thing (or any worse than consuming other oils or butters).

However, coconut still provides a host of beauty benefits:

  • Coconut oil was shown to effectively moisturize the skin and soothe mild to moderate xerosis (dry, itchy, scaly skin).
  • It was also shown to improve skin barrier function and help fight atopic dermatitis
  • One study found that virgin coconut oil could increase collagen turnover, improve antioxidant activity, and help in wound healing
  • It’s proven to be anti-inflammatory and to help protect the skin against UV radiation
  • One of the acids in coconut oil, monolaurin, has shown antimicrobial activity against major bugs like staph and e.Coli, as well as antiviral and antifungalactivity.

These benefits are certainly nothing to sneeze at, to be sure. But what form should you look to find your coconut skincare, and is it effective for everyone?

Understanding Coconut In Skincare

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We’ve discussed coconut oil at length, but that’s not the only coconut product available. When it comes to coconut in skincare products, there are other options as well, including:

  • Coconut water: A staple ingredient in many face mists and wipes, coconut water can hydrate and balance red, dry skin. It’s rich in essential proteins, amino acids, and cytokinin, a plant hormone that helps to reduce redness and irritation.
  • Coconut milk: Derived from the white meat of the coconut fruit, coconut milk has high levels of vitamin C, copper, and lauric acid. Vitamin C is an MVP antioxidant, while copper is an important co-factor for the production of healthy collagen, and lauric acid has antimicrobial properties.

Overall, the various coconut derivatives can be used to:

  • Provide sun protection
  • Protect the skin’s natural barrier
  • Hydrate the skin and reduce itching and redness
  • Protect against free radical damage and environment aggressors
  • Assist with wound healing
  • Provide antibacterial, antiviral, and antifungal properties

Who It Works For

That said, it’s not for everyone.

Dry skin types,in particular, can benefit from the hydrating and emollient properties of coconut products.

However, coconut is considered to be a comedogenic oil, meaning that it is known to clog pores and cause the onset of acne, particularly for those with oily or acne-prone skin.

Why? It’s a very thick oil with large molecules, so it’s hard for the skin to absorb it. Instead, it sits on top of the skin, clogging pores and allowing bacteria and dead skin cells to thrive underneath. This can really mask any of the benefits and leave you with a broken out, irritated mess - particularly on your face.

So if you have oily, combination, or breakout-prone skin, you should skip pure coconut oil as one of your primary skin oils and opt for a lighter oil like jojoba or squalane instead (or, at the very least, patch test to see if your skin responds poorly). Alternatively, use a moisturizer that has a lower concentration of the oil - that way, you'll see the benefits and be less likely to encounter the comedogenic drawbacks.