Does Coconut Oil Clog Pores? Everything You Need to Know
What’s the verdict? Is coconut oil good or bad for your skin? Does it clog pores or not?
While coconut-everything may seem like a pretty new healthy food and clean beauty obsession, humans have actually been in an LTR with coconuts for thousands of years. Our ancestors (and, ahem, me) gravitated toward warmer climates where these nuts, which biologically are drupes—fleshy fruit-covered seeds—grow atop those idyllic coconut palm trees.
Coconuts are palm trees native to Southeast Asia, but they can now be found growing in the Americas and across Africa. And if you’ve ever cracked one open right off the tree, it’s easy to see why they are so beloved.
But coconuts are more than the sweet milky base for your favorite holiday poolside drink. Coconuts are the creamy, tropical equivalent of duct tape; they’re the multi-hyphenate of the food and beauty worlds, serving as both milk and meat; they can be dried into jerky, ground into flour, whipped into creamy butter, and, of course, they’re an all-purpose beauty elixir with uses from head to toe.
The coconut is mild in flavor but don’t let that fool you; they’re loaded with nutrients including plant-based protein, fiber, fats, vitamin C, iron, vitamin B6, and magnesium.
Healing with coconuts
India’s Ayurveda is considered by many scholars to be the oldest healing system on the planet. According to Vasant Lad, BAM&S, MASc, Ayurvedic knowledge originated in India more than 5,000 years ago and is often dubbed the “Mother of All Healing.”
This ancient healing system works to bring balance to the body through diet and lifestyle and topical skin treatments. Ayurveda works on the philosophy that there are three main body types (called Kapha, pitta, and Vata). These different constitutions generally range from cool to fiery, sluggish, airy, and speedy.
Coconut is a core food and topical treatment in Ayurveda, offering different benefits to different body types. In Ayurveda, coconut oil can be cooling, and it’s recommended for several conditions and benefits.
“According to Ayurveda, coconut oil has pitta pacifying or cooling properties. Changes in heat and temperature create a disturbance in pitta dosha, which is associated with the fire element, causing a sensitive skin syndrome (in which the skin is easily irritated and inflamed with diffused redness). Eczema, acne, and rosacea are other examples of pitta imbalance,” says Dr. Neena Chopra, co-founder and director of beauty and technical at Just Herbs.
Chopra explains on the Just Herbs website that the main component in coconut oil that sets it apart from other oils is the presence of lauric acid. “Other than mother’s milk, the highest concentration of lauric acid is found in virgin coconut oil. Lauric acid, the predominant medium-chain fatty acid found in coconut oil, has proven antibacterial, antiviral, antifungal, and anti-inflammatory benefits.”
There’s science to back this up.
One study found coconut oil was more effective at moisturizing the skin than olive oil in people with atopic dermatitis or eczema. It worked better than the popular mineral oil alternatives, too. Coconut oil brought relief to 93 percent of sufferers versus the 54 percent using mineral oil. Coconut’s antiviral and antifungal properties also made it more effective at clearing up staph infections on the skin.
Is coconut oil healthy?
The coconut boasts many benefits, from its nutrient profile to its antiviral and antifungal properties. But it’s the oil in coconut that’s got nutrition and skincare experts divided.
On the nutrition side, coconut oil is high in saturated fat, which is typically only found in animal products. Saturated fat has been linked to heart disease.
According to the Mayo Clinic, coconut oil contains about 50 percent more saturated fat than butter.
“But despite that saturated fat is known to raise cholesterol levels, linked with heart disease risk, proponents believe that some saturated fats in coconut oil (called medium-chain triglycerides) are less harmful and may actually raise levels of beneficial HDL cholesterol,” the Mayo Clinic notes.
But, unlike most other sources of saturated fat, coconut oil raises good cholesterol levels, too—even more than other plant-based oils believed to be healthy, like olive or canola. “And in truth, medium-chain triglycerides make up only a small amount of the fatty acids in coconut oil,” says the Mayo Clinic.
What’s more, there has been little research looking at whether coconut oil’s fat content contributes to increased heart disease risks. As a staple food across much of the world, including the Blue Zone-recognized Nicoya Peninsula, Costa Rica, where people live well past the age of 90, there’s still much to learn about coconuts in the diet.
When it comes to coconut oil for the skin, that’s a divisive subject, too. It provides moisturizing and hydrating benefits, but when used on the face, those properties can be overshadowed by the risk of clogged pores.
Body uses for coconut oil
Coconut oil has many external uses. It’s a common treatment for hair and scalp—it may reduce dandruff and dryness due to its fatty acid make-up and anti-fungal properties.
Hair benefits from coconut oil, too. Coconut oil’s moisturizing properties help keep hair soft and silky. In Ayurveda, it’s a common treatment to saturate the hair and scalp in coconut oil and keep it in overnight.
According to Chopra, coconut oil’s lauric acid has a “high affinity for hair proteins and being of a low molecular weight and a straight linear, it can penetrate inside the hair shaft.”
When applied to the skin, coconut oil is often used as a moisturizer—both before and after bathing. It turns to liquid at 76º, so a quick rub in the palms will melt it to help it smooth on easily. And, as the dermatitis study noted, it may also help with minor skin infections, inflammations, and dry skin. Try it on bug bites, too. (Parents: it can also do wonders for diaper rash.)
Chopra also recommends using coconut oil for stretch marks. “Because coconut oil improves collagen cross-linking and can restore lipid barrier function, it is considered to be an effective treatment for stretch marks. It’s one of the safest oils recommended for massages in case of pregnant women.”
Need a little support in the bedroom? Not to worry if your favorite lube tube is empty. Coconut oil can help relieve dryness and extend intercourse. But note that it can make condoms less effective, so be sure to use another form of birth control if you’re using coconut oil as a sexual lubricant.
Coconut oil also works as an excellent makeup remover, making it a simple and often more affordable option than popular make-up removers and cold creams. Chopra says the benefit of using coconut oil to remove make-up also lies in its antibacterial properties, keeping microbes away. Makeup brushes and applicators can be hotbeds for microbes (leading to breakouts, which leads to more makeup). So removing makeup with coconut oil may help to reduce the risk of some breakouts.
Does coconut oil clog pores?
With all the benefits of coconut oil, it’s easy to want to slather it on every inch from head to toe. But will it clog your pores if you’re using it on your face? What if your skin is already prone to blemishes?
According to celebrity esthetician and dermatological nurse Natalie Aguilar, raw coconut oil straight out of the jar can and most likely will clog your pores. That’s because of its thick, waxy-like oil structure that can trap moisture in. And that can cause your pores to clog. If your skin is already prone to breakouts, this could make it even worse.
Aguilar told The Zoe Report that “the mixture of lipids and excessive dead skin cells can produce a clogged pore and eruption of a comedone (pimple).”
Dermatologist Craig Austin, MD, told Byrdie he never recommends coconut oil to acne-prone patients. "There are a few issues with putting it on your face as it's considered a comedogenic product," he said.
"When you use coconut oil, you're applying an oil to your skin in combination with bacteria and dead skin cells—the oil essentially aids in 'clogging' the pore. Coconut oil is one of the thicker oils, and the thicker the oil, the harder it is to get adequately absorbed by your skin, so it essentially sits on top of the dermis and forms a film over the pore. Bacteria and dead skin cells will then fester under the skin and cause your body to produce excess sebum, which can result in acne."
But it’s a bit of a catch-22, especially for acne-prone skin, because harsh cleansers or serums can cause excessive drying, which can actually lead to more breakouts. And coconut oil can be soothing and help to heal acne blemishes.
“When it comes to taking care of oily, acne-prone skin, some people resort to deep purifying cleansers that strip the skin of all essential moisture,” Aguilar says. “This is one instance where one would benefit from coconut oil — either a coconut oil cleanser or a dab of coconut oil over your moisturizer could help relieve the skin of the stripped, tight, dry feeling.”
Austin says that each person's skin can react differently, “but I never recommend coconut oil to my acne-prone patients," he says. "But if you don't constantly battle acne, your skin might not be as sensitive to it, and it could have a beneficial moisturizing effect."
But what about those other benefits, like makeup removal or moisturizing?
It turns out with coconut oil, you can have your cake and eat it, too, sort of. If you’re using coconut oil as a makeup remover, be sure to wash your face thoroughly after. This will keep the coconut oil from clogging up your pores and leading to breakouts.
So, how to get the benefits of coconut oil in your skincare daily without the risk of clogged pores? These products may help.
Kopari Beauty Coconut Rich Face Cream
This moisture-locking non-comedogenic coconut cream soothes irritated skin, hydrates, and helps protect the skin from environmental stressors. It’s free of sulfates, paraben, phthalates, and silicone.
Pacifica Coconut Probiotic Water Rehab Cream
Give your skin a glow-up with this deeply hydrating cream made with coconut water, not oil. Your skin gets the antibacterial benefits of coconut but no risk of pore-clogging. Hydrate, moisturize and smell fantastic with this gem from always-vegan Pacifica.
e.l.f. Cosmetics Hydrating Mist
Hydrate and renew your skin with a soothing, aromatic coconut mist from e.l.f. This easy spritz is recommended for all skin types, a perfect toner that works before and after makeup. Made with vitamins B5 and E, it nourishes and softens. All e.l.f. products are free from phthalates, parabens, nonylphenol ethoxylates, triclosan, triclocarban, and hydroquinone.
Acure Brightening Cleansing Towelettes
Quickly and easily remove makeup or refresh the face with these Acure towelettes made with coconut water. Keep them in the purse or car for after the gym, the beach, or anywhere you need a refresh.
Yes To Coconut Ultra Hydrating Energizing Coffee 2 in 1 Scrub & Cleanser Stick
Cleanse and hydrate with this scrub and cleanser stick that marries the cleansing power of coffee and the moisturizing benefits of coconut oil. Its simple roll-on stick makes use simple. Formulated without Parabens, SLS, and Silicones.
NOTE: A product appearing in our blog is not an official Kinder Beauty endorsement. While every product we feature in an article is cruelty-free and vegan, these products do not necessarily meet all of our strict brand standards for curation in one of our boxes.
Jill Ettinger is an LA-based writer and editor focused on vegan and cruelty-free living.