Coconut oil is known to be one of the beauty world's most effective natural ingredients. It can be used as a cleanser, moisturizer, hair mask—the list goes on and on, which explains why the stuff is such a steadfast fan favorite. But there's another part of the tropical fruit that you may be missing out on, because the coconut milk benefits for skin are arguably just as good (or maybe even better) than its oil-based cousin.
"Coconut milk contains essential amino acids with antioxidant benefits providing healthy options for your skin," says Natalie Hwang, the product development manager for KORA Organics, which uses coconut milk as one of its hero ingredients. A 2018 study found that coconut milk is packed with MCT ("medium-chain triglycerides") that include acids like lauric acid, decanoic acid, caprylic acid, and caproic acid, which are what help to make it such an effective multi-purpose product. "These acids make up the MCTs that are known for anti-microbial and anti-inflammatory properties, which makes a great option for use in rinse-off cleansers, masks, or leave-on moisturizers helping to soothe and improve skin barrier," says Hwang.
The difference between coconut milk and coconut oil
In a lot of ways, coconut milk is similar to coconut oil—they both come from coconut, after all—but the biggest difference is in how it's made. "Both coconut oil and coconut milk are made from coconut meat, which is the white flesh inside a coconut," says Hwang. "Coconut oil is a fat made from pressed coconut meat resulting in higher fat content, whereas coconut milk is generally extracted from the coconut meat after pressing or squeezing with or without the addition of water." According to Tara Pelletier, co-founder of Meow Meow Tweet, the extraction process that coconut milk undergoes allows it to maintain some of the nutrients that coconut oil does not, and since it's packed with fat, it's more ideal for being absorbed into your skin.
To explain things more clearly, Loretta Ciraldo, MD, a board-certified dermatologist and founder of Dr. Loretta Skincare, likens the difference between coconut oil and coconut to the difference between balm and lotion. "For people who have used both Aquaphor, a dry skin product that is very beneficial but very greasy, and Eucerin, which is Aquaphor diluted 50 percent with water to make it a more user-friendly application, coconut oil and coconut milk are very similar in terms of the milk being a still-beneficial, more 'user-friendly' alternative to what many people feel is the greasy texture and even oily residue left on the skin from coconut oil," she says.
Coconut milk benefits for skin
Coconut milk is packed with healthy skin oils and antioxidants, which gives it a number of skin-friendly benefits. "One advantage of the milk is that it is a lot less greasy and it has a more subtle scent than coconut oil, says Dr. Ciraldo, adding that it's generally safe to use for all skin types. "Unless you have a known sensitivity to coconuts, it is a safe product." Below, she shares three of the main coconut milk benefits for the skin.
Like coconut oil, coconut milk works as an effective cleanser for removing dirt and debris from your pores while nourishing your complexion in the process. "I recommend it as a skin cleanser since it not only is excellent at removing makeup," says Dr. Ciraldo. "It also replenishes healthy oils and antioxidants, including some vitamin C, into the skin."
"Coconut milk is a super hydrator," says Pelletier. "The water is nutrient-dense and the fat helps to smooth skin cells and lock in the hydration." Because of this, you'll often find coconut milk as a highlighted ingredient in dry-skin-saving moisturizers.
3. Soothes irritation
If your skin—whether on your face, hands, or anywhere else on your body—is feeling red and raw, coconut milk can help. "Coconut milk is known to have soothing and moisturizing properties that leave skin feeling soft and supple," says Hwang, adding that it can help to calm irritation.
How to DIY coconut milk for skin
Coconut milk has become a staple ingredient in many over-the-counter products, but if you're looking to try it out affordably, you can pick up some pure coconut milk at the grocery store and integrate it into your routine in a few different ways.
1. As a facial cleanser
To wash your face with coconut milk, Dr. Ciraldo suggests simply massaging the product into your skin for 60 to 90 seconds, then rinsing it off with tepid water.
2. As a leave-on
If you're looking to reap the more nourishing benefits of coconut milk for skin, Dr. Ciraldo recommends diluting it by about 25 percent with water and applying it to any dry patches before bed, then rinsing it off in the morning.
3. As a sheet mask
For an instant boost of hydration, Pelletier is a fan of making your own sheet mask using a cloth and some pure coconut water. Simply soak a clean piece of cotton fabric in coconut milk and place it on your face for five minutes, and your skin will immediately feel smoother and more moisturized.
4. As a hand cream
If hand washing has left your hands feeling chapped, consider slathering them in some coconut milk. Dr. Ciraldo recommends applying it to your hands overnight and allowing it to work its moisturizing magic while you sleep.
Shop coconut milk skin-care products
Let your skin soak in coconut milk's skin benefits while you sleep with this overnight mask. It combines coconut milk with moisturizing silver ear mushroom and dullness-reducing lime extract, and its jelly texture allows your complexion to breathe freely as you snooze.
Shop now: Kora Organics Noni Glow Sleeping Mask, $48
2. Eminence Coconut Milk Cleanser, $28
This face wash harnesses coconut milk's skin-cleansing abilities and will whisk away dirt, makeup, and debris in a single step. It's non-stripping, making it the perfect pick for dry skin types.
Shop now: Eminence Coconut Milk Cleanser, $28
Give your entire body a tall drink of coconut milk with this bath powder, which is meant to be sprinkled in the water and luxuriated in. It combines coconut milk and oil, giving you the best skin-softening benefits of both.
Shop now: SheaMoisture Coconut Milk Bath Powder, $24
Cleanse and nourish skin from head to toe with this coconut-and-cacao-infused bar. Unlike traditional soap, it won't strip your skin and will leave you moisturized long after you step out of the shower.
Shop now: Meow Meow Tweet Coconut Cacao Body Soap, $14
This full-body scrub the moisturizing skin benefits of coconut milk with gently exfoliating sugar crystals. Massage it all over in light, circular motions to slough off dead skin cells and leave your complexion smooth and radiant.
Shop now: Herbivore Coconut Milk Body Scrub, $36
Curious about other hydrating ingredients? Check out the video below to see which ones a derm names as the best of the best.
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