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Could coconut oil be causing your breakouts?


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Photo: Unsplash/Alexandra Gorn

In case the beauty benefits of coconut oil have slipped your mind, here’s a quick refresher. It makes hair incredibly shiny. It doubles as a mouthwash. It easily dissolves makeup. Olivia Culpo even uses it as a shaving cream. Essentially, if you can dream up a beauty need, coconut oil can probably meet it.

Coconut oil truly is a multi-purpose ingredient, explains Medha Garud, the director of Ayurveda programs at The Art of Living Retreat Center in Boone, NC. “It’s a good antibacterial thanks to its high concentration of lauric acid, and it can be used as a moisturizer or makeup remover,” she says. Western medicine, too, is warming up to the idea of using coconut oil topically. “It’s rich in saturated fats, which makes it a good moisturizer,” says dermatologist Shereene Idriss, MD, of Union Square Laser Dermatology in New York City.

Beauty expert Sarita Coren talks about coconut oil.
Photo: Sarita Coren

But as useful as coconut oil can be in many situations, it may not be for every skin type, as Sarita Coren, founder of The Hub of Clean Living, discovered a few years ago. When she tried to add coconut oil into her own beauty routine, her skin erupted in breakouts. Since then, the oil has been relegated to her kitchen. (Dr. Idriss notes that among some people, it can clog pores and lead to breakouts because the oil is so readily absorbed.)

From an Ayurvedic perspective, Garud says she has never seen side effects such as acne among clients who use coconut oil. She notes, however, that certain doshas—AKA your energetic signature, which can inform everything from your skin to your personality to your sex drive, according to Ayurveda—may respond better than others. (Discover your dosha here.) “It’s not as good for the vata dosha,” she says. That’s because vata is aligned with air and space elements in nature, which are cool—as is coconut oil. “It won’t harm you, but it won’t be as effective as sesame, almond, or sunflower oil,” she says.

Conversely, she notes, pitta doshas have more fire, and coconut oil can help balance that out. “Coconut oil is really good for pitta,” she says. “It’s much lighter and takes away excess heat from the system.”

So, should you keep coconut oil off your face? It depends. It may offer benefits for certain conditions like dry skin and eczema, according to Sue Ann Wee, MD, of Schweiger Dermatology Group in New York City. “There are exciting studies that show that coconut oil may have antimicrobial properties,” she says. Considering its tendency to occasionally aggravate acne-prone complexions, though, she advises consulting a dermatologist before oiling up. And on the off chance that coconut oil doesn’t work for your skin, you can always use lighter oils, like grapeseed or jojoba (which, Ayurveda-wise, works for every dosha). All the more coconut oil for whipping up some Bulletproof-style coffee—which is a pretty good consolation prize.

Got lots of coconut oil? Regardless of skin type or dosha, you can use it in your hair and on your body, and in pretty much every recipe you can possibly think of.   

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