Can I Use Coconut Oil for Skin Care?

Medically reviewed by Laura Marusinec, MD on May 31, 2016Written by Brian Krans on September 10, 2014
coconut oil skin care


Coconut oil has been used to fight dry skin for centuries.

It is often recommended to treat chronic dry skin, eczema, and psoriasis. This oil is also used as an oil massage for infants. People commonly apply it to the skin after a bath or shower to help the skin retain its moisture.

Coconut oil is also marketed as having antiaging effects due to its anti-inflammatory properties, but there’s no conclusive, clinical proof that it’s any more effective than other moisturizers.

What is coconut oil?

Coconut can be loosely categorized as a fruit, nut, or seed. It’s technically a drupe, a type of fruit that has a hard covering around a seed. Other examples of drupes include olives, cherries, and walnuts. Coconut oil is the oil extracted from mature coconut meat, although it probably should be called “coconut fat,” as it’s made up of nearly 90 percent saturated fats. This is why it’s solid at room temperature.

In Southeast Asia, people have used coconut oil in cooking, especially frying, for centuries. Because of its high fat content, the American Heart Association recommends using it and other tropical oils, such as palm oil and cocoa butter, sparingly in your diet. Specifically, they say that saturated fat should account for no more than 5 to 6 percent of total daily calories for anyone who is trying to lower their cholesterol.

Many of coconut’s potential health benefits don’t involve eating coconut but instead using it on the skin. Virgin coconut oil — the kind most touted for its skin benefits — is produced using fresh coconut meat and is the natural, pure form of the oil.

Coconut oil is sometimes confused with cocoa butter. While both are used in cosmetics, cocoa butter, as the name suggests, is made from the cocoa bean.

What nutrients does coconut oil contain and what do they do?

Coconut oil receives a lot of attention for its use as a skin moisturizer. One hundred grams of coconut oil contains about 0.11 mg of vitamin E, a favorite in the skin care field. Vitamin E is an antioxidant that helps protect against UV damage to the skin, caused by sun exposure.

Coconut oil also contains lauric acid, which some research suggests has antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory properties that can help fight certain types of acne breakouts and skin infections.

Is there any evidence coconut oil works?

Coconut oil has many uses. While there are many claims about its health benefits, there is a shortage of clinical evidence to back them up. This is especially true of its antiaging properties.

Infant massage

A study in the Journal of Tropical Pediatrics found that applying coconut oil twice a day to premature babies with very low birth weight reduced the amount of water they lost through their skin, compared to similar babies who didn’t have oil applied. Babies who are born prematurely are more likely to lose large amounts of water through their skin because it is thin and still developing. The coconut oil treatment also improved the condition of skin and resulted in less bacterial growth.


When it comes to skin hydration, a small 2004 study on people with dry skin showed that it was similarly safe and effective as mineral oil.

Wound healer

A study using lab rats found evidence that coconut oil can help to heal wounds. Burn wounds treated with coconut oil healed more quickly than those that were untreated. Coconut oil also seems to have antibacterial properties that can help improve healing and reduce skin infections.


Research on the effects of lauric acid found in coconut oil showed that the acid’s naturally occurring antiseptic properties can stop the common bacteria associated with acne, called Propionibacterium acnes. One study from 2009 found that coconut oil may be much more powerful than benzoyl peroxide in preventing the growth of certain skin bacteria. Benzoyl peroxide is a common ingredient in over-the-counter acne medications.

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