By Carla Hernandez, NTP of Wise Roots Nutrition
Like most people in the Real Food community, I LOVE my coconut products: coconut flour, coconut milk, coconut water, coconut butter, coconut chips, and obviously coconut oil.
While coconut is no doubt a healthy traditional food, what many do not realize is that it has the potential to negatively affect the skin. This potential occurs whether it is ingested or put on the skin directly.
From what we know of the immune system, it is not adequately developed until the age of two. The foods we are exposed to in childhood, are usually foods that will be less problematic later in life as we have already developed the antibodies for our immune system to recognize these foods as safe.
However, if we over expose ourselves to a particular food, or that food begins to be produced in a way where it impacts digestion or the immune system, this is typically when it can still cause issues, as in the case of dairy and gluten for many. My point here is that most people did not consume coconut products in their diet growing up, unless they were born in the tropics or are of African or Polynesian decent. Because this is a staple of their traditional diets, they are adapted and can tolerate it better.
Dr. Weston Price made this same observation when studying different cultures and their staple foods. The healthy diets he found encompassed a wide variety, from plant and animals to almost exclusively meat-based, to fairly low in animal foods, and yet all these cultures were considered healthy. This is why it’s nearly impossible for everyone to thrive off the same “healthy” diet, and why it is important to keep in mind when we discover new “super foods”. Many foods look great on paper, but how they react inside each individual will vary greatly, and depending on one’s ethnicity, will dictate how well they can tolerate them.
Within the last year, I have been exclusively focusing on the root cause of acne internally with clients, but topically I have not given this much thought until recently. I fortunately met with Kimberly Tan, owner and esthetician at skinSALVATION Acne Clinic in San Francisco. This is where I discovered the term comedogenic, which refers to the ability of something to produce or aggravate acne, usually tending to clog pores on a topical level. Products that contain comedogenic ingredients continue to cause pimples for acne prone skin, no matter the nationality or gender of a person.
Like many terms that are used freely for marketing purposes, products that claim to be “non-comedogenic” “oil-free” “dermatologist tested/ approved” does not necessarily mean it is free of clogging ingredients. Just like the supplement industry, beauty and personal hygiene products are not regulated, so there is no standard or truth to what a company has to comply to on labels. Therefore, like everything else you choose to put in and on your body, understanding what ingredients to look for is vital to know if it is truly acne safe. Just one comedogenic ingredient alone in a product, is enough to cause pimples in someone who is acne prone.
Not everyone is affected by comedogenic ingredients. It depends on a person’s skin, pores and genes, as to the severity of the problem. If you suffer from acne and have addressed other factors such as diet, digestion, hormones and recognizing food sensitivities, then this is something you should consider.
Coconut Oil Scores High as an Acne Aggravating Ingredient
Kimberly Tan has had great success in addressing acne of all types by educating people on this matter, and of course treating it topically, as the right products make a big difference in skin recovery. I am definitely reaping the benefits of this knowledge. I eat what I consider a very high quality, clean and anti-inflammatory diet, and naturally in my line of work, am very aware of other causative factors, yet still break out consistently. I couldn’t figure out why, until I began to take a closer look at what I was applying on my s kin. Even within my “natural” and practically edible products I was using, Many of them contained coconut oil, and to my surprise, coconut oil is one of the highest scoring comedogenic ingredients on the comedogenicity scale.
I was worried and hesitant at first to give up my precious coconut oil, but wanted to give my skin a fair chance. I not only tossed my makeup, shampoo’s, toothpaste and any haircare products that contained coconut and any other clogging ingredient, I also took it out of my diet. The good news was I could keep other coconut foods, just not the oil itself, as internally this seems to be the biggest culprit since it is concentrated in the fatty acid that has the clogging ability.
Personally, I feel fine when I consume coconut, and with all the health benefits we know it contains, including the antibacterial properties, this was the last thing I would have suspected that could be causing my stubborn breakouts. It has been only about a month since switching out all my products containing coconut oil and eliminating it from my diet and I have already seen an immediate difference in my breakouts.
I was curious about the inflammatory affect that coconut oil has internally on the skin. As it seems, there is many different types of acne that may appear and be different for every person. According to Kimberly Tan, “eating it internally may not be causing inflamed acne, but the seeds are still planted, especially for those who are acne prone. These people NEED to stick to an acne free lifestyle to prevent breakouts. Products help to take the seed (which causes follicles to clog) out once diet and acne safe topical products are in place, but it can come back. Planting a seed is the first step to causing a breakout, and is fairly easy to do if exposed to these factors. Even just one exposure can bring acne back”.
What to Do if You Suffer from Stubborn Acne
If you have been struggling with getting your breakouts under control, take a look at everything you have been using on your skin and check for comedogenic ingredients, including skin care, face wash, moisturizer, masks, shaving cream, toothpaste, lip balms and lipsticks, sunscreen, toner, scrubs, foundation, face powder and any other makeup. When choosing products to buy, make sure that the company discloses a full list of ingredients on their label (not just the active ingredients) and check all of them against the comedogenic list before buying.
Bottom line: Everyone is different. Like changing your diet and cleaning your pantry of junk food, you’ve got to purge old acne to get a clean slate to work with, including an acne-safe lifestyle and proven non-comedogenic products. Stay with this routine for at least 6 months, and then you can reintroduce each questionable and untested product ( like those with coconut oil) to see if you notice a reaction in your skin, very similar to introducing food sensitivities back into your diet. Make sure the manufacture does not change the formulation to these acne safe products. Most importantly, be consistent with your actions and always double check ingredients on everything before applying to your face, body and even hair, as it will all eventually come in contact with your skin.
Implementing an acne-safe lifestyle will prevent acne from forming internally (anti-inflammatory diet and the right nutrient support), and non-comedogenic products will prevent acne from forming externally.
Beating acne is a whole body approach!
About the Author
Carla Hernandez is a Certified Nutritional Therapy Practitioner (NTP) who uses nutrition, diet and lifestyle interventions to support physiological mechanisms within the body. She is the founder of Wise Roots Nutrition, which is an integrative approach that focuses on customized plans to support the root cause of a person’s health and skin challenges.
Carla educates and empowers you to make responsible and healthful food choices that restore balance and proper function to your body, as well as offers lab testing to provide accurate recommendations and effective solutions. She believes in finding the root cause of a condition, rather than just treating the symptoms. Carla works with people locally in San Francisco, as well as long distance via phone and Skype. She specializes in Digestive Issues, Weight Loss and Skin Conditions.