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. Such a reaction can be especially distressing for those using coconut oil for weight loss efforts.
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. Why? We have already developed the antibodies for our immune system to recognize these foods as safe.
Healthy for One May Not Be Healthy for Another
However, we can overexpose ourselves to a particular food our bodies are familiar with. When this occurs, it can start to negatively impact digestion or the immune system. This is a common occurrence for foods that seem to be in everything like dairy and gluten.
My point here is that most people did not consume coconut products in their diet growing up. Unless of course they were born in the tropics or are of African or Polynesian descent. Because coconut is a staple of these traditional diets, these people are adapted and can usually 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. Some were almost exclusively meat-based, others fairly low in animal foods. Still others were a balance between the two. Despite the variations, all these cultures were considered healthy.
This is why it’s nearly impossible for everyone to thrive off the same “healthy” diet. It is also important to keep in mind when we discover new “super foods”. Some look great on paper, but how each individual reacts will vary greatly. One’s ethnicity can frequently dictate how well they are tolerated.
Internal vs External Triggers
Within the last year, I have been exclusively focusing on the root cause of acne internally with clients. Truthfully, I have not given external triggers much thought until recently.
Fortunately, I 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 tend to cause pimples for acne prone skin. The gender or nationality of the person does not matter.
Like many terms that are used freely for marketing purposes, products that claim to be “non-comedogenic”, “oil-free”, “dermatologist tested/ approved” are not necessarily free of clogging ingredients. Just like the supplement industry, beauty and personal hygiene products are not regulated. There is no standard or truth to what a company has to comply with 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 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 is Highly Comedogenic
Kimberly Tan has had great success in addressing acne of all types by educating people and of course treating it topically. The right products make a big difference in skin recovery. I am definitely reaping the benefits of this knowledge. For example, I eat what I consider a very high quality, clean and anti-inflammatory diet. Due to my line of work, I am also very aware of other causative factors. Despite this, I still suffer from regular breakouts.
The reason remained a mystery until I began to take a closer look at what I was applying to my skin. Even within my “natural” and practically edible products, many contained coconut oil. To my surprise, coconut oil is one of the highest scoring comedogenic ingredients on the comedogenicity scale. This is the case even when consumed in small amounts as coconut oil capsules.
Removing Coconut Oil from Skincare and Diet
I was worried and hesitant at first to give up my precious coconut oil but wanted to give my skin a fair chance. So, I tossed my makeup, shampoo, toothpaste and any hair care 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. This is because internally the pure oil 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. With all the health benefits we know it contains, including the antibacterial properties, this was the last thing I 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. I have already seen an immediate reduction in my breakouts.
Inflammatory Effect on Skin
I was curious about the inflammatory effect that coconut oil has internally on the skin. There are many different types of acne that may appear and be different for every person. According to Kimberly Tan:
Eating it [coconut oil] 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.
Coconut Oil and 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. Check for comedogenic ingredients in every product you use. This includes 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 the label. This includes both active and inactive ingredients. Check all of them against the comedogenic list before buying.
Eliminate then Reintroduce
Bottom line: Everyone is different. Like changing your diet and cleaning your pantry of junk food, you’ve got to purge any suspect products to get a clean slate to work with. This includes an acne-safe lifestyle and proven non-comedogenic products. Stay with this routine for at least 6 months. After that, you can reintroduce each questionable and untested product (like those with coconut oil) to see if you notice a reaction in your skin. The process is very similar to introducing food sensitivities back into your diet. Make sure the manufacturer 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 and body. Hair products too, 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.
is a whole body approach!
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Red Palm Oil: Great Alternative to Coconut Oil
This makes perfect sense to me! What oils can you cook with if you have dairy allergies and coconut oil makes you break out?
Oh my god! A month and a half ago I introduced coconut oil into my diet and ever since I’ve been breaking out like a teenager. I have acne prone skin but I’ve managed to keep it in check for several years. Coincidentally at the same time that I started using coconut oil I also binged on sugar and carbs which I haven’t touched in 2 years (it was my Birthday). So of course I suspected the latter was the reason for my breakout. Now after a month without eating sugar, gluten and dairy my skin is worse than ever. It took me until today to suspect coconut oil because everyone was raving about its antibacterial and anti-fungal properties. Also, I never used it topically and I thought it couldn’t clog my pores from within. Right? And so this morning while I was drying my hair I noticed it was much shinier and almost a bit too moisturized for my taste. And then it hit me. If it was affecting my dry brittle hair this way, I could only imagine what it was doing to my skin. So from today I’m off coconut oil. Too bad, I really loved the taste.
P. S. Sorry, I had to vent, and if anyone is still reading this in 2017 – I apologize for my non-native English.
FINALLY! Someone has figured out why certain oils cause acne. For years I have been breaking out after consuming olive oil, macadamia nuts & other nuts not to mention coconut oil. I would take a spoonful as advised in Bruce Fife’s book & within hours I would get a couple of tiny pimples. I was so annoyed that all these healthy fats caused me to break out. I love Total EFA oil as it does not cause me to break out so I guess I just need to stay away from the others and stick with the flax/borage/primrose combination that is in the Total EFA; plus I like the taste! Question: Would red palm fruit oil have the same acid to cause acne? Thinking of replacing coconut with red palm. Thanks for writing this article Sarah!!!
After a couple of months of cooking with coconut oil my skin was horrible. I had really bad cystic acne all over my face. Around the same time I turned vegan so I just figured it was my body adjusting to the new diet. I literally had to eliminate everything in my diet to try and get to the root of the problem, I even stopped drinking caffeine after reading in an article that it may cause acne flare ups. As a last resort I looked into coconut oil and came across this article. I’m happy to say my acne disappeared after a couple of weeks. However, I would like to know if I should avoid anything with coconut in or whether it is just the oil that causes these things?
DONNA H ROSE
I am allergic to coconut oil, break out in hives, have trouble breathing, etc. I can cooked coconut and just get sick( found out by accident). I have hair loss caused by Lichen plantus alopecia, inflammation. I wonder if it’s my coconut allergies. I cannot find any shampoos or soaps without it. Any suggestions? I have a red face, doc says ecezma. I need help. Nothing works.
Here are some articles on eczema that may help: https://www.thehealthyhomeeconomist.com/doctor-approved-remedies-for-eczema-treatment/
Diet is a big trigger … try avoiding these foods to see if it helps: https://www.thehealthyhomeeconomist.com/eczema-and-diet-top-food-triggers/
When using Coconut oil as a skin moisturizer, I break out in acne, especially my face, but happens on my legs & shoulders too. I was told by an aesthetician (giving away samples of her skin care product at health store)that Coconut oil has to be refined to be used on the face or it can clog pores. I STILL could not use her product with refined coconut oil. I broke out after 1 day. I am ITCHY this week after eating Raw bars with coconut & coconut oil the past 2 weeks (itchy all over my torso, legs, arms, scalp etc. It might be the coconut I’m eating. I will eliminate to see. Coconut is NOT recommended for people with Blood Type 0, even Rh- Type O. Coconuts are also “very high” in Salicylates
The blood type thing is very misleading. Considering that coconut is a traditional food from Asia and most Asians are blood type O, there goes that theory!
That’s weird. Coconut is about the only oil I can have on my skin that doesn’t break it out. I have friends that say the same thing. I make a 20 percent super fatted moisture soap that is made with just coconut oil and love it. Eating it I have never noticed a problem either.
Great article on why certain oils cause acne – http://www.minimalistbeauty.com/oils-specifically-for-acne-prone-skin/.
It explains the difference between oleic and linoleic acid in oils, how those acids affect the skin, and lists the acid content in common oils. My skin has become much clearer since using only products or ingredients high in linoleic acid. Coconut oil is higher in oleic acid, which makes me break out.
Woa I never thought coconut oil would have some negative effects on some people. I have been using it for a while and I think it fits me well. 🙂
I wonder if Palm Kernal Oil would be any better, I’m looking for a good source of MCT’s (Medium-chain Triglycerides) and Coconut Oil is rated to contain the highest amount of naturally occurring MCT’s.