Coconut Oil for Acne

Will Coconut Oil Clear Acne or Acne Marks?

Coconut oil is having its heyday.  And why not?  Not only does it make a great cooking or baking oil (you've got to try it in pineapple upside-down cake), coconut oil has found it's way into our beauty routines as well.  

You can use it as a body balm, moisturizing hair treatment, inexpensive eye makeup remover.  

But many sources claim coconut oil can treat acne and erase acne marks.  Is it really that amazing?

Coconut oil may have antimicrobial properties.

Coconut oil in a dish.
Photo: Jessica Boone / Getty Images

Coconut oil is pretty amazing, actually.  Coconut oil is high in many free fatty acids, specifically lauric acid.

Lauric acid has natural antimicrobial properties.  Studies have shown that lauric acid can kill propionibacteria acnes, the main bacteria responsible for causing acne. 

Some research has been done on whether lauric acid might be used as an acne treatment.  Although initial results look promising, it's still a way off.

Coconut oil itself isn't an acne treatment, though.

Just because coconut oil is high in antimicrobial fatty acids, doesn't make treating acne as easy as rubbing a dab on your face.

To work, the lauric acid has to get into the pore where it will do the job.  In order to do this, the lauric acid must be put in a vehicle (something to deliver the fatty acid) to where it needs to be. 

This is where sources claiming coconut oil can kill acne-causing bacteria are missing the mark.  Although coconut oil does have fatty acids with antimicrobial properties, the oil itself isn't potent enough to have an effect on acne. 

Acne isn't solely caused by p.acnes bacteria anyway.  You also need a treatment that will keep pores from becoming clogged in the first place. 

Coconut oil won't do that, because...

Coconut oil can clog your pores.

Although many natural skin care gurus and websites state coconut oil won't clog your pores, all sources I've found label coconut oil as medium to high on the comedogenic scale. 

In simple terms: coconut oil can clog your pores.  If you are prone to acne breakouts, regularly applying this oil to your face (or anywhere else you get pimples) may be doing more harm than good. 

Coconut oil won’t erase acne marks or scars.

Coconut oil can help moisturize the skin, and make it feel silky smooth.  But it won't repair the skin.  Unfortunately, it can't do anything to fade acne marks or heal scars.

Those dark marks left after pimples heal are called post-inflammatory hyperpigmentationPost-inflammatory hyperpigmentation generally fades, all by itself, over time. 

So, if you've been religiously rubbing coconut oil onto those marks, it may seem like the coconut oil is fading them.  In all actuality, the marks would have faded all on their own.  (Those marks not fading?  There are ways to treat them!)

Pitted or raised acne scars won't change a lick with coconut oil.  Those types of scars need pro treatments to really improve.

Instead of coconut oil, try this.

You don't have to toss your coconut oil.  It's a fun, natural addition to your beauty routine (remember, not on your acne-prone areas though).  Just don't pin your hopes on it as an acne treatment.

Instead, you'll want to try over-the-counter acne treatments first.  The most effective OTC products contain benzoyl peroxide.

If OTC products don't give you the results you're looking for after eight to 12 weeks, a prescription medication is the next best step.  Your dermatologist or family physician can help you make an effective acne-busting plan.

Next Steps:

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Huang WC, Tsia TH, Chuang LT, Li YY, et. al.  "In vivo treatment of Propionibacterium acnes infection with liposomal lauric acids."  J Dermatol Sci. 2014 Mar; 73(3):232-40.

Pornpattananangkul D, Fu V, Thampiwatana S, Zhang L, et. al.  "In vivo treatment of Propionibacterium acnes infection with liposomal lauric acids."  Adv Healthc Mater.  2013 Oct; 2(10): 1322-8.  

Silva EL, Carneiro G, De Araujo LA, et. al.  "Solid Lipid Nanoparticles Loaded with Retinoic Acid and Lauric Acid as an Alternative for Topical Treatment of Acne Vulgaris."  J Nanosci Nantechnol.  2015 Jan;15(1):792-9.

Yang D, Pornpattananangkul D, Nakatsuji T, et. al.  "The Antimicrobial Activity of Liposomal Lauric Acids Against Propionibacterium acnes."  Biomaterials.  2009 Oct; 30(30):6035-40.

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