This staple ingredient may not be the cure-all some claim it is, but there are plenty of ways it can benefit your skin and hair.
All products featured on Allure are independently selected by our editors. However, when you buy something through our retail links, we may earn an affiliate commission.
Coconut oil has long been considered a beauty “cure-all,” but if we’re being straight with you, that’s a bit of a stretch. Sure — in a perfect world, the sweet-smelling oil would make skin conditions like acne and eczema magically disappear. Hell, it’d make hair grow thicker and longer, and maybe it would even do our taxes for us. But it simply can’t do all of those things. (Sorry to break the bad news.)
Now for the much-needed good news: Coconut oil is a great beauty staple that can be used for myriad things — including skin- and hair-care treatments. It’s a wonderfully moisturizing ingredient used in plenty of beauty products and skin-care routines, and also works really well on its own. But no, it’s just not going to “cure” you of anything at the end of the day.
Take it from New York City-based board-certified dermatologist, Robert Finney, M.D., who tells Allure that “while it isn’t the wonder drug some promote it to be, given its composition, coconut oil serves as a great moisturizer, plus some of the fatty acids contained in it, like lauric acid, have antimicrobial effects that can help fight bacterial, viral, and fungal pathogens.”
And there’s another reason coconut oil makes such a good moisturizer, according to cosmetic chemist Kelly Dobos. “Coconut oil is solid just below room temperature, which we chemists define as 77 degrees, but melts easily when warmed with hands and easily melts into skin with massaging,” she explains. Dobos says that it’s less messy to apply when it’s in a semisolid state, so if you’re looking to use straight coconut oil for skin care, it’s best to store it away from heat.
Now that we’re a little more clear on what coconut oil can (and can’t) do, let’s talk about some of its many uses, according to the pros.
1. Body Moisturizer
Because coconut oil is fairly comedogenic, many dermatologists actually don’t recommend it for use on the face — especially if you have naturally blemish-prone skin — but the body is fair game. “Instead of using it to moisturize your face, which can cause breakouts, you can use it as a moisturizer for the body because it’s rich in fatty acids and has both antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties,” says New York City board-certified dermatologist, Joyce Park, M.D.
Every Natural Oil You Need to Know and All of Their Beauty Benefits
The skin on your face has more sebaceous glands than that on your body, making it more prone to oiliness. As Marina Peredo, M.D., a New York City-based board-certified dermatologist previously told Allure, “the biggest difference is that the skin on your face is normally thinner than the skin on your body.” The skin cell turnover rate on your face is also faster, which explains why your body skin can be drier.
Cosmetic chemist Ginger King agrees with this usage recommendation. While coconut oil is a great moisturizer overall, it “may cause comedogenic concerns for people who are prone to clogged pores or acne, and thus it is not suggested for use on the skin if you are acne-prone,” she says.
The fatty acids in coconut oil help protect and nourish the skin in two ways, says Dr. Finney.
“[They] provide good barrier control and help us hold on to our own moisture, which is great because it helps both treat and prevent dryness,” he says. There are plenty of coconut oil-containing moisturizers out there, but if you want some help choosing, we love the SheaMoisture 100% Virgin Coconut Oil Daily Hyration Body Oil and Cocokind’s Sake Body Lotion.
2. Eczema Relief
The keyword here is “relief.” As we mentioned, coconut oil isn’t going to cure any conditions — eczema included — but what it can do is help mitigate some of the symptoms, like dryness and itching. In fact, a 2014 study suggests that virgin coconut oil can soothe eczema better than mineral oil.
“This study checks out,” says Dr. Finney. “Given its ability to help the skin barrier and seal moisture in, it’s great for those with sensitive skin and eczema.” A pro tip from Dr. Finney is to apply any other skin care you may want first, and then seal it all in with coconut oil.
If you’re looking to use coconut oil in your skin-care regimen, we like Honest Beauty’s Eczema Balm and this Eczema Lotion from Pipette. However, if you’re considering a more serious treatment option for eczema, definitely consult a dermatologist. They’re the experts and they’ll be able to help determine what course of action is right for you.
3. Makeup Remover
“Coconut oil is a great makeup remover because it breaks down lipid-soluble impurities like makeup, as well as sebum, which is responsible for oily skin,” says Dr. Park. “If you wear a lot of makeup or have more of an oily skin type, you can use coconut oil as an initial cleanse, but then you have to follow that up with a gentle water-based wash for a more complete cleanse after.”
Dr. Finney agrees, telling Allure, “coconut oil can actually do a fairly good job at getting rid of dirt and oil buildup that occurs throughout the day, but it often leaves an oily residue behind, which can lead to breakouts, so if you have acne-prone skin and still want to try this method, just make sure to use a gentle cleanser afterward to remove excess oil.” Try Kopari’s Organic Coconut Milk or Typology’s Make-Up Remover Balm next time you’re ready to remove that fully-beat mug.
4. Deep Conditioner
Struggling with dry, brittle hair that’s damaged and prone to breakage? Try using coconut oil as a leave-in treatment, suggests Dr. Finney. “Coconut oil can be a great thing to either condition with or leave in to help repair the damage that occurs to your hair shafts from coloring, heat, and the sun,” he explains.
You can even use hot coconut oil as a pre-shampoo treatment to soothe dry hair before you shampoo and condition. Leave it in for at least an hour to let it really really sink in and penetrate your strands.
5. Body Scrub
If your limbs are looking dull — and feeling like sandpaper — you can use coconut oil to whip up your own DIY body scrub to exfoliate with for brighter and softer skin. “There is no harm to it, and the coconut oil may actually help counteract the irritation from exfoliation,” says Dr. Finney, who adds that this could be an ideal option for someone with sensitive skin to test out exfoliation.
He recommends doing it no more than once a week to start, though, to ensure your skin can handle it. If you’re not big on DIY projects, we love these luxurious body scrubs from Pirette and Herbivore.
6. Brush Cleaner
You can use coconut oil as the first step in a double cleansing routine for your makeup brushes. Cosmetic chemist Perry Romanowski recommends first applying coconut oil to your brushes to break down the makeup, and then dabbing them off to remove any excess oil before rinsing them with soap and water.
The reason? “Combining soap and oil just ties up the surfactant in the detergent solution and it competes with the other ‘dirt’ on the makeup brush, so it wouldn’t get the brushes as clean if you combine them,” he says.
He also says you can use any soap you have on hand, though doesn’t suggest using one with too much fragrance as it could leave a strong scent on your brushes. If you prefer to clean your brushes in a single step, Cinema Secrets’s All-Natural Brush Soap is a good coconut oil-based option.
7. Lip Balm
“Coconut oil’s makeup of fats helps replenish lost or missing components that lead to dry, cracked lip skin,” says Adam Friedman, M.D., a board-certified dermatologist in Washington, D.C. That’s what makes it so good as a lip balm. “It creates a thin but effective barrier that keeps water in and irritants out.”
Coconut oil is also an ideal remedy for chapped lips because it’s semisolid at room temperature, making it less messy than other oils. Pack a bit in a miniature jar and smooth over lips throughout the day. If you want to use a lip balm that has the wonder ingredient mixed in for you, the Kiehl’s Butterstick Lip Treatment SPF30 and Lanolips’s 1010 Coconutter Ointment are both worth a try.
8. Dandruff Treatment
“Being anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial, coconut oil can be useful for seborrheic dermatitis, a.k.a. dandruff,” says Dr. Friedman, who makes it clear that while coconut oil can be an effective treatment for a scaly scalp, it’s most definitely not going to make your hair grow. “There is simply no evidence that it will stimulate hair growth,” he says.
Try staving off your flakes with a nightly coconut oil treatment. Just apply lightly to your roots and massage it all in with your fingertips using circular motions. It’s not going to make your dandruff disappear, but it can help soften the flakes, thereby making them easier to slough off when you rinse out the oil in the morning.
Yes, you actually can use coconut oil to ward off odors, including body odor. “Given that bacteria is a cause of odor, the inherent antimicrobial properties of coconut can help cut down on odor — not to mention, most people love the smell of coconuts, so this is a great alternative to deodorant to try,” says Dr. Finney.
If slathering straight-up coconut oil on your pits doesn’t feel like your thing, try a natural deodorant with coconut oil in the ingredients. Kopari’s Coconut Oil Deodorant is a Best of Beauty winner, and Mother Dirt has an option fragranced with lemongrass oil.
10. Cuticle Oil
Got cracked cuticles? Coconut oil could be of service. “When the cuticles become dry and cracked, our nails can actually become brittle and dystrophic,” says Dr. Finney. “By applying coconut oil to the cuticles, this can be easily repaired.”
Remedy peeling skin with a coconut oil balm, such as Palmer’s Coconut Hydrate moisturizer, rubbed right into the base of nails.
11. Hair Protectant
Headed into the pool or ocean? Dr. Finney says a great way to protect the fragile ends of our hair from sun and chlorine is to coat them with coconut oil before getting it wet, as it acts as a natural shield between your hair and the water.
An added bonus to this hack? Because of its conditioning nature, your hair may dry more smoothly than you’re used to. Toss a tube of Conscious Coconut’s signature oil or IGK’s Rich Kid Coconut Oil Air Dry Styler.
12. Wound Salve
“Given its antimicrobial properties and oily base, coconut oil can be used on minor cuts and burns and may aid in their closure,” says Dr. Finney. Apply the oil to the affected area a few times a day until it starts to clear, and if it doesn’t or starts to worsen, of course, consult your doctor.
Ready to feel more confident when reading your beauty products’ ingredient labels? Enter, the Allure Ingredient Index. In this comprehensive guide, you’ll find everything you need to know about the most in-demand (and under-the-radar) ingredients in your favorite skin-care products.