Can we apply coconut oil on the face?

Dermatologists weigh in on the age-old debate.

Studio shot of a beautiful young woman applying essential oil to her face with a dropper posing against a pink background
(Image credit: PeopleImages/Getty Images)

Slathering coconut oil on the face may seem like a bright idea as an antidote to plummeting temperatures but it turns out not every skin type can handle it. 

In the past, coconut oil has been touted as the go-to for oily, skin prone to acne for two reasons. One, it contains lauric acid, which has antimicrobial properties so should, technically speaking, be a good at fighting spot-causing bacteria. Two, the idea that like attracts like so an oil cleanser would be better at breaking up oil on the skin. 

The trouble is, coconut oil is occlusive by nature - in other words, it's made up of molecules so large they can only sit on top of the skin to seal in moisture. Which, in the case of oily skin, can lead to congestion. 

"As for oil cleansers, they're a beauty fad best avoided if you don't want spots," says Dr Anjali Mahto, consultant dermatologist at Skin 55. "They leave behind residue, which can block pores." Gentle cleansers spiked with salicylic acid are your best bet for dissolving the paste-like mixture of oil and dead skin cells in pores. 

Conversely, coconut oil makes the ideal topcoat for dry, ageing skin. "The lipophilic, or fat loving, nature of oils means they prevent water loss, keep the skin barrier strong and lock in the nourishing ingredients from your serum and face cream," says dermatologist David Colbert, founder of Colbert M.D Skincare.

Dry skin types will also benefit from the new raft of best foundation like Givenchy Prisme-Libre Skin-Caring Glow, which contain a fraction of coconut oil for added slip and hydration. 

But if you're an oily skin type and you're now giving that expensive jar of cold-pressed organic coconut oil the side eye - don't just toss it. Coconut oil doubles up as a brilliant deep-conditioning mask - simply leave it on for 20 minutes then rinse for killawatt shine.

And for your skin, consider a hemp seed oil concoction such as Kiehl's Cannabis Sativa Seed Oil Herbal Concentrate. The formula is 60 per cent cannabis sativa seed oil, derived from cold-pressed hemp seeds, which tackles redness and inflammation while the green organo oil kicks in with its antiseptic properties to keep blemishes at bay. Win-win.