Basically, BuzzFeed told me that coconut oil might be damaging my skin and hair instead of helping it, and now I’m a little shook. Excuse me if I get a little ~dramatic.~
I’m pretty sure that 2017 was the year of establishing that coconut oil is the cure-all for everything. According to Research Nester, the annual world production of coconut oil is about 55 million tons. To put that into perspective, that’s roughly eight-and-a-half times as heavy as the Great Pyramid of Giza, or about almost as heavy as the crippling weight of the approaching deadline for my second thesis. #womp
When it comes to beauty, coconut oil is listed as an ingredient in pretty much any DIY recipe promising to make you more radiant and solve your personal problems. Googling “coconut oil DIY” gives you about 2.3 results and there are about 1.15 million videos on YouTube on the topic of “coconut oil beauty.” BuzzFeed has a plethora of articles touting the uses of coconut oil, calling it your best friend, the answer to all your problems, and even a way to fix parts of your life, so it was to my utter shock when I recently stumbled across an article saying that you should actually avoid coconut oil at “all costs” for some things.
Some of the things in this article weren’t surprising: one of the “don’t’s” was to “use the oil as a facial moisturizer, as it’s comedogenic and might block pores,” which is something that I actually knew already. #humblebrag
“Comedogenic,” the medium-sized scary word that I’m never able to spell, is all over skincare products that claim to be not that. Its meaning comes from the word “comedo,” which is the least severe form of acne and is caused by clogged pores, and products that are listed as highly comedogenic have a “tendency of the ingredients to clog pores, which may cause acne.” Our frenemy coconut oil is ranked 4 out of 5 on this list, meaning its tendency to sabotage your skin is “fairly high,” so you might want to avoid putting it on your face and leaving it there.
What I was surprised to learn is that… deep breath here… coconut oil can actually DRY OUT YOUR HAIR! *record scratch*
For years I’ve been doing the super simple 1-ingredient hair mask that’s just coconut oil slapped between my fingers and chucked into my strands. I even use this as a tip in my fall hair hacks post – jinkies!), but this BuzzFeed article just shattered my rose-colored glasses (that are very 90’s, btw) as it says:
Because coconut oil can penetrate your hair follicle, it can prevent water being absorbed — which can leave you with dehydrated strands that are literally full of oil. If you have super porous hair that has room for water and coconut oil, you might be fine using this as a mask or treatment, but if you don’t, your hair could end up feeling extremely dry and straw-like.
Am I the Devil’s Fool?
Luckily, not necessarily. There is evidence that suggests that coconut oil might not be playing dirty to everybody. According to Wellness Mama, coconut oil helps retain hair’s natural protein and can be helpful for those who lack enough natural protein in hair follicles:
Typically, those with fine to medium shiny hair will see good results from coconut oil and notice stronger, shinier hair with more volume. Those with coarse or dry hair may not struggle with low protein at all and coconut oil may lead to more brittle hair and hair loss. These people may benefit more from other types of oil like marula oil or argan oil.
I am of the “medium shiny hair” group, so it’s not surprising that coconut oil has always worked pretty well for me. Wellness Mama says that other things matter for effectiveness of coconut oil include the following:
- Amount used → “Coconut oil seems most beneficial when used in small amounts to coat hair or reduce frizz and hair may not respond well to being coated in large amounts of coconut oil”
- Other ingredients → “Coconut oil is often included in recipes for nourishing hair oils, hair masks and hair products and these uses might not necessarily be harmful. When combined with other oils and ingredients, not only is less coconut oil coming in contact with the hair, but the combinations of fatty acids can have different effects completely”
- Other hair products → “Coconut oil may also not be the best choice to use on hair for those who use natural or homemade hair products. Homemade hair products… do not contain the chemical detergents and surfactants that many commercial shampoos and products do, making it difficult for them to remove excess oils from the hair, especially in large amounts.”
Should We Shun Coconut Oil?
Although we seem to have progressed past the honeymoon phase of our love affair with coconut oil overall in the US as sales have continued to decline, falling 5.2% in 2016 (as compared to a 38.8% increase in 2015) and further falling 25.9% in 2017, there’s still hope for our misunderstood friend, so before we get out our torches and pitchforks with the condemnation “villainous cur” as a bitter powder dusting our lips, let’s consider the following:
While the oil is fairly comedogenic, it doesn’t necessarily mean it’ll break you out – some people are more prone to acne than others, which are the ones who might want to avoid using it as a moisturizer (@me: stay away), but it might work just fine for others. Furthermore, if you invested in a jar of coconut oil and are of the acne-prone subset and don’t want it to go to waste, you can still use it on your face in the form of a makeup remover (particularly around the eyes) – just make sure you wash it off first!
As far as ~science~ is concerned, coconut oil can still hang. There was a whole study done in 2003 comparing the effect of mineral oil, sunflower oil, and coconut oil on prevention of hair damage using a bunch of fancy statistical analysis methods and real cool ANOVAs and the conclusions show the following:
This study has firmly established the superiority of the protective effect of coconut oil on hair damage in grooming processes when it is used as a pre-wash conditioner as compared to mineral oil and other vegetable oils such as sunflower oil. It not only has a protective effect on undamaged hair but also on chemically treated hair, UV-treated hair, and hair treated with boiling water (i.e., hair in water at 100øC for 2 hr). The ability of coconut oil to penetrate into hair cuticle and cortex seems to be responsible for this effect. Coated on the fiber surface, it can prevent or reduce the amount of water penetrating into the fiber and reduce the swelling. This, in turn, reduces the lifting of the surface cuticle and prevents it from being chipped away during wet combing. A reduction in the WRI is additional evidence of its efficacy in decreasing water absorption. The data presented in this work clearly show the superiority of coconut oil as a hair damage protectant, in the grooming of untreated or damaged hair.
In real people speak, I’m pretty sure this is all just to say that compared to other oils, coconut oil still does a dang good job.
Coconut Oil: Hero or Villain?
Where have all the good men gone and where are all the gods?
All of this begets the question: is coconut oil the enemy here? My best answer is no, not really. Maybe coconut oil isn’t as omnipotent as we had hoped and wanted it to be, but I don’t think it’s completely gone rogue. Sure, it has imperfections, so it might not be a hero either – rather, we could classify it as an antihero with some “dark traits” for different types of people, like Macbeth or Hamlet, who can do nothing more than attempt to operate under the confines of the fate and weight of importance we assign to it.
Maybe it didn’t end well for Macbeth or Hamlet, but this doesn’t mean coconut oil is on a dark path to destruction! At the end of the day, it all comes down to you. Moral of the story? Know yourself and treat yourself right. For some people who aren’t acne-prone and who have low levels of natural protein, coconut oil might actually be a God-send as a moisturizer and hair mask. For those who are acne-prone and don’t have a protein issue, you might not want to use it in the same way as the prior group. Coconut oil can still be useful for everybody, but (s)he who wields the sword must know how to use it.
I think we can all agree on one thing: at least we’re not comparing coconut oil to Oedipus. #ouch
- Research Nester // Virgin Coconut Oil Market
- Bluebulb Projects // The Measure of Things
- BuzzFeed // 15 Reasons Coconut Oil Is Your Best Friend // 18 Posts That Prove Coconut Oil Is The Answer To All Your Problems // 10 Parts Of Your Life That Coconut Oil Can Fix // 5 Easy Coconut Oil Tricks To Try, And 7 You Should Avoid At All Costs
- HowStuffWorks Health // What Does Non-comedogenic Mean?
- Beneficial Botanicals // Comedogenic Ratings
- Wellness Mama // Coconut Oil For Hair: Good or Bad?
- Food Navigator // Has coconut oil lost its luster?
- Porcelain Face Spa // UNDERSTANDING ACNE – WHY SOME PEOPLE GET IT AND OTHERS DON’T
- AARTI S. RELE and R. B. MOHILE (J. Cosmet. Sci., 54, 175-192) // Effect of mineral oil, sunflower oil, and coconut oil on prevention of hair damage
*Disclaimer: I am not affiliated with or compensated by any of the brands mentioned (I wish!). As always, all thoughts & opinions are my own (unless stated otherwise)!