Let’s talk coconut oil causing acne and breakouts
Recently, I’ve been posting a lot of blog articles and videos about oils, including:
- My oil cleansing method for acne prone skin
- Double cleansing for smooth skin
- My skincare routine for breakouts
- A review of my favourite oil cleanser – Living Libations Best Skin Ever
One question I’ve been asked a lot about is coconut oil.
I don’t recommend using pure coconut oil for oil cleansing or as a facial moisturizer (especially for acne prone skin). The reason why is because it’s rated fairly high on the list of comedogenic ingredients (ingredients that can potentially clog pores and cause breakouts). I also had a terrible experience using coconut oil (more on that later), so seeing with my own eyes (and skin) how it can adversely affect your skin, I don’t recommend it.
But… I do use, review, and recommend some natural products and makeup that contain small amounts of coconut oil in their formulas, and I know a lot of you are confused – is it just 100% pure coconut oil you’ve got to stay away from, or everything that contains it?
There’s a big difference between the two, and I would like to share my personal experience of experimenting with both, and hopefully you’ll feel more clear when selecting skin care products and makeup.
My bad experience of coconut oil causing breakouts
A few years ago, just around the time I gave birth to my daughter Luna Ray, I switched from using honey to wash my face to the oil cleansing method. I made the switch because after giving birth to my daughter, my hormones were all over the place, my skin was breaking out like crazy and I needed a cleanser that was much more moisturizing.
Oil cleansing seemed to be the right fit. Within days my skin was a lot softer and moisturized, but I was still getting breakouts. Over time, I started getting tiny raised bumps all over my face. Because I started oil cleansing around the same time I gave birth to my daughter, I didn’t connect the breakouts and tiny bumps to the coconut oil, I thought it was from postpartum hormones and breastfeeding. Over time I was able to manage the breakouts by drinking water infused with fresh mint (my favourite remedy for breakouts), but the tiny bumps remained on my face for months (maybe even a year or so!).
It was only until one day I ran out of coconut oil and I was too lazy to get more, that I started using the olive oil from my kitchen to wash my face. Within 3 days all the bumps disappeared and my skin was soft and smooth. I couldn’t believe it! It was pretty obvious to me it was the coconut oil that was causing the issues all along and not my postpartum hormones.
A few weeks after I started using the olive oil, I received my first bottle of Living Libations Best Skin Ever. I had been eagerly awaiting it to arrive, but when I looked at the ingredients and saw the coconut oil listed, I thought “Oh no!!” The last thing I wanted to do was put anything with coconut oil on my face.
But on the other hand, the olive oil wasn’t working so great for me either. The tiny bumps vanished, and my skin was extremely soft, smooth and clear from the olive oil; but within hours of washing my face with it, my skin would get REALLY oily and I was afraid I was having some sort of allergic reaction to it.
So I decided to give the Living Libations Best Skin Ever a try. I had already used many of their oil-based serums before and never had any issues. I figured if it gives me those bumps on my face like the pure coconut oil did, I could always go back to olive oil until I found something else.
And I’m happy I gave it a try because it turned out to be exactly what I was looking for in an oil cleanser – it thoroughly washed and moisturized my skin, didn’t give me those terrible bumps or make my skin oilier (in fact it balances out my oily skin and I find double cleansing with it in the evenings makes my skin super smooth and bright).
Using pure coconut oil vs. products containing small amount of it
Since realizing pure coconut oil was giving me raised bumps all over my face but not Living Libations Best Skin Ever that contains small amounts of coconut oil, I’ve done other experiments with other natural skin care products and makeup containing coconut oil. And to my relief, nothing gives me those raised bumps or breakouts like using pure, undiluted coconut oil.
So why does pure coconut oil give me breakouts, but not products containing it?
I believe it’s because even though coconut oil is listed as an ingredient, there’s probably not enough of it in the products and makeup I’m regularly using to adversely affect my skin (unless it’s predominately made of coconut oil). It’s kind of like essential oils – many of them need to be diluted by carrier oils to be safely applied to your skin (if not, they can burn or damage your skin). Same with coconut oil. Putting it straight on your face could very well give you breakouts, but having tiny amounts mixed with other carrier oils and ingredients might not be detrimental to your skin at all.
Also, when ingredients are tested to see if they’re comedogenic, they’re tested on their own, in their pure undiluted form. So something like coconut oil on it’s own is rated pretty high on the comedogenic list, and causes breakouts and issues for a lot of people (especially those prone to acne and breakouts). But, if it’s mixed and diluted down by other ingredients, it might not be such an issue.
Also it is important to mention that the comedogenic list is general guidelines. At the end of the day, everyone’s skin is different and you need to do your own experiments and observe how your skin responds to what you’re using. For example, recently I was talking to someone on Instagram that was telling me that rosehip seed oil gives her terrible breakouts, and she can’t even go near products that contain it. On the list of comedogenic ingredients, rosehip seed oil actually rates really low, and many people rave about the skin clearing properties of the oil – but obviously it’s not good for everyone.
How to know if skin care products & makeup containing coconut oil will be safe for acne prone skin?
If there’s an oil blend, skincare product, or makeup you want to use, but it contains coconut oil and you’re unsure if it’s safe for acne prone skin, I recommend contacting the company to find out what percentage of the product is made of coconut oil. If it’s more than 5-10% coconut oil, I would probably avoid the product.
Reading the product’s ingredients is very important, but it isn’t always telling of the quantities being used. For example, an oil blend could be composed of 10 ingredients, but 98% of it could just be one ingredient, and the remaining 9 ingredients could make up only 2% of the product. Same with makeup, coconut oil could be listed as an ingredient, but only trace amounts can be found in it.
Also looking up reviews on the internet can be quite telling of a product too, so if you’re unsure, do the research too!
And lastly, like any skin care product and ingredient, everyone’s skin reacts differently, so the only way to really know for sure, is by trying.
For acne prone skin, what oils should you use instead of coconut oil?
For acne prone skin that is either normal, combination, or oily, I recommend:
Oil blends for cleansing:
- Living Libations Sandalwood Best Skin Ever (this one doesn’t have coconut oil)
- Leahlani Skincare Pamplemousse Cleansing Oil
Oil blends for moisturizing:
- Loa Skin Botanical Beauty Elixir
- Leahlani Siren Brightening Serum
- Leahlani Aloha Ambrosia Morning Moisture Elixir
- Living Libations Soothsayer Serum
For acne prone skin that may needs a richer oil than the ones list above (like acne prone skin that is dry or maturing), I recommend:
Oil blends for cleansing:
- Annmarie Skin Care Restorative Cleansing Oil
- Tata Harper Nourishing Oil Cleanser
- One Love Organics Vitamin B Enzyme Cleansing Oil
Oil blends for moisturizing:
Mineral Oil (or baby oil)
Coconut Oil (pure, undiluted)
Beware, Marula Oil too can be an issue for some people with acne prone skin.