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Coconut oil for acne

Does coconut oil treat acne or make it worse?

Many people claim that coconut oil helps treat acne. This may work well for some people, but can actually make acne worse for those with oily skin.

This article is based on scientific evidence, written by experts, and fact-checked by experts.
We look at both sides of the argument and strive to be objective, unbiased, and honest.
Does coconut oil treat acne or make it worse?
Last updated on August 6, 2023, and last reviewed by an expert on November 5, 2022.

Acne is a common skin condition that affects up to 50 million Americans yearly. It most often occurs in teenagers but can also affect adults of all ages.

Does coconut oil treat acne or make it worse?

Because of coconut oil’s many health properties, some people have started using it to treat acne. This involves applying coconut oil directly to the skin and eating it.

However, while coconut oil has been studied for various health benefits, very little scientific research has examined its ability to fight acne.

In this article

What causes acne?

Acne can form when hair follicles become clogged by oil and dead skin cells, leading to plugged pores.

Pores are little holes in your skin, often referred to as hair follicles. Each hair follicle is connected to a sebaceous gland, producing oily sebum.

When too much sebum is produced, it can fill and plug the hair follicle. This causes bacteria known as Propionibacterium acnes, or P. acnes, to grow.

The bacteria then get trapped in the plugged follicle. This can result in skin inflammation, which leads to acne.

Symptoms of acne include whiteheads, blackheads, and pimples. Some cases are more severe than others.

Many factors contribute to the development of acne, including:

Summary: Acne starts when oil and dead skin cells clog up skin pores, causing inflammation. Many factors contribute to this condition.

The fatty acids in coconut oil help kill the bacteria that cause acne

Coconut oil consists almost entirely of medium-chain fatty acids (MCFAs).

MCFAs have potent antimicrobial effects, which means they can kill disease-causing microorganisms.

More than 50% of the fatty acids found in coconut oil are medium-chain, such as lauric acid.

Lauric acid may help kill harmful bacteria, fungi, and viruses in the body. On its own, lauric acid has been shown to kill P. acnes.

In one study, lauric acid was more effective at killing these bacteria than benzoyl peroxide — a popular acne treatment. It also showed therapeutic potential against inflammation caused by the bacteria.

In another study, lauric acid was combined with retinoic acid. Together, they inhibited the growth of acne-causing skin bacteria.

Is coconut oil good for your skin?
Suggested read: Is coconut oil good for your skin?

Coconut oil also contains capric, caproic, and caprylic MCFAs. While not as powerful as lauric acid, some of these are also effective against the bacteria that cause acne.

This property only works when applying coconut oil directly to the skin since this is where the acne-causing bacteria are located.

Summary: Coconut oil is high in medium-chain fatty acids that have been shown to kill the acne-causing bacteria called Propionibacterium acnes.

Applying coconut oil to your skin can moisturize it and help with healing

Many people with acne suffer from skin damage, leading to scarring.

Moisturizing your skin is an essential step in keeping it healthy. That’s because it needs adequate moisture to fight infection and heal properly.

Research shows that coconut oil can help relieve dry skin while fighting bacteria.

Studies show that using coconut oil as a moisturizer is more practical or effective than mineral oil.

Additionally, coconut oil may help heal your skin and prevent it from scarring.

In one study, rats with wounds treated with coconut oil experienced less inflammation and increased collagen production, a significant skin component, that promotes wound healing.

As a result, their wounds healed much faster.

Keeping your skin moisturized may reduce the risk of developing acne scars.

Summary: Coconut oil effectively moisturizes the skin. It may also help heal skin damage and reduce scarring.

Eating coconut oil may help fight inflammation

The fatty acids in coconut oil may also fight acne-induced inflammation.

Suggested read: Hormonal acne diet: What to eat to improve your acne

Multiple test-tube and animal studies have demonstrated coconut oil’s antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties.

These findings suggest that eating coconut oil may help reduce the redness and swelling of inflammatory acne. However, this effect needs to be confirmed in studies including humans.

Summary: Eating coconut oil may help reduce the inflammation associated with acne, but more research is needed.

Applying coconut oil to the skin is not recommended if you have oily skin

Eating coconut oil isn’t problematic for most people.

However, some people apply it to the skin as a facial cleanser or moisturizer.

This may be beneficial against acne, but it’s not recommended for people with very oily skin.

Coconut oil is highly comedogenic, which means it can clog pores. Consequently, it may make acne worse for some people.

Summary: When applied to the skin, coconut oil may clog pores and make acne worse. It is not recommended for those with very oily skin.


Coconut oil is high in lauric acid, which helps kill the bacteria that cause acne.

Applying coconut oil to the skin can kill acne-causing bacteria and increase moisture, reducing acne scarring.

However, coconut oil may not help people with very oily skin.

To avoid making acne worse, you may want to check with a dermatologist or healthcare professional before trying it out.

However, eating coconut oil is safe. Studies showing health benefits used 2 tablespoons (30 ml) daily.

If you want to try it, see if you can find virgin coconut oil.

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