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Skin Secrets #2: Demystifying Coconut Oil
In Which Our Hero Fawn Rants About Misinformation on Twitter (again!)
Disclaimer: I am not a doctor, just a cartoon deer on the internet with a background in chemistry and a hyperfixation on skin. This is not medical advice.
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For some reason, coconut oil seems to have y’all in a chokehold, and I don’t get it.
Everywhere I look on Twitter, coconut oil is lauded as some magical cure-all.
I’ve seen wild claims about coconut oil being a great natural spf (it’s not) and a great natural moisturizer (again, it’s not).
So today, let’s break down why I don’t love coconut oil in skincare.
A Quick Science Lesson:
Among the three main macronutrients (carbohydrates, fats, and protein), oils are considered fats.
Fats are made up of triglycerides.
Triglycerides are made up of an ester group (not important here) and three fatty acid chains.
They look like this:
Fatty acids can be broken down into saturated and unsaturated fats.
Because carbon makes four bonds in its ground state, fats are considered saturated when all of the bonds in the carbon chain are single bonds such that the chain is “saturated” with hydrogens.
If the chain includes even one double bond between carbons, it is then considered unsaturated because not every carbon in the chain is bonded to two hydrogens.
Understanding this, you can extrapolate that saturated fats are heavier than unsaturated fats.
Okay, Fawn, we understand the molecular structure of fats. But what does this mean in practice?
The main acid in coconut oil is lauric acid.
Lauric acid is saturated, so coconut oil acts more like an occlusive than a moisturizer in my opinion.
An occlusive you’re probably more familiar with is petroleum jelly or Vaseline.
Additionally, it ranks high on the comedogenic scale (4-5):
For all of these reasons, I don’t like coconut oil regardless of your skin type:
If you have dry skin, coconut oil isn’t going to be as beneficial for your skin as a lighter weight oil
If you have oily skin or are acne prone, coconut oil may exacerbate an already existing acne problem or cause folliculitis by clogging pores
In place of coconut oil, I would recommend either rosehip or marula oil.
These oils are higher in linoleic/oleic acids (saturated), so they more closely resemble the fatty acid composition of sebum, the oil that your body already produces.
If you have oily skin or are acne prone, I’d opt for rosehip.
If you have particularly dry skin and are not acne prone, I’d opt for marula.
Regardless, oils should be used after your regular moisturizer anyways because they’re sealants (because they’re thick!).
And finally, this is another great scenario for me to discuss fear mongering in skincare.
I mentioned this in my dandruff solution post and talk about this all the time on Twitter: chemicals are nothing to fear.
Not everything man made is bad for you, and not everything “natural” is good for you.
“Natural” is an ambiguous buzzword in skincare, and nature makes plenty of nasty stuff anyways.
I’m not saying you shouldn’t opt towards natural options (as if that means anything specific anyways) if that is your preference.
I’m just saying you should make that decision consciously and not because you’re biased because you fear what you do not understand.
That’s all for now! Happy skincare!
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