Today we are going to discuss one of the riskiest but potentially most rewarding topical treatments around. Applying this substance to your face could produce astonishing reductions in the redness and swelling of inflammatory acne.
On the other hand, you could also completely clog your pores and set your progress back by several weeks. This acne treatment is like a game of Russian roulette, a game that could be extremely beneficial for your skin provided you are willing to take the risk.
The treatment in question is… virgin coconut oil. Coconut oil is the pure fat extracted from fresh coconut flesh. It contains 100% fat, with approximately 94% being saturated fat. Coconut oil is solid, white and somewhat cloudy at room temperature.
It is an edible oil that can be used for frying, or added to salad, and for decades both the food industry and consumers did exactly that. American diners would often serve you eggs fried up with coconut oil, and for movie theatres coconut oil was the darling of popcorn manufacturers.
Being highly saturated, coconut oil is highly resistant to breakdown when frying. At the time it had the advantage of being significantly cheaper than butter, due to the booming coconut industry in the Pacific and endless crates of them flooding onto western markets.
Finally, coconut oil makes food taste absolutely delicious. Restaurants happily used coconut oil for several decades but in 1986, the American Soybean Association stepped in…
Not being content with their soybean oil already occupying roughly 80% of the edible oil marketplace, the ASA took advantage of the “saturated fat causes heart disease” trend and launched a smear campaign against coconut oil. Tropical oils were condemned as villains responsible for “the poisoning of America”.
An enormous dose of funding later, and several newspapers were exalting the “heart-healthy” benefits of soybean oil and hydrogenated fats.
Coconut oil was left in the gutter as restaurants made the switch to cheaper vegetable oils. The economies of tropical nations such as the Philippines were propelled towards depression; coconuts were their single biggest export in the 1990s. Such was the fall from grace of coconut oil that by 2001, only two products were available on the entire US market. Coconut oil was a byword for grease, clogged arteries and heart attacks.
Flash forward to today, and the countless jars lining the shelves of health food shops tell you that coconut oil has made a remarkable recovery. Why? Because coconut oil is possibly the most nutritious and healthy cooking oil of all time. For one thing, scientific studies continue to pile up showing that coconut oil does NOT cause heart disease. In fact it has been shown to increase the good HDL cholesterol while decreasing the unhealthy LDL cholesterol.
On top of that, studies on coconut oil’s health benefits are piling up so fast that there’s reportedly over 10,000 of them on PubMed now. A few examples: the fats in coconut oil are mostly medium-chain triglycerides, which are rapidly digested and can boost human metabolism. Adding coconut oil to the diets of diabetics has been shown to inhibit weight gain, despite it being high in calories. Coconut oil is heart-healthy, can reduce oxidative stress, and can combat viruses.
There’s even been an avalanche of reports that coconut oil can combat Alzheimer’s disease. Patients taking a tablespoon of coconut oil per day reportedly enjoy an improved memory and the recovery of lost day to day functions. The explanation is that coconut oil is a great source of ketones, which your brain uses as fuel.
One well-respected coconut oil guru has reportedly discovered over 70 household uses for this oil, so its powers aren’t just limited to health. To write about the full extent of coconut oil’s powers would make this article 60 pages long, so here are three that are particularly important to you.
Firstly, coconut oil is superb for cleaning teeth. Coconut oil destroys the bacteria that consume sugar and unhealthy compounds from food, use it to grow, and then erode your enamel. I use coconut oil in my toothpaste every day. Secondly, coconut oil is a highly effective deodorant. Body odour is caused by the bacteria in your armpits consuming the sweat, rather than the sweat itself. Coconut oil can annihilate this bacteria.
Finally, coconut oil is a very useful ingredient in natural soaps and household cleaners, and even wound treatment agents.
What do those three applications have in common? They are all a result of coconut oil’s extremely strong antibacterial properties. Coconut oil is used to treat wounds for this very reason and has been used in the Ancient Ayurvedic medicine of India for preventing infections. This miracle fat can kill a wide variety of microorganisms, and as these studies show, that includes our friend p. acnes…
- In this study scientists used lauric acid, a fatty acid that constitutes 49% of coconut oil’s fats. Scientists applied it to three different types of bacteria; p. acnes, s. aureus, and s. epidermidis. Lauric acid effectively killed each type of bacteria, but they found that p.acnes was particularly vulnerable. Lauric acid reduced both ear swelling and inflammation that the scientists had created in rabbits with p. acnes. Both intradermal injections and topical application were extremely effective p. acnes killers.
- This study found that lauric acid was very effective at killing p. acnes, more so than either palmitic acid or oleic acid. The scientists noted that lauric acid had poor water solubility. However when they prepared the lauric acid in a liposome, a medical vehicle for carrying fatty acids, this liposome bound to the cell membrane of p.acnes. The lauric acid then directly entered the bacteria, and proceeded to annihilate it. The scientists concluded that lauric acid could be used as an effective and safe treatment for acne.
- Scientists in this study tested both virgin coconut oil and virgin olive oil on patients with atopic dermatitis, to test their effects on the staphylococcus aureus bacteria responsible for the condition. Both oils inhibited the bacteria successfully, but virgin coconut oil was significantly more successful. That’s no small feat given that olive oil is hailed as one of the healthiest oils ever by dietary groups as varied as vegans, paleo followers, and Mediterranean diet enthusiasts.
The studies above suggest that coconut oil will be a phenomenal treatment for acne. Indeed many dermatological companies are investing serious amounts of money into lauric acid based skin treatments. Kill p. acnes and you cut the head off the acne snake, because there’s nothing for your immune system to attack. No over the top inflammatory response equals no red, swollen and painful pimples. Judging from these studies it certainly seems that coconut oil is up there with raw honey or royal jelly in the upper pantheon of p. acnes killers…
…and there’s also plenty of evidence in the real world. Lauric acid is coconut oil’s big player in killing bacteria and it’s also found in large quantities in human breast milk. Meanwhile one of the most striking trends among breast-fed babies is their lower rates of illness and infections.
Lauric acid is also a key ingredient in many soaps. In fact soap companies often limit the lauric acid content because it is too good at killing bacteria and can dry your skin out. There’s even suggestions that lauric acid can damage herpes and HIV molecules inside the body.
Coconut oil also contains 8% caprylic acid which, while not as powerful as lauric acid, also possesses respectable antibacterial powers. The coconut oil market has expanded rapidly over the last decade, as has the huge number of DIY tricks people have managed to use it for…
Therefore there is a ton of people already trying it out on their pimples, not to mention the fact that Southern Indians have used it for beauty purposes for decades if not centuries. Some reported experiences include…
- Smoother skin, with a natural glow.
- Significant reductions in blemishes and pimples.
- Big reductions in redness, and an overall less “inflamed” look.
- Well balanced skin; less oily yet no dry patches either.
The vast majority of the comments report extremely positive improvements. On acne.org coconut oil has an overall score of 4.1/5 and then you have all the studies showing the p.acnes killing power. Granted you have to focus on your diet and lifestyle more – you always do – but coconut oil could still cause significant improvements if applied topically.
However, there is a catch. While coconut oil does possess a highly antibacterial array of fatty acids, it is also an oil…
…and like many oils, coconut oil is fairly comedogenic, meaning that it can block your skin pores. Almost all edible and cosmetic oils have been analysed for their comedogenic power and coconut oil receives 4 out of 5, which the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology says indicates a “very high” risk of pore-blocking. Meanwhile the famous shea butter, also an oil, scores 0 out of 5. Almost all the anecdotal reports divide sharply into either the “amazing improvement” camp or the “absolute nightmare” camp. Coconut oil horror stories include…
- A fresh explosion of small pimples and pustules, which did not heal even after six weeks.
- Large amounts of cystic acne appearing on the skin. One of the most frequent negative reports.
- Pores clogged so badly that skin was left “wrecked”, with “massive breakouts”.
It’s very difficult to predict whether coconut oil will be an acne dream or an acne disaster. What’s for sure is that coconut oil is a very powerful product, far more powerful than its status as a mere oil would suggest. If you are inclined to take a risk, then potentially you will enjoy a big cooling of inflammation.
Alternatively you could set your efforts back significantly. The choice is yours. You can never know the outcome without trying, and it’s possible that you’ll be extremely glad you tried coconut oil if you do.
Your fool-proof strategy is to use coconut oil if your pores are already very blocked. If your acne is already in full explosion mode then a bit more oil won’t harm you; you’ll only stand to benefit from the reduction in inflammation. If however, you only had a couple of particularly angry spots you want to deal with, then raw honey would be a better option. A small globule of raw honey is excellent for cooling the inflammation of specifically targeted areas and side effects are unlikely.
If you do use coconut oil, then the big requirement is that you get the raw, or virgin variety. Almost all the studies showing coconut oil’s benefits against bacteria, against cardiovascular diseases, and for metabolism, have shown that the standard refined version is significantly inferior.
This is because virgin coconut oil contains a plethora of phenolic antioxidants. As well as reducing oxidative stress in your body, these can neutralise free radicals on your skin and protect your sebum from the oxidation that leads to blocked pores. Virgin coconut oil is not necessarily cold-processed (it’s a marketing myth that cold pressed is better) but it’s always produced in a way that protects these delicate compounds.
Refined coconut oil on the other hand, is made from dried coconut flesh, or “copra”, which is produced non-hygienically. It’s full of bacteria which needs to be removed using various factory chemicals.
Eventually carcinogenic chemicals such as hexane get involved, in order to extract the oil from the flesh, and finally chemical deodorisers are used, which explains why refined coconut oil lacks the classic coconut smell of the regular version. All these chemicals can truly wreck the nutritional content. The healthy fatty acids do remain, but the delicate icing on the cake, the antioxidants, are blasted away into nothing by the intense factory process.
Therefore your best bet is organic, virgin coconut oil. Extra virgin is fine, but bear in mind that it’s no different to plain old virgin; it’s simply a fancy marketing term that was borrowed from the olive oil industry.
Cold-pressed is also acceptable, but it’s not automatically better as is often assumed. Some studies have actually shown that processing virgin coconut oil with some heat breaks down molecular bonds and increases the availability of phenolic compounds. Because coconut oil is also a terrific cooking oil and health supplement, in the future I will provide you with a full and extensive discussion of the very best coconut oils money can buy.
For now, the healthiest product available on the internet is Gold Label Organic Virgin Coconut Oil, from Tropical Traditions.
Tropical Traditions was the first company to reintroduce virgin coconut oil to the US back in 2001. Since then they have perfected their manufacturing process. For example, they now use antioxidant rich coconut water instead of regular water as a medium for separating the coconut oil and solids.
A more affordable yet nearly as healthy product is Viva Labs Organic Extra Virgin Coconut Oil. Here’s a heads-up: if you live in the UK, then Tesco sells a PHENOMONAL coconut oil called Vita Coco Organic Extra Virgin Coconut Oil. It fits all the health requirements but it is also the greatest tasting one I have ever encountered.
Coconut oil can be one of the most powerful topical treatments for acne but it can also backfire catastrophically. It’s the equivalent of a heavy duty machine gun, one which can function excellently but must be used in the right circumstances and is reliant on a bit of luck for success without total chaos.
It’s best to use coconut oil on acne that’s severe enough that some extra clogged pores will not make any difference. With that said though, many people did not report extra blocked pores. If you’re a gambler, you might take the risk and find that the payoff is huge.
Everyone has different genetics when it comes to skin pores and you’ll only know the truth by experimentation. Without a doubt, coconut oil is a natural, healthy product that is free from inflammatory chemicals. It will never cause irreversible damage.
Even if coconut oil does fail you’ll still gain some first-hand knowledge. When it comes to treating acne and indeed treating any health problem, there is nothing more valuable than experience, period.
It’s also worth consuming coconut oil, for the endless benefits such as improved heart health, potential dementia prevention, and boosted metabolism. Here’s an extra tip: I find that a tablespoon of coconut oil before bed improves my sleep quality very well.
Thanks for reading!