Coconut Oil Is Awesome–But Not for Everything


British documentary narrator voice... And here we see the eager millennial female in her natural element, aisle 8 of Trader Joe’s, carefully selecting one, no two jars of coconut oil and adding them to her nearly overflowing basket of frozen edamame. You can see the wheels in her head turning: This one’s for the kitchen, and this one’s for the bathroom. But seriously, why doesn’t she ever get the push cart?

It seems like all of a sudden one day the universe decided to trade in Jergens for coconut oil. It’s ALL. THE. RAGE. Oil up your body and slick into your PJs, wake up a more moisturized, and maybe even softer person, like on the inside. Just kidding, there’s no breaking you. BUT it really does moisturize the hell out of dry, sidewalk-cracked skin, and equally important, gives you that virgin Coco Lopez piña colada aroma.

But what about your face? And hair? And the space between your toes? What’s the TRUTH about coconut oil and beauty? I want more than a list of miraculous, ambiguous uses like “natural deodorant” and “lube.” So I talked to New York-based esthetician Jordana Mattioli during her lunch break one afternoon about common mistakes people make when they dive deep into the coconut oil jar and can’t climb out.

Mistake #1: Using It on Your FACE

Somewhere in the comments of even in an article, you may have read that coconut oil is just a wonderful, hydrating face treatment. It’s sooooOooo natural and you’re all about that life. But no!

“I don't recommend people use straight-up coconut oil because you're doing a disservice to yourself,” said Mattioli. “I have clients, at least one or two a week, that say, ‘I've been using coconut oil on my face, I heard it was good for this and this...Their pores are so congested.” Her immediate advice: exfoliate, and stop it! Use it on your body instead.

Coconut oil will clog your pores, the little pin cushion on your nose that you think everyone can see from space even though most aren’t even looking. Coconut oil is especially a HARD PASS if you have oily or acne-prone skin. Or sorta oily skin. Most skins. The only exception, said Mattioli, is people with severely dry skin, who never have concern for clogged pores. For those people, coconut oil on the face is OK.

But still, she wouldn’t recommend it, or any single-ingredient products out there. “The skin benefits from so many different types of things,” she said, “so you're really limiting yourself by saying ‘I'm only going to use coconut oil.’” There are so many products—including smug organic ones—out there that can tailor to your exact skincare needs, combining multiple seed oils and vitamins to make you glow like a hallway night light. Remember that ingredient lists on labels are listed in the order of amount of each thing, so if coconut oil is the first or second thing, avoid it, but if it’s one of the last, cool.

Mistake #2: Haphazard Makeup Removal

Yes! Do this! Mattioli said that coconut oil “breaks down makeup so well. The tiniest bit on a cotton pad won't burn when you mush it into your eyes,” BUT “if you're going to use it as makeup remover, use really soft cotton and you still need to wash your face afterwards to get all of the coconut oil off.”

Do not skip the rinse cycle! See: your pores, Mistake #1.

Mistake #3: Buying the “Refined” Stuff on Accident

If you’re not an obsessive label-reader, it’s likely all the coconut oils look the same so you throw the closest one in your edamame-filled shopping basket. But you need to get the extra virgin stuff, which is probably in solid form, not liquid (it will liquify over 76 degrees, though, FYI, #science). Extra virgin hasn’t been refined/processed, so it still has all the beneficial fatty acids you want. Plus, refined doesn’t have the Coco Lopez scent we/I love so much.

Mistake #4: Rubbing It Into Your Scalp As a Hair Mask

Depending on what you’re dealing with, hair-wise, chances are that coconut oil isn’t the answer. Especially if you have dandruff (uh, me): “If we think about how our skin sheds and how our scalp needs to shed, oil will lock in everything,” warned Mattioli, “In theory, it's probably going to make your dandruff worse. It might make it less noticeable, because now you have oily flakes instead of dry flakes. [We both paused to shudder here.] I wouldn't mess with that.”

Recently, a colleague of mine coated her hair with coconut oil as a mask over the weekend and came to work Monday with fabulously grungy, greasy hair. In a way it was very punk rock and I dug it, but she kept telling everyone, “It’s coconut oil! I washed and washed and it won’t come out!” It can be great for dry hair, but if you’re experimenting, only apply a little, on the ends, and let it spread from there on its own. Mattioli added not to leave it on for hours, either.

Please see your spiritual hair advisor for other individual concerns.

Mistake #5: Thinking It Will Cure Eczema

Coconut oil is soothing and calming, which is effective on dry skin (on your BODY), but Mattioli wouldn’t use it as a full-on treatment for eczema. “A lot of times people just want to get rid of the itchy dryness, and coconut oil is fine for that,” she said.

Mistake #6: Using As Lube

Don’t. Put. Anything. In. There.

So many reasons. You can’t mix coconut oil with latex condoms; you’d need to spot test it because you have no idea how you/your friend is going to react to it; it can fuck with the beautiful self-cleaning functioning of the lady garden; research doesn’t exist; there are better, water-based options.

So if you’re like, this is all truly fascinating and informative, Alex—and I like your use of “lady garden” in your past two ITG articles—but I now need a replacement oil for my face.

Mattioli is HERE FOR YOU.

Her recs for face oils with no irritants and no (or extremely minimal) fragrance include One Love Organics Vitamin C Facial Serum; Trilogy’s Rosehip Oil Antioxidant+; and on the more affordable side, Mad Hippie’s Antioxidant Facial Oil.

When you’re shopping and reading the labels like the pro you are, look for the first few ingredients to be seed oils as opposed to nut oils. Before getting too Charlie Brown teacher voice on you about linoleic vs. oleic acids, the seed oils (rosehip, grapeseed, pumpkin seed, evening primrose, hempseed, black cumin seed) are better for oily skin/acne-prone concerns. Save the coconut stuff for moisturizing your butt.

—Alex Beggs

Photographed by Tom Newton.

Next up: Our editors share a riveting chat about face oils.