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The coconut palm, Cocos nucifera, is among the most useful plants in the world. Found practically everywhere between the 26th parallels of the northern and southern hemisphere, it has been treasured and cultivated for food and drink, as a material for tools, utensils, and shelter, and as an ornamental tree that is synonymous with the tropics. Its versatility is captured in the language that various cultures use to describe it: in Sanskrit, it is “the tree which provides all the necessities in life”; in Malay, it is “the tree of a thousand uses”; and in the Philippines, it is simply the “tree of life”.
While all parts of the coconut tree have been used for thousands of years, its ubiquitousness in the western world is fairly recent but has quickly become a darling for natural living enthusiasts. Coconut oil, in particular, has many fantastic uses – it can help accelerate weight loss, render dry, damaged hair healthy once again, it can be swished in the mouth for a myriad of health benefits, and it can be used to make a wealth of personal care products.
In the skin care department, coconut oil certainly doesn’t disappoint. Its deep moisturizing and cleansing properties make it an excellent appliqué for promoting healthy skin. Coconut oil also contains acids that specifically combat acne-causing bacteria, helping to clear away those unsightly zits and pimples. Read on to discover how coconut oil works wonders for acne-prone skin.
The Lifecycle of a Pimple
Affecting 40 to 50 million Americans, acne vulgaris the most common skin condition in the United States and is caused by a trio of factors: bacteria, dead skin cells, and oil production.
Popping up on the face, neck, back, chest, and shoulders, where the most sebaceous – or oil – glands are located, acne appears when skin oil and dead skin cells clog the hair follicle.
Every pore of your skin contains a hair follicle. Under normal, acne-free operations, oil glands release sebum beneath the skin. Traveling up the hair follicle and out of the pore, sebum helps keep skin soft and lubricated.
When the hair follicle is clogged, the pore becomes a breeding ground for bacteria which eventually results in red, swollen, and sometimes painful lesions. A pore that is plugged up forces the follicle wall to bulge, creating the familiar raised bump that is a pimple. Blackheads occur when bacteria and oil in the pore are exposed to oxygen, turning the blemish black or brown. When blockages happen deep inside the hair follicle, larger cyst-like lumps form under the surface of the skin.
Worsened by stress, hormonal changes, air pollution, oily cosmetics, and friction or pressure on the skin, the American Academy of Dermatology recommends practicing good skin care by washing twice a day with a gentle, non-irritating cleanser.
While mild cases of acne may clear away in time, stubborn acne and frequent breakouts may leave you wanting to take a more proactive approach.
How Coconut Oil Can Help Treat Acne
Using a greasy product like coconut oil to treat acne when you are dealing with overactive sebaceous glands and clogged follicles may seem like the wrong step to take. But by taking a look at the active ingredients in coconut oil, we will soon see how you can fight oil with oil and come out with clear, acne-free skin.
Making up nearly 50% of the constituents found in coconut oil, lauric acid is a saturated fatty acid. Transforming into the monoglyceride “monolaurin” when absorbed by the body, it has strong antimicrobial properties that have been successfully employed to combat viral, fungal, and bacterial infections such as influenza, candida, cold sores, ringworm, hepatitis C, HIV/AIDS, herpes, and antibiotic resistant staph infection.
Also quite capable of fighting acne, a study published in 2009 revealed that lauric acid was effective in inhibiting follicular inflammation caused by the bacteria Propionibacterium acnes, Staphylococcus epidermidis, and Staphylococcus aureus. Stronger than peroxide for killing bacteria, researchers identified lauric acid as a safe, natural, non-toxic treatment for acne vulgaris.
Also a saturated fatty acid, caprylic acid comprises 5% to 10% of coconut oil and is another natural antibacterial, antiviral, and antifungal substance. Aside from curbing acne-causing bacteria, caprylic acid has the ability to balance the skin’s pH levels.
While skin pH should be neither acidic nor alkaline and ideally sit below 5, skin that is too alkaline becomes dry and sensitive and skin that is too acidic is more prone to acne. The use of cosmetics, soaps, and tap water can increase or decrease the skin’s natural pH values, but caprylic acid may help restore pH levels back a balanced state.
Constituting 4% to 8% of coconut oil, capric acid also has anti-microbial and anti-inflammatory properties. In a study comparing the effects of lauric and capric acid on acne, researchers found that while capric acid was not quite as powerful as lauric acid as a bactericide, it was able to inhibit the activity of Propionibacterium acnes. Both fatty acids, however, were observed to significantly reduce swelling and inflammation of the skin.
An antioxidant nutrient, vitamin E neutralizes free radicals that damage skin collagen, which causes fine lines, wrinkles, and dryness. Including vitamin E in your skin care regimen is excellent for promoting healthy, youthful skin.
Although it contains very little vitamin E on its own (around 1%), using coconut oil combined with a good source of vitamin E – such as sweet almond oil – helps improve the absorption of this antioxidant by up to 65%.
That coconut oil is deeply hydrating should come as no great surprise! Indeed, it has been shown in clinical trials to moisturize and soothe extremely dry and flaky skin conditions. Especially beneficial for those who suffer from a combination of acne and dry skin, it can help reduce the appearance of red and inflamed pimples by keeping the epidermis well nourished.
How to Use Coconut Oil for Acne-Prone Skin
While the majority of people who use coconut oil to treat acne have had amazing results, clearing up even most severe cases, there have been a few reviews where individuals have experienced increased acne breakouts after use. Some have reported that, while it caused their skin to breakout initially, continuing to use it did eventually clear away their acne for good. Since everyone’s skin will react differently, you may wish to test it on an inconspicuous spot on your skin first or try diluting it with castor oil to see whether this coconut oil treatment is for you.
Since you will be putting this on your skin, always opt for coconut oil that is pure and free of chemicals and processing. Choose brands that are virgin, cold-pressed, and organic, like this jar of Nutiva.
Ready to get started? Follow these steps for using coconut oil to treat acne:
- Steam your face to open up your pores. Drape a towel over your head and shoulders (to create a humidity tent of sorts) and lean over a bowl of steaming hot water for a few minutes.
- Using about a teaspoon of coconut oil, start applying the oil onto skin in a circular motion. You can optionally add in some acne-fighting essential oils, such as tea tree, clary sage, lavender, or juniper berry. Take your time and deeply massage it into your cheeks, nose, forehead, chin, and any other problem areas.
- Soak a facecloth with hot water, wring it out, and place it over your face for one minute.
- Gently use the facecloth to soak up any excess coconut oil. If your skin still feels oily, splash some lukewarm water on your face and wash with a mild soap or facial cleanser. Pat dry with a clean towel.
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