Acne is a common skin problem experienced by both adults and teenagers, and it affects people to varying degrees. While it is largely aesthetic, it can be traumatic for those suffering from extreme cases, and even lead to lowered self esteem and depression. Many people are desperate to find cures, and Dr. Maura Henninger, ND, released a 2013 Huffington Post article that Americans spend over $2.2 billion per year on acne treatments (1).
So, What About Coconut Oil for Acne Treatment?
Coconut oil has become popular for treating many symptoms and conditions in recent years (especially in the world of holistic health and nutrition), and has its place in the realm of cosmetics, as well. While coconut oil can be incredibly healing for a host of conditions, acne is (unfortunately), not one of them. The myth that coconut oil helps to cure acne has had some pretty negative consequences for acne sufferers, as it can actually worsen the condition.
Coconut oil is a comedogenic, which is a product or ingredient that worsens or causes acne by clogging your pores. Comedogenic ingredients will cause acne in those with acne-prone skin, and should definitely be avoided by those prone to breakouts.
Unfortunately, many skincare products actually include comedogenic ingredients, and a lot of confusion exists around the topic of which products help, and which hurt. If you’re interested in reading much more science behind comedogenic properties and compounds, check out this super-informative journal article to dig into the details.
What are Acne Solutions that Really Work?
Many conventional and commonly-used acne treatments (both over the counter and prescription) will provide temporary relief of symptoms but are really missing the mark when it comes to uncovering root causes of acne. And, they often come with harmful side effects.
The real, root causes of acne are embedded in diet for many sufferers, so understanding which foods can cause and worsen acne is first and foremost. Now that we’ve cleared up the coconut oil confusion, let’s look at the dietary culprits of acne, which primarily include gluten and dairy.
First, let’s review what gluten is and why it is an irritant for a lot of people.
Gluten is the protein in wheat and other glutenous grains, including spelt, rye, oats and barley. Basically, gluten is the component of bread that gives it that fluffy, sticky texture. Because of its ability to bind, it is also used in tons of products (food and other), such as soy sauce, ice cream, condiments, shampoo and other personal hygiene products.
For a complete list of foods containing gluten, see this excellent resource from the Celiac Disease Foundation.
You don’t have to have full-blown Celiac Disease to experience acne from eating gluten, as many people with even minor, unknown sensitivities can see skin improvements from adopting a gluten free diet. Studies also show gluten can be quite addictive, so allow yourself some time and accept the fact that quitting gluten is not always easy (2).
If you’re unsure as to whether you might be have a gluten sensitivity and should consider a gluten free diet for skin health, you can work with a professional to do some basic testing, or you can undergo an elimination diet by yourself. Common symptoms of gluten intolerance include headaches, fatigue, muscle weakness, brain fog, depression and acne. It might also be at the root of various neurological conditions (3).
How gluten and dairy cause acne
The primary phenomenon that explains both the gluten and dairy-acne connection is a condition called leaky gut syndrome, more technically known as increased intestinal permeability.. When a dairy or gluten sensitivity or allergy exists, it first works to damage the lining of the gut, which means that molecules and toxins that should not be allowed to pass into the bloodstream now have free rein to enter. Since the gluten molecule cannot be properly digested, it is now allowed to pass through the gut lining into the bloodstream, where the immune system senses an invader and attacks. This creates systemic inflammation, and is a main contributor to acne.
Dairy in particular has a high glycemic load and can contribute to acne via certain enzymatic reactions having to do with how the body handles insulin.
Other dietary factors can also have an impact, and everybody reacts differently to all foods. However, dairy and gluten are the two most common acne-causing culprits.
Key Points to Remember About Acne:
Coconut Oil Can Cause or Worsen Acne
While coconut can be an excellent moisturizer for everyone to use on particularly dry, cracked skin, those who have acne or are especially prone to pimples should avoid using it on the face or other commonly affected areas.
Going Gluten and Dairy Free Can Drastically Help
Since gluten and dairy can cause damage to the GI tract in the form of leaky gut syndrome, this can set you up for skin problems, such as acne. Considering that, outside of Celiac Disease (the autoimmune disease associated with gluten sensitivity) 8% of people are likely gluten sensitive (4), and gluten can cause ill-effects in even those that aren’t diagnosed as gluten sensitive, if you suffer from acne, cutting out gluten and dairy is probably a good next step.
Poor Digestion is Often At The Root
If you have faulty digestion, this greatly increases your chances of an acne breakout. If you’ve already cut out (or have never used) coconut oil as a moisturizer and have a clean diet, you might want to consider if any underlying digestive issues exist. Acne (and curing acne) definitely work from the inside out.