Coconut Oil causes spots?


One of the drawbacks I have found with setting myself up as an internet guru is that the more questions I get the more I realise how little I know.  Take this one from Rebecca.

Hello. First off, I am not entirely sure if this is a type of scientific problem that is addressable, or even common, but I thought it was startling and strange. I have always had good skin, no acne problems as a teenager. I would get the occasional pimple but it was never anything severe. I think that is pretty lucky. However, when I met my boyfriend (now fiance) he introduced me to coconut oil, to cook with. I had never heard of it, much less tried it. Fast forward a few weeks. I began breaking out like crazy, but after several months I noticed it was only on my cheeks. I was devastated, and since I have quite a healthy diet I tried everything from making sure I had a clean pillow case, washing my face am and pm, everything. I would get at least one new blemish a day. I did some online research, which I am not sure how trustworthy that can be, but I found that coconut oil could have been the culprit. I have since stopped cooking with it (note: I never used it directly on my skin, only ingested it) and my skin has improved dramatically. I no longer get any blemishes. I read that coconut oil can release liposaccharides and these can let gut bacteria into the bloodstream. This in turn was causing my body to try to fight this off, and I think it manifested as acne, but only on my cheeks. Do you know if this is really the case? Could I just be allergic to coconut oil? I can hardly believe this substance did so much damage. Do you think others have this problem? Is it common? My fiance can eat the coconut oil on food with no trouble at all. I am glad I found a solution for myself but I am just wondering at the science behind it! Thanks!

Well that one has me baffled, other than to say we are all different.  I have never heard of this happening with coconut oil before, and given that it is staple food ingredient across wide stretches of the globe I can’t imagine it is very common.

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Coconut oil is not very different to other oils that you eat.  It does have an unusually high level of what chemists call highly saturated fatty acids.  But I can’t think of any reason that that should affect your skin.  All the oils that you eat are broken down by the body into their component parts so the particular type you eat doesn’t make a huge amount of difference.  Or at least, I can’t think of any reason that it should.

There is one possible explanation.  There is a suggestion in some quarters that high blood sugar levels can lead to spots.  What happens is that the body secretes the excess glucose in the blood into the pores, and once there bacteria take advantage of it to grow.  Your body reacts to the bacteria and that creates a spot.  This is an hypothesis that I have been considering for a while to explain the widely held notion that eating a Mars bar can give you spots shortly afterwards.  (I have to confess that there is no real scientific data to back up this idea – it just seems to fit with a lot of anecdotes I have heard over the years.)

This is a good story for a glucose-rich Mars bar, but it isn’t quite so obvious that coconut oil would have the same effect.  But it is conceivable that because you are unfamiliar with coconut oil you are using a lot more than you would of oils you are used to.  In which case, maybe your blood glucose gets elevated because you have unwittingly increased the number of calories you are eating?

But basically, I don’t know.  I will have to throw it open and see if any readers have any information to shed light on this one.

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16 Responses to Coconut Oil causes spots?

  1. Colin says:

    A couple of my Twitter chums have suggested it might be an allergy. I don’t think the symptoms really fit, but allergies do come in many forms so I suppose it is not impossible.

  2. Phaedra says:

    I don’t know if this helps you or not, but…. back in the 1980’s the Journal of Investigative Dermatology did a study and measured the chemical content of the sebum of acne patients before and after being on a special diet of foods that contained more branch chained fatty acids than straight chained fatty acids. They didn’t find any difference in sebum content or the amount of acne. It is known that topically the straight chained fatty acids are more comedogenic.

    That being said, I don’t know if there have been any studies on coconut oil and if it has an impact on hormones – and we know hormones play a big role in acne. Doctors used to say that dairy consumption did not effect acne, but they are changing their minds now because of the amount of hormones used in dairy production.

  3. Rebecca Green says:

    I’ve read on quite a few skincare blogs that coconut oil is comedogenic … but I’m struggling to find any scientific sources for this.

  4. Colin says:

    You are quite Rebecca, there have been investigations into the comedogenic substances. But they were all concerned with applying the products to the skin, not eating them.

  5. Hillary says:

    @Colin–that was just what I was thinking!! The studies I have all heard about regarded if they were safe to ingest–not to absorb into your skin.

  6. Colin says:

    Hi Phaedra – I think I know what you are talking about. I remember doing a big literature search on the effects of diet on skin problems back in the days when that involved acquiring huge piles of photocopies. So yes, a hormonal effect could well be what is going on here.

  7. Sarah Blunt says:

    I really believe that coconut oil is safe as long as you take it as prescribed. Taking it excessively can really cause something bad. I will try to look for some proof that it’s not causing some problems like that.

  8. gingerbread says:

    There are some papers showing link between dietary fat and carbohydrate consumption. E.g. eating omega-3 rich food increases omega-3 content of sebum and decreases rates of acne. So, maybe eating coconut oil increase medium-chain fatty acids in your sebum and cause inflammation of your follicles by itself or just by lowering essential fatty acids content (through diluting them)?

  9. Pam says:

    I am currently experiencing a lot of facial breakouts. More than I ever have in my life. The only thing I can attribute it to is that I’ve switched to using coconut oil for cooking and baking. At the advice of my doctor, a few years ago, I went gluten free. As a result, I no longer consume breads, cookies, cakes, etc. But since I miss having them once in awhile I’ve been searching for substitutions. I’m afraid I’ve gone a little crazy with new recipes from a paleo cookbook the past several weeks. :-) I use coconut oil in place of my usual EVOO for sautéing and both coconut oil and coconut milk for baking and in many of my breakfast, lunch and dinner meals. After reading a few of these posts, I think I’ll stop for a week or so to see if my complexion clears up. I hear CO is such a healthy option, so I’m going to feel bad if I find I’m sensitive to it. :-(

  10. judith antoine says:

    I am 60 and have never even during adolescence suffered from spots or acne but about 18 months ago I began to get deep spots which took a long time to clear(6 weeks or more) I tried eliminating various foods as I have a history of food sensitivities and I stopped using all face creams and make up(I also washed my face with water twice a day and used essential oils which seemed to help) and after some time they began to occur less and less frequently and then disappeared completely. I was delighted and about a month ago I began eating coconut oil again. I love it and do not eat dairy. A week ago spots began appearing again! It is of course very difficult to be sure of cause and effect but I am going to stop eating the coconut oil and see what happens…….

  11. J says:

    I have had the same reaction to coconut butter on my chin, I believe after eating Artisanas coconut butter. I started eating this and broke out stopped for a while and my skin calmed down but couldn’t believe that it was the coconut so I started eating it again and same thing happened. Now it doesn’t seem to happen when I cook with coconut milk in say curries, but it does when I eat the butter as a spread or something like that. I wonder could it be the way it is made by that brand?

  12. JL says:

    same thing happened to me, although less sever acne, but consistent. each time i stop with the coconut oil for a few days, i quit getting new spots on my skin, which usually occur on my face and scalp. i love coconut oil, but i am 99% sure that the spots (which are very similar to zits, but stay around longer) are my body’s way of saying enough. not that coco oil is bad, but too much of anything is bad, and that is our bodies’ way of saying, “enough, for now”

  13. CL says:

    my skin is usually fine but the minute i have one teaspoon of coconut oil i start having massive teenage style breakouts (which were never even that bad as a teenager) – sometimes even later the same night like my body can’t process it or digest it properly. i had stopped using it but then read about drinking coffee with a teaspoon of coconut oil in it as an energy boost, and it did give me great energy all day without sugar cravings, but by the next morning my face had broken out terribly and i had not done anything differently except the oil. it was black coffee – no sugar/sweetener or dairy – just the coconut oil. not everyone’s body is the same so my guess is that it could be a myriad of reasons (allergy, hormones, enzymes, sebum/inflammation, glucose, liver, gallbladder, digestive health or other things as yet unknown). my mom went through a similar phase when she started taking flax oil, but she said her body assimilated it in a week and the break outs stopped. i haven’t had that luck. a friend of mine takes bentonite magma supplements which i guess soak up the excess oil in her system so she said that helps? i’ve been wondering if i shouldn’t just eat actual whole pieces of coconut instead of isolating the oil? maybe all i need is the rest of the coconut to balance things out – will try it and find out :) good luck to all!

  14. Nwabisa Mfingwana says:

    Very interesting I found this site, I have been suffering from a bad breakout, pimple after pimple and very sore pimples. I never had pimples even in my teens, so you can imagine how frustrating it has been. I have recently been away on holiday and interestingly enough, not even one pimple appeared. I am back at home, hardly 3 days the pimples are popping out again. The only difference is that at home I strictly use coconut oil! Am going to stop using it till the end of January and see!

  15. Monza says:

    Hi, i have exactly the same problem. I am eating very consciously at the moment. decided to stop eating dairy and swiched to coconut milk. i started breaking out in very deep pimples on my face. never had it before as a teenager. it must be the milk. I am very disappointed as i don’t want to have dairly full of antibiotics. i want to find a healthy subsitutue. do you think organic rice milk woul solve the problem? what is it in coconut milk that causes this skin reaction?

  16. Monza says:

    one more question. Will rice or hemp milk cause the same skin reaction?

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