Though it’s a pantry staple in many households, coconut oil is also a popular beauty treatment. We asked an expert to weigh in on the effectiveness of its most popular uses.

By Kayleigh Donahue Hodes
Updated August 16, 2019

One quick search of "coconut oil" on Pinterest and you'd think it's the secret to solving all of the world's problems. Its natural remedies do work—sometimes. We asked New York City dermatologist Francesca Fusco to sort fact from fiction.

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As a body lotion: Yes

This beauty oil melts into skin, literally. "It's not going to be better than a traditional lotion, but it definitely can protect against moisture evaporation in your skin," Fusco says.

As a hair mask: Yes

"Absolutely—there was even a study done comparing coconut oil to sunflower and mineral oils, and it turns out coconut oil can penetrate deeper into the hair shaft than those other options," says Fusco, adding that it reduces protein loss that can occur from things like heat styling and brushing, so it's definitely worth incorporating into your routine from time to time.

To prevent stretch marks: No

"Stretch marks form when skin expands and stretches and the collagen and elastic fibers deep down are pulling, which creates little scars—it's trauma," Fusco says. "I think people imagine that using an oil as the skin stretches will help, but it just doesn't work that way." To really tackle the lines, treat them with a prescription retinoid while they're still new and reddish purple—that's when you'll have the best luck, she says.

As a cuticle oil: Yes

Coconut oil is obviously an oil, so yes, it's going to soften the skin around the nail bed. But Fusco says there's another reason it's a smart move: "It can fight against bacteria, so it's a particularly good idea to use it when you're pushing back or clipping your cuticles," she says. Keep it on hand for your next minimalist manicure.

As a natural makeup remover: Yes

"It can emulsify whatever is on your lashes just like any other oil or oil-based makeup remover," Fusco says. Use your fingers to smoothe a teaspoon-size glob of coconut oil onto skin, then wipe off with a clean washcloth or cotton ball.

As a homemade deodorant: No

"I can't imagine this working—maybe people think because it has antibacterial properties it might kill the germs and bacteria that cause odor, but I don't think it would be able to do so," Fusco says. If you really want a homemade deodorant, consider baking soda mixed with some sort of wax, which could be a possible option, Fusco says.

To fight frizz: Sort of

While the oil will coat the hair and squash your frizz, Fusco questions whether someone would be happy with the resulting look—it may be more slicked down than you were hoping for.

To soothe psoriasis and eczema: Yes

Trans-epidermal water loss (when water evaporates from the skin) is the problem for people with eczema on the face, so Fusco says coconut oil definitely can help with a flare up. Psoriasis happens when the skin turnover rate is much faster than it should be, resulting in raw, red skin, so the anti-inflammatory properties of the oil (thanks to lauric acid) is a nice, natural choice for calming everything down. "It's also great because it doesn't have any preservatives, which can sometimes set off these skin conditions," Fusco says. Products containing hyaluronic acid can help with dry skin, too.

To soothe bug bites: Maybe

"Coconut oil's natural anti-inflammatory properties could possibly reduce redness and swelling," Fusco says, adding that for the same reason, it might help quiet down a pimple as well.

As an eye cream: No

When it comes to fighting off puffiness and dark circles, coconut oil is not going to cut it. "There's nothing in coconut oil that could help these situations—plus, it could migrate into your eyes and create a film on your contacts," Fusco says. Skip it!

As a natural sunscreen: Technically, yes – but just don't.

"I absolutely do not recommend or endorse this, but technically speaking it does offer an SPF of about 4 to 6," Fusco says. But unless you find yourself trapped on a desert island with only a coconut to crack open, Fusco says it in no way can or should replace a regular sunscreen.

As a lip balm: Yes

Fusco says there isn't a difference between coconut oil and any other oil to help with chapped lips (but the actual experience might not be as easy as reaching for a more traditional salve or balm.)

To fade dark spots: No

There aren't any properties in coconut oil that can help reduce the appearance of dark spots, but because it is anti-inflammatory, it could possibly help prevent the development of hyperpigmentation that results from inflammation like a pimple if you treat the pimple with it.

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