The Coco Cult
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Chances are you have at least one friend who's joined the cult of coconut. Many swear by the tropical fruit for its powerful health and beauty benefits, praising coconut-derived ingredients like oil, water, and extracts for their wealth of antioxidants and naturally antibacterial, anti-inflammatory properties.
According to Jessica Weiser, M.D., of New York Dermatology Group, "Coconut oil is a saturated fat that is high in medium-chain fatty acids, which, when applied to the skin, have been shown to improve the barrier function and hydrate the skin." The CliffsNotes on coconut: It's one of the buzzy "new" ingredients that people have been using for every purpose imaginable—eating, cooking, brushing their teeth, and slathering onto their faces and bodies. And it seems that nearly everyone—well, not everyone—is pretty obsessed.
Curious to see whether coconut is capable of improving my skin and hair, I swapped my usual products for either coconut oil (based on Dr. Weiser's advice to find "a virgin oil that hasn't been hydrogenated, bleached, refined, deodorized, or otherwise processed") or coconut-based products—for seven days.
The result? Not only did I smell like a piña colada for a week—though not a soul seemed to mind—but I was thrilled with my smoother skin, shinier hair, and the wonderful beachy scent that seemed to follow me everywhere.
But don't take my word for it: Keep reading to find out which products I used, why they worked, and whether you too might soon become a coconut convert.
Lesson #1: Coconut oil is one heck of a makeup remover.
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In order to test the dozens of coconut-related claims on the interwebs, I used raw coconut oil—in the form of Kopari's 100% unrefined, pure-organic virgin Coconut Melt ($36; Kopari)—as much as possible. In addition to incorporating the oil into my regimen, I experimented with other products (made with coconut oil, water, or extracts) as well.
My first trial called for replacing makeup remover with Coconut Melt. Like the name promises, the oil melted on contact into my skin, efficiently dissolving all traces of concealer and even waterproof eyeliner in one fell swoop. All I had to do was wipe my face with a warm, damp towel, and I was left with a squeaky-clean complexion. But the best part? My skin didn't feel dry or tight, which Los Angeles-based dermatologist Jessica Wu, M.D., says is a benefit of using coconut oil to break up your makeup. "It won't strip your skin like a foaming cleanser," she explains.
Though dermatologists generally agree that coconut oil works well for most skin types, especially dry and mature, there are conflicting reports about its impact on zits. "One component of coconut oil has been shown to fight acne-causing bacteria, so some people claim that it can clear up breakouts," says Dr. Wu. "But I haven't seen research showing that coconut oil itself can help acne."
Adds Dr. Weiser: "Those with acne should avoid putting coconut oil onto acne-prone areas because the oil can be occlusive and clog pores, worsening breakouts."
Lesson #2: Even in wipe form, coconut is a badass cleanser.
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Because I'm always in a hurry (aren't we all?), I also wanted to find a coconut-based cleanser that's good on the go. Enter: Yes To's Coconut Cleansing Wipes ($5.99; Yes To Carrots). Formulated with coconut oil, coconut water, and kukui-nut extract, these disposable towelettes not only smell like a beach vacation, but they're gentle on your skin.
Whereas the richer Coconut Melt liquefied my makeup for removal, these wipes focused on soothing skin and whisking away surface impurities. Afterward, my face felt refreshed and conditioned. My tip? Plan on using at least two wipes if you're cleaning off a full face of makeup.
Photo: Yes to Carrots
Lesson #3: As a body moisturizer, coconut oil doesn't absorb quickly — but that can be a good thing!
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Since coconut oil is touted as the ultimate hydrator, I applied Coconut Melt as an all-over body moisturizer. "It's rich in fatty acids, so it helps keep skin soft and moisturized," says Dr. Wu. A dollop of the buttery oil worked wonders, lending my dry, still-stuck-in-winter limbs a gorgeous sheen—sans greasiness. But don't expect the stuff to sink in and disappear; two hours later, my shoulders, arms, and legs were still glossy. Translation: My skin felt great, but I would be hesitant to go this heavy every day—or if I were wearing delicate fabrics.
However, Earth tu Face's eco-friendly Coconut Body Butter ($42; Earth tu Face), a mix of organic cold-pressed coconut oil, olive oil, and cocoa-seed butter, offers a different experience. The balm (which, like Coconut Melt, can turn to a liquid consistency when warm) worked to soften and smooth my skin—but with just a little less shine.
Because it's not pure coconut oil, it also absorbed a little faster. Both are excellent options for parched skin, depending on whether you want a night-on-the-town glow or a subtle luster.
Photo: Earth tu Face
Lesson #4: Coconut and charcoal are a powerful pairing.
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Though there are plenty of DIY mask recipes available (which call for blending coconut oil with honey, avocado, or other ingredients), Cocovít's Coconut Charcoal Face Mask ($38; available at Cocovít) saved me a trip to the grocery store.
The powder boasts activated charcoal, which acts as a magnet for toxins, as well as coconut oil for its hydrating properties. Whereas most detoxifying charcoal masks leave my skin feeling tight and taut afterward, this paste didn't. The fact that the mask is able to draw out impurities without overly drying your skin makes it a winner—and I chalk it up to the formula's clever addition of coconut oil.
Lesson #5: Coconut is changing the sheet-mask game.
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Another mask I tried and loved was from Farmacy's line of supercharged coconut gel masks (Farmacy Hydrating Coconut Gel Mask, $24 for a set of three; Farmacy). While I'm still a huge proponent of sheet masks, the structure of gel masks helps them better adhere to the unique contours of your face.
Farmacy's mask-making process is special: The brand infuses fermented coconut fruit with fresh botanicals, then presses the formula into cellulose fiber to create each mask's consistency. That means the fabric itself packs plenty of natural moisture. Thirty minutes later, my skin felt moist to the touch and appeared restored and replenished.
Lesson #6: You can ditch your deodorant for coconut oil.
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Combined with arrowroot powder or various other odor-fighting ingredients, antibacterial coconut oil can make a natural, better-for-you deodorant you can whip up at home. "It contains three different fatty acids—caprylic acid, capric acid, and lauric acid—of which caprylic acid is known to inhibit the growth of candida, a common yeast," explains Dr. Weiser. "Additionally these medium-chain fatty acids have natural antimicrobial properties against some bacteria, viruses, and more."
If you don't have arrowroot powder on hand (I didn't), Simply Fair's all-natural, aluminum-free Deodorant Balm ($12; Simply Fair) is a great alternative. A blend of coconut oil, shea butter, baking soda, and the elusive arrowroot powder, this formula helped fend off odors over the course of an entire workday. As a bonus, it helped keep my underarms supple and hydrated—which isn't usually the case when it comes to your everyday deodorant.
Photo: Simply Fair
Lesson #7: Your dry, brittle strands will drink up coconut oil.
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While I'd heard coconut oil praised as a magic elixir for hair (the fix for frizz, dandruff, and the list goes on), I was interested in its legitimacy as a deep-conditioning hair mask. "Due to its structure, coconut oil is able to penetrate the cuticle of the hair shaft to help hydrate and repair dry or damaged hair," says Dr. Weiser. "It contains polyphenolic acids that are potent antioxidants and can help reverse signs of sun damage and aging."
To prove this theory, I coated my tresses from root to tip in my Coconut Melt. Forty minutes later, after I'd shampooed my strands clean, my hair appeared significantly shinier and surprisingly fuller (especially the next morning). While I expected the former, I attributed the latter to the fact that coconut oil is supposed to help with hair growth—which may have contributed to my slightly more voluminous-looking locks.
If you're in a rush, Pacifica's nourishing Coconut Super Power Damage Control Mask ($16; Ulta Beauty) is a speedier way of incorporating coconut oil (in addition to jojoba-seed oil and fruit extracts) into your hair routine. As instructed, I applied the formula post-shampoo and rinsed clean. It took only one or two applications until I noticed softer strands, fewer tangles and funky knots in the mornings, and an overall healthy shine—proof that coconut oil may very well be a hair-care superpower.
Photo: Ulta Beauty
Lesson #8: Coconut is a bath-time booster—and smells amazing!
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Rumor has it that immersing yourself in a coconut oil-enhanced warm bath is supposed to thoroughly moisturize your skin. To verify this claim, I scooped some raw coconut oil into my tub. The results were immediate and obvious: baby-soft, satiny-smooth skin. While applying coconut oil directly onto your skin provides extreme hydration, this method is better suited for anyone who just needs some lightweight lubrication.
For a similar emollient effect, I suggest Herbivore Botanicals' Coconut Soak ($18; Herbivore Botanicals), which is made with dehydrated coconut-milk powder. In powder—instead of oil—form, the bath soak leaves you with a sweet coconut-vanilla scent and seriously supple skin. Goodbye, scaly legs and rough knees!
Photo: Herbivore Botanicals
Lesson #9: Coconut oil is the key to kissable lips.
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Determined to use my raw coconut oil on virtually every part of my body possible, I slathered it onto my lips. No surprise: My lips soaked it in like a sponge, resulting in a perfectly moisturized pucker. (I recommend blotting once with a tissue for less shine.)
For a similar outcome with the added perk of highly concentrated color, I test-drove RMS Beauty's double-duty lip2cheek ($36; RMS Beauty). Coconut oil, the formula's star ingredient, lends the tint its creamy texture and is responsible for nourishing your lips, while natural pigments add sheer, yet buildable color. This coconut-derived tinted balm is a one-two punch solution for those with chapped lips who want a pop of color too.
Photo: RMS Beauty
Lesson #10: Coconut adds a host of skin-caring benefits to makeup.
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After replacing several other products with Coconut Melt (including swapping my shaving cream and undereye cream for the oil—both with wonderfully hydrating and positive results), I knew I'd already proved its overall efficacy. Next, I wondered how well coconut oil worked as a makeup ingredient, since so many brands have utilized it as a secret weapon in cosmetics.
Take Marc Jacobs Beauty's Under(cover) Perfecting Coconut Face Primer ($44; Marc Jacobs Beauty), which features five coconut-based ingredients: coconut fruit, water, milk, polysaccharides, and extracts. My first application of the fluid primer gave my complexion an instant smoothing, blurring effect, prepping it for my foundation, which remained intact well into evening.
How? Not only does the formula infuse skin with vitamins and antioxidants, but the coconut water-derived polysaccharides are designed to mirror the effect of synthetic primer ingredients, while still allowing for skin to breathe. Winner! [For the full story, head over to Refinery29!]
More from Refinery29:
One Huge Skincare Mistake, 3 Easy Solutions
I Drank A Gallon Of Water A Day For Better Skin — & Here's What Happened
Your Sunscreen Might Not Be Protecting You As Well As You Think
Photo: Marc Jacobs