Oil Slick

At least once a week my fellow colleagues and I find ourselves having conversations with patients who swear by using coconut oil as their moisturizer versus a more traditional cream. I thought it would be interesting to look at the potential beauty benefits of coconut oil but the more I started to dig, the more olive oil started to take a more prominent place on my radar. In the end, this article wound up becoming a head-to-head comparison between the merits of topically applied coconut oil and olive oil.

This article has been challenging to write from the get-go. As much as people tout these oils as moisturizers, there’s very little substantiated research and data out there for their topical use (especially coconut oil). As a food, both oils are tasty and almost identical calorically with one tablespoon of coconut oil coming in at 117 calories and olive oil with 119. When it comes to heart health, though, olive oil wins. It has a lot more “good” monounsaturated fat and much less saturated fat, but what about when you apply it to the skin?

“Antioxidant” may seem like a buzz word being thrown around on TV commercials for products ranging from skin creams and makeup to juices but they’re very helpful in the skin. Antioxidants prevent cellular oxidation that can damage and eventually kill healthy cells. Polyphenols, and phenolic compounds, are abundant dietary antioxidants most commonly found in fruits and plant-based juices. (Augustin Scalbert, 2005) Olive oil has 36 distinct phenolic structures along with carotenoids and 160 times more vitamin E than coconut oil! (Sara Cicerale, 2010) Unfortunately I couldn’t find any research out there that mentions exactly how many antioxidants are in coconut oil, but what I did find is that the number varies depending on where the raw materials are grown and how the oil is produced. (Marina, Man, Nazimah, & Amin, 2009) A couple of the more prominent phenol compounds in coconut oil are ferulic acid and catechin. (Seneviratne & Dissanayake, 2008) I’m giving the antioxidant win to olive oil.

There are several studies that support the notion that fatty acids have antimicrobial and antifungal properties to them. 50 percent of coconut oil’s fat content comes from medium-chain lauric acid, which has been shown to help kill certain viruses and bacteria, and possibly the acne-forming P. acnes bacteria. (Kabara, Swieczkowski, Conley, & Truant, 1972) (Yang, et al., 2009) It is “effective against a variety of viruses that are lipid-coated [because it]… primarily destroy[s] these organisms’ membranes.” (Kabara, Swieczkowski, Conley, & Truant, 1972) Olive oil’s main ingredient, oleic acid, pales in its ability and effectiveness to inhibit these aggressors.  (Kabara, Swieczkowski, Conley, & Truant, 1972) Coconut wins this category.

Olive and coconut oils have been smeared on skin for thousands of years in their respective cultures as protectors and wound healers, added to soaps, shampoos, body gels, and moisturizers. Even though they have gained in popularity for topical application over the last several years, our ancient ancestors were ahead of the curve. Coconut oil, in texture, is more occlusive than olive and so it forms a nice barrier to better prevent trans-epidermal water loss. One study published in Pediatrics measured epidermal water loss in pre-term, very low-weight babies. It discovered that it was better than mineral oil at preventing water loss in these high-risk babies by as much as 46 percent, but research around how coconut oil is actually benefitting the skin at a cellular level is pretty thin. (Sushma Nangia, 2008) With olive oil’s hefty dose of antioxidants, large amount of vitamin E, and hydrating squalene and linoleic acid, it does a lot more than just sit on the skin’s surface. One more win for olive oil.

In the end, after hours of research, my very unscientific opinion is that olive oil is a better moisturizer than coconut oil. With that being said, use what you like if it works for you, but know that today’s technology is creating amazing products that work better to actively correct what you don’t like about your skin. Give the office a call to find out more about some amazing moisturizers.

Augustin Scalbert, I. T. (2005). Polyphenols: antioxidants and beyond. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition , 2155-2175.

Kabara, J. J., Swieczkowski, D. M., Conley, A. J., & Truant, J. P. (1972). Fatty Acids and Derivatives as Antimicrobial Agents. Antimicrobial Agents and Chemotherapy , 23-28.

Marina, A., Man, Y., Nazimah, S., & Amin, I. (2009). Chemical Properties of Virgin Coconut Oil. Journal of the American Oil Chemists’ Society , 301-307.

Sara Cicerale, L. L. (2010, Feb 2). https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2852848/. Retrieved Feb 10, 2017, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov

Seneviratne, K. N., & Dissanayake, D. M. (2008). Variation of phenolic content in coconut oil extracted by two conventional methods. International Journal of Food Science and Technology , 597-602.

Sushma Nangia, V. P. (2008). Topical Coconut Oil Application Reduces Transepidermal Water Loss in Preterm Very Low Birth Weight Neonates: A Randomized Clinical Trial. Pediatrics , s139.

Yang, D., Pornpattananangkul, D., Nakatsuji, T., Chan, M., Carson, D., Huang, C., et al. (2009, October 30). The antimicrobial activity of liposomal lauric acids against Propionibacterium acnes. Biomaterials , pp. 6035-40.


 Written By: Sarah Rutherford, PMA.