Does coconut oil worsen seborrheic dermatitis?

Coconut oil is a popular treatment for anything under the sun including seborrheic dermatitis because of its antibacterial, anti-inflammatory, and anti-fungal properties. In fact, some call it the miracle oil.

Unfortunately, coconut oil is not easily absorbed by the skin, causing clogged pores and worsening acne. The oil also contains 47% lauric acid, which can feed Malassezia and aggravate SD. However, fractionated coconut oil (MCT oil) is a safe treatment for seborrheic dermatitis. 

Let’s take a deep dive:

What is coconut oil?

Coconut oil is a natural product that is made by pressing fresh coconut meat. The oil is 100% fat, 80-90% of which is saturated fat – mainly lauric acid (47%).

Coconut oil is increasingly used to moisturize the hair and scalp but can be applied anywhere on the body. It is also a popular cooking oil and is highly recommended by people who practise ketogenic or Paleo diets. Interestingly, 72% of the American think coconut is healthy while only 37% of nutritionists agree. 

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Is coconut oil a good natural remedy for seborrheic dermatitis?

Coconut oil has some anti-microbial and antifungal properties and is a commonly recommended home remedy for dandruff. A 2021 study showed that applying coconut oil to the scalp increased good scalp microbiome (as opposed to bad ones like Malassezia furfur) and as a result, improved dandruff.

Having said that, have you ever applied coconut oil to your scalp? It has a fragrance that isn’t too bad but man is it oily! It just sits there and it takes at least 2 shampoos to feel like you’ve gotten all the oil out! (These scalp oils don’t leave your scalp feeling greasy and dirty)

In terms of facial seborrheic dermatitis, there are no studies on whether coconut oil is effective. Based on experience, coconut oil causes more harm than good. I’ve used coconut oil as an oil cleanser and found it OK but as with the scalp, it takes a lot of elbow grease and more foam cleanser than you would usually use to take all the oil off.

Used as a moisturizer, I find the oil too heavy. It sits on the skin, causing clogged ducts and triggering acne breakouts and SD flares. This isn’t surprising considering that coconut oil contains mostly lauric acid which can encourage Malassezia growth.

Can coconut oil make seborrheic dermatitis worse?

Yes, coconut oil can make seborrheic dermatitis worse. The oil is heavy-weight, doesn’t absorb easily into the skin, and contains lauric acid which feeds Malassezia. Topical application of coconut oil can cause oily skin, trigger acne breakouts and aggravate seborrheic dermatitis.

These are other oils to avoid if you have seborrheic dermatitis.

Benefits of coconut oil

There are a number of benefits to using coconut oil – not as many as coconut oil-fanatics would have you belief, but enough to warrant using coconut oil in certain cases.

Coconut oil is known to be effective in treating a variety of scalp issues, including dry scalp and atopic dermatitis. Additionally, it can help to improve the overall health and appearance of the hair.

The oil also has some antifungal and antimicrobial properties and some people swear by it as a mouth gargle.

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Many people ingest coconut oil as part of the keto diet and as a ‘healthy oil’. However, research on the benefits of coconut oil is mostly done on fractionated coconut oil, also known as MCT oil. Ingesting commercial coconut oil can worsen your cholesterol and LDLs.

If you have very dry skin or hair, a few drops of extra virgin coconut oil may help moisturize your skin and locks. However, I see no other reason to apply coconut oil on your skin.

I also don’t see any healthy reason for drinking commercial coconut oil. It can cause more harm than good. Ingest MCT oil instead.

Benefits of fractionated coconut oil

Fractionated coconut oil is obtained by heating coconut oil above its melting point. Then, it’s left to cool and the solid part of the oil is separated from the liquid. This separated oil contains only medium-chain fatty acid. That’s why it’s also called MCT oil.

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When ingested, these fatty acids have a multitude of health benefits. They encourage fat burning, work as a quick source of energy and isn’t stored in the liver.

Fractionated coconut oil (or MCT oil) has proven benefits as a treatment for seborrheic dermatitis. Most MCT oil don’t contain lauric acid. However, some do. Make sure you use an MCT oil that is free of lauric acid so it doesn’t encourage Malassezia growth.

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To wrap up

It’s obvious that you should never use coconut oil as a treatment for seborrheic dermatitis. The oil worsens the symptoms of the condition, and it is not an effective treatment. There are other more effective treatments available that should be used instead.

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