Coconut oil is among the most popular ingredients in skincare and haircare products, and for good reason: This powerful plant oil is praised as a treatment for everything from dry skin to frizzy hair. It’s been used throughout Asia for centuries in cosmetics and remains a huge part of traditional diets in many parts of the world. You can find coconut oil everywhere, from supermarket shelves to the skincare aisle at your local pharmacy.I We’re betting that you’re familiar with at least some coconut oil benefits—but there’s always more to learn.
Ahead, we’re breaking down everything there is to know about this beloved ingredient. You’ll learn where coconut oil comes from, what it’s used for, and how to incorporate it into your beauty routine using some of our favorite Kiehl’s products. Read on for our official guide to coconut oil.
What Is Coconut Oil?
Coconut oil is a semi-solid oil derived from the dried fruit and raw milk of the coconut palm tree. It has been used throughout tropical regions for centuries as a natural moisturizer for hair and skin and as a folk remedy for various ailments. It also constitutes a large portion of the diet in many parts of the world, particularly in Southeast Asia, where more than 80 percent of the world’s coconut products are produced.I
Coconut oil is high in saturated fatty acids, including linoleic acid and lauric acid. Virgin coconut oil—that is, oil extracted from raw coconut milk, rather than dried coconut “meat”— is also high in antioxidants, including vitamin E.I Some studies indicate that coconut oil is known to have antibacterial, antifungal, and anti-inflammatory properties, as well.II
What Are The Benefits Of Coconut Oil?
1. It’s an Effective Moisturizer For Skin
Arguably the most well-known benefit of coconut oil for skin is its ability to moisturize and soften. This is mostly due to how it affects the skin’s natural moisture barrier. Studies have shown that using coconut oil topically can help strengthen the cells that make up the skin’s natural moisture barrier, which helps reduce moisture loss and keep skin balanced. It may also help boost collagen production, which is essential for a plump, hydrated complexion.III
Additionally, many of the fatty acids present in coconut oil, including linoleic acid, are known for their ability to absorb deep into the skin. This allows coconut oil to penetrate not just the outermost layer of skin, but also the deeper layers, resulting in more effective hydration. In fact, research shows that coconut oil is as effective as mineral oil—a popular hydrating skincare ingredient—when used as a moisturizer for mild to moderate dryness.III
Coconut oil is one of the main ingredients in our top-rated Creme de Corps Smoothing Oil-To-Foam Body Cleanser. This luxurious cleanser, which also contains grapeseed oil and castor oil, gently cleanses and nourishes the skin for a soft, moisturized feel. To use it, apply a small amount to a loofah (or your bare hand) in the shower and work into a fine lather. Massage over your body in circular motions, paying extra attention to dry areas, and rinse thoroughly. Once you step out of the shower, towel-dry and apply a lightweight body lotion to lock in moisture for soft, supple skin.
2. You Can Use It To Strengthen and Hydrate Hair
Coconut oil is an extremely popular ingredient in haircare products, and here’s why: Research shows that it’s one of the only oils that can actually penetrate inside the hair shaft and reduce protein loss.IV When excessive protein loss occurs, hair becomes brittle and more prone to split ends— so preventing this loss helps keep hair stronger and more resilient.V
Additionally, studies suggest that coconut oil may form a protective barrier around the hair cuticle and prevent excessive water loss. This helps strands stay hydrated and look smoother and shinier. The protective barrier also provides lubrication, which reduces friction and minimizes the risk of breakage caused by brushing or combing.IV Of course, using coconut oil for hair doesn’t mean coating your strands in a thick layer of pure coconut oil from root to tip (that will probably just make your hair look and feel greasy). Instead, reach for haircare products formulated with coconut oil, as they’re designed specifically for your strands.
Our Amino Acid Shampoo stars coconut oil, amino acids, and hydrolyzed wheat protein. Together, these powerful ingredients help cleanse and soften hair while adding volume and shine. It works best when paired with Amino Acid Conditioner, which features coconut and jojoba oils. The conditioner helps strengthen hair and improve manageability.
To use this powerful duo, thoroughly soak hair in the shower. Then, gently massage the shampoo through your strands, working it into a thick, foamy lather. Rinse thoroughly, then comb the conditioner through your tresses, making sure to coat any extra-dry areas, like the ends. Leave it on for a minimum of two minutes to help the powerful ingredients penetrate, and then rinse out for strong, healthy-looking hair.
For an extra boost of luxurious hydration, after conditioning, try Damage Repairing & Rehydrating Leave-In Treatment. This effective treatment contains coconut oil, hyaluronic acid, and ceramides. It replenishes and smoothes dry, damaged hair. Over time, it can also help strengthen hair fibers. The result is less breakage and smoother, shinier hair.
To use it, simply comb a small amount through towel-dried hair. The unique formula automatically attracts to the weakest parts of your hair to strengthen and reinforce the feel of damaged tresses. Once you’ve worked it through your strands, dry and style as you usually would for a lustrous and healthy-looking finish.
KCR Tip: Depending on your hair type and lifestyle, you may not need to wash your hair every day. Learn more in our article How Often Should You Wash Your Hair?
3. It Can Help Soothe Irritation and Reduce Inflammation II
In lip care treatments, the benefits of coconut oil include preventing chapped lips and minimizing inflammation.VI Additionally, coconut oil has been shown to protect against UV radiation.V While you should still wear sunscreen every day, extra protection can’t hurt—especially when it comes to the thin, delicate skin on your lips.
For daily lip care, we recommend Butterstick Lip Treatment. Our moisturizing lip balm stars coconut oil, lemon oil, and squalane and provides up to 12 hours of hydration. The buttery, rich treatment helps nourish lips for a soft, smooth finish.
If you’d prefer something tinted, try Love Oil For Lips. This lightweight hydrating lip oil is formulated with coconut oil and antioxidant-rich acerola cherry. It nourishes lips and boosts moisture. It’s available in four natural-looking, semi-sheer shades (Midnight Orchid, Apothecary Cherry, Botanical Blush, and Neon Pink), plus one untinted variety. Apply the glossy formula directly onto lips whenever they need a moisture boost for a softer, smoother pout.
When your lips need deeper hydration, reach for Buttermask For Lips. The intensely hydrating formula contains coconut oil and rich wild mango butter. Apply a generous layer of the nourishing treatment before bed for soft, supple lips by morning.
Coconut oil is just one of several powerful plant ingredients that we use here at Kiehl’s. For an in-depth look at another of our favorite ingredients, read Discover The Benefits of Cocoa Butter For Skin.
I.Lima, Renan da Silva, and Block, Jane Mara. “Coconut oil: What do we really know about it so far?” Food Quality and Safety, vol. 3,2 61-72. May 2019. doi: 10.1093/fqsafe/fyz004
II.Varma, Sandeep R et al. “In vitro anti-inflammatory and skin protective properties of Virgin coconut oil.” Journal of traditional and complementary medicine vol. 9,1 5-14. 17 Jan. 2018, doi:10.1016/j.jtcme.2017.06.012
III. Lin, Tzu-Kai et al. “Anti-Inflammatory and Skin Barrier Repair Effects of Topical Application of Some Plant Oils.” International journal of molecular sciences vol. 19,1 70. 27 Dec. 2017, doi:10.3390/ijms19010070
IV. Rele, Aarti S, and Mohile, R.B. “Effect of coconut oil on prevention of hair damage, part I.” Journal of Cosmetic Science vol.50, 327-39. Dec. 1999, http://www.beauty-review.nl/wp-content/uploads/2014/06/Effect-of-coconut-oil-on-prevention-of-hair-damage-Part-I.pdf
V. Gavazzoni Dias, Maria Fernanda Reis. “Hair cosmetics: an overview.” International journal of trichology vol. 7,1 (2015): 2-15. doi:10.4103/0974-7753.153450
VI. Elmore, Lindsey K, et al. “Treatment of dermal infections with topical coconut oil.” Natural Medicine Journal vol. 6,5. May 2014. https://www.naturalmedicinejournal.com/journal/2014-05/treatment-dermal-infections-topical-coconut-oil
VII. Diaz, Patricia I et al. “Fungal-Bacterial Interactions and Their Relevance To Oral Health: Linking The Clinic and The Bench.” Frontiers In Cellular and Infection Microbiology vol. 4 101. 29 Jul. 2014, doi:10.3389/fcimb.2014.00101