Medically reviewed by Katelyn Hagerty, FNP
Written by Our Editorial Team
Last updated 8/18/2021
Coconut oil — it’s not just for pretentious meal preparation and vegan popcorn with an odd aftertaste.
You’ve probably heard plenty about coconut oil’s benefits for the skin. The suntan world loves it (even if covering yourself in oil and sitting outside isn’t the best thing for your skin).
But what else can coconut oil do for your skin? It turns out, a lot. Coconut oil — especially virgin coconut oil — has some properties that make it a great element of a healthy skincare routine, and some of those properties might even help you fight wrinkles.
We’re not saying slathering yourself in it is akin to a dip in the fountain of youth, but there are some benefits that make coconut oil and products containing it worth a second look.
We’ll get to those in a moment. First, we need to cover some basics about your skin, wrinkles and how the two cross paths.
Your skin is a complex organ, but the important elements of it for the purpose of our discussion are three major proteins: collagen, elastin and keratin.
Collagen is the first and arguably most important of these proteins. It’s also the most plentiful. Collagen is responsible for the “firmness” of normal skin, and its role as connective tissue means it keeps your skin cells attached to one another, so you don’t literally fall apart.
As the name suggests, elastin is responsible for your skin’s flexibility and skin elasticity. When someone squeezes your cheek, elastin is why it doesn’t just stay that way forever.
Last, but certainly not least (there is no least — these are all important), is keratin. Keratin is a sort of protective barrier or armor.
It’s a tough protein, capable of taking damage to protect the more vulnerable inner tissues from harm due to things like the sun.
Speaking of harm and damage: it’s time to talk about every aging person’s least favorite skin subject: wrinkles.
Damaged skin can come from seemingly anywhere. Lines form on your face due to stress to the skin, when the biomechanics of your skin fail to nourish and repair damage efficiently.
That stress can include everything from the sun, air quality or even laying on your pillowcase, to eating the wrong foods or sleeping the wrong way.
Other causes include poor nutrition, smoking and chronic insufficient water intake.
The two major theories of skin aging posit that wrinkles are caused by one of the two primary mechanisms: intrinsic sources, like decreased function or cellular lifespan, and the extrinsic factors, including inflammation, external sources of damage and the formation of free radicals.
It’s best to assume they’re both right to some extent.
Okay, yes, coconut oil is oil that comes from coconuts. We know that, you know that. But the more important questions are: what kind of oil is coconut oil, what’s in coconut oil and what does any of that have to do with your skin?
Coconut oil is an extract from various parts of the coconut tree, including the kernel and palm.
It’s composed of many fatty acids, including lauric acid, myristic acid, palmitic acid, caprylic acid, capric acid, oleic acid, linoleic acid and stearic acid.
Virgin coconut oil, which is mainly used in skin health, is when oil is extracted from the actual meat of a coconut.
So what can coconut oil do for your skin? Well, quite a bit, actually.
Coconut oil has been shown to function as a safe and effective mineral oil for moisturizing, and improves barrier function for the skin in certain applications, including treatment of atopic dermatitis.
It also has been shown to protect your skin from UVB rays. And it’s also very useful in helping to protect sensitive skin.
In summation, coconut oil contains various moisturizing, antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory properties, all of which are a benefit to general skin health and dermal wound healing.
The above benefits are all tied to elements of wrinkle prevention. As we mentioned, you need healthy cellular function and moisture to dry skin to continue having healthy, glowing, young-looking skin.
But coconut oil might offer some additional benefits. Coconut oil can also help your skin produce collagen more efficiently.
Collagen, as we noted, is an important part of firm, full and youthful-looking skin, and producing collagen is your skin’s best way of keeping your face bouncy and from beginning to sag, deflate or create space for wrinkles to form.
There are several ingredients that you should look for in skincare products that will actually aid you in combating wrinkles and signs of aging.
The main ones are vitamin C, retinoids and moisturizers.
Retinoids are technically vitamins. Specifically, they’re synthetic vitamin A compounds, which benefit your skin in two ways: they remove dead cells from your face, and encourage the synthesis of collagen.
Prescription retinoids in their current form have been around since the 1960s, and particular versions like tretinoin have been recommended since then for safe, effective use.
You can learn more about tretinoin and how it treats wrinkles in our guide to Exfoliating With Tretinoin.
Vitamin C works to spare your vulnerable cells from the damage caused by free radicals by acting as a sort of airbag. It gives free radicals the electrons they crave so your cells aren’t robbed of them and can continue to function normally.
A serum, like hims’ daily Morning Glow Vitamin C Serum, is a topical application used in the morning to both brighten dull skin and protect it throughout the day.
Coconut oil may help you maintain moisture to help fight against dry skin, but one of the best moisturizers you can invest in is something called hyaluronic acid, which can bind to over one thousand times its weight in water. You can try this moisturizer for men.
Your body makes it naturally, but it can be made by bacteria for pharmacological purposes.
Studies show it’s much more effective when injected, but studies have also shown it has topical benefits, as well.
The American Society for Dermatologic Surgery has noted there are several methods available for reducing or eliminating fine lines, frown lines and other wrinkles beyond these ingredients or major surgery.
Injections like fillers or Botox® can provide combination relief by arresting the movements of muscles that cause fine lines, while the fillers add a moisture-retaining compound to your skin to “fill” out loose and not-so-firm areas.
Preventative measures are also an option, and they include getting a full night’s rest, wearing sunglasses (so you squint less) and training yourself not to squint or furrow without them (so you avoid the repetitive motions that cause lines).
There are also wrinkle creams. We’re not just bragging when we say a good example is hims’ Goodnight Wrinkle Cream.
It uses the same active ingredient as many popular filler injections, but you spread it on before bed instead of paying a dermatologist to inject it directly into your face, which sounds a lot less fun.
Coconut oil certainly may have a place in the pantheon of wrinkle treatments, but it shouldn’t be the only member. A natural remedy here and there is great, but it may not work for everything.
As with anything else related to your health (cosmetic or otherwise), problems that you want to address should include the input and advice from a healthcare professional.
Healthcare professionals are trained to spot underlying causes you can’t diagnose from reading articles on the Internet (not even this article), and while the primary benefit of consulting with them for your wrinkle concerns might be better-tailored treatments, the secondary benefit is that they may notice bigger red flags that might suggest more serious underlying issues.
You may see skin issues, but it’s possible those are a signal of something more serious lurking beneath the skin.
What you do next is up to you, but finding the solution might very well be about including professional advice. So if you’re serious about fighting or preventing wrinkles, start there.