This article originally appeared in the February 19, 2021 edition of healthline.com
Written by Daley Quinn, Photography by VERA LAIR / Stocksy
Coconut water is praised for its hydrating and moisturizing benefits for the skin. This is thanks to the abundance of natural vitamins and minerals found in the heart of the coconut.
That said, when is it better to eat it, and when is it better to apply it directly to your skin?
Although coconut water contains important vitamins and nutrients, most skin care benefits associated with coconut water are anecdotal. However, some research indicates coconut water may offer benefits when applied topically.
Read on to explore the potential skin benefits of coconut water as well as the safety concerns.
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Benefits of coconut water for skin
Coconut water may have several benefits when applied directly to the skin.
Dry or sensitive skin
Coconut water may help nourish and moisturize dry skin when applied topically, because it contains multiple sugars and amino acids, according to Dr. Marie Hayag, a board certified dermatologist and founder of 5th Avenue Aesthetics in New York City.
According to Diane Madfes, MD, a board certified dermatologist and assistant professor of dermatology at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York City, coconut water also has high electrolyte content. This may be soothing when applied to the skin.
Acne and acne scars
A preliminary 2017 studyTrusted Source suggests that coconut water has antimicrobial properties, which may help aid in fighting acne.
“However, there is no significant evidence [indicating that] topical use of coconut water can benefit acne, acne scarring, skin pigmentation, or dark patches,” Hayag says.
Although coconut water alone won’t heal acne, it can be used in your skin care routine alongside other ingredients to help speed up the process.
“Mix coconut water with turmeric to form a mask for acne-prone skin, or use it in a mist for dryness,” Madfes suggests. “[Coconut water] won’t help with the [acne] scars, but it’s a great way to speed up healing.”
A 2015 study conducted on rats found that consumption of coconut water may boost antioxidant systems. This can neutralize the effects of free radicals, promoting anti-aging — or pro-aging, as we like to call it — benefits.
While this study was done on rats ingesting coconut water, there is currently no research suggesting that topical coconut water application will aid in pro-aging benefits.
What coconut water can’t do for skin
Applying coconut water to the skin won’t help with some skin concerns, such as:
- pigmentation and dark circles
- skin brightening
There’s no evidence suggesting that topical application of coconut water can reduce redness, blackheads, or skin pigmentation.
Although coconut water does contain skin-brightening ingredients, like vitamin C and amino acids, the levels of these ingredients are too low to show any brightening benefits on the skin, Madfes notes.
Benefits of consuming coconut water for skin
Coconut water contains vitamins, like vitamin B2, vitamin B3, and vitamin C, as well as other ingredients that may be beneficial to the skin.
Consuming coconut water may help:
- reduce wrinkles and fine lines
- increase skin hydration and elasticity
- increase collagen production
- give skin a visible “glow”
“Coconut water is composed of a phytohormone called kinetin, which may provide anti-aging and antioxidant effects,” Hayag says. “Additionally, it’s rich in micronutrients that aid in antioxidant activity against free radicals.”
Thanks to the abundance of electrolytes and antioxidants found in coconut water, ingesting the powerhouse liquid may have benefits for the skin.
“Keeping yourself properly hydrated doesn’t necessarily hydrate your skin directly, but it can lead to overall improved health that can translate to the skin,” Hayag says.
Having a balance of electrolytes in the body keeps you hydrated and is essential for many bodily functions. Coconut water is rich in electrolytes, including:
“It’s important to note that being inadequately hydrated can lead to dry, itchy skin and fine lines,” says Sara Lutz, a registered dietician and nutrition coach at Wellory. “Staying hydrated is crucial to avoiding these adverse effects.”
Coconut water also contains high amounts of vitamin C, which is an essential cofactor in collagen synthesis.
“As we age, we lose collagen, leading to thinner and more fragile skin,” Lutz explains. “Encouraging collagen production through vitamin C intake will increase the elasticity of the skin, slowing the aging of your skin.”
According to Amy Shapiro, MS, RD, CDN, registered dietician and founder of Real Nutrition, coconut water is “nature’s Gatorade.”
“When we’re adequately hydrated, our skin remains more plump and lush, and we maintain a healthy glow,” she says. “[Coconut water] also contains vitamin C, which helps with cell turnover and prevents wrinkles.”
Staying hydrated also helps to rid the body of toxins, which may lead to clearer skin with a more radiant glow.
What’s the most effective use?
Because there are too few studies done on topical application of coconut water for skin, it might be more beneficial to drink coconut water than to apply it topically.
“While there hasn’t been much literature surrounding the topical application of coconut water, generally ingredients tend to have greater efficacy when they are ingested instead of applied topically,” Hayag says.
That said, it’s important to recognize that absorbing nutrients requires a healthy gut. Coconut water alone isn’t a quick fix, according to Shapiro.
“It does seem to be a great cleanser, and it does provide hydration to the skin when used topically. However, I always promote hydrating from the inside out,” she says.
Possible safety concerns
Unless you’re allergic to coconut water, applying coconut water to your skin is generally considered safe. That said, it’s always a good idea to do a patch test to make sure your skin will tolerate a new ingredient.
Consuming coconut water is likely safe for most adults.
“One of the few contraindications is for those individuals who have chronic kidney disease or take medications, like ACE inhibitors,” explains Lutz. “Due to the high potassium levels found in coconut water, those individuals … should be cautious.”
“If this is the case, then I’d recommend sticking to topical use of coconut water,” Lutz says. “One last thing to note is to make sure you’re buying and consuming 100 percent coconut water with no added sugar or preservatives.”
Drinking coconut water may not be ideal for individuals with kidney disease, digestive problems, or who take ACE inhibitors.
If you’re unsure, talk with a doctor before adding coconut water to your diet.
How to use coconut water on your face
You can use coconut water as a replacement for face wash and toner, or you can use it as a supplemental ingredient in a face mask or your favorite moisturizer.
- Splash your face with coconut water.
- Apply your cleanser as usual.
- Use coconut water to rinse away the cleanser.
- Drench a cotton ball with coconut water.
- Apply to clean, dry skin.
- Follow with moisturizer
Thayers Alcohol Free Coconut Water and Witch Hazel Toner is another popular option that’s available at most drug stores.
- Combine 2 tsp. of coconut water, 1/2 tsp. of honey, and 1/2 tsp. of turmeric powder into a bowl and mix.
- Apply to your skin.
- Let the mask sit for 10 minutes, then rinse it off with warm water.
You can also try e.l.f. Cosmetics Coconut Water-Infused Moisturizing Sheet Mask for a serious soak of hydration.
- Funnel pure coconut water into a mist bottle.
- Spray coconut water onto skin throughout the day for a brightening, dewy effect.
- Add a few drops of coconut water to your moisturizer or facial oil for added hydration.
Pacifica Coconut Probiotic Water Rehab Cream is another option for thirsty, stressed-out skin.
There are only a few studies that suggest applying coconut water topically may benefit the skin, but the research behind consuming coconut water for overall health is extensive.
Consuming coconut water may help boost vitamin, electrolyte, and mineral levels in the body, increasing hydration for your body and skin.