Coconut is not good for sunburn and it can actually make it worse

Coconut is not good for sunburn and it can actually make it worse
Coconut oil it too thick to be a good moisturizerbelchonock/Getty Images
  • You shouldn't apply coconut oil to sunburn because it can trap heat on your skin and prolong painful inflammation.
  • Coconut oil isn't an ideal moisturizer because it is too thick to penetrate the skin properly.
  • Avoid coconut oil as a sunscreen and instead something with SPF 30 or higher to avoid getting sunburnt in the first place.
  • This article was medically reviewed by Debra Jaliman, MD, a board-certified dermatologist with a private practice in New York City.
  • Visit Insider's Health Reference library for more advice.

Coconut oil underwent a surge in popularity a few years ago, with a seemingly endless string of applications from an antibacterial mouthwash to skin moisturizer. But what about helping a sunburn heal? Here's what the research says.

You should not apply coconut oil on a sunburn

Experts agree that coconut oil is not a good treatment for a fresh sunburn, particularly if your skin is raw or blistered.

Coconut oil is a thick, fatty substance that's solid at room temperature – picture something like vaseline. And it's one of the last things you want on sunburned skin because it doesn't address the effect of a burn, says cosmetic dermatologist Kenneth Mark, MD.


That's because applying any kind of oil over a fresh sunburn will trap heat on the surface of your skin, worsening the burn. This can prolong inflammation and keep your skin hot and red for longer, prolonging the healing process.

Don't use coconut oil as a moisturizer for after a sunburn

Orit Markowitz, MD, Director of Pigmented Lesions and Skin Cancer at Mount Sinai in New York says that it only functions as a "topical oil," adding that it is too thick to penetrate the skin and offer any significant hydration. It's mostly just providing some temporary moisturization, one that's not nearly as long-lasting as a thick moisturizing cream. In fact, Markowitz suggests using a product like CeraVe and reapplying multiple times per day to support the skin it its healing process.

"This would not be used for blistering sunburns nor deeper level sunburns." says Evans.


"Oil can also clog your pores and is not the best product to use on your face," says Glenn Kolansky, MD, a dermatologist at Advanced Dermatology Surgery and Laser Center in Tinton Falls, New Jersey.

When to use coconut oil

However, you could test out coconut oil's moisturizing abilities after the worst of your sunburn has healed. It might not help as much as other remedies, like thick moisturizing creams or aloe vera gel which is anti-inflammatory

And you might want to try it out on a patch of skin first. If you don't experience any adverse reactions, you could apply it a few times a day, says Evans.


Look for a product with few, if any, other added ingredients, so that the product is as clean and pure as possible

Think about the importance of avoiding sunburn in the first place. Sunburn causes discoloration, wrinkling of the skin and ultimately skin cancer, says Markowitz. If you're not already incorporating a daily application of sunscreen in your routine, it's time to start.

And no, coconut oil is not a good sunscreen substitute. One 2011 study found that oils including coconut, peanut, and olive oil blocked 20% of UV light from the sun. But that's nothing compared to SPF 15, which filters out 93%, SPF 30, which filters 97%, or SPF 50, which filters 98%.


"It is vital to always apply sunscreen a part of your morning routine after you moisturize and before you apply makeup," she says. "It is important to start your routine at least 30 minutes before you leave the house so that your SPF is absorbed by your skin."

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