Acne Treatment Using Coconut Oil and Nano-Bombs

Lauric acid, a medium chain fatty acid found in both coconut oil and human breast milk, is being developed into a new acne treatment at the Nanomaterials and Nanomedicine Laboratory at the UC San Diego Jacobs School of Engineering. Graduate student Dissaya Pornpattananangkul, has developed a smart delivery system capable of delivering lauric acid-filled nano-scale bombs directly to skin-dwelling Propionibacterium acnes (P. acnes)—the bacteria that causes acne.

The antibacterial effects of lauric acid and other medium chain fatty acids from coconut oil have been well documented by numerous studies published over the past 50 years. Coconut oil is often used as a natural skin and facial cream. It is also known as an effective treatment for acne. Pornpattananangkul, a native ofThailand, grew up around coconuts and is very familiar with its use on the skin and its reported antimicrobial effects. She sought a method to enhance the germ fighting effects of lauric acid in the treatment of acne. The result—nano-bombs—tiny lauric acid filled bombs that destroy bacteria on contact.

In 2009 researchers at UC San Diego reported the effectiveness of lauric acid in killing P. acnes both in vitro and in vivo. In their study, lauric acid effectively killed potentially harmful skin bacteria such as P. acnes, Staphylococcus aureus (S. aureus), and Staphylococcus epidermidis (S. epidermidis). They found that lauric acid was 15 times more potent in killing P. acnes than benzoyl peroxide, the most common drug used to treat acne. It was also more effective in easing swelling and inflammation caused by P. acnes. In addition, lauric acid was harmless to human cells causing no adverse effects.  In comparison, benzoyl peroxide is often associated with dryness or peeling of the skin, slight stinging or burning, irritation, blistering, itching, redness, rash, and swelling. Lauric acid proved to be more effective with no adverse effects.1

In a follow-up study, the UC San Diego researchers attempted to enhance the delivery and effectiveness of lauric acid by encapsulating it in liposomes—minute spherical sacs of fat molecules enclosing a water droplet mixed with an active ingredient. Liposomes are used in medicine as carriers for drugs or nutrients. Liposomes can fuse with cell membranes thus delivering the contents of the liposomes directly to the target cells or organism. In this case lauric acid is delivered directly to P. acnes.

The researchers demonstrated that lauric acid was well maintained in the liposomes with enhanced efficiency in combating the bacteria. They showed that lauric acid-loaded liposomes could fuse with the membranes of P. acnes and release the carried fatty acid directly into the bacterial membrane thereby killing the bacteria effectively.2 “Liposomes,” say the authors, “developed in this work holds great potential of becoming an innate, safe and effective therapeutic medication for acne vulgaris and other P acnes associated diseases.”

One drawback with using liposomes, however, is that they tend to clump together, reducing their effectiveness. A way around this is to attach nanoparticles to the surface of the lauric acid filled liposomes or “nano-bombs”. This keeps the liposomes from fusing together. The nanoparticles help the liposomes locate acne-causing bacteria on the skin. Once the nano-bombs reach the bacterial membranes, the acidic microenvironment causes the nanoparticles to drop off. This frees the liposomes carrying  the lauric acid payloads to fuse with the bacterial membranes killing the bacteria.3

In the near future you may be able to buy an over-the-counter acne medication containing these lauric acid filled nano-bombs. But for now, you can use the tried and true method of simply covering the infected skin with a thin layer of coconut oil. Repeat two or three times daily until the skin is acne free, which may be anywhere from a few days to a couple of weeks. Don’t be alarmed if after you start applying coconut oil you see new pimples develop. Sometimes there is a temporary flareup before the skin is sufficiently cleansed of the bacteria. Afterwards, your face will be acne free and better looking than it has in a long time.


1. Nakatsuji, T., et al. Antimicrobial property of lauric acid against Propionibacterium acnes: its therapeutic potential for inflammatory acne vulgaris. J Invest Dermatol 2009;129:2480-2488.
2. Yang D, et al. The antimicrobial activity of liposomal lauric acids against Propionibacterium acnes. Biomaterials 2009;30:6035-6040.
3. Pornpattananangkul, D., et al. Stimuli-responsive liposome fusion mediated by gold nanoparticles. ACS Nano 2010;4:1935-1942.