You know olive and avocado and sunflower and jojoba. Rosehip and argan and marula and macadamia. But do you recall the most under-the-radar skincare oil of all? (Have you picked up on our take on "Rudolph the Red Nose Reindeer" yet?) Song parody aside, we're talking about tamanu oil. Despite the fact that it's not the most popular or well-known skincare oil on the block, it's one that boasts a litany of legit benefits, and is well-worth considering adding to your routine. Ahead, New York City dermatologist Hadley King, cosmetic chemist and founder of Perfect Image David Petrillo, and Annie Gonzalez, a board-certified dermatologist at Riverchase Dermatology in Miami tell us all about tamanu.
Meet the Expert
Type of Ingredient: Emollient
Main Benefits: Moisturization, antioxidant production, and an anti-inflammatory effect. It also stimulates collagen production to promote wound healing and has some antibacterial properties, particularly against the bacteria associated with acne, notes Petrillo.
Who Should Use It: Those with dry skin, as well as those with minor acne and scarring, or people looking for an oil with anti-aging benefits.
How Often Can You Use It: This depends on the particular product you're using, but generally it can be used once or twice per day.
Works Well With: According to Gonzalez, it's often combined with other popular skincare oils—rosehip, cranberry seed, avocado—when formulated in serums or lotions.
Don't Use With: There are currently no ingredients known to have a negative interaction with tamanu oil. Gonzalez does note that if you're using a pure version of tamanu oil on you're face, there's simply no need to apply other oils as well.
What Is Tamanu Oil?
Tamanu oil is derived from the seeds of the tamanu nut tree, a tropical evergreen native to Southeast Asia. While it has yet to become the 'it' ingredient in modern skincare, it's definitely not a newbie; it's been used medicinally for centuries by various Asian, African, and Pacific Island cultures, points out King. Tamanu oil has a noteworthy look and smell. In its purest form, it has a thick consistency, a dark green color, and a distinct deep, earthy, nutty scent (which admittedly may be off-putting to some.) In many skincare products, it's often listed by its technical name, Calophyllum inophyllum seed oil.
Benefits of Tamanu Oil for Skin
All skincare oils are going to be moisturizing by definition, but tamanu oil is not only a standout in that department, it also offers a variety of other benefits.
- Is rich in fatty acids: Tamanu oil has a higher fatty acid content than many other oils, making it especially beneficial for addressing dry skin, says Petrillo. More specifically, it contains both oleic and linoleic fatty acids, which may give it powerful moisturizing abilities.
- Has antibacterial properties: The fact that tamanu oil works against both p. acnes and p.granulosum—the bacteria associated with acne—is definitely worth pointing out, according to Petrillo. (Various scientific research has proven this effect, including a recent 2018 study.) Couple that with its anti-inflammatory effects—more on those in a minute—and tamanu oil may be helpful in treating inflammatory acne, adds King.
- Stimulates collagen production to promote would healing: "Studies have shown that tamanu oil has wound healing and skin regeneration properties," explains King. "It's been shown to promote cell proliferation and the production of collagen and glycosaminoglycans." (Also known as GAGs, the latter are polysaccharides that are essential for creating and maintaining healthy collagen and elastin.) More collagen and more GAGs help both with wound healing (it's what makes tamanu oil a good option for healing scars) as well as smoothing fine lines and wrinkles.
- Offers antioxidant protection: On a similar note, tamanu oil is also rife with potent antioxidants, imperative for protecting skin from damaging (and aging) free radicals caused by exposure to environmental factors such as sun and pollution.
- Has anti-inflammatory benefits: Tamanu oil contains calophyllolide, a molecule well-studied for delivering anti-inflammatory effects similar to that of hydrocortisone. Per that same 2018 study, this molecule was also shown to be an integral part of the oil's wound healing abilities. It also means that the oil could potentially be good for inflammatory skin conditions such as psoriasis, eczema, or rosacea, but more data on this is still needed, notes King.
Side Effects of Tamanu Oil
First and foremost, "avoid this oil if you're allergic to nuts, as it is derived from a tree nut," cautions Gonzalez. That aside, and barring an actual topical allergy, it's generally fairly safe to use, she adds. The one topic we have yet to touch on, however, is the oil's likelihood to clog pores; this is referred to as its comedogenicity. Remember how we said that it contains both oleic and linoleic acids? The upshot? King tells us that tamanu oil is only slightly comedogenic. Given that it does have many properties that are helpful when you're battling breakouts, so long as you use it correctly and strategically, it should be okay, even for oily or acne-prone skin. (Though, it goes without saying that if you notice it is clogging your pores, discontinue use.)
How to Use It
Since not all tamanu oil products are created equal, Gonzalez advises following specific directions when it comes to how and how often to use any particular product. (If you're concerned about a possible reaction, test a small amount on your forearm first, and use it more infrequently than directed, gradually working your way up.) And while it is good for wound healing, King cautions that you should never apply it onto open wounds.
The Best Products With Tamanu Oil
Both King and Petrillo recommend this straight-up option. King lauds the brand for conducting various tests to ensure the purity of the oil; Petrillo suggests using it to spot treat areas of irritation, dryness, or redness.
Petrillo recommends applying this oil in the morning to reap the benefits of the protective antioxidants derived from ginger root, sunflower oil, and tamanu oil. It's also plenty hydrating, an effective option for reducing the visible signs of aging, as well as generally making the skin look revived and refreshed, he says.
This is Gonzalez's recommendation for those seeking pure tamanu oil. "It can be used as a daily moisturizer to soften dry skin all over the body or just on the face, as well as mixed in with makeup to achieve a glowy look," she says. Also nice: You can even use this oil to smooth frayed hair cuticles by rubbing a few drops in your palms and combing your fingers fingers through your hair, she adds.
Tamanu oil's high level of hydrating fatty acids makes it a great option to use not only for dry spots on your face, but also on your body. Gonzalez likes it in this cream, where it's combined with moisturizing shea butter. "It will soothe and calm dry, flaky skin after the first application. Plus, it's free of parabens, sulfates, and phthalates, so it's unlikely to cause irritation and won't interfere with other products you may be using," she explains.
For those looking to reap the benefits of multiple oils, this is a one-stop shop. Tamanu oil is one of the key ingredients that helps to nourish and restore dull, dry skin, says Petrillo. (Avocado, apricot, and jojoba oils are a few of the other key players.) He also praises the incredibly lightweight feel.
"Here, rose mosqueta oil is mixed with tamanu oil, delivering ample antioxidants, fatty acids, and vitamin C," says Gonzalez of another one of her picks. She adds that it's especially choice for anyone dealing with super dry or wrinkled skin.
The purity of this product can't be beat. The tamanu oil is not only organic, it's also cold-pressed and unrefined, notes King. Bonus points for the wallet-friendly price, an especially great value considering how high quality the oil is.
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Raharivelomanana P, Ansel J-L, Lupo E, et al. Tamanu Oil and Skin Active Properties: From Traditional to Modern Cosmetic Uses. OCL. 2018;25(5). doi:10.1051/ocl/2018048
Ansel JL, Lupo E, Mijouin L, et al. Biological activity of Polynesian Calophyllum inophyllum oil extract on human skin cells. Planta Med. 2016;82(11-12):961-966. doi:10.1055/s-0042-108205
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