Like many natural oils, palm oil for skin care is heralded with many potential benefits, from anti-aging to fighting cancer. Not only that, the product is reputed to have astounding benefits for the hair, as well. The reason is credited to its high content of antioxidants, carotenes and other nutrients, making the oil a substance that's safe to use topically or internally.
The touted red palm oil benefits for face, skin and hair include cleansing, restoring healthy fats, and anti-cancer and anti-aging properties.
Palm Oil's Beneficial Saturated Fat
Since ancient times, it's been common to use oil as lotion for the skin and dressing for the hair or beard. However, simple saturated fats such as coconut oil, macadamia oil, shea butter or cocoa butter — as well as monounsaturated oils like olive oil — were key. Polyunsaturated fats made from seeds — think soybean oil, sunflower oil and cottonseed oil — have only been around for 100 years or so and are now commonly used in cosmetics and other beauty preparations.
Unfortunately, these polyunsaturated oils aren't healthy for the skin, as they oxidize in light and heat. Placed topically on the skin, such oils are exposed to both, causing oxidation. Saturated fats that are solid at room temperature remain stable, making them better choices for protecting the dermis and hair.
Read more: 10 Recipes for Glowing, Healthy Skin
Originating from the oil palm, a species scientifically known as Elaeis guineensis, red palm oil contains roughly 50 percent saturated fat according to the Malaysian Palm Oil Council. The highly stable oil won't oxidize on your skin like seed oil and contains just 10 percent polyunsaturates. But palm oil isn't the highest in saturated fat. By comparison, coconut oil contains 90 percent saturated fat, more than butter, lard or any other oil.
Vitamin E: Tocopherols and Tocotrienols
You're probably familiar with the primary form of vitamin E listed on the ingredients list as d-alpha tocopherol. Many beauty products include red palm oil for hair and skin due to its antioxidant properties. Many natural plant compounds contain the tocopherol form of vitamin E, including palm oil. However, palm oil also contains an additional, more rare form of vitamin E known as tocotrienols.
Palm oil contains the highest known amount of tocotrienols — up to 70 percent — in their natural form. Like tocopherols, tocotrienol comes in four forms — alpha, beta, delta and gamma. Palm oil contains all four, with alpha-tocotrienol and gamma tocotrienol being highest.
Tocotrienols found in palm oil are being studied for their role in fighting cancer, osteoporosis, heart disease and brain disorders, but red palm oil also comes with benefits for both hair and skin. Other benefits of tocotrienols in palm oil include protection from the sun and helping to minimize scars.
Read more: 21 Anti-Aging Foods
Carotenoids for Skin and Hair
Red palm oil gets its color from carotenoids, the same substance that gives carrots. tomatoes and sweet potatoes their orange color. However, red palm oil has 300 times more carotenoids than tomatoes. When using red palm oil for hair or skin, expect to see a light tint of its color, ranging from reddish to yellowish, depending on your skin tone.
But carotenoids do more than color the oil. They help protect you from the sun, offering as much sun screening as SPF 15, and blocking out four levels of UV radiation, but without the harmful chemicals found in commercial products. Carotenoids such as lycopene and beta carotene can interfere with the growth of cancer cells, according to EXCLI Journal.
Lycopene and beta carotene are the two primary carotenoids found in red palm oil, but there are 20 more carotenes found in the oil. In fact, palm oil is the top source of carotenoids according to a 2016 study published in the Journal of Chromatographic Science, delivering 500 to 700 parts per million of carotenes in the crude form. More processed forms of the oil are lighter or clear in color, equating to less beneficial carotenoids. Other nutrients in clear, processed oil are also diminished, according to Mercola.
Even More Nutrition
Besides vitamin E and carotene, red palm oil is chock-full of nutrition:
- CoQ10: Although your body makes all it needs when you're young, CoQ10 declines as you age, resulting in impaired ability to make elastin and collagen. Applied topically, CoQ10 penetrates deeply to offer your body antioxidants and nutritional support for their creation, according to Perricone MD. Supplementing orally — such as using red palm oil in food — can help boost your body's ability to repair skin.
- Vitamin K: This vitamin is used to support skin healing, reduce swelling and mitigate bruising after surgery. Preparations made with vitamin K also are credited with helping to remove spider veins and minimize stretch marks, bruises, scars and burns, according to Web MD. It might also be helpful with rosacea, in which tiny red lines and pimples form at the surface of the skin.
- Squalene: The skin's sebum glands naturally make squalene, which helps to protect the skin from the oxidizing effects of UVA rays by absorbing oxygen. Squalene is considered a beneficial ingredient by the cosmetics industry to soften the skin and strengthen hair. In the case of palm oil, squalene combined with beneficial oxidizing effects sets up a trifecta of preservation for skin.
- Phytosterols: In2008, a study published in The Dermatologist showed that phytosterols — cholesterol-like fats originating from plants — not only protect skin from sun damage, but can also reverse it and promote collagen production.
- Flavonoids: Also hailing from plants, flavonoids positively affect the skin's response to environmental factors such as pollution or carcinogens, according to the Linus Pauling Institute. Flavonoids are also effective in protecting the skin from sun damage.
- Phenolic acids: These are another major, bioactive component of red palm oil that can benefit skin and hair through their role as antioxidants and free radical scavengers.
- Glycolipids: As the name suggests, glycolipids contain both fatty acids and carbohydrates. Glycolipids are commonly found in cosmetics designed to soothe, moisturize and combat aging skin.
Read more: Which Cooking Oil is Best?
Using Red Palm Oil
Apply red palm oil directly to your skin or hair, applying it sparingly on your skin and rubbing it in well. Splash on a little water if you like as you're rubbing it in to maximize its hydrating effect and help lock moisture into your skin. After you feel like you've rubbed it in all the way, buff your skin lightly with an old towel to catch any excess oil. Skipping this last step will result in any unabsorbed oil leaving yellow stains on your clothing, furniture or other absorbent items that come in contact with it.
For a hair dressing, rub a dime-sized dollop between your palms and apply to the ends of your hair and gently work the oil down to the roots. The red palm oil will offer natural protection for your locks when you're going to be out in the sun or exposed to chlorine, ocean salt or other harsh environmental factors. You'll also notice it leaves your hair softer and enhances any natural curl when used sparingly. Although your hair absorbs most of the oil, be aware that excess oil can stain anything you lean your head against if you've used too much.
It's also fine to eat it up. Internal use of red palm oil will bring the antioxidant effects to your skin and hair from the inside out. You might also enjoy additional health perks like reduced blood pressure, improved circulation and well-balanced cholesterol levels, according to Mercola. The oil is safe, even in large amounts, but if you consume a lot, the carotenoids will show up in a yellow or orange tint on the palms of your hand and bottoms of your feet.
- Naturally Curly: How Red Palm Oil Can Change Your Hair Growth Game
- Harvard Health Publishing: By the Way, Doctor — Is Palm Oil Good for You?
- U.S. National Library of Medicine: National Institutes of Health: Fatty Acids Penetration Into Human Skin Ex Vivo
- Harvard Health Publishing: Ask the Doctor – Coconut Oil and Health
- Springer Nature: Natural Oils for Skin-Barrier Repair: Ancient Compounds Now Backed by Modern Science
- Absolutely Pure: Why Your Skin Care Products Should Be Low in PUFA
- Institute of Food Science and Technology: Oils and Fats
- Malaysian Palm Oil Council: Benefits of Palm Tocotrienols
- Drug Bank: D-Alpha Tocopherol
- OMICS International: Comprehensive Normal Phase Chromatographic Determination of Palm Vitamin E
- Medical News Today: Tocotrienols; Benefits, Side Effects
- Mercola: Palm Oil: A Fat-tastic Tropical Superfood
- U.S. National Library of Medicine: National Institutes of Health: Improved Method for the Qualitative Analyses of Palm Oil Carotenes Using UPLC
- Oxford Academic: Health-Promoting Effects of Red Palm Oil: Evidence From Animal and Human Studies
- Perricone MD: What Is CoQ10? The Benefits to Skin & Weight Loss
- Springer Link: Topical Application of Vitamins, Phytosterols and Ceramides
- Journal of Plant Biochemistry & Physiology: Investigations on Antioxidant Potential of Phenolic Acids and Flavonoids
- ScienceDirect: Glycolipids
- Special Chem: Glycolipids
Indulging her passion for vacation vagary through the written word on a full-time basis since 2010, travel funster Jodi Thornton-O'Connell guides readers to the unexpected, quirky, and awe-inspiring.