The Latin word Callophyllum means “beautiful leaf” and the oil from the Tamanu tree (Callophyllum inophyllum) can beautify your skin and solve some of its toughest problems like acne, inflammatory conditions like eczema and roseacea, and even help prevent long term sun damage to skin.
With all these benefits it is easy to see why the indigenous people of Polynesia and Southeast Asian countries like Sri Lanka, Malaysia, Myanmar and others have used it for years. The trees grow throughout the tropical climates of the Pacific and produce a green, inedible fruit about the size of an apricot with thin flesh and a large kernal inside. When the kernal is first opened it would appear to be dry, but after a month of drying it becomes rich with a thick, sticky oil that can be extracted by mechanical pressing.
The resulting oil is deep amber green in color, nutty, pungent, and aromatic in scent and is absolutely heavenly for problem skin. It is inedible so you can’t use it internally but you can slather it on any problem anywhere on your skin and reap major benefits.
The color and aroma of the oil are pronounced and likely part of the reason that this super healing oil has taken so long to find a niche in beauty and skincare routines in the West. Western cosmetics formulators tend to prefer oils that are odorless, colorless, and lightweight.
Tamanu is brazenly none of these things but before long you’ll be singing the praises of its amazing regenerative properties anyway. I’ve given it to people suffering with all kinds of skin irritations and consistently receive amazed and happy responses when their skin begins to clear and heal.
Since the 1930s Tamanu oil has been studied by researchers in Europe, Asia, and the Pacific Islands. The unique chemistry of the oil is what gives it such a unique healing effect. Each drop of this precious oil contains at least 10 types of different active molecules that gently urge skin to rebuild. These include friedelin, canopyllic acid and canophyllol, xanthones and coumarins as well as moisturizing omega-6 and 9 fatty acids. The properties of these various compounds are antibacterial, wound healing, anti-inflammatory, antioxidant and even pain relieving.
1. Tamanu oil is an antibacterial oil that is capable of healing wounds by promoting healthy cell growth.
When tamanu oil is applied to wounds in the skin it has the ability to promote formation of new tissue. Pacific islanders use tamanu applied liberally to all sorts of scrapes, burns, rashes, insect bites, psoriasis, scars, and sunburns. French researchers working with leprosy patients were the first to thoroughly study the skin regenerating properties of tamanu. It has been used to heal stubborn and severe wounds with very good success. All of the xanthone compounds in tamanu have anti-inflammatory activity and have been shown to reduce swelling and irritation with topical application.
The antimicrobial activity of tamanu has been verified as having moderate activity compared to antibiotics like amoxicillin. The canophyllol and canophyllic acid offer much of the antibacterial activity.
I frequently recommend tamanu oil as an ideal oil for people with acneic skin types as the mild antibacterial properties of the oil work consistently and without irritation to minimize growth of acne causing bacteria on the skin. Many people might think that using such a rich oil on oily or acneic skin types is completely counterintuitive, but it only takes a small amount of this potent oil to balance and calm the skin. Additionally many people with acne are actually overdrying their skin with astringent products. Astringents can actually aggravate your skin, causing excess oil production in a backlash response. A nutrition rich oil like tamanu can restore elasticity and hydration balance to the skin.
As well after acne breakouts have begun to heal scarring is a major concern, with formation of new, healthy tissue being crucial to return the skin to its healthy appearance. Tamanu has been found to minimize scarring and speed growth of healthy new cells. Application of a healing oil like tamanu can help prevent long term damage like the ice pick scars acne breakouts are known to cause. In a study by Dweck and Meadows in 2002 six participants applied a product containing tamanu oil to aged scars twice daily for nine weeks and saw improvement, so even older scars can benefit from tamanu’s regenerative properties.
2. Tamanu oil is anti-inflammatory for skin.
Many chronic, distressed skin conditions like eczema, dermatitis, psoriasis, and acne are fundamentally inflammatory skin problems. Eczema is defined by the Bailliére’s Nurses’ Dictionary definition for ‘eczema’ as being “a general term for any superficial inflammatory process involving the epidermis primarily, marked early by redness, itching, minute papules and vesicles, weeping, oozing and crusting, and later by scaling, lichenification and often pigmentation.”
Eczema is also known as dermatitis, with the word dermatitis literally meaning inflammation of the skin. It can be caused by internal and external triggers such as contact with an allergen on the skin, genetics, foods like nuts and dairy, and environmental pollutants like smoke, pollen, fungi, and microbes. The immune system becomes activated, causing inflammation and irritation in the skin tissues. While a complete solution to address both internal and external triggers is optimal an oil like tamanu can provide immediate relief to distressed skin and help fight the inflammatory response where it is manifesting.
All of the xanthone compounds in tamanu have anti-inflammatory activity and have been shown to reduce swelling and irritation with topical application. Callophyllolide isolated from the seed oil has been found in studies to reduce histamine related inflammation and swelling of tissues along with illophyllide, another active component. Tamanu has also been documented to have pain relieving effects, a major plus if you’re the one dealing with an uncomfortable skin condition.
The anti-inflammatory effects are useful for acne too, since acne causes swelling and immune cell responses that can inflame the tissues around a breakout. Many people might think that using such a rich oil on oily or acneic skin types is completely counterintuitive, but it only takes a small amount of this potent oil to balance and calm the skin. Many people with acne are actually overdrying their skin with astringent products. Proper water and lipid content is essential to calm, happy skin and astringents can aggravate your skin, causing excess oil production in a backlash response. A nutrition rich oil like tamanu can restore elasticity and hydration balance to the skin.
3. Tamanu oil an antioxidant that can help prevent UV related cell damage and aging.
Pacific islanders regularly use tamanu to comfort sunburns due to its regenerative effects, and is included in after-sun products like Blissoma’s Amend Antioxidant Body Lotion for this same benefit. Tamanu oil offers more than just healing for after you’ve had too many rays, though. The xanthones and coumarins in the oil are also potent antioxidants and inhibit the breakdown of cell membranes from free radicals. One of the most common sources of free radicals in our daily lives is exposure to UV rays from the sun. Tamanu can help to counteract aging caused by UV related free radicals.
In one study from the European Journal of Pharmaceutical Sciences in 2007 Tamanu oil was investigated as a UV filter. It was shown to exhibit significant UV absorption capabilities and had a sun protection factor of 18 to 22 even at low concentrations. 85% of the DNA damage caused by UV exposure was inhibited with just a 1% tamanu oil preparation and was deemed gentle enough to even be used in the eyes as a UV filter!
Sun damaged skin can become hyperpigmented and loses crucial collagen and elastin structures which causes fine lines, deep wrinkling, and loss of firmness. Many anti-aging skincare products that address these issues have a high cost associated with them and ingredients that have questionable health effects. Instead try preserving the youthful appearance of your skin by investing in skincare that uses tamanu oil as an ingredient. All you need is a small amount in a recipe to reap major benefits and skilled blending will often minimize its strong aroma.
With all these amazing benefits you can see why tamanu is one of my favorite skincare and beauty oils. While the word has been getting around about tamanu oil due to features on daytime television and some natural beauty blogs many people have still not experienced how awesome this stuff really is. The scientifically proven healing benefits of tamanu for problem skin exceed argan and many trendier oils by far in my opinion.
If you’re going to be purchasing a pure tamanu oil then you should optimally look for an oil supplier with organic certification, which is a guarantee of a higher quality, genuine oil. As with any botanical product there can be variations in quality from crop to crop and company to company depending on how carefully they’ve sourced and handled their oil. Organic certification ensures you’re getting an authentic, undiluted, pure and potent oil due to the paper trail tracking the botanical back to its source.
Unrefined tamanu oil is the only oil you should purchase for skin healing purposes. Refining would simply remove many of the medicinal compounds and degrade the oil. The tamanu oil should be deep greenish brown with a strong nutty aroma. You can store it in the refrigerator if you purchase a volume of it, which will keep the medicinal compounds from breaking down before you use them. Keep a small 1 oz bottle available in your medicine cabinet at room temperature to apply as needed. You can use it once to twice a day as a moisturizer and healing treatment for your skin problems and see benefits within 24 hours to several weeks of consistent use.
I can’t wait for you to try tamanu and see the benefits of this super powered oil. With the results I’ve seen in clients over the last 5 years of using it in skincare it has earned a permanent place in my formulations and my own personal care routine.