Why Body Oil?
By Sarah Villafranco, MD
Posted in Blog, on August 18, 2013
Since I started Osmia Organics, one of my less publicized missions has been to convert the world to using body oil instead of body lotion. My reason is simple: you don’t need body lotion. Why? Because all lotions are oil and water held together by something called an emulsifier. When you apply body oil to sopping wet skin, you basically have a lotion (oil plus water), minus the emulsifier. See? Humor me, and read ahead to see if I can win you over…
First, let’s make sure you understand the basic chemistry. An emulsifier is a chemical or a natural product made up of molecules that have one end that likes to bind to water (hydrophilic) and one end that likes to bind to oil or fat (lipophilic). The emulsifier is usually added to the oil and they are heated together. Then water is added, while mixing, and, if you’ve chosen your emulsifier well, it will hold the oil and water together, giving the appearance of a creamy substance, rather than separating into visible oil and water droplets.
Emulsifiers come in many forms, and have a big effect on the texture of the finished product. Large skin care companies traditionally use emulsifiers that, while they have a nice feel on the skin, are made by processes that are environmentally unsound. One very common such process is ethoxylation. Any ingredient that ends in “–eth” (sodium laureth sulfate), or that has “PEG” in the name, has undergone ethoxylation. The process is complicated to explain, but what you should know is that ethoxylation creates the byproduct 1,4-dioxane, which is a class 2B carcinogen - meaning, it causes cancer. 1,4-dioxane is a particularly worrisome contaminant in personal care products and in groundwater. The process of creating emulsifiers can also release nonylphenol, a compound that is known to be toxic to aquatic species, and can potentially act as a hormone disruptor in non-aquatic species. Yikes.
Fortunately, awareness of the ecological impact of such compounds has increased, prompting many companies, especially smaller, more eco-conscious brands like Osmia, to seek out less toxic emulsifiers. The most natural emulsifiers are beeswax, lecithin, candelilla wax, and a variety of “gums” (which act more as thickeners than emulsifiers). While natural, these don’t always have the nicest texture. Beeswax lotions tend to be a little hurky-jerky on the skin, and have more occlusive coverage. While this may be nice in a hand cream or a balm, it’s not necessarily what you want to feel on your face. There are also plenty of coconut and olive-based emulsifiers that, while made in a laboratory, are plant-derived, biodegradable, and non-ethoxylated (although “e-wax” or “vegetable emulsifying wax” is an ethoxylated ingredient, despite being used in loads of natural products).
So, on the whole, the emulsifier scene is improving and consumers have less cause for concern. At Osmia, we’ve chosen to use emulsifiers in our face creams and our hand cream – products used in places where pure oil may not be as desirable. Not every person can tolerate a face oil (some skin conditions, like perioral dermatitis, can be exacerbated by them), and having straight oil on your hands may be inconvenient if you are hurrying and trying to DO things with your hands, which we multitaskers almost always are!
However, the right body oil can be good for practically everyone. Oil makes your skin incredibly soft and tends to have a much higher concentration of potent ingredients like antioxidants and vitamins, which make skin cells more functional at retaining water and less susceptible to damage. So, who wouldn’t want that? And then there’s the budget factor. Using an oil as opposed to a lotion can end up being more economical as well. Most body lotions are about 70% water. But, when you provide the water by applying oil to wet skin, all you have paid for is your oil, which will last longer than a lotion, as you use less of it when you mix it with the water droplets on your just-showered skin. When only a small quantity of body oil is required for comprehensive coverage, a little goes a much longer way.
Now, I admit that the habit of putting body oil on wet skin takes a little getting used to: not only do you have to train yourself not to dry off when you exit the shower, you also have to walk around in your birthday suit for 3-4 minutes in order for the oil to properly sink in before getting dressed. Those minutes, however, can be used to brush your teeth, have a naked dance party, or simply relax and inhale the aromatherapeutic benefits of the oil.
Osmia’s body oil collection contains organic and wild-harvested essential oils and extracts that I’ve carefully chosen based on their ability to nourish the skin and transport the mind. If you have trouble settling down, for example, our Night Body Oil, with lavender, chamomile, and atlas cedar essential oils, can calm your frenzied state and help ease you into sleep. On the other side, if you can’t get your wheels turning in the AM, the evergreen oils and powerful ambrette seed extracts in our Forest Body oil are deeply energizing and prove to be an excellent morning pick-me-up. Finally, if you need a little TLC, you might want to try our newest Sunset body oil, a sensual oil steeped in organic vanilla bourbon and jasmine extracts that wrap you in warm comfort.
Our base oil is really where the profound skin nourishing comes from, though. It is the same for all the scents and comprises of 11 powerhouse plant oils, loaded with antioxidant and anti-inflammatory functions. A brief description of each oil’s attributes and benefits is listed below:
Google "coconut oil", and you will be impressed with its myriad uses. It’s been praised for everything from removing eye makeup to curing split ends. In terms of skin care, it can help strengthen and soften the skin and eliminate dead skin cells on the surface. It is also very high in lauric acid, which has some antimicrobial activity, and thus may be useful in treating acneiform eruptions. However, used exclusively, it can feel oddly dry and greasy at the same time. For this reason, we use a version of coconut oil produced by applying pressure to and subsequently distilling the raw oil. It is called fractionated coconut oil, which is a clear liquid at room temperature. It contains only medium chain fatty acids, without the long chain fatty acids that make the raw oil solid at room temperature, and has a very long shelf life. It has a smooth, velvety texture, and blends beautifully with other oils.
Not a true oil, jojoba is actually made up of liquid wax esters quite similar to the sebum our skin creates in its own sebaceous glands. For this reason, it is a very effective hair and skin softener, and was used by Native Americans for those purposes. They would employ a mortar and pestle to macerate heated jojoba seeds (they look like giant coffee beans) and make a conditioning butter. Jojoba has been alleged to have fungicidal capability as well. We choose it in our body oil because of its excellent skin softening potential, smooth texture, and long shelf life.
Kukui Nut Oil
Kukui nut oil is harvested from the Hawaii state tree (also called the candlenut tree). Kukui nuts are cold-pressed to obtain this clear, incredibly emollient oil. High in vitamins A, C, and E, it has excellent antioxidant properties, helping skin cells stay healthy and functional. It has also been used to treat wounds and burns, and some people tout its ability to relieve symptoms of eczema and psoriasis.
Sweet Almond Oil
Richer than some of the other oils, this nourishing nut oil is high in oleic acid and omega-9 fatty acids, which are capable of a somewhat deeper penetration into the layers of the skin than other fatty acids. It may also have some anti-inflammatory activity due to the presence of quercetin, a flavonoid compound found in the almond skins, and antioxidant activity due to high levels of Vitamin E. The texture is thicker, with a bit more “drag” than some of the lighter oils, and contributes to the residual velvety feeling of the skin hours after applying our body oils.
Rosehip Seed Oil
Now here is a powerhouse oil. I don’t even know where to begin describing the ways in which this cold-pressed oil from the seeds (“hips”) of the Rosa rubiginosa bush is beneficial to the skin. Super-antioxidant lycopene to help repair sun damaged skin? Check. Trans-retinoic acid (vitamin A derivative) to encourage cell turnover and diminish discoloration? Check. Omega 3 and 6 for anti-inflammatory benefits and healthy epidermal cell walls? Check. In short, this potent oil has it all. Regular use can help skin cells retain water, decrease sun spots, improve the appearance of fine lines, and encourage a smoother texture to the skin. The only reason you don’t want to apply it straight to the skin is that it is VERY, VERY orange. Almost red. Believe me – I know this from personal experience.
Hemp Seed Oil
Yes, this is oil from a marijuana plant! But don’t be afraid that it will intoxicate you, unless by its beautiful deep green color (due to the chlorophyll content). The strains used for making hemp seed oil are those with only trace amounts of psychoactive tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), and there isn’t any THC inside the seeds anyway. The oil is cold-pressed, and offers excellent antioxidant activity because of its high level of omega 6 fatty acids.
Another beautifully green, cold-pressed oil, unrefined avocado oil is as good for your skin when applied from the outside as it is from eating the fruit itself. Rich in skin-softening sterolins, the oil offers enhanced penetration of the vitamins (A, E), potassium, and lecithin it contains. High in omega 3 fatty acids as well.
Borage Seed Oil
Also called starflower oil, this is one of the two richest sources of gamma linoleic acid (GLA) – a very potent antioxidant and anti-inflammatory. GLA is used by the body to make prostaglandins, which have profound anti-inflammatory effects, and can help skin cells lose less water. This “transepidermal water loss”, or TEWL, is one of the metrics by which skin function is assessed in a clinical setting – the goal is to minimize water loss, maximize water retention in skin cells. Tiny, plump skin cells are what we want!
Evening Primrose Oil
This is another oil very high in gamma linoleic acid, and has been shown to improve skin function when taken internally – TEWL, moisture, elasticity, firmness, and roughness all improve after 3 months of supplementation with this oil. It is one of the reasons I recommend evening primrose oil for perioral dermatitis. GLA increases circulation as well, which can help skin stay vibrant and glowing. It is rich in the flavonoid catechin, ANOTHER antioxidant, and in the amino acid phenylalanine, which is being studied for pain relief.
Sea Buckthorn Berry Extract
Oil extracted from the sea buckthorn berry is an incredible source of vitamin C, beta carotene, vitamin E (tocopherols), and omega 7. It is VERY red, and putting it on your skin in its pure form is not advised (again, trust me on this). But, added to formulations at the right level, it will add a warm, orange hue, and nourish the skin immensely.
This last ingredient in our body oil, and in many of our products, is mainly used to delay the oxidation of the oils themselves. It has some antimicrobial benefits as well, though oils are not prone to bacterial growth the way water is. It is a potent extract, and we use it at a low percentage to help protect the products, and provide added antioxidant benefits for the skin.
Ultimately, the decision to anoint yourself with oil as opposed to using lotion is a personal one, and requires an interest in using products that are better both for you and for the earth. I hope this article has illuminated some of the undeniable benefits of using organic and natural oils on your skin and why you won’t find body lotions on our site. As with any commitment to your health, it may take a slight restructuring of your habits and thinking to make the switch. But, for those hooked on our body oils, it has been more than worth it. A few decadent, skin-nourishing, aromatherapeutic moments a day is a habit worth forming. And there aren’t very many of those.