Sunflower does not need a special introduction. It’s probably a staple in your kitchen, as a cooking oil, or maybe you enjoy its seeds as a healthy snack to eat. But whether or not it's a mainstay in your diet, it’s highly likely that sunflower is part of your skincare routine. Helianthus annuus (sunflower) seed oil is one of the most common plant oils used in skincare/cosmetic formulas. It’s safe, inexpensive, and widely available, with numerous skin care benefits to boot as an emollient and skin-conditioner.
Despite the multi-benefit nature of this oil and its popularity among cosmetic chemists, you won’t find brands/marketers shouting its benefits from a rooftop. We all know how the beauty industry thrives on newness and ingredients that possess a certain “cool” factor – and as a result – sunflower seed oil often takes a back seat to other plant oils like argan oil or marula oil.
So, curious to learn more about why this plant-based ingredient deserves recognition on your vanity as opposed to your kitchen counter? Read on.
First, A Brief History of Sunflower & How Sunflower Seed Oil is Made
The origins of sunflower dates back to about 3000 BC and has been used as food, medicine, and for ornamental purposes for generations. Sunflower was originally cultivated and domesticated by American Indians in present-day Arizona and New Mexico. It was used in multiple ways by American Indian tribes – there is evidence that the seed and root were used to ward off illness in pregnant women and ground seed flour or the oil from the seeds was used to make food. And although sunflower is endemic to North America, it was first commercialized in Russia. Today, it is heavily cultivated as a crop in North America.
Sunflower seed oil is the oil pressed from the seeds of sunflowers, and it’s one of the more sustainable ingredients out there. It’s easy to grow and easy to make – unrefined sunflower oil can be derived from cold pressing – a simple method of pressing the oil out of the seeds. It can also be extracted using chemical solvents or expeller pressing where the oil is squeezed from sunflower seeds by crushing them.
The Skincare Benefits of Sunflower Seed Oil
The beauty of sunflower seed oil is that it is a non-volatile, non-fragrant plant oil with a rich fatty acid profile composed mainly of linoleic and oleic fatty acids. Linoleic acid (a polyunsaturated omega-6 fatty acid), specifically, helps maintain the integrity of the stratum corneum (also known as our skin barrier), prevents trans-epidermal-water loss (TEWL), and promotes lipid synthesis and skin barrier homeostasis. Studies also suggest that sunflower seed oil has good anti-inflammatory properties.
Remember: the skin barrier consists of corneocytes (dead skin cells) held together by lipids (ceramides, fatty acids, and cholesterol). A deficiency in these essential lipids or oils can lead to a weak or damaged barrier; an oil like sunflower seed oil helps enhance and replenish this protective barrier.
For anyone with an impaired skin barrier or atopic dermatitis, look no further than sunflower seed oil. It’s also rich in vitamin E which offers excellent antioxidant benefits.
The Role of Sunflower Seed Oil in Cosmetic/Skincare Formulations
Chemists often choose sunflower seed oil as the backbone (i.e. as a key ingredient in the base of a formula or as a carrier oil in an oil-based product) for a wide range of emulsions for the face and body. As mentioned before, this plant oil is cost effective and has great emollient and skin-smoothing properties. Not to mention it works for all skin types including dry, normal, oily, and even acne-prone (unless you have a specific allergy to sunflower seed oil); its comedogen index is 0.
The antioxidant benefits and skin-barrier-replenishing properties of sunflower seed oil make it a popular addition for anti-aging formulations or products positioned/marketed to protect and support the skin barrier. It’s a common ingredient found in hair care products, in both solid and liquid formats, due to its moisturizing properties and non-greasy feel on the hair. And you will often find sunflower seed oil or another form of sunflower in lip care products and makeup products (e.g. mascaras).
So there you have it. An overview of one the beauty industry’s most underrated plant oils. It’s an oldie, indeed, and a tried-and-true skincare hero. Next time you see this plant oil in the ingredient listing of a product, take a moment to appreciate its value. Who knew that pretty sunflowers had some amazing skincare perks, right?