Sunflower Oil for Skin: Anything But Boring
by Heather Smith on Apr 23, 2023
Sunflower oil, often unfairly dismissed as a 'boring' or 'plain' ingredient, actually has a wealth of benefits for skin that should be recognized.
This unassuming oil, derived from the vibrant sunflower, is a hidden gem in the world of beauty and personal care. Rich in essential fatty acids, antioxidants, and vital nutrients, sunflower oil can nourish, protect, and revitalize skin.
Although excellent for all skin types, sunflower seed oil is beneficial for irritable or sensitive skin and damaged skin barriers. This is due to its balanced fatty acid profile and many beneficial phytochemicals.
This article is part of our ongoing article series about face oil.
Not a Boring Carrier Oil!
So, why is sunflower oil considered boring or "just" a dilution oil by some people?
The reason is because it doesn't have any of its own major outstanding properties.
For example: sea buckthorn seed oil and buriti oil are rich, deeply coloured, and super-high in carotenoids. This makes them excellent specialized oils for a specific purpose, but not general oils for everyone. Another example is rosehip seed oil - much higher in certain phytochemicals that make it effective, but occasionally more irritating for some people. A third example is tamanu oil - very specialized and amazing for some conditions like acne. It can be used at 100% strength, but it can be quite strongly scented and a bit off-putting.
Sunflower seed oil is a gentle, calming, fully-balanced carrier oil that possesses all the beneficial properties (antioxidant, anti inflammatory, skin barrier healing, moisturizing), without having any specialization.
Does that make it boring? Not in our books! That's what makes it a perfect oil to balance out other oils and also to target conditions that require gentleness and balance.
Keep reading to find out more about why sunflower oil is great for your skin.
What Is Sunflower Oil?
Sunflower oil is a plant-derived oil obtained from sunflower seeds (Helianthus annuus). It's a nutritious, edible oil that's been used for centuries. Due to its rich composition of essential fatty acids, antioxidants, and other beneficial nutrients, sunflower oil has gained increasing popularity for skin care and nutrition.
Sunflower seed oil, is a popular choice for those looking to nourish their skin barrier with natural ingredients.
History and Modern Times
Sunflower seeds have a rich history and cultural significance. Sunflowers are native to North America and were cultivated by Indigenous people long before the arrival of European settlers. Sunflowers also had symbolic importance in these cultures, often representing the sun and its life-giving properties.
Sunflowers were introduced to Europe in the 16th. The Russian Orthodox Church prohibited the consumption of many oils during Lent, but sunflower oil was not among the restricted oils, which contributed to its widespread adoption. Russian farmers cultivated sunflowers on a large scale, developing high-yielding varieties and improving oil extraction techniques.
Vincent van Gogh, the renowned Dutch painter, famously painted a series of sunflower still life works in the late 19th century. These iconic paintings showcased the sunflower's vibrant colours and unique shape, capturing its beauty and earning a special place in the history of art.
Sunflower oil's popularity spread globally during the 20th century.
In 2018, global sunflower oil production was 18 million tons, mainly from Ukraine and Russia (53%).
However, due to Russia invading Ukraine in 2022, the availability of sunflower oil has decreased substantially, and supply chain issues are prominent. As a result, many food companies switched to canola oil for their recipes. Skincare brands also have had to choose whether to adjust formulas or potentially increase prices.
How is Sunflower Oil Obtained?
Sunflower oil is extracted from the seeds of sunflowers using either mechanical pressing or solvent extraction.
Mechanical (cold) pressing involves crushing the seeds and applying pressure to extract the oil. In contrast, solvent extraction employs chemicals, such as hexane, to dissolve the oil from the crushed seeds.
The oil is then refined, which may include degumming, neutralization, bleaching, and deodorization, to remove impurities and enhance its stability, taste, and appearance.
Chemical Composition of Cold-Pressed Sunflower Seed Oil
Sunflower oil contains phytochemicals such as Vitamin E, carotenoids (vitamin A precursors), and phytosterols. The fatty acid composition mainly consists of polyunsaturated fatty acids, such as linoleic acid, and monounsaturated fatty acids, such as oleic acid.
A typical essential fatty acid breakdown for linoleic sunflower oil:
- Linoleic acid (omega-6): 50%
- Oleic acid (omega-9): 40%
- Palmitic acid: 4-9%
- Stearic acid: 1-7%
Oleic vs Linoleic Acid in Sunflower Oil
There are multiple types of sunflower oil with differing concentrations of fatty acids. These are produced through a combination of plant breeding and industrial processing (i.e. fractionation).
- High-linoleic, >50% linoleic acid
- High-oleic, a minimum of 80% oleic acid
- Mid-oleic, 65% oleic acid
- High-stearic with high-oleic, 18% stearic acid and 72% oleic acid
Practically speaking, there are really only two varieties for skincare and beauty consumers to know and understand:
- High-oleic sunflower oil: is typically used in cooking and industrial applications. Oleic acid levels are very high, usually >80%
- Linoleic sunflower oil: relative to oleic acid, the proportion of linoleic acid is much higher, which makes it more suitable for cold applications, such as salad dressings and cosmetic formulations.
When using sunflower seed oil on your face, the ratio between oleic and linoleic acids determines the skin benefits. If you use an unbalanced, high-oleic acid facial oil, you are more likely to have clogged pores or breakouts and sometimes even skin irritation.
However, remember, oleic acid is not bad! It just needs to be appropriately balanced by linoleic acid.
When the right ratio between the two exists, you have the perfect balance between moisturizing emollience (oleic acid) and anti-inflammatory (linoleic acid) effects for your face.
Sunflower Oil Benefits for Skin
This powerful antioxidant-packed oil can do wonders to help reduce wrinkles and promote overall healthier skin!
High linoleic sunflower seed oil for skin offers numerous skin benefits, particularly for the face. Some of the top skin benefits include:
- Barrier repair
- Wound healing
- Even out skin tone
- Enhanced absorption of other skincare ingredients
- Promotion of skin elasticity
Hair Benefits of Sunflower Oil
Sunflower oil benefits aren't just for the skin! It makes a great oil for scalp and hair treatments as well:
- Moisture & Shine – Sunflower oil helps hydrate and repair dry hair. It can make dull hair shine by providing the necessary moisture that seals split ends and prevent further damage.
- Scalp Health – Omega 6 fatty acids help reduce scalp inflammation.
- Hair Growth - While there isn't much scientific evidence yet on this benefit, anecdotal evidence suggests that massaging sunflower oil into your scalp might stimulate blood circulation and encourage new growth.
No matter what kind of hair type you have, sunflower oil can be used to condition your strands while adding nutrients deeply they need to stay strong and healthy. Plus, with its light texture and subtle natural aroma, sunflower oil won't leave behind any heavy residues or greasy residue like other oils do, making it ideal for all types of tresses.
Will Sunflower Oil Clog Pores?
For skincare, high linoleic sunflower seed oil has a comedogenicity rating of 0-1, making it suitable for acne-prone skin types. However, be sure to avoid the high oleic acid version.
That makes it an ideal choice for various skin types, including those prone to acne or other inflammatory conditions.
When appropriately used on the face, sunflower oil can help nourish the skin without clogging pores.
Which Skin Types Can Use Sunflower Oil?
Sunflower seed oil suits all skin types, including sensitive, irritable, or acne-prone. It's an excellent moisturizer for dry skin, but that's not the only skin type to benefit from face oils.
The fatty acids contained in sunflower oil can reduce inflammation, soothe irritation, and keep your skin balanced. This makes it an excellent choice for treating dryness, and it can be useful for some people with conditions like eczema. In addition, its light texture absorbs quickly and won't clog pores or leave behind any greasy residue – perfect if you're looking to maintain healthy, hydrated skin!
Sunflower oil has been studied for its potential medical benefits in skin care, particularly in the context of newborn care and eczema management. A study published in the journal "Pediatrics" in 2004 found that topical application of sunflower oil on preterm infants reduced the risk of hospital-acquired infections. This is likely due to sunflower oil's ability to reinforce the skin's natural barrier function and provide a protective layer against pathogens.
Sunflower oil has shown promise as an adjunctive treatment for eczema due to its anti-inflammatory and barrier-enhancing properties. A 2013 study published in the "International Journal of Dermatology" demonstrated that sunflower oil, combined with standard treatments, improved skin hydration and reduced the severity of eczema symptoms in pediatric patients.
Many of the research studies looking at the effects of sunflower oil on babies and children were performed in developing nations. This is due to the simplicity, availability, low cost, ease, and effectiveness of this amazing oil.
Risks of Using Sunflower Oil on Your Face
Any new product can trigger an irritation or flare of existing conditions, no matter how gentle or natural it is. Sunflower oil is no exception.
Generally speaking, sunflower seed oil should be safe for skin use in children and adults.
An exception would be if there is a known allergy.
It's always a good idea to discuss new products with your doctor or dermatologist if you suffer from any medical skin conditions. And don't forget to patch test before using.
Sustainability And Environmental Considerations
Regarding sustainability and environmental considerations around sunflower seed farming and its oil production, the good news is that it's largely beneficial.
Sunflowers are friendly plants that require very little water compared to other crops like corn and soybeans; they also have natural pest-deterrents, so there's less need for chemical pesticides than other agricultural practices.
Plus, their long stems provide coverage within crop rows which reduces soil erosion caused by wind and rain runoff, making them an ideal choice if you want your skincare products with sunflower oil infused into them to be part of environmentally responsible choices!
There are potential agricultural risks to any type of mass production of a commodity like sunflowers, so mindful agricultural practices are important.
I highly recommend sunflower oil for anyone looking to improve the health and appearance of their skin. In fact, this is the oil that got it all started for me years ago when I was searching for natural skincare solutions for my newborn. It's one of the best oils for sensitive skin.
Cold-pressed, high-linoleic sunflower oil has many beneficial qualities that suit all skin types, including dry, sensitive, and oily complexions.
Sunflower oil benefits are far from plain or boring. With its myriad of skin and hair benefits backed by scientific evidence, sunflower oil rightfully earns its place as an essential component in any well-rounded skincare routine.
There are many face oils to choose from, but if you're looking for one that is specifically designed for sensitive skin, sunflower seed oil will be an excellent addition to the ingredient list.
bareLUXE bare Essential Face Oil is dermatologist tested and designed to be a skin barrier serum - check it out!
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