…and if you are, heed this message. There are few areas of skincare, whether natural or industrial, where the average consumer is more overexcited or naïve than with natural oils and creams.
If you don’t treat the natural moisturising market like the minefield it is, you will inevitably slip up and end up with a face like the Sahara desert.
Case in point – coconut oil. This “superfood” is so popular that Sumatran farmers have legions of trained monkeys to climb up and whack the coconuts out of trees. Coconut oil is recommended by acne patients everywhere as a natural moisturiser. It’s also made up of 48% lauric acid, a p.acnes bacteria killing fatty acid which is only found anywhere else in breast milk.
However, coconut oil also scores 4/5 on the comedogenic scale – it has a “high” chance of clogging skin pores. Cocoa butter is renowned for its fragrance and vitamin E, but cocoa butter also scores 4/5.
Next we have olive oil. It has decent softening and hydrating powers, but they’re completely derailed by its 70% content of oleic acid, a fatty acid whose main characteristic is disrupting the human skin barrier. There’s many more, including the likes of emu oil, high oleic safflower oil, and avocado oil. The list stretches on.
To summarise, many natural moisturisers have fatal flaws which no amount of miracle compounds can outweigh.
It’s lucky then, that one moisturiser exists which is different. It’s a product of Mother Nature and it’s free from the dodgy side effects.
The facts on jojoba oil
That moisturiser is jojoba oil. If you want to get one step ahead of the clear skin game then jojoba oil is one moisturiser which you definitely need the facts on.
Among internet dwelling acne patients, it’s equally as hyped as the oils above, but the advantage is that it has far less side effects. What actually is jojoba oil? Jojoba oil is the extracted fatty portion of the spiky, 10 metre tall jojoba plant found exclusively on the American continent.
The jojoba tree can survive for up to 200 years in the wild. The oil comes from the seeds of the plant; 50% of those seeds is oil in total. The jojoba tree was first discovered by a Spanish missionary back in 1779, when he observed Californian Native Americans using the fluid for wound treatment.
Nearly two centuries later, jojoba oil’s next real action was to deal Hitler a big blow. Despite his dreams Hitler never controlled any of the American continent. Northern Mexico and the South-western USA are the only locations on earth where the jojoba tree grows naturally, (attempts to grow it in North Africa have all failed), and luckily for the allies, jojoba oil is one of the greatest high pressure lubricants on earth.
If you wanted to wage war then by the 1940s, your tanks, aircrafts and heavy guns required huge amounts of lubrication, otherwise they would break down. Many machine guns in World War 2 were lubricated with jojoba oil. The allies had the jojoba oil supplies, Hitler didn’t.
By 1971 your average teenager was still debating whether milk or chocolate caused acne. But 1971 was the year the sperm whale ban came in. Most oils on earth, whether it’s the grapeseed oil on your face or the olive oil in your salad, are made up of fatty molecules called triglycerides, but jojoba oil and sperm whale oil are actually liquid waxes. Sperm whale oil was used everywhere in industry, but by 1971 the whales were running out (and probably devising a plan to fight back).
Hence, jojoba oil stepped into its place. Jojoba oil replaced whale oil for oil lamps, for keeping factory machinery running, and even for keeping the hands ticking in wristwatches. Jojoba oil was everywhere, and then the cosmetics industry cashed in. Jojoba oil reached its present day status of being placed in a high amount of natural make-up, shampoo, conditioners, and moisturisers.
Individual sales of jojoba oil became huge too. In 2000, the International Jojoba Export Council estimated that sales of jojoba oil would rise by 15% over the next five years. DIY skincare fanatics were the cause.
You can eat jojoba oil without serious harm but cannot digest it. There’s several characteristics which build up the skin-clearing hype; it has an extremely long shelf life of 2 years and rarely goes rancid. The only skincare oils which are more stable are coconut oil and castor oil.
Jojoba oil is an attractive clear golden liquid in its unprocessed form. It makes for exceptional advertising fodder thanks to it containing vitamin E, silicone, copper, zinc, selenium, iodine and chromium (the quantities are very debatable).
But it’s the fact that jojoba oil is actually a liquid wax which has got acne patients really excited; they speculate that jojoba oil has mystical powers. The most common claim is that jojoba oil can imitate human sebum and trick your face into downregulating its own oil production.
Jojoba oil – the master of moisturisers?
This scientific study from 2008 analysed the effect of jojoba oil mixed with glycerol on human skin. Right away, the introduction mentioned that “Jojoba Esters… have been shown to increase skin hydration and improve sensory skin “feel” when included in a variety of skin, hair, and nail care cosmetic/personal care formulations”.
The hydration factor is the key. There are very few studies around which test jojoba oil as a moisturiser, but the scientists behind this study obviously knew about classified research.
Then we have the study itself; the scientists tested jojoba oil by applying the mixture to the lower legs of patients. Analysis was performed upon application and subsequently at 8 to 24 hours after application. The main area tested was one which is vital for any decent moisturiser – trans-epidermal water loss (TEWL), the quantity of water lost through the skin’s outermost layer.
Effectively, they were testing how well jojoba oil traps moisture within the skin, and the good news is that it did so excellently. TEWL was substantially decreased.
What’s more, this benefit persisted for up to 24 hours after the initial application, meaning that jojoba oil is a long-lasting moisturiser.
The scientists concluded that “glycerol and hydrolyzed jojoba esters work in tandem to enhance skin moisturization for at least 24 h”. Even better, we know that the jojoba oil was responsible, because the combination of glycerol and jojoba resulted in a significantly lower TEWL score than glycerol by itself.
Already, we have excellent evidence for jojoba being an effective natural moisturiser. Next on the agenda we have the widespread claims that being comprised of 97% wax esters makes jojoba oil an incredible moisturiser. Sadly there’s no evidence.
The most common waxes in jojoba oil are obscure compounds such as eicosenyl octadecenoate and docosenyl eicosenoate. Since jojoba oil is the main source of these rare wax esters in the plant kingdom, very little scientific data exists on them.
The same is true for other plant waxes. Many women and amateur skincare researchers are diehard fans of beeswax, for example, but the scientists aren’t interested; maybe there’s no money in it. There’s very little evidence comparing the moisturising ability of waxes to that of normal triglyceride-based oils full stop.
Therefore, don’t believe the tales of the wax merchants, but it’s proven that jojoba oil is doing something correctly. It might be the waxes, it might be another nutrient.
What’s more, the testimonials are extremely positive as well. Here are some moisturising tales from completely normal acne patients:
- “I love this stuff! Add a few drops to a moisturizer and BAM, fantastic feeling skin”.
- ”My rough skin had returned to its usual softness. The more I used jojoba oil, it became even softer”.
- “Jojoba oil makes my skin feel soft. Not dry, not oily, soft”.
- “I use jojoba oil after I wash my face twice daily, and I swear by it! I will never use another moisturizer again”.
The scientific evidence and the testimonials are in complete alignment.
Jojoba oil won’t inflame your acne further
Where jojoba oil succeeds even further is in its lack of side effects. Firstly, it has a comedogenicity rating of only 2, indicating a “moderately low” chance that it will clog your pores up.
Again, cocoa butter and coconut oil both score 4/5, while flax seed oil scores 3/5. A score of 2 means that jojoba oil will only clog your pores if 1) they are in a bad state already, or 2) if you have skin pores which are very small genetically (a big genetic aspect of acne).
Secondly, jojoba oil’s concentration of oleic acid is very low at 5-15% or approximately 9.3%. Oleic acid is one of the main spoilers in otherwise excellent oils, being responsible for derailing both olive oil and avocado oil for topical skincare usage (avocado is a recommended food though). Oleic acid is effectively an anti-moisturiser; it increases trans-epidermal water loss whereas any good oil should decrease it. Olive oil, for instance, contains a massive amount of vitamin E and can wipe out p.acnes bacteria, but is completely scuppered by oleic acid.
Jojoba oil, however, is free from these problems. Olive oil and avocado oil have concentrations of 70% and 65.4% respectively; jojoba oil has a concentration which is far too low to cause harm in all but the most sensitive skin.
Even better, in jojoba oil it’s only the portion of the 3% which is actually triglycerides. The other 97% is wax esters, so the oleic acid content is more like 0.3% in reality. You also have the automatic benefit of any oil as opposed to water based product; the moisturiser won’t suddenly evaporate off your face the minute you stroll outside.
In fact, jojoba oil’s only proven side effect is an exacerbation of contact dermatitis, according to this study. A few people on message boards have reported a worsening of seborrheic dermatitis as well.
The reasons are mysterious, but jojoba oil is highly unresearched in general. 77% of the 3% triglyceride portion is gondoic acid which, similarly to the waxes, jojoba oil is the main source of in nature.
Does jojoba oil slash acne by 54 percent?
The dermatitis risk should not be forgotten, but the bottom line is that jojoba oil is one of the safest natural oils around, and it works as a moisturiser.
Now is when the situation complicates, however. A huge mystery lies within whether jojoba oil has any bonus powers for wiping out acne.
First we have a German study conducted on 194 acne patients back in 2012. A combination of jojoba oil and clay was applied to the face of each patient two to three times weekly for a period of six weeks. Total acne lesions were counted at baseline and after 6 weeks. The results were excellent; a huge 54% reduction in acne lesions after six weeks. Both inflammatory and non-inflammatory acne lesions had fallen.
These are astonishing results on the surface of it, but what was responsible, the jojoba oil or the clay?
The specific clay used wasn’t specified. However, in this article on bentonite clay, I covered how this touted miracle treatment can in fact annihilate p.acnes bacteria, and can in fact clear your acne, but only with a big risk of sucking the moisture right out of your skin. Overall I recommended against it, but coupled with jojoba oil, the risk of the clay drying out the skin might fall substantially, while the antibacterial effect would be preserved.
Hence we can’t tell from this study whether jojoba oil really is God’s gift to skincare, or whether the clay was behind it.
Ordinarily you would take this study as a mild positive, but the controversy is this: jojoba oil has extremely mediocre testimonials when it comes to clearing acne.
People love jojoba oil for getting soft and smooth skin, but reports vary wildly otherwise. There’s good ones…
- “My skin is completely spot free and my red marks are healing fast”.
- “I immediately saw a huge difference in my skin. The acne that was present was minimized by the second day”.
…and terrible ones.
- “Jojoba oil gave me three to four whiteheads every day.”
- “After using jojoba oil once, I got 5 huge pimples in unusual areas on my face. I waited a week and got the same reaction.”
- “Jojoba oil has done nothing but make me break out horribly. Whiteheads and huge red painful acne EVERYWHERE.
The vast majority of testimonials, however, praise the moisturising effects but report virtually zero change in pimple counts. Adding to the mystery is that jojoba oil undeniably does have some promising powers.
Does jojoba oil mimic sebum and end clogged pores?
This study tested its effects on wound healing by applying liquid wax of jojoba to a simple scratch wound. The result was an increase in type 1 collagen formation and accelerated wound closure; that would translate to accelerated healing of old pimples and clearer skin at any given time.
This study observed that a combination of jojoba oil and tea tree oil led to a big reduction in bacterial colonisation after 24 hours. Like before, the truth is clouded due to the tea tree oil, but jojoba oil also contains moderate amounts of iodine. Iodine of course is highly antibacterial, which is why it’s a good alternative to chlorine for keeping your swimming pool clean, and hence it might kill the p.acnes lurking in your skin pores.
The story changes with other nutrients though. There are claims everywhere that jojoba oil is rich in vitamin E, but these facts are dispensed with the brain on vacation and no check on concentration. Jojoba oil actually has a small vitamin E concentration of just 2mg per 100 grams.
Meanwhile, grapeseed oil contains 28.8mg, olive oil contains 14.3mg and sunflower oil contains 41.1mg. Other nutrients which websites mindlessly rattle off in a list include zinc, chromium, and selenium, but to cure acne with those nutrients you have to eat them (whereas vitamin E works in both ways).
Last but not least we have the most common tale of all – that jojoba oil is 97% wax and hence can trick your body into thinking that your face has enough sebum.
Jojoba oil is believed to be a godsend for clogged pores since it downregulates your skin’s sebum production. The truth? Here is the composition of healthy human sebum: 12% squalene, 41% triglycerides, 26% wax, and 16% free fatty acids. The composition is not the same at all. They do both contain substantial amounts of wax, but jojoba oil doesn’t provide everything your face needs.
Sebum is vital for delivering nutrients, maintaining the acid mantle, and even repelling rainwater in cold weather (it’s not completely evil). Production won’t casually shut down. The human body is a complex and intelligent organism. Even if jojoba oil and sebum both contained exactly 50% wax, it’s highly doubtful that it could mistake its own product for a random plant oil from nature.
What’s more, there isn’t any hard evidence to support the theory. It’s a cool idea, but that’s the point; it’s just a theory that sounds sensible upon first thought and is exciting enough to spread like wildfire. The “jojoba mimics sebum” theory is highly unlikely to be true.
The hard judgement from all this conflicting evidence? There isn’t one; uncertainty is rife. Jojoba oil could improve your acne, it could worsen it, or it could do nothing.
The jojoba judgement
What we can be confident about however is that jojoba oil is a top notch natural moisturiser.
Basically, you have two small risks: 1) you worsen any existing dermatitis, or 2) you join the small club of unlucky users who report a big acne outbreak. On the whole it has very few side effects.
How does it rank? Jojoba oil is definitely inferior to grapeseed oil. Grapeseed oil has a comedogenic score of just 2, but significantly more vitamin E than jojoba oil (learn about the wonders of vitamin E here). Grapeseed oil is also comprised of 64% linoleic acid, one of the most overlooked fatty acids, which is lower than average in the skin of many acne patients. Jojoba oil lacks these bonuses, but as a pure moisturiser it is excellent.
Jojoba oil dominates many other oils including olive oil, emu oil, coconut oil, cocoa butter and avocado oil. It’s also a great alternative in case you get an allergic reaction from grapeseed oil. The opposite applies of course; a few acne patients speak of “purging” and “healing crises” during the first month of jojoba application. The reality is that their skin just cannot tolerate it, and if you too find yourself on the road to ruin whilst using jojoba oil, you can just switch to grapeseed oil.
Also, we discussed how the unknown, unresearched waxes and fatty acids in jojoba oil are hindering the research for acne patients. Well, that has an upside; they could be far more beneficial than anyone realises. Jojoba oil and grapeseed oil are wildly different products; you never know what jojoba oil might do to your skin.
That could be why the testimonials on acne vary so wildly. It could be that the waxes work well for inflammatory acne, but exacerbate cystic acne. Jojoba oil, more than most other topical treatments, is one with a big opportunity for experimentation.
Your guide to the best jojoba oil product
Before you begin formulating any ingenious new skincare regimens, however, watch out! You must pick the right type of jojoba oil, or your plan could backfire badly.
Jojoba oil is just like many oils, as there’s two main methods to extract the oil from the raw seed of the jojoba tree.
Firstly, there’s refined jojoba oil. This is simply jojoba seeds blasted into oblivion with chemicals until they come up with something that can be sold. During the chemical process, what began life as jojoba oil is “deodorised, degummed, neutralised, de-colored, and stabilised”, with synthetic vitamins and nitrogen later added in.
Secondly, you have unrefined jojoba oil, also known as golden or virgin jojoba oil, where the seeds are simply pushed through an expeller. Out of one side you get fresh jojoba meal. Out of the other you get jojoba oil, and nothing more than minor pasteurisation and filtering is done to the fresh golden liquid.
The latter is what you want. The difference between the two is clear as day.
Unrefined jojoba oil is golden with a fatty odour. Refined jojoba oil is clear and odourless. Apparently this is more appealing to customers, but I think that the opposite applies nowadays. More and more people are smartening up and realising that any natural plant derived food or cosmetic which lacks the texture, smell and appearance of nature is surely a scam.
Also keep a close eye out for second-press jojoba oil, a particular sneaky product. This version is expeller presser, but derived from seeds which have already been subject to one session of expeller pressing. The second generation of oil is far darker and has a stronger smell then the first generation.
The solution? Massive chemical refinement. Another booby trap is blended jojoba oil, where they combine the featureless refined jojoba oil with the overly strong second press jojoba oil, to balance the two.
Basically, unrefined, organic jojoba oil is what you want, everything else is a sideshow.
What you also need is a certified organic jojoba oil; there’s several out there which claim to be organic but are missing the official certification.
This one, Eden’s Semilla 100% Pure Jojoba Oil, fits the bill. It’s also in a dark bottle to prevent incoming sunlight from oxidising the antioxidants and fats. Compared to tea tree oil, jojoba oil is already more resistant to this phenomenon thanks to its waxes and stability, so this product should last for years in a dark cupboard.
Use Eden’s Semilla 100% Pure Jojoba Oil and your dreams of both acne-free skin AND smooth and non-flaky skin might come true.
A cheaper alternative which still meets all the requirements is this InstaNatural Jojoba Oil.
Jojoba oil is an excellent natural moisturiser, without the side effects of 1) commercial moisturisers, and 2) olive oil, coconut oil, and cocoa butter.
It won’t clear your acne, although you could hit the jackpot with a random set of circumstances, since it’s so unresearched.
However, if you want to blast your face with natural skincare so that your acne doesn’t stand a chance, jojoba oil is one of the better natural moisturisers for keeping the flakiness suppressed. The best product is Eden’s Semilla 100% Pure Jojoba Oil.
Thanks for reading!