- Kukui nut oil is primarily used as a moisturizer and massage oil, and can also be found in a variety of skin care products.
- While the moisturizing effects of kukui nut oil are well documented, evidence supporting its other uses is anecdotal or limited.
- Kukui nut oil may have a role in wound healing and treating skin conditions such as acne and eczema.
Kukui nut oil is a natural ingredient that can be found in a variety of skin care products including body oils, soaps, moisturizers and balms. It has also been used for a wide array of purposes throughout history – as an antimicrobial agent, an ingredient in paint, a waterproofer and a laxative.
Clinical research on kukui nut oil’s benefits is still ongoing, however it is widely recognized as having potent moisturizing effects for both hair and skin.
What Is Kukui Nut Oil?
Kukui nut oil is pressed from the seeds of kukui trees. These trees are native to Southeast Asia, but grow throughout the world’s tropical regions, and are the official state tree of Hawaii. Kukui trees are also called candlenut trees, because their oil has traditionally been used in oil lamps.
This oil is rich in essential fatty acids, including both alpha-linolenic and linoleic acids. These acids strengthen the skin’s barrier function, and prevent moisture loss due to environmental factors. Kukui nut oil also contains vitamins A, C and E, which provide antioxidant properties.
Kukui nut oil can be applied directly to the skin and hair, or added to other skin and hair care products for additional benefits.
While it has been suggested this oil has a number of dermatological benefits, there is little scientific evidence to support this, and many medical experts are skeptical of its usefulness and safety. Dermatologist Jeanine B. Downie, MD acknowledges some of kukui nut oil’s benefits, but generally opposes its use for several reasons. “I don’t recommend applying this oil based on the possibility of an allergic reaction and its potential to clog pores.”
Kukui nut oil scent
Although raw kukui nut oil typically has a strong odor, most commercially available preparations undergo a partial deodorization process that results in a mild and pleasant aroma.
The scent is sometimes compared to that of coconut oil, and is purported to be lighter and sweeter than other nut oils. Other essential oils are also sometimes added to kukui nut oil products to enhance their fragrance, such as lavender and chamomile.
Kukui Nut Oil Uses
Kukui nut oil’s potent hydrating effects make it an effective ingredient for treating dry skin. This has led to its incorporation into a variety of skin and hair care products.
Kukui nut oil is an ingredient added to many skin care products, including soaps, cleansers, lotions and creams. It can also be purchased as a simple oil formulation, which can be applied directly to the skin as a moisturizer or used as a massage oil.
Kukui nut oil also offers potential hair care benefits, and it is included as an ingredient in some shampoos and conditioners. It can also be used on its own as an oil treatment. Just as the oil locks-in moisture into the skin, it is also effective in moisturizing the scalp, soothing itchiness and reducing dandruff.
Anecdotal reports suggest the oil can strengthen hair, reducing frizziness and leaving it appearing vibrant and healthy. However, no research has yet been done to confirm these benefits. Dr. Downie does not recommend applying kukui nut oil to the scalp due to its “potential for triggering allergic reactions.”
Benefits of Kukui Nut Oil for Your Skin
Although kukui nut oil has been used in traditional medicine for centuries and continues to be regarded as a potent healing agent, many of its purported benefits are not supported by science. However, its proven moisturizing and antibacterial properties suggest a number of potential benefits:
- Fighting dry skin
- Locking in moisture
- Reducing acne
- Preventing infection
- Preventing inflammation
- Encouraging wound healing
Fighting dry skin
Dry skin is caused by a variety of factors, including genetics, weather, overcleansing and conditions such as eczema. The fatty acids present in kukui nut oil have been found to penetrate deeply into dry skin and effectively restore moisture.
As it is absorbed, kukui nut oil also leaves a thin layer of lipids on the surface of your skin. These lipids reinforce your skin’s barrier function, protecting it from further loss of moisture.
Anecdotal evidence suggests these same qualities can also alleviate irritation caused by eczema. However, clinical studies have not been undertaken to verify such claims. Dr. Downie recommends kukui nut oil be avoided by those with eczema, as “many eczema patients suffer from allergies to environmental irritants and food products.” Kukui nut oil may trigger these allergies.
While Dr. Downie believes this oil may help improve skin hydration, she does not support applying it for this purpose. “I do not recommend patients use this product in particular for their dry skin,” says Dr. Downie, “as there are plenty of other over-the-counter options that are less likely to cause allergic or hypersensitivity reactions and are manufactured in a more regulated environment.”
Kukui nut oil has been believed to have antimicrobial properties for centuries. These purported properties have more recently resulted in it being incorporated into some acne treatments.
Cutibacterium acnes (formerly Propionibacterium acnes) is a type of bacteria that naturally lives on the surface of the skin, and is partly responsible for the formation of comedones.
This bacteria proliferates through sebum and adheres to skin cells. In this manner, it facilitates the buildup of oil and dead skin cells within pores. When C. acnes comes in direct contact with these clogs, it can also trigger inflammation, leading to the development of painful acne pustules and nodules.
Although studies have not been conducted on whether kukui nut oil can specifically prevent the formation of comedones caused by C. acnes, preliminary analysis suggests it can hinder bacterial growth and fight infection. Anecdotal reports on the use of kukui nut oil products on acne-prone skin suggest varying but generally positive results.
This oil is also effectively absorbed into the skin without leaving a greasy surface residue, and is unlikely to cause an excess of oil buildup that may clog pores. This makes it less likely to trigger breakouts in acne-prone skin than other oils such as avocado and olive oil.
However, kukui nut oil may still exacerbate oil buildup for users with especially oily skin. For this reason, Dr. Downie does not recommend it for users with acne-prone skin. “With its supposed antioxidant potential and ability to moisturize,” says Dr. Downie, “the product could help with inflammatory acne, however I wouldn’t recommend taking the chance.”
Kukui nut oil has been used to help prevent infection and heal sunburns and wounds in traditional Hawaiian medicine. Commercially available kukui nut oil products are still frequently sought out for these purposes today.
The oil’s ability to hinder bacterial growth suggests it may protect wounds against infection, and the protective layers of lipids it leaves on the surface of the skin can help to induce natural healing.
However, this oil’s full antimicrobial and healing potential has yet to be clinically tested, and some advise against applying it to wounds. “I would not recommend putting a product such as this on an open wound or burn,” says Dr. Downie, “not only because of the lack of any credible evidence for its use, but also because the manufacturer does not have to uphold the same standard of cleanliness as a true wound treatment manufacturer.”
A word on psoriasis
Psoriasis is a painful skin condition that causes redness, scaling and the formation of raised plaques of dry, hardened skin. Topical application of kukui nut oil is reported to reduce the severity of symptoms associated with this condition; however, these claims lack scientific backing.
A small pilot study found no difference in psoriasis plaques between kukui nut oil and mineral oil. The study concluded that more research is needed to properly evaluate the oil’s effect as a psoriasis treatment.
Kukui Nut Oil vs. Coconut Oil
Coconut oil has also been traditionally used for skin care purposes. While more research has therefore been carried out on the benefits of this oil for skin care, preliminary research on kukui nut oil suggests the two may share similar properties.
Both oils are effective emollients. Coconut oil can enhance the skin’s barrier function, locking in and protecting moisture. Research shows that coconut oil, much like kukui nut oil, has antibacterial properties. Topical application of coconut oil can reduce eczema symptoms, and kukui nut oil is purported to also have this potential.
Unlike kukui nut oil, coconut oil has been demonstrated to increase collagen production, which can aid in wound healing. Coconut oil products also tend to be more easily accessible than kukui nut oil products. “The two ingredients are very similar,” says Dr. Downie, “however, formulations of coconut oil are far more available and tested in mainstream products like Olay and Aveeno.”
Lastly, coconut oil typically leaves a greasy residue on the surface of the skin, while kukui nut oil does not. This makes coconut oil more likely than kukui nut oil to clog pores and lead to breakouts, particularly in acne-prone skin.
|Kukui Nut Oil||Coconut Oil|
|Reduces eczema symptoms||Purported||Yes|
|Products readily available||Through specialized vendors||Yes|
|Helps wounds heal||No||Yes|
|Free of greasy residue||Yes||No|
How to Use Kukui Nut Oil
Kukui nut oil can be applied to any area of the body by applying a small amount directly onto the skin.
You can use kukui nut oil on your face to moisturize or lightly massage it into your scalp and hair as an oil treatment. Lotion formulations of kukui nut oil should be applied to your skin while it is still damp from a bath or shower to help lock in moisture.
Kukui nut oil can also be used as a bath oil. A few drops can be poured directly into bathwater for added fragrance and a moisturizing effect.
Some people add this oil directly to other skin care products, as this is said to enhance the fragrance or moisturizing effects of those products. However, the combined effects of kukui nut oil and other emollients have not been studied.
Kukui Nut Oil DIY Recipe
Kukui nut oil can be combined with other ingredients to make a hydrating face mask formula that soothes dry skin.
- 1 tbsp kukui nut oil
- 1 tbsp honey
- 1 tbsp plain yogurt
- Combine all ingredients in a bowl and blend to form a paste
- Apply the paste to your face
- Wait 1–15 minutes; wash off with warm water.
Kukui Nut Oil Allergy
Allergies are a common concern with skin care products that incorporate tree nut oils as ingredients. Although little data exists on kukui nut oil’s potential to trigger allergies, reactions cannot be ruled out as potential issues. Product testimonials suggest that some users of kukui nut oil do suffer from outbreaks of red bumps resembling hives.
If you have concerns, be sure to undergo a patch test or speak with your allergist before applying kukui nut oil.
Kukui nut oil has a long history in traditional Polynesian medicine, and continues to be used today for a variety of skin and hair care purposes. Studies on its effects and benefits are still limited, but early findings suggest the oil has powerful hydrating and strengthening effects, and antimicrobial potential.
The moisturizing effects of kukui nut oil may benefit users with dry skin and hair. Further research will be needed to evaluate its suitability for other skin types and conditions.
Anecdotal reports on kukui nut oil suggest the oil is unlikely to leave a greasy residue, trigger breakouts or cause irritation. However, if you are concerned about these possibilities, be sure to perform a spot test or speak with a professional before trying kukui nut oil.
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