If sesame oil is the queen of oils in ayurveda, I’d like to dub sunflower oil the hidden gem of oils. Why? It’s one of the few oils that ayurveda defines as tridoshic, which means that it’s generally suitable for all body types, and modern skin science gives a 0 rating to on the comedogenic scale, which means that it won’t clog your pores.
Your body type and your skin
To unpack the mouthful statement above, let’s start by understanding the term tridosha. Ayurveda has 3 basic body types: vata, pitta, kapha. They make up the 3 doshas, or tridosha. These are bodily humors that govern your physiological functioning. These are terms used in ayurvedic biology. Each body type can be described by a set of characteristics.
Vata: In a hugely generalized way, vata is associated with dryness and roughness in the body so you can see while oiling is a great idea for vata-predominant people and imbalances caused by excess vata. Dryness in the body may show up on your skin in the form of dry skin, wrinkles or dryness-related irritation.
Pitta: Pitta is light, hot and oily, or moist. In fact, pitta-predominant people and those with excess pitta can be prone to breakouts, redness, ulceration, itching that spreads, burning pain, and heat-related irritation.
Kapha: The qualities of kapha include heavy, oily, or moist; smooth and cool. Kapha-predominant people have naturally the most amount of oil of the 3 body types. As such, their skin tends to be smooth and supple. Too much kapha, however, may present itself as cystic acne on your skin. Skin disorders with a kapha component are not necessarily superficial and they often involve swelling, white discoloration and fluid retention.
The qualities of sunflower oil and your skin type
The properties of sunflower oil are light, oily and smooth. It tastes sweet, and has a cooling effect and a sweet post-digestive effect on the body when taken internally. It has a strengthening and balancing action on all three doshas. When looking at your skin, it means that it’s suitable for all skin types.
Sunflower oil (and oil in general) helps combat dryness in the body to calm vata. For your skin, it means applying oil to bring moisture to dry skin.
Since this oil is cooling, it helps balance the fiery pitta dosha. This oil is a favorite for abhyanga, or oil massage, for pitta people so you’ll often find it in ayurvedic massage oil blends. And because it’s light with a 0 comedogenic score, it won’t clog your pores.
While kapha is rich in oils, sunflower oil is still suitable for kapha. You should only use a little though.
Modern science on sunflower oil for your skin
1. Skin barrier protection
Sunflower seed oil contains high levels of essential fatty acids, in particular linoleic acid, and promotes skin barrier homeostasis. A healthy skin barrier helps keep the bad stuff out, such as infectious agents, and the good stuff in, such as water. In a controlled trial, sunflower oil preserved the integrity of the stratum corneum (outmost layer of the epidermis, a.k.a. skin barrier), prevented erythema (superficial redness) and improved hydration in adults with and without a history of atopic dermatitis (eczema).
2. Skin microbiota improvement
The hypothesis in a controlled trial in Bangladesh among severely malnourished children between 2 and 24 months was that sunflower seed oil could positively affect the skin microbiota which could then in part positively affect the skin barrier. The trial revealed that emollient therapy with sunflower seed oil had indeed changed the skin microbiota which likely contributed to better skin barrier functioning. The study concluded that strengthening skin and gut barrier function in risky populations could involve the manipulation of skin microbiota.
3. Neonatal skincare
While there is more research needed to assess the efficacy and safety of oil applications for term and preterm neonates, a randomized controlled trial including 90 term and preterm babies showed that sunflower seed oil was harmless to their skin and could be used to maintain skin integrity.
4. Skin cancer prevention
Sunflower oil has a chemopreventive effect, especially due to its sesamol content. It provided 40% protection in a mouse skin tumor model study.
5. Natural sunscreen
Sunflower oil contains vitamin E and acts as a natural sunscreen which can absorb UVB light. In a study, sunflower oil nanoemulsions were evaluated and found to be a stable, natural sunscreen option. Nanoemulsions are “nano-sized emulsions, which are manufactured for the delivery of active pharmaceutical ingredients”. That said, remember to always use sunscreen labeled for that purpose—even in the winter.
6. Wound healing
Sunflower oil has wound-healing qualities. Check out this summary from the Korean Society of Veterinary Science on using ozonated sunflower oil to help heal wounds in turtles.
People with sensitive and problematic skin will likely respond positively to sunflower oil due to its anti-inflammatory and emollient properties. Sunflower oil has been reported to help manage and prevent atopic dermatitis and related skin disorders. An interesting study found that daily full-body emollient therapy from birth can prevent atopic dermatitis and help manage it in existing cases. Ayurveda advocates for daily abhyanga, or oil massage as a form of emollient therapy. On a related note, abhyanga is not only believed to help the skin, but also the body, mind and senses.
Have you used sunflower oil on your skin before? If so, let us know your experience in the comments.
Image by Leticia Rodrigues, Pexels
Disclaimer: this blog should not be considered as medical advice. It’s merely a presentation of ayurvedic principles and modern research findings on sunflower oil. Consult your healthcare professional to find out the best medical advice for your unique situation.