Maybe you’ve already spotted tamanu oil at your local organic store. Maybe you passed it because you weren’t sure what it can exactly do for you and went for the more widely known oils such as rosehip or walnut oil. True, it’s still flying under the radar and doesn’t seem to have made a buzz yet. Still, it’s a powerful oil that has been used for centuries if not millennia by Asians.

Tamanu goes by many names: Green Gold and Beauty Leaf oil, Domba, Foraha, Kamanu, Laurelwood, Alexandrian Laurel oil, Palo Maria, Takamaka, Nyamplung oil, and many more. As you may have gleaned from Green Gold and Beauty Leaf oil, it’s highly treasured by certain Asian and Pacific Island cultures.

It was used extensively by the Polynesians to treat skin diseases and even rheumatism. While it’s generally not incorporated into Western medicine, research is ongoing about its benefits and it’s promising. One spoiler in advance: It can help you in your battle against breakouts and with the aftermaths, those pesky zits leave behind.

Even if your gut reaction is to run screaming “no more oil, no more shine” to the hills, give tamanu oil a chance. It’s a powerful and versatile ingredient to add to your routine.

So, what is it exactly?

Tamanu oil is pressed from nuts of the tamanu nut tree (scientific name Calophyllum inophyllum, if you want to find it on the ingredient list). The tamanu tree is an evergreen found in the South Pacific, namely Polynesia and Southeast Asia, India, parts of Africa and Australia.

Calophyllum inophyllum, photo by Tatters ✾

Its scientific name means “beautiful leaf” in Greek. An apt name, if you look at its large, oval, shiny green leaves. The tree grows to about 2-3 meters tall. The fruits of the tree are round and have about the size of apricots. They’re drupes, you know like mangoes and plums, a fleshy fruit with a kernel.

The oil is pressed from the kernel. It has yellowish green colour similar to olive oil. The oil has a strong nutty earthy scent. It’s a viscous, heavy oil. That is, you’ll certainly feel it on your skin.


Depending on the region, tamanu oil has found different uses.

The people living on the South Pacific islands found that when they applied tamanu oil, they could protect their skin from the elements such as the burning tropical sun, strong wind and rain lashing their skin.

In Southern India, it was used for skin diseases and was even applied to help with rheumatism. In the Philippines, it was used as lamp oil.

What does tamanu oil do for your skin?

The Polynesian people discovered that applying tamanu oil can with different ailments such as

  • Burns
  • Bites
  • Its
  • Acne

They also noticed applying it helps promote healthy skin cell growth and stimulate circulation. It’s no wonder they used it regularly, adults and children alike. It’s a versatile oil that can help a host of skin as well as hair concerns.

So, in short, tamanu oil is an excellent moisturiser. It contains a unique fatty acid, Calophyllic acid, a natural antibiotic, Lactone, and a natural non-steroid anti-inflammatory called Calophyllolide which is why it also has anti-bacterial and anti-inflammatory properties.

Rich in fatty acids

The long version is that tamanu oil is an emollient. This means it fills in any cracks that your skin might have and makes it soft. It also reinforces your skin barrier and replenishes the levels of lipids in your skin.

That’s because it’s rich in fatty acids. including linoleic acid, oleic acid, palmitic acid, and stearic acid.

Linoleic acid or omega-6 has anti-inflammatory properties and are known to

  • Make the consistency of the oil thinner
  • Be an emulsifier
  • Help with wound healing
  • Combat acne and reduce future zits
  • Improve moisture retention in the skin (and hair)
  • Provide anti-ageing benefits by sustaining and improving skin elasticity and texture

Oleic acid or (omega-9) has anti-oxidant properties and is known to

  • Boost immunity
  • Help your hair grow long and strong
  • Maintain the softness and suppleness of your skin and hair
  • Reduce visible signs of ageing, such as fine lines and wrinkles
  • Help with joint inflammation, stiffness, and pain

Palmitic acid is the one to make tamanu oil emollient. It also has antioxidant activities and is the most common saturated fatty acid.

Stearic acid is mainly known for its cleansing properties. Hence it can help cleanse your skin and remove sweat, excess sebum, and other debris. It’s also known to

  • Be an emulsifier and bind water and oil
  • Help prolong the shelf-life of products

Zap zits

If your first reaction is to steer clear of any kind of oils, the following could convince you otherwise.

A study done in 2015 four that tamanu oil can help combat breakouts. Since it has anti-bacterial as well as wound-healing properties. As it also has anti-inflammatory properties, it can help you keep your zits under control.

And it can also help with what spots leave behind (or your scars in general). Tamanu oil promotes the growth of new tissue. This is why tamanu oil can help with cuts, burns, bites, and blisters. Growing new tissue after a wound is what science calls “cicatrization”.

Stimulate collagen formation

Tamanu oil super charges your ability to regenerate skin, for that it also boosts collagen production and glycosaminoglycan. This is a fundamental component of skin tissue (the most common of these is hyaluronic acid). This is great news, if you want healthy ageing and not premature lines and wrinkles.

Protect against the sun

Not that you think you can skip SPF altogether. Due to its fatty acids, tamanu oil can help reduce the skin’s sensitivity to the sun. They also provide protection from the harmful UV rays of the sun. Tamanu oil with its fatty acids can add an additional layer of UV protection.

Let me repeat: You still want to apply your regular SPF. When UV rays hit your skin, they can cause damage to your cells. This translates into sagging skin and dark spots.

How do you use it?

As tamanu oil is versatile and can do a lot. Hence, you can find it in soap because it’s hydrating. Or you can find it in face creams, moisturisers, and face masks, oil blends, as well as in body lotion and lip balms, because it’s moisturising and strengthens your skin barrier. You can also often find it in products that help with scar reduction or anti-ageing.

You can also use it as a facial oil as the last step in your routine. It can be applied directly on your skin, wherever you want or need it. Since it’s a heavy oil, it will feel greasy on your face.

Another way is to add a drop to your favourite moisturiser or hair conditioner.

Will it jam up your pores?

No, although its thick consistency and heavy feel might mislead you. Tamanu oil isn’t comedogenic and will not block your pores. On the contrary, with its anti-bacterial and anti-inflammatory properties it will help you combat your zits and keep future breakouts at bay.

Should you still remain uncertain, you can regularly exfoliate your skin. It will help you prevent build-up of dead skin cells, excess sebum, and debris – all waiting to jam up your pores.

Who should use tamanu oil?

Tamanu oil can put your skin care on steroid, regardless of what skin concerns you want to address. But if you want to address acne and the scars left behind, it can be your new BFF. If you feel the oil is too greasy for you, you may also want to try to spot treat and not the entire face.

In closing

Although tamanu oil can feel greasy, it isn’t your average facial oil. It can help you clear up your skin and soothe blemishes and irritation.

If you’ve found tamanu oil, you want to keep it in an airtight and opaque container out of sunlight. It’s also a good idea to store it in a cool, dry, and dark place to keep it as fresh as long as possible. If you keep it in something like a drawer in your bedroom, it can have a shelf life of about 5 years.

Ingredient Spotlight: Tamanu Oil, The Green Gold

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