Benzoin is known to be anti-inflammatory and its strong antiseptic properties can help preserve skin care products
You may not be the only one to move to greener options. It seems the whole world including skin care brands do. You see it in the “clean” or “free off” beauty trends. Following this movement, there’s a quest to find natural preservatives. Benzoin is known to be antimicrobial, antiseptic and as an added bonus, also anti-inflammatory and astringent. It’s almost self-evident that it can help preserve a product.
Most probably you’ve already encountered benzoin because it smells a lot like vanilla. It’s a versatile ingredient used to protect sensitive skin, to treat minor wounds and scratches, in perfumes, as flavour in beverages, baked goods, chewing gums, and frozen dairy.
A little bit about the ingredient
Benzoin is the sap of the benzoin tree (Styrax benzoin). Don’t confuse it with benzoin Siam. Benzoin Siam comes from the tree Styrax tonkinensis growing across Southeast Asia (Thailand, Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia). Benzoin Sumatra is what is widely known as benzoin.
The benzoin (Styrax benzoin) tree mainly grows in Malaysia, Indonesia, Sumatra, and Java. The tree can reach a height of 30 metres and can live 70-100 years.
When a benzoin tree is around 7 years old its trunk is cut slightly. As defence mechanism, a white sap oozes out. A benzoin tree can produce resin for 15-20 years when its bark is slightly cut. After 4-6 months the sap hardens on the tree trunks and is harvested.
Although often called benzoin or benjamin (a corrupted pronunciation of benzoin) gum, the resin is soluble in water and contains many more essential oils. The crude resin is not clean and undergoes more drying to remove any purities. After another 3-6 months, when the sap has dried, it can be exported.
In this state, it can be ground into a powder, processed with solvents to make an extract, or soaked in alcohol to get a tincture. Historically, the tincture was used as an ingredient to make “Friar’s Balsam”. The tincture of bezoin or “Friar’s Balsam” was used to protect skin or to treat congested sinuses and lungs.
The benzoin sap also goes by balsam or tears.
Benzoin is a major component of incense used in Russian, some other orthodox, and in Western Catholic Churches. It’s also a component in blended types of Japanese, Chinese, and Indian incense. In some regions, it was burned on charcoal as is for its pleasant aroma.
The name benzoin comes from “luban-jawi” and it means “incense from Java” in Arabic. The use of benzoin can be traced back to ancient Egypt where both the resin as well as the wood were priced for their fragrant and disinfectant properties. The ancient Greeks and Romans were known used it as incense and in potpourris. The Greeks also recognised it as effective in treating skin and congested airways.
In the 15th century, benzoin made its way to England. There, it was made into perfumes.
Nowadays, benzoin is recognised as effective in preventing infections in minor wounds, cuts, and blisters. You may also see it used on canker sores in or around your mouth or to help relieve congested airways thanks to its anti-microbial activities.
Benzoin is used as a fixative in making perfume. It helps other fragrance ingredients to combine well and has a comforting, warm, and pleasant scent itself. It helps the perfume last longer on your skin since it slows down the rate at which the fragrance and essential oils evaporate.
Given that benzoin has a pleasant scent, it probably won’t come as a surprise that it’s often mentioned in aromatherapy. It has relaxing effects and helps the user to alleviate stress as well as fall asleep fast.
Known for its anti-microbial and ant-septic activities, benzoin is added as a preservative to extend the shelf life of natural cosmetics such as handmade soaps, creams, and body butters.
Skin and hair care
Although some brands avoid benzoin like the pest, others love it and add it to their skin and hair care products.
The main argument of the camp not using benzoin is that since it has some fragrant properties, it can sensitise the skin.
For the camp in favour of using benzoin, the arguments are
- It forms an invisible film that helps protect your skin
- It’s emollient and can seep and fill cracks in the skin such as in dry heels
- It’s anti-inflammatory and is known to soothe your skin from redness, itchiness, and irritation
- It has a pleasant scent and is deodorant
- It’s astringent
- It cleanses deeply while reducing the appearance and size of pores
- It’s anti-microbial and can so keep bacteria at bay
- It gives shine to hair
What to get
You can get benzoin as
- Benzoin essential oil
- Benzoin tincture
- Benzoin ground powder
- Crystals of benzoin resin
Frankly, benzoin essential oil is a misnomer. The liquid is made similarly to a tincture, where the benzoin resin is infused in the solvent alcohol. After the alcohol is evaporated, you get what’s known as an essential oil. It’s a very concentrated liquid and needs to be diluted. Even if it’s a misnomer, the same guidelines apply as with “normal” essentials.
No wonder benzoin is popping up in many skin and hair care products. Brands such as Lush seem to love it since
- It helps prolong the shelf life of a (natural) product
- It soothes and can restore dry skin
- It creates a protective barrier on skin and hair which helps prevent water loss
- It reduces inflammation
In closing, I leave you with a beauty hack especially now that hand care is trending as everyone is sanitising and washing their hands more. Just mix a few drops of bezoin essential oil to your favourite hand cream and you have a soothing and antiseptic hand cream.
As always, before your introduce it to your normal routine, it’s best to make a patch-test.