Nowadays, you get a wealth of choices of products that promise to help you with every skin concern. But before modern-day chemistry and technological innovations, nature was our apothecary and bathroom cabinet. Plants have many nutrients that will help improve the health and beauty of your skin.

Did you know that the ancient Egyptians used safflower to treat skin conditions such as eczema, rosacea, or acne? This alone can be taken to show how valuable it is for skin care.

Safflower, photo by Matt Lavin

After its glorious past, using safflower for skin care is not as common anymore. But with more people taking a deeper look into what they use on their skin, it sees a meteoric rise – almost like the mythical phoenix.

It may still not be the trendiest of all the skin care ingredients, but safflower or more exactly safflower seed oil is popular thanks to its all-star ability to deal with acne and dark spots while being super hydrating.

Before we dive in, there’s a small but important difference between hydrating and moisturising skin care. The difference is how a skin care product works: If you use a hydrating product, it ups the water content in your skin cells. A moisturising product protects your skin from trans-epidermal water loss. This is when water evaporates from your skin.

This also means there are 2 conditions for your skin: On the one hand, your skin can be dehydrated. You’ll feel tight skin, or it can be rough and dry. That’s when the water level in the skin cells is low. Dry skin is when your skin produces little natural oil, called sebum. This describes a skin type. For example, even if you have oily skin, it can still be dehydrated but not dry. Oily skin types produce too much sebum – not too little.

Safflower plant

You may see on the ingredient list “Carthamus tinctorius”. That’s the scientific name of the plant commonly known as safflower. It looks like a thistle and grows to a height of 30-150 cm with many branches and globular flower heads.

The flowers have a beautiful and bright yellow to orange colour. Up to 5 flowers can sit on a branch. It can be traced back all the way to ancient Mesopotamia and as far back as 2500 BC. It’s one of the oldest known crops.

It’s used for a variety of purposes. The ancient Egyptians used it to treat skin conditions such as acne but also to make textile dyes, Egyptian Kohl (cosmetic eyeliner). Its seed oil was used to light the lamps.

The ancient Chinese used dried flowers and flower extract as components in many Chinese Medicines. The flower petals were used for formulations to promote blood circulation. But it was also used in blush.

Early Spanish colonies in New Mexico replaced saffron with safflower in recipes and until the 1880s, it was known as carthamine. But it wasn’t until the 1920s that its seed was pressed to make safflower seed oil. In the 1960s people started loving it as many benefits were discovered.

Safflower oil

Similar to how sunflower oil is made, safflower oil is extracted from the seeds. That’s why you’ll see safflower oil and safflower seed oil used interchangeably. There’s also safflower essential oil, but this is made by distilling the petals of the flower itself.

Safflower seed oil has a thick buttery consistency and a light yellow almost clear colour. It’s commonly used in cooking and has a high smoking point which surpasses olive oil, corn oil, and sesame oil. This makes it a great option for stir fries and deep frying.

It has a mild, you could say unobtrusive taste and is almost odourless. It’s generally considered to be one of the healthiest oils you can cook with. The oil has a very high vitamin E content which offers many health benefits. Further, it’s extremely high in linoleic – about 70-80% – and other fatty acids making it a healthy choice both for cooking and for your skin. Besides been an allrounder, it has many other benefits for the skin.

Allrounder for your skin

In skin care, safflower oil is often used as a moisturising agent or additive. It’s both an emollient and an occlusive. This means, it softens and smooths skin by filling in the gaps in between the skin cells. This also contributes to preventing moisture to evaporate from your skin. Then, it forms a protective thin barrier that seals in the water and other nutrients. It prolongs hydration while limiting irritants to absorb into the skin.

The key in safflower is linoleic acid. This is an essential fatty acid and part of the omega-6 group. So, when you read about how safflower seed oil is beneficial for your skin, it’s really about the benefits of linoleic acid.

Linoleic acid is an important component of your skin’s protective barrier, for its structural integrity. Safflower oil has a deep effect on the fatty acid composition of your skin and can help to reduce the inflammatory response in the different layers of your skin. This means any symptoms that often go hand in hand with sensitive or irritated skin can be minimised.

With its high vitamin E and vitamins such as A, D, and K, it helps improve your skin’s health. Vitamin E is a well-known antioxidant used in skin care for decades. Research has found that vitamin E acts as an antioxidant and can provide some protection against UV-induced skin damage. This vitamin is also commonly added because it can lock in moisture and help dry skin.

For acne

Usually, you’d think first of salicylic acid, retinoids, or benzoyl peroxide if you want to tackle spots. So, using safflower oil may come as a surprise.

You may even think applying oil to acne is counterproductive, but safflower oil is non-comedogenic. This means it won’t clog your pores and cause zits in the first place. Then it’s antibacterial which helps suppress common acne-causing bacteria. It’s anti-inflammatory, so it can help quell or minimise redness in your skin. Both properties are also thought to help with wound healing.

Research has also found that applying linoleic acid can improve spots, reducing the size of blackheads and whiteheads. That’s because people who suffer acne and often have lower levels of linoleic acid in their sebum (natural oils produced by their skin), which safflower oil can help to balance out.

Balanced and clean skin

If your skin is out of whack, it shows in blocked pores or dry and flaky skin. Safflower oil not only balances your skin’s oils it also helps keep your pores free and unjammed.

Since it acts both as an emollient and occlusive, it helps your skin retain water, making it radiant, soft, and smooth. It also helps improve the texture and tone of your skin. You may find it also reduces the appearance of scarring after a breakout.

Slow down signs of ageing

Our skin loses elasticity as we age. As a result, our skin begins to sage and fine lines and wrinkles appear making us look older. Safflower oil contains vitamin E as well as flavonoids and carotenoids. As mentioned vitamin E can reduce damage caused by exposure to UVB rays and prevent skin cell damage. The flavonoids and carotenoids are potent antioxidants that can help fight oxidative damage and promote skin health.

Safflower oil can reduce telltale signs of ageing. It can stop or reduce photo-ageing caused by UVB by minimising the effects of the enzyme collagenase that breaks down collagen. As you surely know by now, collagen is what gives your skin its structure and makes it look plump.

How to use safflower oil

To get all the benefits, it’s important to look for safflower oil in its purest form, that is organic, cold-pressed, and minimally processed. The best container should be a dark, opaque bottle to help protect against light-induced degradation.

Pure, edible safflower oil can be applied to your skin without any preparation. You can add safflower oil in different ways, but the simplest way is probably to use it as a facial oil. Just apply 2-3 drops to your skin at the end of your routine.

Danger zone

Safflower oil is considered safe. It’s generally well-tolerated. Still, an allergic reaction can always happen. When in doubt, you can always first do a patch test.


Since time immemorial, people have added natural oils to everyday skin care. Safflower oil is a great choice since it’s suitable for all skin types. It’s non-comedogenic, as a light and balancing oil, it penetrates quickly into your skin, and helps to get rid of skin impurities. It does all of these while protecting your skin and reducing signs of ageing.

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