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Oil from babassu is closely related to coconut oil making it a popular all-natural ingredient. Babassu oil benefits include relief from dry skin and hair.
An ever-increasing amount of skin and hair products now contain an ingredient very similar to coconut oil. It’s called ‘babassu oil.’ The creamy, off-white color at room temperature is one of the reasons it’s often referred to as “coconut oil’s first cousin.”
Like coconut oil, one of the babassu oil benefits is that it contains a very high percentage of fatty acids. It’s the compounds in these fatty acids which makes it beneficial for hair and skin.
But there’s one major advantage of babassu oil over coconut oil. We’ll address that difference later on in this post….
But first, let’s talk about how this popular ingredient is made and where it comes from. If you ever use a product with babassu oil for its benefits on skin and hair, you’ll have a more meaningful connection to the product.
You’ll feel good about using products that contain the oil, not just because your hair and skin may look and feel better, but because your purchase helps support indigenous communities that rely on babassu palm trees to earn a living.
The ability of indigenous communities to cultivate babassu oil is a success story not only for the people of the indigenous communities. It’s also a win for an enormous area of one of the Earth’s most important ecosystems.
Where does babassu oil come from?
Babassu oil is cultivated from the seeds of the babassu palm tree (Orbignya oleifera). It’s cultivated mainly in the Brazilian state of Maranhao, in the northeastern part of the country. This area is home to a large portion of the Amazon river and its many tributaries.
The oil that comes from the babassu palm, extracted from its seeds, which look like coconuts, is a transparent, light yellow oil. Also called cusi oil and it’s high in saturated fat. This makes the oil very stable. It’s able to travel from Brazil to other countries without spoiling. So, it’s ideal for use in food products, cleaners, cosmetics, shampoos and conditioners.
Preservation of the Amazon: good for your skin and hair
In the mid-20th century, the Brazilian government wanted to settle the interior of the country. Vast swaths of the Amazonian rain forest were clear cut. The government deforested the land to make way for cattle farming, heavily subsidizing large cattle ranches.
By the 1980s, over one-fifth of the total rain forest had been clear cut. Many indigenous communities were forcibly removed from their homes.
What does this have to do with how babassu oil can benefit hair and skin? We’ll get to that!
The courageous babassu oil nut breakers
One of the areas severely impacted by deforestation was the Cocais region of Maranhão. Cocais is the primary region where babassu palms grow. Many generations of so-called babassu “nut-breakers” have relied on babassu oil to support families and communities.
Many of the nut breakers are the descendants of African slaves. Nut breakers are most often women. And it’s these big, strong, courageous women that you should thank if the product has benefited your hair, skin and nails. It’s extremely physically intensive to break babassu palm nuts to get the oil.
Many indigenous communities who relied on nut breaking for their livelihood were threatened, and many physically assaulted, some even killed, by cattle ranchers, loggers, and other groups looking to exploit the Amazonian rain forest’s natural resources.
The nut breakers devised a courageous plan to help preserve their land and livelihood. They knew that if their husbands and sons confronted the ranchers, who were often armed, their lives would be at risk.
The nut breakers sent their husbands and sons to hide deeper in the interior. It was the nut-breaking women who confronted the military police and armed cattle ranchers.
These women emerged victorious. As a result of the nut breaker’s solidarity and courage, the Free Babassu Law was created in 17 Brazilian municipalities. The law protected forests where babassu nut-producing palms grow. The nut breakers, many of them landless, now had rights and free access to cultivate babassu.
Not only were the nut breakers’ livelihoods protected, but, so, too, was a huge swath of the Amazonian ecosystem. Currently, babassu oil is the livelihood for an estimated 400,000 nut breakers, on nearly 4.5 million acres.
Many uses of babassu oil
After the nut breakers take the oil from the almond-shaped nut, the shell of the babassu palm is used to produce, among other things, charcoal. The nut breakers also take the “meat” from the babassu nut and use it for medicinal uses, such as treatment for gastritis and stomach pain.
The babassu meat is also used by these indigenous cultivators to bake bread. The oil and meat are major sources of calories for many of these African descendants.
Babassu oil is also used as a fuel and lubricant, among many other uses.
Babassu oil benefits for skin and hair
In the U.S., the product is mostly used for skin and hair. Babassu oil benefits include healing dry skin and improving skin elasticity.
Are you a DIY all-natural product aficionado? If you enjoy making your own skin and hair care products, you should consider adding babassu oil to your repertoire. It can be added to your homemade lotions, creams, body butters and essential oil remedies.
One of the babassu oil benefits is that even though it’s all-natural, it can last a very long time. It does not spoil easily because of its high saturated fat content. It’s used for eczema, dry skin, flaky skin, acne, and virtually any other skin concern.
The fatty acids found in babassu oil contain anti-inflammatory properties. The compounds in these fatty acids can help with several other skin conditions, from stretch marks, rashes, burns, cuts and more.
You can also add some of this magical oil to your existing shampoo or conditioner, or even make your own body wash. Babassu oil contains vitamin E, which can help moisturize both skin and hair. It’s also a great all-natural solution for chapped lips.
If you frequently experience skin or scalp irritation, try using babassu oil. It can strengthen collagen fibers in hair and help protect hair follicles. It may also be beneficial for hair growth.
Babassu oil vs coconut oil
You’ve waited a long time to read the biggest advantage of babassu oil versus coconut oil. Here it is: babassu oil is not greasy. If you’ve ever rubbed coconut oil on your skin, you’ll be able to relate. Several hours after rubbing some coconut oil on your face, your face still looks greasy.
Like coconut oil, babassu oil starts to liquify when applied to skin. Because it contains the same fatty acid profile, as well as vitamins, babassu oil benefits are similar to coconut oil, but without the greasy, oily feel.
Babassu oil is also a bit more cooling to the touch than coconut oil. This may be a benefit of using it, especially in the summer.
As for the difference in price between the two oils, babassu oil is relatively inexpensive just like coconut oil. But it’s still much harder to find.
Availability may change one day in the near future, as the benefits of babassu oil become more apparent to the masses. But for the time being, you’re not likely to find babassu oil at your neighborhood Trader Joe’s or Whole Foods, like you would coconut oil.
Organic babassu oil
Like any natural product, babassu oil can be refined and heated. To get the babassu oil benefits for skin and hair, the babassu palm nut must undergo processing. But when heat is included in the refinement process, the oil loses much of the potency that comes from its natural fatty acid profile.
This is why if you’re considering buying it, you should consider purchasing organic babassu oil. There’s some debate over whether it’s necessary to buy organic oils that come from a hard shell. But just to be on the safe side, if you buy organic, you’re pretty much assured that the oil will be extracted using a cold-pressing method to preserve the nutrients.
In general, the extraction process of babassu oil, in and of itself, is very organic. The oil is extracted by the nut breakers after the palm nuts ripen and fall to the ground.
Is babassu oil comedogenic?
One of the babassu oil benefits is that it does not clog pores. Therefore, babassu oil is non-comedogenic and perfect for use on the face. Conventional cosmetics are usually terrible for skin. The chemicals in conventional cosmetics clog pores and interfere with the skin’s natural ability to produce its own oil. This leaves skin drier and more damaged than before application of the conventional cosmetic.
What does research conclude about babassu oil?
One study examined if the babassu oil benefits include improving human immune system function. The researcher’s conclusion: Babassu oil microemulsion system is an option for future applications, including for vaccine delivery system.
This study, published in Lipids in Health And Disease suggests that unrefined babassu oil reduced microvascular leakage and protected against histamine-induced effects in postcapillary venules and highlights that these almost unexploited nut and its oil might be secure sources of food energy.
Fatty acids have been studied extensively for their myriad health benefits. This scholarly article published in Oil and Soap lists the fatty acid composition (and corresponding percentage) that gives babassu oil its many benefits, including healthy hair and skin.