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In skincare - and in life - there are certain players that take center stage (looking at you, squalane and vitamin C) and others that fade into the background. That said, while they don’t get a lot of time in the spotlight, these background ingredients are just as important in the final product: if they’re toxic or comedogenic, the whole product can cause major skin problems. If they’re healthy and skin-friendly, though, it could help actives be even more effective.
One all-star “background” ingredient is sunflower seed oil (Helianthus Annuus). Here’s why it’s so great.
Sunflowers are native to the southwest in the U.S, and they have been used as food, medicine, and personal ornament for generations. Sunflower seed oil - extracted, as the name suggests, from the seeds of this happy flower - is abundant in natural vitamin E. It’s also rich in linoleic and oleic acids. These provide key benefits to the skin.
Vitamin E is a powerful all-around antioxidant. It can:
Linoleic acid has often been used topically to treat essential fatty acid deficiency, and it can help reduce fatty acid-related barrier concerns, which include a compromised barrier and transepidermal water loss.
That means that products with sunflower seed oil can effectively help maintain and restore your skin’s natural barrier.
Many studies suggest that sunflower seed oil has anti-inflammatory properties. Specifically, linoleic acid converts to arachidonic acid on the body. This, in turn, triggers an inflammatory modulator, thereby decreasing the body’s immune response.In other words, it can decrease redness and inflammation over time.
In a surprising trial, participants were randomly given olive oil to one arm versus sunflower seed oil to the other for 4 weeks. Interestingly, the olive oil caused a worsening of the barrier function and even increased redness in participants. Sunflower seed oil, on the other hand, preserved skin barrier function while actually improving hydration.
Although fairly limited, these findings have prompted me to caution patients away from using topical olive oil in favor of sunflower seed oil.
Carrier oils like sunflower seed oil are important in many skincare products because they can help stabilize actives or dilute ingredients like essential oils until they’re safe for topical use.
That said, there are some carrier oils that mayprovide certain benefits, but they tend to clog pores, particularly for sensitive or acne-prone skin. These include:
Next time you’re shopping for a moisturizer or serum, then, it’s important to pay attention to these often-overlooked ingredients.
Here’s to happy, glowing skin!