Meadowfoam seed oil comes from a beautiful, tiny white flowering plant that flourishes in the wet, grassy regions of Oregon, Northern California, and Vancouver. It wasn't until a few decades ago that agricultural researchers realized this wildflower could be cultivated into something quite useful, but today, we're reaping the benefits in the form of a non-greasy, ultra-moisturizing oil that penetrates the skin—and also naturally extends the shelf-life of skin care products.
What Is Meadowfoam Oil?
This pretty plant (scientifically known as Limnanthes alba) grows in marshy areas, and when in bloom, it resembles white seafoam. Looking for new plants to harvest in the 1950s and '60s, the U.S. Department of Agriculture discovered that meadowfoam seeds are packed with lots of very useful oil. That's when farmers in Oregon began figuring out how to tame the plant. Today, it's a relatively inexpensive, locally grown oil that's quickly finding fans in the cosmetics industry.
What Makes Meadowfoam Oil Special: Shelf Life
This will take a bit of chemistry to understand: plant oils contain fat molecules called fatty acids, which vary depending on how many carbon atoms they have. Meadowfoam seed oil is mostly made up of long-chain fatty acids, similar to those in jojoba oil, plus one really long-chain fatty acid not found anywhere else in nature. This is important because those long chains mean meadowfoam seed oil doesn't break down easily, and that means it can last as long as five years without going bad. Its presence in a formulation also helps extend the shelf life of other ingredients.
How Meadowfoam Oil Benefits Skin
The skin has natural ways to stay hydrated. Its outer layer is a barrier made up of dead skin cells called corneocytes, which stack together like bricks. Between them is a sort of mortar made up of lipids (fats). This barrier keeps moisture locked into the skin and prevents harmful substances from getting in. In a deeper layer of the skin, glands produce a substance called sebum (also made of fats), which comes out through the pores to form a protective film over the skin to keep it moist.
But various factors such as diet, age, and sun exposure can deplete the skin's natural lipids, making the barrier weaker and causing dryness, flakiness, and even infection. Harsh soaps and other substances can strip away protective sebum, as well. This is when moisturizing ingredients can help.
Meadowfoam seed oil doesn't just sit on the outside of the skin, the way some heavier moisturizers do. Some of the fatty acids in the oil can be absorbed into the lipids of the skin's outer layer, repairing that barrier so that moisture doesn't evaporate as quickly. The oil is also similar in texture to sebum, making it good protection from the elements. The result is softer, plumper skin.
Meadowfoam seed oil also contains vitamin E, a natural antioxidant, which helps protect the skin against damage from the sun and pollution. Researchers are beginning to study the way other compounds in the oil might protect skin cells from the sun's harmful UVB rays.
Meadowfoam Seed Oil and Acne
For those prone to oily skin or acne, the first question about any moisturizing oil is whether it is comedogenic, or pore-clogging.
The answer, in the case of meadowfoam seed oil, is a resounding no. While the oil is very similar to the fats our skin naturally produces, it does not block pores (which would cause pimples) the way some oils might. The oil also may help improve acne-prone skin by signaling the body not to produce excess sebum, a cause of some breakouts.
Meadowfoam Oil Is Safe
Thanks to its molecular structure, this is a neutral oil that won't interact with other ingredients, making it a good carrier oil. What's more, it does not irritate the skin or cause allergic reactions in most people (though people with nut allergies should proceed with caution when using this or any other seed-based oil).
A Great Skin Feel
One of the most noticeable characteristics of meadowfoam seed oil is how good it feels on the skin. It absorbs just fast enough that it doesn't feel greasy, and just slow enough that it doesn't feel like it's disappeared and drying out the skin. What's more, its emollient properties mean it makes the skin feel soft and silky too. All of this is why meadowfoam seed oil is becoming a popular ingredient in moisturizing lotions and balms, and a perfect ingredient in the best facial oils.