Beauty Secrets of the Tropic Islands

Dr. Janet Zand

September 13, 2019

People who live on tropical islands often have beautiful, glowing skin. And this has been true for much longer than we’ve had modern sunscreen available. So how do they do it? Does the beauty of their natural surroundings lower their stress so much they can’t help but glow? That probably doesn’t hurt. But there’s more to it than that.

For centuries, people who lived on islands had to rely primarily on what the island supplied for just about everything, including their skincare needs. Fortunately, many tropical islands and coastal areas are amazing sources of powerful skincare ingredients.

For example, the state tree of Hawaii is the kukui tree, or the candlenut tree. It received its “official” status in 1959. But native Hawaiians have held this tree sacred for centuries. That’s because they’ve used every part of the tree to help them flourish. They turn the trunks into canoes. The roots and seeds treat everything from indigestion and constipation to arthritis. And kukui nut oil treats their skin.

Kukui nut oil isn’t just a “good enough” substitute for our “modern” skincare products. The Hawaiians used the oil to treat sunburn, dry skin, and even eczema. It clearly works. They’ve gotten great results. Now our “modern” research has shown why.

Two studies have found that extracts from the kukui tree are cytotoxic to certain bacteria and viruses. This makes them great at fighting breakouts. Many of us find acne-fighting ingredients to be drying. But, as you may have guessed from the name, kukui oil is highly moisturizing. And that’s because it contains omega-3 fatty acids. These fatty acids aren’t just moisturizing. They’re also great at reducing inflammation.

This combination of cytotoxicity and hydration makes kukui nut oil ideal for skin conditions that break that skin barrier. These include eczema and psoriasis. Obviously, having itchy, red skin is unpleasant. But one of the biggest dangers of such conditions is that broken patches of skin are very vulnerable to infection. Kukui nut oil can help the skin heal while warding off bacteria and viruses that can create infections. Because it keeps the skin moisturized, the oil makes the skin less likely to crack. It’s also a good option if you’ve cut or scraped your skin.

Kukui oil is rich in antioxidants, so it can help ward off damage from oxidative stress. This includes damage from the sun. Plus, it stimulates collagen production. And we all know how important collagen is to youthful skin! People have even had good results applying it during pregnancy to minimize stretch marks.

Kukui oil is a great choice for a massage oil too. If you can’t get to a tropical island, you can at least relax like you’re on one! The anti-inflammatory effects can relieve sore muscles. And applying the oil to a large portion of skin means you get to absorb plenty of its nutrients. This is an especially great option if you often suffer from acne on your back!

Some people shy away from the idea of using oils to reduce breakouts. But if you carefully combine oils and antioxidants, the skin can breathe. The combination nourishes and hydrates the skin so that it doesn’t produce too much of its own pore-clogging oil. And kukui oil isn’t the only great tropical oil that’s available.

Another Option Is Macadamia Seed Oil

You might know that macadamia nuts are also rich in omega-3 fatty acids. So it’s no surprise that this plant supplies an oil that’s great for your skin. Macadamia trees are native to Australia. But they’re abundant in Hawaii too. So you can still channel the tropics when you use macadamia seed oil.

In fact, macadamia seed oil and kukui oil make such a natural pairing that you’ll often find them as a combination. Together, they act as a natural sunscreen thanks to their antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. You may see a mixture of these two oils listed on ingredient lists as SOLaLeur®. Studies have found that this proprietary blend of oils can reduce inflammation by 85%!

This is a great ingredient to look for in lip balms. Our lips often need extra moisture. But traditional lip balm ingredients, including menthol, camphor, phenol, and mineral oil, are actually drying. Rather than truly nourishing your lips, they just keep you coming back for more balm. These oils will actually give your lips a source of the hydration they’re craving.

And because we regularly expose our lips to UV rays, providing a layer of sun protection is a smart move. Most of us apply sunscreen to our faces every day. But you wouldn’t put traditional sunscreen on your lips. So it’s always smart to keep an eye out for ingredients that can shield this delicate skin from damage.

These oils are also good sources of phytosterols, vitamin E, essential fatty acids, and palmitoleic acid. Together, these compounds can protect cell health and repair visible signs of aging.

An Overlooked Oil That’s Great for Your Skin

Another tropical oil is one fewer people are familiar with: neem oil. It comes from the tropical neem tree. Neem oil has a number of uses. I hope you’ll never need it for one in particular. But it’s good to know about just in case.

If you have a rash in some of the many folds in your body (around your middle, between your toes, and in your groin) you may have scabies. This is a nasty skin infestation. Tiny mites called Sarcoptes scabiei get on your skin and burrow down into the outer layers. Your skin gets highly irritated by the invasion. The burrowing and newly laid eggs inside the skin leads to relentless itching and an angry, red rash.

What’s worse is that this infestation is highly contagious. How contagious? You can get scabies by direct contact with someone who has these mites or by contact with contaminated clothes or bedding. You can even get this annoying itch by shaking hands with an infected person. Or you can get it by sexual contact.

A dermatologist can identify scabies mites and treat them with expensive prescription or over-the-counter liquids or creams. But if you have reason to think you have scabies, you may want to try applying a topical oil to the rash. It could save you a trip to the doctor.

Neem oil has anti-inflammatory, antibacterial, and analgesic properties. Researchers have found that the active components of neem can kill scabies in laboratory tests. One study from 2008 found that using neem seed extract shampoo successfully cured dogs of their scabies. It took about seven days for the dogs to show improvement. And after 14 days of using the shampoo, eight of the dogs were totally cured, and the remaining two dogs only had a few mites.

Don’t worry – while this study was done on dogs, neem oil is a popular skin treatment for humans too. It’s just hard to find humans willing to participate in scabies research! Another animal study found that neem oil may even help make cancer treatment more effective against skin cancers.

Humans report that neem oil is hydrating and reduces wrinkles. It also seems to stimulate collagen production, reducing scars and contributing to wound healing. Preliminary studies and anecdotal evidence indicate that it works well against acne. And some people have even had success using neem oil to treat warts, moles, psoriasis, and eczema.

Too Much of a Good Thing?

People who live in tropical areas often have shockingly beautiful skin despite their constant sun exposure. These oils help explain why. But you need to be strategic in how you use oils on your skin. It is possible to have too much of a good thing and end up clogging your pores.

I recommend looking for high-quality products that incorporate these ingredients into their formulas. That way, you’ll know they’re in proper balance with other antioxidants and will let the skin breathe. We’ve included these oils in several Systeme 41 products in the right amounts to best benefit your skin.

Of course, if you’d like to try the oils alone, you can. It has certainly been working for the islanders who first discovered them!

If you decide to go that route, be sure to test a little bit of these oils on a small, hidden patch of skin first before you apply them all over your face or the rest of your body. And you may want to steer clear of or be very careful with macadamia oil if you have a nut allergy. If you’re very sensitive, even topical application of the oil could trigger a reaction.

Of course, these oils aren’t a substitute for sun protection. But used properly, they can help you look like you’ve had a tropical vacation. Your skin will glow and look rejuvenated—not sunburned and dehydrated like it might if you actually went to a tropical island and endured the long flights there and back!

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