Acai Oil

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Acai oil is an oily extract obtained from pressing the famed acai berries of the Amazon rainforest. Acai berries are dark purplish berries with a thick seed inside. These berries, which are naturally found in the floodplains of the mighty Amazon and its numerous tributaries, were relatively unknown outside of the primitive Amazonian tribes. But they have now become popular worldwide because of their tremendous antioxidant power and many health benefits. Although much is known about the berries through research, much about the oil remains unexplored. The oil of the Acai is quite useful in specific skin and hair problems. 



Source

Acai berries grow on a variety of palm, known as Acai palm (Euterpe oleracea). These trees are traditionally mostly found in the swampy regions of the Amazon river, even upto its delta, but now, owing to the phenomenal popularity of acai berries, these trees are being cultivated commercially. Acai berries have been in use for centuries by the Amazonian tribals as an emetic for cleansing the body off toxins. They collect the berries, ground them to obtain juice and after drinking it, they cause themselves to vomit.  

Acai Berry
Acai Berry (Image:Shutterstock)

Acai oil today could be obtained either from the wild varieties of Acai palm. However, the tree has been modified into a dwarf variety which grows faster and yields a fleshier acai berry. Naturally, the oil content of the wild variety of acai would have slightly different properties. As a buyer, it is important to note the kind of berries from which acai oil is produced.  

Best acai oil is one that is extracted from cold pressing the flesh (and not the shell) without using any chemicals (like hexane of carbon tetrachloride) to enhance efficiency of oil recovery. Such an oil becomes virgin, cold pressed acai oil 



Color and Aroma

Since the oil is taken from the pulp of acai, it retains much of the properties of the acai berry. It is dark green in color, showing a ring of dull yellow on the meniscus region in the cup or bottle in which it is kept. Scent of the oil is fruity, with a mix of sweet and tangy.  

Properties

Acai oil is bestowed with some powerful therapeutic properties that render it suitable for use in formulations as serums for rejuvenation of the skin and the hair.  

  • Emollient – Acai oil soothes the skin, lubricates it and acts as a moisturizer. A good concentration of oleic acid, among other fatty acids provides it this property.  
  • Anti-oxidant – Majority of the health benefits of acai oil are due to its very high antioxidant capacity, that is the capacity to scavenge free radicals directly when applied onto the skin. A significant concentration of phenolic compounds present in the acai berry leach into the oil, like vanillic acid. So the oil mimics the antioxidant functions of the berry.   
  • AntiAgeing– because of its ability to neutralize the free radicals that are generated due to oxidation within our own body as a natural consequence of metabolism, or via additional factors like the sun and pollution, acai oil helps to maintain the youthful elasticity and radiance of our skin.  
  • Anti-Inflammatory – Healthy fatty acids like omega-9 and omega-6 in acai oil make it anti-inflammatory for the skin. Thus, it is helpful in skin conditions that cause redness and swelling. [1] 
  • Anti-fungal – A less explored use of acai oil is its ability to kill certain types of fungus. It can be used in combination with other prominent antifungal oils (coconut oil readily comes to mind) to treat common fungal skin infections.  
  • UV Damage repair – We all know that high ultraviolet days are harmful for the skin, as they not just cause tanning, but also lead to accelerated ageing, and even aggravate risk for skin cancer. Acai oil contains a polyphenol going by the name ferulic acid which has demonstrated UV protection when combined with vitamin C and E. [2] 
  • Antinociceptive – It has pain relieving properties. [1] 

Uses and Health Benefits

At present, the uses of acai oil have not been explored to the extent that they should have been. That is because the famed acai berry and its oil have become globally renowned only recently.  

Acai oil for Hair

The nourishing fatty acids in the oil make it suitable for application on hair that has been damaged and is now dry, frizzy, feels weak on pulling and running the fingers and may even be having split ends. Acai oil is best for such hair when it is applied after a wash. Just a few drops of hair (depending on the volume of hair) need to be taken in the palm and massaged onto the hair, not the scalp. Oleic acid in the acai berry oil is one of the best natural moisturizers on the planet. When the hair is already damp, it seals the moisture, keeping them from turning dry. Over a period of sustained use, it can bring a natural oiliness to hair which makes them look lustrous. However, application of large quantity of acai oil into the hair should be avoided as it would smell quite strongly.  

Acai oil is also helpful in managing sun damaged hair. Sometimes, high intensity sunlight can leave the hair quite dry and straw like. It can dehydrate the hair shafts to an extent that natural cohesiveness of strands is lost. If you are living in such an environment, the sun protection properties of acai oil can be taken advantage of. However, it would be best to protect the scalp by using a wide brimmed hat.  

There is some speculation that acai berry oil may be beneficial to promote hair growth, but it is not brought out by medical studies, presently.  

Acai oil for Skin

The unique mixture of unsaturated fatty acids on the one hand and polyphenols and flavonoids (like proanthocyanidin) on the other hand make this oil really unique. Acai oil provides nourishment from the outside and locks in the moisture, preventing it from getting evaporated. Over a long period of time, it can help in healing a dry skin which shows cracks. The emollient property of acai oil makes it suitable for general use on the skin for making the skin more supple and soft. Small amounts of acai oil can be used as topical application directly to places that show early signs of ageing, like the under eye bags and dark circles, wrinkles at the sides of the eyes and near the jawline to make it firm and elastic.  



Acai Oil to Alleviate Pain

Acai oil is absorbed quite quickly into the skin. It is known to relieve pain when applied as a massage onto the area which is sore. The anti-nociceptive or the analgesic (pain relieving) action kicks in and the pain gradually reduces in intensity. The compatibility of acai oil with other base oils, like olive or coconut oil is not known. Hence, it should be used as a pure oil, not as a mixture.  

Side Effects, Safe Dosage and Toxicity Issues

Although there is comparatively much lower volume of research on acai berry oil than other oils. On the basis of material safety data sheet (MSDS) of acai oil, it is known that the oil is relatively safe when applied topically. It is not known to cause an allergenic reaction. It is also used in some food preparations, however, it is best to avoid using this oil internally, that is with food. It is also not a photo irritant and does not make the skin overly sensitive to the sun. [3] 

It usually goes well for 12 months when kept in normal room temperatures and will last a bit longer when kept at 8° C.  But the oil starts to become less effective after a few months because it loses 20 – 30% of its phytonutrients after 10 weeks. As a result, its antioxidant capacity also starts to go down. So, it is better to buy smaller quantities of acai oil. [4] 

Nutritional and Medicinal Information

We explore the uniqueness of the chemical composition of acai berry and the nutrients that lend it therapeutic properties.  

Since the berry has fat, much of the oil’s composition is also unsaturated fatty acids.  

Fatty Acid  C notation  Percentage (by weight) 
Oleic  C 18:1  35 – 55 
Linoleic  C 18:2  20 – 40 
Linolenic  C 18:3  0.3 – 1 
Palmitic  C 16:0  8 – 15 
Stearic  C 18:0  2 – 10 
Palmitoleic  C 16:1  0.5 – 2.5 

Source : [5] 

Dominant fatty acids are oleic and linoleic, which are commonly known as omega-9 and omega-6 respectively . Oleic acid is a MUFA (monounsaturated fatty acid) and is commonly found in most seed oils. Linoleic acid on the other hand is a PUFA (polyunsaturated fatty acids).  

However, the more interesting aspect is the composition of phenolic compounds in acai oil.  

Phenolic Acid  Composition (mg/kg) 
Vanillic acid  1616 
Syringic acid  1073 
P-hydroxybenzoic acid (PHA)  892 
Protocatechuic acid  630 
Ferulic acid  101 

Source : [4] 

These phenolic acids are primarily responsible for a free radical absorbance capacity of 21.5 Trolox equivalents per gram which becomes its ORAC value, which is a measure of its antioxidative power. It is to note that acai oil has an ORAC of 21.5 per gram, which means if you have a kg of oil, its ORAC is 21.5 times 1000 which equals 21500. This is a significant value, however, it is much less than the ORAC value of the acai berry.  

It is also important to note its physical properties.  

Acidity  <10 mg KOH/gm 
Peroxide Index  10 meq O2/kg 
Iodine Index  90 – 130 g I2/100gm 
Saponification Index  <210 mg KOH/gm 
Density  0.91 to 0.95 g/cm3 
Viscosity  300 centipoise (cP) 

Source : 5 

The applicability of acai berry oil to reduce acne is vague because its comedogenicity is not yet established. Hence, it is advised to avoid using acai berry oil for acne treatments.  

References

  1. Euterpe oleracea Mart. (açai): an old known plant with a new perspective. Silva et.al. African Journal of Pharmacy and Pharmacology.
  2. Ferulic Acid Stabilizes a Solution of Vitamins C and E and Doubles its Photoprotection of Skin. Lin et.al. Journal of Investigative Dermatology. 2005.
  3. Material Safety Data Sheet. Acai Oil – Rainforest Chica.
  4. Chemical Composition, Antioxidant Properties, and Thermal Stability of a Phytochemical Enriched Oil from Açai (Euterpe oleracea Mart.). Pacheo-Palencia et.al. Journal of Agricultural and Food chemistry.
  5. Acai pulp oil SPECS – Naturalsourcing.com  

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