Pracaxi oil

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Pracaxi oil, pronounced as pracachi, is a relatively less known cosmetic oil obtained from the dark, dense jungles of the Central American countries of Panama and Nicaragua. It also grows in the Amazon rainforest in Brazil and forms one of the select few exotic oils that comes from the rainforest viz. Acai oil (superb antioxidant), Brazil nut oil (excellent for hair conditioning), Babassu oil (for viral infections) and others like tucumã oil and patauã oil.  

Pracaxi oil is well suited for healing various kinds of scars. It is this specific therapeutic ability that has made it one of the most sought-after oils for making natural scar healing products. It is one of the very select few natural oils that has high levels of a saturated fat known as behenic acid, which is widely used in cosmetics for its ability to condition hair and skin by smoothing them 

Pracaxi Tree
Pracaxi Tree (Image:Shutterstock)

Source

It is extracted from the seeds of a very tall tree, the Pentaclethra macroloba. It easily reaches heights of 35 meters, which makes it one of the few trees in the dense rainforest to be able to receive direct sunlight at the canopy. Commonly, it known as Gavilan tree because its fruit pods have wing like extensions. Its seed have an almond color. Native tribes of the Amazon have been using the oil of this seed for medicinal uses (skin care and snake bites). It is an excellent natural conditioner.  

Color and Aroma

It is a light dull yellow color or a darker, more brownish shade of yellow. At normal body temperature, it has some semi-solid components that make it thick. When it is heated a little, these saturated fats melt and the oil achieves uniform oily consistency. It has a mild nutty aroma.  

Properties

Not much is known about its full range of therapeutic properties. Some of them have been validated by modern research.  

  • Skin Lightening – It displays a mild skin lightening effect. This can be made use of in designing products to even out the skin tone. This happens because it slows down the activity of an enzyme tyrosinase which is required for making melanin in our body. [1] 
  • Scar Healing – Pracaxi oil is effective and fast acting at healing scars and diminishing their appearance. [2] 
  • Skin Smoothing – This is a powerful effect caused by topical application of behenic acid rich oils, and pracaxi oil is by far, one of the richest oils in behenic acid. Most oils can have at the most 1 percent behenic acid whereas pracaxi oil can contain as much as 25% behenic acid. [3]  

Apart from these three specific pharmacological activities of pracaxi oil, it is also believed to have anti-bacterial, anti-fungal, anti-septic, anti-inflammatory and some antioxidant activity as well, but their magnitude and against which pathogens it is active, is not yet known.  

Health Benefits and Uses

Pracaxi oil for Healing Scars

Scars on the body diminish in appearance only slowly. Pracaxi oil speeds up the healing of scars formed as a result of wounds, minor injuries, diabetic ulcers, burns (up to second degree only), skin conditions (like acne and boils) and surgical treatments. There are many cream formulations available for healing scars, but they contain some harsh chemicals (like hydroquinone). Pracaxi oil is a completely natural scar healer. It diminishes their appearance relatively faster and its skin smoothing, lubricating and moisturizing properties help to alleviate some of the itching and pulling sensation.   

Based on a prominent study, pracaxi oil was found to be effective at healing diaper rashes in about 2 days and surgical scars within 15 days. People who used it noted that not only did the scar appear lighter and diminish in thickness, there was also much less skin sensitivity around it. [2] 

Pracaxi Oil is Effective at Reducing a Suntan

It is marketed for its efficacy in reducing hyperpigmentation marks caused by harsh sun rays. Although there are numerous causes of hyperpigmentation and many types, pracaxi oil is effective against them because it reduces the production of melanin within the body by affecting the levels of the enzyme that helps in its formation. However, pracaxi is not the best oil for this task. This study identified efficacy of Brazilian oils against hyperpigmentation and acai oil stood out as the best. However, if acai oil is not available, one can use pracaxi. [1] 

It is also used to treat dark spots that form during pregnancy or while on birth control pills and hormone replacement therapy. These are called melasma and can be lightened using any of the skin lightening oils, like acai or pracaxi.  

Pracaxi oil for Skin Disease and General Skin Care

One of the most formidable bacteria causing skin diseases is the Staphylococcus aureus. It is responsible for skin conditions like pimples, boils, cellulitis, folliculitis, carbuncles and even impetigo. Modern medicine uses steroid creams and antiseptic solutions along with course of antibiotics to treat them. However, we are increasingly coming to know that bacteria are finding ways to survive in the body and becoming resistant to medication. This has put the emphasis back on finding natural substances that can kill these bacteria without the pathogens developing resistance against them.  

A powerful oil-based combination is suggested for clearing up these skin infections. It combines copaiba oil (for its ability to kill S. aureus) and pracaxi oil (for its anti-inflammatory action and wound healing properties). [4] Only a small amount of copaiba has been found to kill the bacteria effectively.  

Pracaxi oil, being super rich in behenic acid, helps in treating dry, cracked skin by making it smooth. Oleic acid in the oil acts as a wonderful emollient. It reduces fine lines that frame up because of dehydration within. It also reduces skin friction and helps one achieve the soft, supple skin. Best time to apply it is after the cleansing and toning has been done.  

In colder climates, one has to warm up the oil because long chain saturated fats would have become solidified. When it gets solidified, it has a wax like consistency that is not easy to apply directly. Heat it up just like you would heat coconut oil, by putting the oil container over a pan of water. This method supplies heat gently, and is ideal for melting oils that have melting points close to room temperatures.  

Comedogenicity of this oil is not yet known, as not many people have used to provide sufficient data for reliable ratings to be generated. However, based on its fatty acid profile, it would have a very low comedogenicity (0 –1 range). Oils rich in lauric acid and myristic acid are much more comedogenic than those having longer carbon chain atoms, like jojoba oil (mainly eicosenoic acid) and pracaxi oil (even longer molecules like lignoceric acid and behenic acid) based on the results of this old yet profound study. [7] 

Pracaxi oil for Hair Care

It is among the denser, more viscous oils. Its density reaches to 0.950 gm/cm3 which is just shy of castor oil, a characteristic dense oil. These kinds of dense oils are not well suited to use as a hair oil as they will leave the hair too greasy and heavy.  

Behenic acid is used in cosmetic formulation to make hair conditioners. Here we have a natural oil that is incredibly rich in behenic acid, which makes it a powerful natural conditioner. It provides a gentle lubrication to hair, second only to sebum. However, it is not a leave in conditioner. One should apply it on damp hair that has been washed clean (preferably by shampooing). A small amount of oil (about a tablespoon) should be rubbed among the fingers and gently caressed into hair shafts and not the scalp follicles. Hair shafts can be massaged for about 10 to 15 minutes. Then it should be washed off with water. It is most effective for dry and high porosity hair. This is because healthy natural fats (mostly saturated fats) create a natural oily layer that prevents water from penetrating deep into hair. This prevents breakage caused by swell and loss of proteins.  

Nutritional and Medicinal Information

The largest component of pracaxi fat is oleic acid, which is mono-unsaturated fatty acid (MUFA). Other fatty acids found in pracaxi oil are as follows.  

Fatty acid  Carbon notation and type  Composition (in percentage) 
Oleic acid  C 18: 1 (MUFA) – omega-9  44.32% 
Linoleic acid  C 18: 2 (PUFA) – omega-6  2.36% 
Lignoceric acid  C 24: 0 (Saturated fat)  14.61% 
Palmitic acid  C 16: 0 (Saturated fat)  2.04% 
Lauric acid  C 12: 0 (Saturated fat)   1.30% 
Behenic acid  C 22: 0 (Saturated fat)  19.67% 

Source: 5 

Besides behenic acid, it also contains significant quantity of lignoceric acid. This fatty molecule forms part of the oily covering (myelin sheath) of the nerves. Small amounts of palmitic and lauric acid make it a gentle natural surfactant. The content of behenic acid is however quite variable. Oils from different regions can have variable levels of it.   

Pracaxi oil also contains moderate amount of vitamin E (in the form of tocopherols) and a minor amount of carotenoids (a form of plant based vitamin A, like lycopene).  

Physical and chemical properties of pracaxi oil are mentioned below.  

Relative density  0.920 – 0.950 
Saponification Value  185 – 205 
Iodine value  105 – 145 grams of I2/100 gm 
Peroxide value  <5 meq O2/kg 
ORAC value    

Source: 6 

Side Effects and Toxicity Issues

It is a fairly safe oil with little to no tendency to cause skin sensitivity or allergy due to some toxic compounds.  

Buying and Storage

One should buy such oils with great care as these trees sustain the rainforest. More so in the case of pracaxi because the tree that bears it replenishes soil fertility. We should use such oils responsibly, because their indiscriminate use could put the already stressed Amazonian forests in danger. 

It can be stored well for about 18 months, which is slightly more than regular oils. It also tolerates heat better, coming from a hot and humid environment. However, it is better to keep it in a cool place and no need to refrigerate, just like coconut oil.  

References

  1. Mushroom tyrosinase inhibitory activity and major fatty acid constituents of Amazonian native flora oils. Raquel da Silva Teixeira et al, Brazilian Journal of Pharmaceutical Sciences. 
  2. Case Series: The Effectiveness of Fatty Acids from Pracaxi Oil in a Topical Silicone Base for Scar and Wound Therapy. Daniel Banov et al, Dermatology and Therapy.  
  3. AMAZON RAINFOREST COSMETICS: CHEMICAL APPROACH FOR QUALITY CONTROL. Mariko Funasaki et al, Quimica Nova. 
  4. Antimicrobial Activity of Copaiba (Copaifera officinalis) and Pracaxi (Pentaclethra macroloba) Oils against Staphylococcus Aureus: Importance in Compounding for Wound Care. Guimaraes AL et al, International Journal of Pharmaceutical Compounding.  
  5. Pracaxi oil – Rainforest Chica. 
  6. Pracaxi oil – Natural Sourcing LLC. 
  7. Comedogenicity of Human Sebum. Albert R. Kligman et al, Arch Dermatol 1970.

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