Like love in the time of cholera – I mean COVID – prickly pear seed oil sounds a little confused, right? It’s prickly and it’s an oil. How is THAT going to feel?
Known as ‘the miracle plant’, the barbary fig – or prickly pear – has been used for centuries for its medicinal properties. Prickly pear seed oil comes from the seeds of the Optunia Ficus Indica cactus – think classic cartoon cactus adorned with a crown of hot pink fruit – and it is an integral and much-loved beauty secret of Morocco’s Berber women.
As a plant, prickly pear is incredibly versatile: the Aztecs used it to treat burns, the Chinese used it to dress abscesses, and Native Americans ate the fruit and made syrup out of it to treat whooping cough and asthma. In traditional Mexican medicine, it was also used to treat diabetes and high cholesterol, and it can be used for painting churches and homes, as well as marking property lines.
But, thanks to its radical makeup, prickly pear seed oil’s true beauty is in, well, its beauty…
It is rich in protein, omega-6 fatty acids and tocopherols (vitamin E), all of which nourish and protect the skin, as well as high levels of vitamin K and zinc that help heal dark spot and scars. It also refines and tightens skin, calms redness and inflammation and can restore elasticity.
It is known to contain the highest amount of vitamin E of all the beauty oils (an impressive 150% more than Argan oil), and because of its high linoleic acid content, it is deeply moisturising, rapidly absorbed and effectively penetrates the skin’s layers to nourish and soften.
Brimming with amino acids that actively promote collagen, and an incredibly high concentration of betalains – the antioxidants found in beetroot and Goji berries that are known to shield the skin against the free radicals that create wrinkles – prickly pear seed oil is an essential part of any anti-aging kit.
It is also high in phytosterols, especially beta-sitosterol, which provides antioxidants and antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties. The combination of phytosterols and natural essential fatty acids encourages new collagen production, and high linoleic and low oleic acid levels operate in tandem to restore the skin’s elasticity and reduce inflammation and redness.
Research into vitamin K has shown that this fat-soluble ingredient can minimise the appearance of hyperpigmentation and under-eye circles, and, because this seed oil is non-comedogenic it doesn’t block the pores of the skin, which prevents sebum from hardening and encouraging acne and blemishes.
Unsurprisingly for a desert-borne plant, prickly pear seed oil retains water in even the driest of conditions, so its hydrating qualities are off the charts.
As with any ingredient that sustains a community and has done so for thousands of years, sourcing it needs to be undertaken with local co-operatives and in a way that the community receives a sustainable income: the plant itself is an easily sustainable crop, but extracting the tiny seeds from the Barbary fig is done manually and is highly labour intensive. It can take up to 30 hours to extract enough seeds (over a tonne) to make just one litre of oil, which is perhaps why this superfood ingredient is widely considered one of the most potent and highly prized in the world.