Today, I’m going to talk about Tamanu oil, a beauty oil that has made its mark on my personal grooming kit and pharmacy kit. The names of “green gold from the Pacific”,”Sacred oil”,”Oil with a thousand virtues” are the nicknames given in Polynesia to tamanu oil, it says a lot about the efficiency of this oil, which is not very well known in mainland France. Tamanu has been used for centuries in traditional Polynesian medicine and has aroused the interest of modern medicine in recent years, mainly because of its anti-viral properties.
What is Tamanu oil ?
Tamanu oil is a thick vegetable oil produced in French Polynesia. It is not edible, but it is used mainly for cosmetic and dermatological purposes. It is particularly appreciated for its healing properties.
Tamanu oil has a nice green color, more or less pronounced. It has a powerful scent of walnut scents, to which we are generally not insensitive.
It is a real oil of the sun, since below a temperature of 25°C, it solidifies. Like all oils, it is not soluble in water, but it can be diluted without worries in other vegetable oils.
Where did it come from ?
Tamanu oil is extracted from the fruits of Calophyllum Inophyllum, a tropical tree also called “Tamanu” or “Ati” in Polynesia. This tree is deeply rooted in Tahitian culture, where it is considered to have many powers.
The Calophyllum Inophyllum is a tree up to 20 metres high and nearly 2 metres in diameter. It is found in the Pacific in tropical zones in the Polynesian islands, but also in Africa and Asia. It grows mainly in coastal and low altitude areas. In Polynesia, it was introduced several centuries ago by the first inhabitants.
In Tahiti, the whole tree is used. Wood is used for the construction of canoes or to make ritual objects. The leaves are used to create beauty decoctions, and therefore the fruits to obtain Tamanu oil. The fruits of the tree resemble green nuts about 2 cm in diameter and their nuts are extracted for the production of oil.
There is no Tamanu cultivation as such, this tree grows naturally and the fruits are usually harvested by Tahitian families, who then sell it. However, while it used to grow abundantly on the island, there are no longer any real tamanu forests, so that plantations are beginning to emerge to meet the growing demand of recent years.
How is the product used ?
The fruit is first picked and then the almonds are extracted from the nuts. They are then exposed to the sun for 4 to 8 weeks.
During this drying time, they lose about 1/3 of their initial weight and gradually fill up with oil. The oil is extracted from the almonds by cold pressing and then filtered to remove all impurities. Natural tocopherol is finally added to stabilize the oil, and thus obtain the virgin Tamanu oil.
The INCI composition of the product is therefore clear, since it is only Tamanu oil with tocopherol, or only natural products.
From traditions to the modern world
Initially, the tamanu was a sacred tree, its wood was only used to make religious symbols, out of question to use it for any other type of construction. Moreover it is said that the Gods loved to come and rest under the shade of its branches. Then came Christianity, the Tamanu lost its sacred and was widely used in local crafts for all types of constructions which led to a rarefaction of the tree and the destruction of forests.
At the same time, the tamanu had a preponderant place in the local pharmacopoeia: it is a Raau Tahiti (traditional remedy) widely used in traditional Polynesian medicine by the Tahu’ a (healing priest). The leaves are used for skin diseases or eye problems, flowers to perfume the monoi, bark against ulcers, fruit juice for headaches and hemorrhoids, and thus the almonds that were used to produce the oil that was applied to all kinds of wounds.
Little by little its medicinal use declined until the 1930s when tamanu was used to relieve the pain caused by leprosy. It was first used in Western medicine by Dr. Jeanson in 1948 and was used for the first time on different types of wounds.
Properties and use
Since the early 1950s, Tamanu oil has been the subject of scientific studies aimed at identifying its real properties. In 51, Jacques Chevalier launched a study on the healing properties of Tamanu oil. It was successfully tested on different types of wounds: burns, pressure ulcers, gangrene, wounds due to operations, grafts… In 1980, the anti-inflammatory properties of the oil were highlighted. Tamanu oil is also tested in the Papeete hospital in the burn department.
Tamanu oil continues to be the centre of much research in order to unravel all its mysteries. The 2000’s saw two theses (Frédéric Laure in 2005, from which I was largely inspired to write this article, and Mareva Leu in 2009) aimed at studying the composition of tamanu oil as closely as possible. The objective is to identify new pharmaceutical outlets. Certain molecules (inophyllum coumarins B and P) have been identified as effective in fighting the HIV virus.
It is already used in certain medicines (balms, ointments), in cosmetic products (make-up, anti-ageing care, after sunburn…) or in soaps. Even the Dior brand used this oil in one of their products.
It has anti-inflammatory, analgesic and healing properties, regenerating, protective and anti-bacterial actions also proven by laboratory tests. Very effective for relieving pain such as tendonitis, sunburn or to fight like skin problems such as acne.
It is used pure or diluted in another vegetable oil for local application on the skin. At home, it’s the “magic godmother oil” for my 3 year old girl (it’s her godmother who made us know this oil). It’s the miracle oil to cure all his little booties
A label that helps to distinguish the true Tamanu
The oil produced in Tahiti has proved to be a reference in terms of quality and virtues. Only Calophyllum Inophyllum does not only grow in Tahiti, but also in many tropical countries such as India, Thailand and Madagascar.
Moreover, it is from Madagascar that many counterfeits come from, since the oil they produce is also often called Tamanu (it should be noted that the word “Tamanu” is a Tahitian word).
In fact they do produce a beneficial oil from the same tree, but not with the same characteristics as the real Tamanu oil. It’s as if in France we were planting champagne vines in Languedoc. Of course, we won’t have champagne at the exit, but a sparkling wine… It should be noted that the vast majority of scientific studies have been carried out on oil produced in Tahiti.
In 2003, a Tamanu oil institute was set up in Tahiti to promote the development of the export of Tamanu oil and to combat counterfeiting. This institute is at the initiative of the “Tamanu Original” label created in 2005, which identifies an oil really produced in French Polynesia.
Now, to have real tamanu, the essential thing is to make sure that it is produced in Tahiti. The label is a plus but not a necessity, it is not an AOC certification as for the monoï for example. Especially since I’m not sure that this label is still up to date: on the tamanu I sell for example, it has been replaced by the simple mention “certified produced in Tahiti”. And the different sources describing this label have disappeared from the meanders of the net…
Where to buy tamanu oil?
It is not easy to find this oil in the market, even in organic shops or pharmacies. Most of the time, only Calophylle Inophyll oil produced in Madagascar is found, which is widespread. Beware, this one can also be under the name “tamanu”.
Of course there are certainly some stores that offer them, but they are not legion. I have been to some Biocoop or other health food stores without ever finding any. In fact, the few times I came across real Tahitian tamanu oil was during fairs and exhibitions. So either you are lucky, or the easiest way is to buy them on the internet where several online shops offer them.