Cosmeceutical Critique: Sunflower OilDr. Leslie Baumann
Volume 36, Issue 6, Page 23 (June 2005)
The sunflower plant is cultivated on a large scale worldwide. Native Americans have cultivated and used Helianthus annuus for centuries for dietary, medicinal, cultural, and ornamental purposes. Traditionally, they applied the seed's oil to the skin and hair. Parts of the plant were used to treat snakebite, cuts, bruises, pruritus, warts, and inflammation, including rheumatism.
In contemporary times, sunflower oil is included in many widely available skin care products, usually as a minor ingredient. However, recent studies suggest that the oil may warrant a distinct place in the dermatologic armamentarium, particularly in less-developed countries.
A recent study compared two topically applied emollients—Aquaphor and sunflower seed oil—for their ability to prevent nosocomial infections in very-low-birth-weight premature infants. Aquaphor is a petrolatum base used to ameliorate skin barrier function.
Investigators randomly assigned infants born before week 33 of gestation to daily massage with either intervention and compared the results with 181 untreated controls by intention-to-treat analysis. There were 159 subjects in the sunflower group and 159 in the Aquaphor group.
Infants treated with sunflower seed oil were 41% less likely than controls to develop nosocomial infections. Although the Aquaphor group fared slightly better than did the controls, Aquaphor did not significantly reduce infection risk. The researchers concluded that topically applied sunflower seed oil does indeed protect very-low-birth-weight premature infants from nosocomial infection. The study, conducted in Bangladesh, also indicated that sunflower seed oil—as a basic, low-cost, widely available, and, most importantly, effective option—is an especially suitable treatment for such patients in developing countries (Lancet 2005;365:1039-45).
In a previous study of topically applied sunflower seed oil in premature infants, investigators evaluated the results of applying the oil three times daily to 51 preterm infants born before 34 weeks' gestation on skin condition, nosocomial infection, and mortality. Results were similarly positive, with a significant enhancement in skin condition and a highly significant reduction in incidence of nosocomial infection, compared with 52 untreated infants (Pediatr. Infect. Dis. J. 2004;23:719-25).
No adverse events were reported in either study.
In a study geared toward identifying safe and inexpensive vegetable oils that can improve epidermal barrier function and are available in developing countries, researchers tested various oils on mouse epidermis. The epidermal ultrastructures and rates of transepidermal water loss after acute barrier disruption were compared.
The researchers found that mustard, olive, and soybean oils significantly delayed recovery, with mustard oil performing the worst compared with controls or Aquaphor. Within 1 hour of one application of sunflower seed oil, however, the pace of skin barrier function recovery significantly quickened. The effect was sustained 5 hours after application (Acta Paediatr. 2002;91:546-54).
Sunflower seed oil appears to confer other medical benefits. It is sometimes used to treat psoriasis and bruises (Phytother. Res. 2003;17:987-1000; Cosmet. Toiletries 1997;112:47-54).
In a study of the antimicrobial effects of ozonized sunflower oil (Oleozon), the product demonstrated efficacy on all bacterial strains tested, including mycobacteria, staphylococci, streptococci, enterococci, Pseudomonas, and Escherichia coli. Oleozon was most effective against mycobacteria.
The authors concluded that sunflower oil's wide availability may make Oleozon competitive with other antimicrobial agents, and suggested that clinical trials comparing it with other antimicrobials are warranted (J. Appl. Microbiol. 2001;90:279-84).
A subsequent, randomized, controlled phase III trial compared Oleozon's efficacy in the treatment of tinea pedis with that of ketoconazole cream 2% (Nizoral). Each group comprised 100 patients, and treatments were applied twice daily over 6 weeks. Efficacy was evaluated clinically and mycologically, with complete cures seen in 81% of the ketoconazole group and 75% of the Oleozon group. Investigators identified no significant differences between the groups and observed no recurrence in the Oleozon group 6 months after treatment ended.
The authors concluded that Oleozon is an effective, low-cost, alternative antimycotic agent (Mycoses 2002;45:329-32).
Sunflower oil is also known to possess anticancer properties. In one study, researchers compared several dietary constituents that have known potential anticarcinogenic effects for their activity at the promotion stage of cancer development, using several assays. Sunflower oil, sesame oil, sesamol (a constituent of sesame oil), and resveratrol (found in large quantities in the skin of red grapes) exhibited profound inhibitory effects on early antigen induction of the Epstein-Barr virus, although sunflower oil was the least potent. In an in vivo assay, resveratrol conferred a 60% reduction in mouse skin papillomas 20 weeks after promotion with 12-O-tetradecanoylphorbol-13-acetate; sesamol, a 50% reduction; sunflower oil, 40%; and sesame oil, 20%.
The researchers concluded that further investigations are warranted for all four compounds, given their apparent anticancer properties and the fact that they cause no known adverse reactions (Pharmacol. Res. 2002;45:499-505).
In a study performed nearly a decade ago, investigators evaluated the capacity of topically applied essential fatty acids—including compounds derived from sunflower oil—to enhance hydration and elasticity and to help prevent skin breakdown in subjects with poor nutrition.
In the double-blind study, 86 patients (ranging from 26 to 78 years old, with an average age of 60) were divided into two equal groups. A large percentage of the subjects were severely malnourished. All of the patients were fed a high-protein diet and/or given parenteral nutrition. With pressure ulcer prevention identical between the two groups, the subjects received a full-body application of one of two solutions every 8 hours for a mean of 21 days. Group A received essential fatty acids with linoleic acid extracted from sunflower oil, vitamin A, and vitamin E; group B received mineral oil, vitamin A, and vitamin E.
Group A fared much better, with 2 patients developing ulcers, compared with 12 in group B. The proportion with hydrated and elastic skin was also higher in group A, with 98% exhibiting hydrated skin and 76% showing skin elasticity, as opposed to 22% with hydrated skin and 24% maintaining skin elasticity in group B (Ostomy Wound Manage. 1997;43:48-52, 54).
The effects seen in the study may have paved the way for later observations suggesting that the topical application of sunflower oil increases linoleic acid levels in the skin (adequate levels being necessary for maintaining skin health), reduces transepidermal water loss, and diminishes the symptoms—typically, scaly skin—of patients known to be deficient in essential fatty acids (Phytother. Res. 2003;17:987-1000).
Some of the many products containing sunflower oil are Atopalm MLE cream, MD Formulations' Critical Care Skin Relief Creme, BABOR High Protection Sun Cream SPF 20, SkinMedica TNS Recovery Complex Body Lotion, and Osmotics Blue Copper 5.
Sunflower oil may be a good ingredient to help strengthen the skin barrier. I like to use products that contain sunflower oil in my patients with dry, sensitive skin.
Given the success of sunflower oil on the vulnerable skin of low-weight premature infants, further research into its efficacy for dry, sensitive, and otherwise susceptible skin may be warranted.
DR. BAUMANN is director of cosmetic dermatology at the University of Miami. To respond to this column, or to suggest topics for future columns, write to Dr. Baumann at our editorial offices via e-mail at email@example.com.
© 2005 Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.