Since I moved to the United States nine years ago, I have become aware of some more unusual carrier oils than familiar oils such as sunflower (Helianthus annuus), olive (Olea europea), and apricot kernel (Prunus armeniaca). Finding reliable information about some of these more unusual carrier oils can sometimes be difficult as, although many of these plants have been used by native people for years, there is not a lot of recorded, verifiable information – particularly with regard to use in aromatherapy and skincare.
Living in the southwest of the United States, I am surrounded by prickly pear (Opuntia spp.) cacti. Many skincare specialists are now touting prickly pear oil as the new “super” oil, so I thought it was worth investigating this latest “trend.”
Botanical Profile of Prickly Pear
Prickly pear (Opuntia ficus-indica) is a member of the Cactaceae plant family. It also known by the names of cactus pear and barberry fig, and it is said to be indigenous to Mexico, although the plant you see today is a domesticated crop plant. Prickly pear produces red, yellow, or white flowers from late spring through early summer, followed by large purple/red fruits in late summer through early Fall. The flesh of the fruit contains the seeds from which the carrier oil is cold-pressed.
The plant is typical of many cacti with large, oval shaped “pads” which are covered in “spines” (in place of typical leaves). The spines often protect and preserve the evaporation of water from the plant, given the arid climate which many cacti grow in. Cacti also maintain water through Crassulacean Acid Metabolism (CAM); Crassulacean Acid Metabolism is a process which takes place at night and stores carbon dioxide for release during the day, unlike the traditional process of photosynthesis. This process reduces potential water loss for cacti.
Prickly Pear as a Seed Carrier Oil
Prickly pear seed oil contains a high percentage of linoleic acid (over 70%), palmitic acid (over 10%), oleic acid (8%), and stearic acid (5%) (Chemical Characterization of Prickly Pear Seed Oil: Research Gate). The percentage of oil extracted from the seeds is usually low; consequently it takes a lot of seeds to produce a considerable amount of oil, which is why the oil retails at a high price.
Percentages of each chemical component varies, depending upon the the location of the plant (and oil extracted) which is analyzed, but linoleic acid is the main component of prickly pear seed oil. In addition, the oil is high in tocopherol (Vitamin E) content.
Uses for Prickly Pear Seed Oil in Aromatherapy and Skincare
Because prickly pear seed oil is high in tocopherol and linoleic acid, it is highly valued as a moisturizer and antioxidant. Although it is expensive, only a small amount is needed in creams, lotions, and in combination with other oils, to be effective. According to The Natural Beauty Workshop, just 1% is needed for its benefits to be effective.
Use prickly pear seed oil:
in combination with other carrier oils for massage
in hair care products: moisturizer, serum, conditioner
in skin care products: balms, creams, lotions, butters, nail products
as a moisturizer and skincare smoother.
Learn More About Carrier Oils with Sedona Aromatherapie Home Study Aromatherapy Courses
If you are interested in learning more about carrier oils, consider one of the Sedona Aromatherapie home study aromatherapy courses. To learn more, visit the courses home page.
Research Gate website, Chemical Characterization of Prickly Pear Seed Oil, Opuntia ficus-indica, accessed November 9, 2015
Research Gate website, Habitat Effects on Yield, Fatty Acid Composition and Tocopherol Contents of Prickly Pear (Opuntia ficus-indica L.) Seed Oils, accessed November 9, 2015
The Natural Beauty Workshop website, Organic Prickly Pear Seed Oil, accessed November 9, 2015
USDA GRIN website, Opuntia ficus-indica (L.) Mill., accessed November 9, 2015
Author is a UK-certified aromatherapist, published author in aromatherapy, an approved education provider for the National Association for Holistic Aromatherapy (NAHA), an aromatherapy business owner, and Chief Editor for the NAHA Aromatherapy Journal.