In the last few years many natural ingredients, especially from the Amazon, have been touted for their antioxidant and cosmeceutical properties. Let’s now take a look at an African natural which has also a tremendous amount to offer our skin.
Baobab is a wonderful exotic natural which tightens and tones the skin, moisturizes and encourages skin cell regeneration.
Baobab trees (Adansonia digitata ) are special and distinctive features of the African savanna. The trees can live for up to 1000 years and are some of the largest in the world. The tree survives prolonged droughts by storing up to 30,000 gallons of water in its massive, fibrous, sponge-like trunk, which can be up to 30 to 60 feet in diameter! To access this water, the Kalahari bushmen use hollow pieces of grass (much like a straw) to suck the water out. Hollowed out baobab trunks in the vicinity of villages are used for water storage. Thus the Baobab tree is also known as known as the “Tree of Life”.1
The Baobab tree has also been called “the upside-down tree”, because its weirdly shaped branches resemble roots. The fruit of the African baobab tree is particularly appealing to baboons, hence its other nickname, “monkey-bread tree”.
Although the tree is not native to Egypt, the fruit was known in the herb and spice markets of Cairo as early as 2500 BC. It was made famous in the West by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s French fable “The Little Prince.”4. The baobab was approved for European markets in 2008, and the FDA soon followed suit. The fruit’s dry pulp is now sold as an ingredient for smoothies and cereal bars. 4
The tree’s white, powdery fruit is classed as a functional food,” rich in specific nutrients and phyto-chemicals and are promoted as being able to improve health condition and/or disease prevention.” The fruit is bottle or cucumber shaped and has a woody outer shell covered by velvety yellowish, sometimes greenish hairs. The fruit pulp is split into mealy agglomerates that enclose several seeds. The Baobab tree is a vital food source for many local tribes, cattle and game; the fruit contains both pulp and seeds which are eaten. The pulp can also be mixed with water and made into a drink; the seeds of the baobab tree can be eaten alone or mixed with millet and seedlings and young leaves are eaten like asparagus or are used in salads.
The Baobab bark is used for rope, paper, and medicinal extracts. The inner workings of the African baobab tree provide a fiber which indigenous people have used to make cloth, rope, nets, musical instrument strings and waterproof hats. 7 Baobab oil has spiritual significance for the Africans and is used for special occasions. For millennia people have gathered below the branches of the Baobab to debate and discuss important issues and ideas. Many people believe that its spirit protects the community around it.4
The leaves, bark, fruit and oil have also been part of African health care for centuries.2
the medicinal uses of the Baobab fruit were first officially praised by the Venetian herbalist and physician Prospero Alpini, in 1592, who noted that the ancient Egyptians used it for treating fevers, dysentery and bloody wounds. 5 The bark of the African baobab tree is used to treat fever; its medicinal use was considered to be of such value that Europeans used the bark in place of cinchona bark (from where quinine was obtained) to protect against malaria. In Gambia today, Baobab is used to treat everything from malarial fever, diarrhea, infertility and asthma to headaches and toothaches.
The Baobab fruit has six times as much vitamin C as an orange, 50% more calcium than spinach and is a plentiful source of antioxidants. Its antioxidant activity is four times that of a kiwi or apple pulp. The leaves are an excellent source of vitamin A, calcium, iron, potassium, magnesium, manganese, molybdenum and phosphorus, and the seeds are packed with protein.4 Vitamins A and B1, B2, B3, B6 and dietary fibers are also present in Baobob.3
Baobab oil is a clear, golden yellow oil that with a slight nutty odor. The oil is obtained by cold pressing or Co2 extraction of the dried baobab seeds. Baobab oil contains fatty acids (Omega 3-6-9), sterols, proteins, potassium, magnesium calcium, iron, zinc, and amino acids. Topical application of this nourishing, antioxidant oil can help alleviate chronic dry skin and chronic bruising by improving skin elasticity and boosting epidermal softening.
Recent studies in Europe have revealed a multitude of skin benefits of Baobab. Leaf and bark extracts tighten and tone skin, while oil from the seeds moisturizes and encourages skin cell regeneration with vitamins A, D and E.2 Studies were carried out in the laboratory showed that doses between 400 and 800 mg/kg determine a marked anti-inflammatory effect and are able to reduce inflammation induced in the animal limb with formalin. This activity may be attributed to the presence of sterols, saponins and triterpenes in the aqueous extract.3
Clincally, skin care companies have found that Baobab fruit and oil combats skin aging, helps improve skin firmness and strength by boosting the elastic quality of the skin, diminishes the look of facial lines, evens out skin tone, and refreshes and hydrates the skin.
Baobab has already been incorporated into several well-known skin care lines: Kiehl’s Fortifying Baobab Skin Therapy for Men, Nu Skin Baobab Body Butter, Rosa Graf Intensive Anti-Aging Treatment cream, among others. It has also been used in several French hair treatment gels and lip balms. Baobab Mud Mask by RAIN is touted to soothe, protect, and heal the skin. Baobab Soap, which moisturizes and nourishes all skin types, is made by Cioccolatin with fair trade/community traded Baobab. Thus we can see that while Baobab has been discovered by some skin care companies, many more have yet to be introduced to its wonderful properties.
4) Starin, Dawn, “What Will Happen When the Baobab Goes Global?” New York Times, May 25, 2009