While sunflower seeds have long been a healthy-snacking staple, sunflower oil has become increasingly popular for use in cooking as well as in dietary supplements and beauty products. Since many creams and other massage topical products contain this oil, it makes sense for massage therapists to learn about its benefits.
Historical Use of Sunflowers
According to the National Sunflower Association, sunflowers can be traced back as far as 3000 B.C. to Arizona and New Mexico, where Native Americans cultivated the delicate, yellow-orange, thistle-like plants, grinding the seeds into flour for cakes and breads or mixing them with vegetables. Native Americans also used the oil on skin and hair.
Spanish explorers brought the plant to Europe in the late 16th century, and in 1716 English scientists received a patent to extract oil from sunflower seeds. The plant then made its way into Russia, where the seeds were improved and sunflowers exported back to the U.S.
The association further reports that this vibrant, strong plant today has become “a valued and healthy vegetable oil.” Additionally, its seeds have become a popular snack food and add nutritional value to recipes.
What makes sunflower oil so appealing? Botanical Online reports that sunflower oil contains omega-3 (linoleic acid) and omega-6 and, after wheat germ oil, is the richest oil in vitamin E. Its chemical composition makes it an ideal moisturizer and antioxidant.
Research supports these statements. An article published in the Journal of Oleo Science found that organic compounds called tocopherols, found in plants such as sunflowers, are a good source of essential fatty acids. The authors of the study added that tocopherols contain a significant amount of natural antioxidants and have shown antimicrobial activity.
Sunflowers and Skin
Amanda Holdredge, medical esthetician for Island Medical Spa in Hilton Head, South Carolina, has firsthand experience with sunflower oil. Its high levels of linoleic acid, she said, provide a cleansing effect and help stimulate cellular turnover in skin, which makes it a popular ingredient in skin and beauty products.
Holdredge’s spa uses a pre-cleansing treatment that contains safflower oil for almost every client. “It creates an immediate hydrated, healthy look for our clients, which they very much enjoy,” she said.
Sunflower oil can also benefit hair, Holdredge added. “Massaging safflower oil into the hair and scalp comes with benefits like hair follicle growth and strengthening and more circulation.”
Sunflower Oil in Massage Products
Jean Shea, president of BIOTONE, which manufactures massage-and-spa oils, lotions and other topical products, said that sunflower oil is used in massage oil to add a source of rich hydration to a blend, and that it “helps maintain smooth, moist skin.”
While sunflower oil is found in many massage topical products, Holdredge warned that it can be a potentially dangerous ingredient for clients with allergies or hypersensitivities.
“Clients who possess an allergy or skin hypersensitivity to plants of the Asteraceae or Compositae family, such as daisy, ragweed, marigold or chrysanthemum, may experience allergic reactions,” she said. As with any topical, caution should also be exercised when using sunflower oil-infused products with pregnant women.
About the Author
Phyllis Hanlon has written nonfiction articles and book reviews as well as human-interest stories, profiles and award-winning essays. Her specialty areas include health and medicine, religion, education and business. She regularly delights in the joys of massage. She has written many articles for MASSAGE Magazine, including “Boost Massage Sessions with a Burst of Lemon.”