By 'Afa K. Palu

WEST VALLEY CITY, Utah (Ano Masima News, October) - Way before Max Factor, Loreál, Avon or Revlon, our Polynesian ancestors discovered the secrets to healthy skin. They carried with them many canoe plants during their navigational years because of their usefulness in different aspects of their lives.

Some of them were for food while others were for medicine, building canoes and for the beautification of their skin.

I used to help my mother in making various kinds of Polynesian seed oils. Some of them were prepared for our daily use while others were for gifts to visitors and special occasions.

Polynesian seed oils include coconut oil, which is typically used as base oil, mixed with different varieties of flowers and other seed oils. Additional ingredients such as mohokoi (ylang ylang), tuitui (kukui) and ahi (sandalwood) can be added to the base to create a variety of scented oils. These seed oils contain many skin health benefits, which is now uncovered by science, but known to our ancestors for over thousands of years. Even today, our Polynesian seed oils are still key to maintaining healthy and beautiful brown skin.

Coconut oil (Cocos nucifera L.) has been used for over thousands of years in Polynesia with proven nutritional and cosmetic benefits. Cosmetically, Polynesians used coconut oil as an ointment to maintain their smooth and soft skin. When preparing the oils, the coconut oil is often used as the base oil, and then other seed oils and flowers are added for fragrance and variety.

Our ancestors also used coconut oil for medical purposes, to relieve stiffness in the joints, rheumatism and back pain, by rubbing a liberal amount coconut oil on the affected area. Other uses include mixing coconut oil with turmeric to treat sick newborn infants and women who have just given birth. Additionally, to place a baby from a breech to a normal position in the mother’s womb, the abdomen is massaged with coconut oil.

Sylla reported that different vegetable base (which include coconut oils) lotions and creams gave protection against Simulium damnosum (black fly) bites. (Bull Soc Pathol Exot. 2003 May; 96(2): 104-9) Konan demonstrated that oil-based formulations are good repellents in the form of dermal pomades. They are recommended as protection against awakening and bedtime mosquito bites. (Parasite. 2003 Jun; 10(2): 181-4) Likewise, Conrado S. Dayrit reported that various fatty acids in coconut oils have antimicrobial effects against gram+ bacterial species instead of gram- species. (XXXVII Cocotech Meeting, Chennai, India. July 25, 2000) Additionally, John J. Kabara, PhD have reported (FEMS Immunol Med Microbiol. 2003 May 15: 36(1-2): 9-17) that monolauric fatty acid, found in coconut oil, have been shown to protect the skin from bacteria and protozoan infections.

It also contains monounsaturated fatty acids, which has also been shown to have antioxidant properties with potential benefits against skin aging. These studies, though only a part of all the scientific studies on coconut oil’s health benefits, serve as proof that coconut oil contains health benefits that will beautify your skin, much like our ancestors. (Health Oils From The Tree Of Life: Nutritional and Health Aspects of Coconut Oil)

Tuitui (Kukui) nut oil (Aleurites moluccana L.) derived from the candlenut has been used for over thousands of years by Polynesians as a moisturizer, but recent scientific studies have finally verified their effectiveness. Candlenut oil contains essential fatty acids (linoleic and linolenic acids) that are vital to healthy skin metabolism, provides light moisture and gently lift debris from delicate, dry skin. The precious oil from the candlenut (57-80 percent) has also been reported to contain vitamins A, E and F that are good for skin health and for healing wounds. For these reasons, it is perhaps why all Polynesians use this nut oil frequently for massaging aches and pain of the body.

In Tonga, the meat of the candlenut is chewed together with fragrant flowers until it is soft and then it is applied to the skin in a slow, rubbing motion. During this process, the mixture works as a mild abrasive, scrubbing dirt and other debris from the skin and leaving the skin soft, clean and smelling good. The perfume of the flowers is irresistible but the silky softness of the skin of those who use this ancient skin treatment is unbelievable.

Feta’u nut oil (or Tamanu) (Calophyllum inophyllum L.), like coconut and kukui nut oil, has been used for over thousands of years because of its effectiveness in maintaining healthy skin. This oil is widely used in the cosmetic industries and is commonly known as Tamanu seed oil. It is reputed to contain three types of lipids, which offers moisture that is absorbed quickly, leaving the skin soft and smooth to the touch.

It has also been used for treatment of ringworms and scabies (Scientific studies also show that Tamanu seed oil has an excellent dermo-purifying action due to the presence of an unique fatty acid known as calophyllic acid, which has an anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial effects. This is why Tamanu seed oil is used on acne.

Dweck & Medows reported that products containing Tamanu seed oil helps reduce and improve the appearance of scars.

Synthetic baby oils and other cosmetics have slowly replaced the seed oils of our ancestors because it does not involve the laborious process of making them.

For healthy skin, we must rediscover our ancestors’ skin health regimen, especially now that the cosmetic industry giants are mining them for their own benefits due to the advent of scientific studies that have validated what our ancestors have known all along. It is imperative that we must use our traditional oils to beautify our skin and pass on the our ancestors skin beautification legacy to the future generations.

'Afa K. Palu, a columnist for Ano Masima News, is a microbiologist at Tahitian Noni International.

October 25, 2005

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