One cool thing I did while traveling around Vietnam was hire a local plant expert to take me on a guided tour. She took me to a collective where women were extracting oil from tamanu nuts. When I asked what the oil was used for, the ladies started spreading fresh tamanu oil on my skin.
Since learning more about tamanu oil, it’s become one of those items that I keep in my medicinal kit. I love the stuff and so will most people – especially those with skin issues.
What Is Tamanu?
Tamanu is a tree indigenous to the Indo-Pacific region (Southeast Asia, South India, parts of Africa and Pacific islands). It is a large tree which can grow 30 meters tall and has limbs which spread out. The tree makes beautiful, sweet-smelling blossoms. It then bears green round fruits that are the size of an apricot. The fruits aren’t edible but contain a large nut inside.
Even though the fresh tamanu nuts aren’t oily, they develop oils when dried. Why this happens isn’t clear. The nuts are pressed to extract the oil which has many medicinal and cosmetic uses. Sometimes the bark and leaves of the tree are used medicinally as well.
Tamanu oil has long been used medicinally. In Polynesian religions, the tamanu tree was considered sacred. Also noteworthy, tamanu is considered an ecological product. Like with mongongo nut oil (also good for the skin), harvesting the nuts does not have a negative environmental impact.
Other Names for Tamanu
Because tamanu trees are widespread and important to many cultures, there are numerous other names for tamanu. Some of the most common names are:
- Calophyllum inophyllum or Calophyllum tacamahaca
- Alexandrian laurel
- Beach mahogany
- Kamanu or kamani: Hawaii
- Fetau: Samoa
- Dilo or Dolno: Fiji (means “no pain”)
Health Benefits of Tamanu
Most of the health benefits of tamanu are related to skin ailments and wounds. Researchers have isolated numerous compounds from the plant with known health benefits, as well as new flavonoids that were previously undiscovered. (1) Below are the main health benefits of tamanu.
Wounds and Skin Healing
Tamanu oil can be applied directly to wounds to prevent infection and speed up healing. There are numerous accounts of tamanu even treating severe cases of gangrene. In one case, tamanu saved a woman’s limb from being amputated due to a gangrene infection.
Tamanu oil is a great natural remedy for acne because it treats the skin on multiple fronts. Firstly, it is a natural antibacterial and can kill the bacteria which are behind whitehead-type pimples. Tamanu oil is also anti-inflammatory so it reduces redness around pimples. Further, by moisturizing the skin, tamanu oil keeps the skin’s sebacous glands from over-producing.
If you are battling acne, you might want to check out these face mask recipes. You can use tamanu oil instead of aguaje oil in the recipes.
Psoriasis and Eczema
Both psoriasis and eczema are complex autoimmune disorders. Xanthones naturally found in tamanu oil help treat them by reducing inflammation and promoting skin healing. The oil is also naturally moisturizing and can alleviate itchiness. (5, 6)
Wrinkles and Signs of Aging
One of the benefits of tamanu oil for skin is that it increases collagen production. In one study, collagen production increased by 10-40%, varying depending on the types of cells and how long the oil was applied.
Collagen is what gives skin its strength and elasticity. As we age, we lose collagen in our skin and wrinkles develop. Because tamanu oil increases collagen, it can prevent or even reverse wrinkles. THis is why tamanu oil is included in many anti-aging cosmetics. Tamanu also contains many antioxidants, which can slow down the signs of aging. (7, 8, 9)
Antibacterial and Anti-fungal
- Sore throat
- Gastric ulcers (we now know they are caused by the H. pylori bacteria)
- Urinary tract infections
- Body odor
Arthritis and Joint Pain
Tamanu oil contains xanthones which are strong anti-inflammatory agents. Because inflammation is the underlying cause of arthritis and other joint pain issues, applying tamanu oil can treat the symptoms. (14)
Tamanu is from the genus Calophyllum. It, along with other trees from the genus, have been researched as a traetment for HIV. Researchers found that trees from this genus contain inophyllums, compounds which inhibit HIV reverse transcriptase. While the science behind how tamanu works for HIV is complex, it goes to show the many potential medicinal benefits of the plant. (15, 16, 17)
How to Use Tamanu
While the leaves and bark of tamanu tree have medicinal benefits, it is usually the oil which is used. Here’s how to use tamanu oil for various purposes.
- Wounds: With clean hands or sterile gauze, apply a layer of tamanu oil over the wound. Cover with a clean dressing and bandage. Change dressing daily.
- Wrinkles and Moisturizing: Using your ring finger, gently apply tamanu oil to the skin before bed.
- Acne: Before bed, wash your face with a gentle natural cleanser. Using a cotton ball, apply tamanu oil over your face. Be sure to rinse your face with warm water in the morning.
- Eczema and psoriasis: Use a cotton ball to apply oil liberally to affected areas. Let oil absorb into skin for 10 minutes before putting on clothes.
- Makeup remover: Tamanu oil is great at removing makeup while simultaneously cleaning and moisturizing your skin. Apply some oil to a cotton ball and gently rub makeup off.
Best Brands of Tamanu Oil
PURA D’OR is one of the most popular brands of tamanu oil. The oil is certified organic, cold-pressed and contains 100% tamanu (no alcohol, additives, etc.). The exact origin of the tamanu isn’t listed: the manufacturers just say that it is sourced from Southeast Asia and bottled in California.
If you need a lot of tamanu oil, such as to treat psoriasis, the SVA Organics tamanu oil is the best budget pick. It contains 16 fl. oz for a price which comes out cheaper than other brands. The quality is still great: the tamanu oil is organic, cold-pressed and 100% pure. It is sourced in Vietnam and packaged in the USA.
Tamanu butter is made by combining tamanu oil with shea butter. It creates a thicker product which can be spread on skin or hair. It is much less messy to use than pure tamanu oil. This produce comes in 8oz packages. Note that you might get a jar instead of a package in summer months.
This balm contains a blend of organic natural oils, including tamanu, sunflower, olive, coconut, calendula, and shea butter. I wouldn’t recommend this balm for skin infections or psoriasis, but it is a great, affordable moisturizer for your hands and body.
“starr-040711-0231-Calophyllum_inophyllum” (CC BY 2.0) by Starr Environmental
“Ballnuts of ’Alexandrian Laurel’. One is” (CC BY 2.0) by Tatters ✾
“Calophyllum inophyllum (Kamani Tree) fru” (CC BY 2.0) by kohalagreens
“Calophyllum inophyllum” (CC BY 2.0) by D.Eickhoff