This all-star natural oil is a staple in Japanese beauty rituals for a good reason—it’s chock full of nourishing ingredients that have an incredible effect on hair and skin. Learn what makes camellia oil so special and the best expert-approved ways to use it.
It’s often called “the Japanese rose,” revered by nobility throughout history. We’re talking about the camellia, one of the most respected and beautiful flowers in Japan. With tiers of lush, scallop-shaped petals, it blooms in white or spectacular shades of pink or red on the camellia tree, known in Japan as the Tsubaki (which means “tree with shining leaves”).
The flower is used in everything from tea ceremonies to floral arrangements, and the camellia plant’s coveted oil is one of the oldest and most treasured Japanese beauty secrets for healthy hair and radiant skin.
What exactly is camellia oil?
There are hundreds of camellia plant species, so there’s more than one type of camellia oil. Some are used for cooking or tea preparation, and for knockout beauty benefits, camellia japonica is most commonly used.
Also known as Tsubaki oil, it’s cold-pressed from the seeds of the flowering camellia plant and loaded with nutrients and vitamins that are essential for healthy hair and skin. Its molecular weight is similar to our natural sebum, so it’s easily absorbed by the skin yet incredibly nourishing.
How is it used?
Japanese women have used pure camellia oil for centuries to achieve shiny, smooth hair and glowing skin. Geishas have long relied on the luxurious natural emulsion to condition their hair, remove their theatrical makeup, and moisturize their face. As a result, the oil has made its way into hair-care (and skin care) products, including MyKirei by KAO Nourishing Shampoo and Conditioner.
What makes camellia oil such a great beauty treatment?
Research indicates that camellia oil delivers a wide range of beauty benefits, as its potent blend of vitamins and nutrients sets it apart from other botanical oils and its feather-light texture makes it suitable for just about all hair and skin. Here are four ways that camellia oil can revitalize hair and skin:
1. Camellia oil contributes to a healthy scalp and hair
Hairstylists have caught on to the magic of camellia oil. “It’s so lightweight and absorbs in seconds, so there’s no heaviness or greasy residue,” says Stephen Thevenot, a hairstylist at the David Mallet salon in New York City. “It’s great for smoothing split ends and flyaways: just rub a drop or two between your hands—a little goes a long way—then skim over the length of your hair. I also love it as an overnight moisturizing scalp treatment that you massage in, then shampoo out the next morning.” To experience the benefits of camellia oil every time you wash your hair, try MyKirei by KAO Nourishing Shampoo and Conditioner, which pairs the oil with vitamin-rich rice water to moisturize and gently detangle hair without weighing it down.
2. Camellia oil may help strengthen hair
When hair is well nourished, it’s less vulnerable to breakage and damage. Camellia oil’s blend of proteins (which fortify strands), glycerides (which help prevent moisture loss), and vitamin E (which moisturizes) add up to make it a superb conditioning agent that may help strands become more resilient, resulting in overall healthier hair.
3. Camellia oil protects against environmental-induced damage
“Camellia oil is high in polyphenols, which are plant compounds that help calm inflammation and have powerful antioxidants to fight free radical damage,” says Dr. Zeichner. The oil also boasts vitamins A, C, D, and E, which have antioxidant properties that can help fight off the free radicals triggered by environmental aggressors like UV rays and pollution that contribute to weakened hair and aging skin. A study on camellia japonica extract found that, when applied topically, it provides excellent protection against pollutant-induced skin damage.
4. Camellia oil is both incredibly moisturizing and super lightweight
Thanks to its high concentration of essential fatty acids, camellia japonica is an outstanding hydrator. Because it’s a dry oil that absorbs almost instantly, it won’t make hair greasy or clog pores. “Camellia oil is rich in proteins and essential fatty acids including oleic acid—a great emollient with anti-inflammatory properties—plus linoleic acid and palmitic acid, which help the skin hold in moisture,” says Joshua Zeichner, M.D., director of cosmetic and clinical research in dermatology at Mount Sinai Medical Center in New York. One study showed that camellia japonica helps reduce trans-epidermal water loss in the skin, meaning it helps the skin retain moisture throughout the day.
History of camellias https://www.americancamellias.com/education-and-camellia-care/history-of-camellias
Comparison of oil content and fatty acid profile of camellia oleifera. (2016) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4753050/
Triglyceride, antioxidant and antimicrobial features of camellia oleifera. (2013) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6270245/
Antioxidant activity and bioactive compounds of tea seed (camellia oleifera). (2006) https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/16448182/