Aleurites moluccana, more commonly known as the kukui tree, is the state tree of Hawaii for a reason. For centuries, every part of the kukui tree was of value to the Hawaiian way of life: its trunk was used to build canoes; the roots and bark were used to make dyes; its seeds (kukui nuts) were roasted, crushed, and used as a condiment; and various parts of the tree were used to treat anything from an upset stomach, to oral thrush, constipation, fever, tonsillitis, phlegm, and even arthritis.
Among its many uses, it was most importantly used as a source of light, by burning the oil in the kukui nuts. For that, it is also known as the candlenut tree. (1)
Among its many useful applications, what drew my attention the most was its medicinal uses. Specifically, you guessed it, how it affects the skin. Kukui oil, obtained from the kukui nut, has been used by Hawaiians for years to treat dry skin, sunburn, eczema, and even psoriasis. As I have only been recently introduced to kukui oil, I had to dig deeper.
Studies report that extracts from the kukui tree have a toxic effect on certain bacteria, fungi and viruses. (1) One study specifically mentions Staphylococcus aureus and Pseudomonas aeruginosa. This translates into usefulness in wound healing and ulcer healing: The antimicrobial properties of the kukui oil ward off infection during the healing process, thus speeding healing time. (2) Kukui oil can also be useful for fungal skin and mucous infections (such as oral thrush, tinea and seborrheic dermatitis). Alas, there isn't enough research into the possible usefulness of kukui oil in each specific skin ailment mentioned above.
In one study, an ointment was created from the extract of the kukui tree bark, and it was found to improve the healing of wounds and burn injuries in rats. There as an increased rate of wound contraction and a shorter healing time. The ointment also appeared to increase collagen production. (3)
Only one study I came across mentions that kukui oil prevents/treats stretch marks. (4) However, as it provides superior moisture, I can imagine it would act as any other moisturizer in ameliorating the appearance of stretch marks.
Only a minor study was done to test the effects of kukui oil on psoriasis, and it didn’t yield any positive results. However, the study does go on to explain that people suffering from psoriasis do report experiencing relief after using kukui oil. (5) Much more research is needed to confirm or deny these claims.
An interesting study theorizes the reason behind the effectiveness of kukui oil against psoriasis and eczema (and I would imagine stretch marks as well) stems from its high content of omega 3 and polyunsaturated acids, linoleic acid and linolenic acid. The omega 3 helps reduce inflammatory processes in the skin, while the polyunsaturated acids allow for moisturizing without hindering normal transepidermal water loss, which also explains the cosmetic appeal of kukui oil, as it applies leaving behind a silkiness rather than a greasy feeling. (6)
Even though research into the dermatological uses of kukui oil is lacking, most of what has been researched so far is positive and explains why this tree has been used and loved for years by the good people of Hawaii. And from personal use I can tell you that I do like its moisturizing and calming effect. So, though I would love to see more scientific data backing all the wonderful claims, I will go right on ahead and continue using my bottle of kukui oil.
Have you tried kukui oil? What did you use it for? Did it work? I would love to hear about your experience!
Thank you for reading!
1- RAK. Young et al. Indigenous Hawaiian Nonmedical and Medical Use of the Kukui Tree. The Journal of Alternative and Complimentary Medicine 2005; 11 (3): 397-400.
2- CP. Locher et al. Anti-microbial Activity Anti-complement Activity of Extracts Obtained from Selected Hawaiian Medicinal Plants. Journal of Ethnopharmacology 1995; 49: 23-32.
3- DB. Prasad et al. Screening of Wound Healing Activity of Bark of Aleurites Moluccana. International Journal of Pharmaceutical Research and Analysis 2011; 1 (1): 21-5.
4- J. Reuter et al. Botanicals in Dermatology: An Evidence – Based Review. American Journal of Clinical Dermatology 2010; 11 (4): 247-67.
5- AC. Brown et al. Effectiveness of Kukui Nut Oil as a Topical Treatment for Psoriasis. International Journal of Dermatology 2005; 44 (8): 684-7.
6- H. Ako et al. Fatty Acid Profiles of Kukui Nut Oil Over Time and from Different Sources. Industrial Crops and Products 2005; 22: 169-74.