Our new series of features investigating some of the ingredients found in our favourite beauty products began with a beauty baddie - parabens. Well this time we've decided to showcase a much less controversial contender - baobab.
The tree of life
Pronounced bay-oh-bab, this ingredient, famed for reducing the effects of premature ageing, is taken from baobab trees found on the African savannahs. Growing up to 20m tall, these are also known as 'upside down trees' due to the fact they have a thick trunk and long spindly branches that resemble roots.
The 'upside down' Baobab tree
Living for up to 1,000 years, they can survive droughts by storing thousands of gallons of water in their fibrous trunks, which can be 60ft in diameter. African bushmen access this water by sucking it up through hollow pieces of grass, giving it another nickname - the Tree of Life. But it's not just the water they store that makes these plants useful to people. They also have an impact on our skin.
A superfood for super skin
The trees produce flowers that bloom once a year - uncommonly during the night - and these are pollinated by bats, bees and wasps. Once this process has taken place, the flowers produce fruit, or pods, which house seeds, and it is these flowers and seeds that are used to make the baobab you will see listed on some of your skincare products.
Firstly manufacturers use an extract from the fruit itself, due to the fact is contains six times more Vitamin C than an orange and more than double the antioxidant levels found in pomegranates and cranberries and three times that of blueberries. It is these antioxidants that have led to baobab receiving 'superfood' status.
Another offering is oil, which is cold pressed from the seeds of the fruit in order to preserve the essential minerals and nutrients. This oil is high in vitamins A, B1, B2, D and E, as well as phosphorous and Omega fatty acids 3, 6 and 9, aiding skin elasticity and improving hydration. Vitamins A and F, which are polyunsaturated fatty acids, are actively involved in the rejuvenation and renewal of cell membranes, while vitamin E is a superior antioxidant that helps to fight ageing. It is ideal to help treat dry and damaged skin, as well as for intensive haircare, and its soothing properties are helpful for eczema and psoriasis treatments due to the Omega 3, 6 and 9 contained within.
But it does far more than just moisturise the skin as it also helps to improve elasticity, encourage regeneration of skin cells and it does not clog your pores. It is also said to alleviate pain from burns and regenerates the epithelial tissues in a short time, thereby improving skin tone. What's more, the oil is non-volatile so is safe to use directly on the skin, and to increase its appeal further it does not evaporate like essential oils can.
A wonder plant
One of our cruelty-free companies that uses baobab in its products is Aurelia Skincare. Ensuring the baobab it buys is fair trade and ethically sourced, the company recently undertook a research trip to the Rift Valley in Lake Malawi to see how the fruits are harvested.
Aurelia's founder, Claire Vero, said: "The African baobab is a wonder of the plant world, with huge benefits when used in skincare, but also as a dietary supplement. Baobab features as a powerful ingredient throughout the Aurelia Probiotic Skincare range, from our Miracle Cleanser to our Cell Repair Night Oil. Our ethically-sourced botanicals work in conjunction with our scientifically-proven technology for advanced age-prevention, while the antioxidant benefits make it a wonderful addition to Aurelia's list of ingredients. Antioxidants help to fight free radicals, which are one of the main causes of premature ageing."
The cruelty-free Aurelia Skincare range contains baobab
Burt's Bees* also has a baobab range, which includes shampoo, conditioner, hand cream, shampoo, body lotion, and body wash; while Spa Ritual's Sole Mate Hydrating Foot Balm (£17.95) contains organic baobab oil to intensely hydrate and protect extremely dry, cracked skin.
* parent company not approved
To download a copy of this feature and others from our library, click here.
The information given in this feature (ie the cruelty-free status of the brands, product information and prices) is correct at the time of publication (June 2013). For an up-to-date list of cruelty-free brands and their contact details, please see our Where To Shop Guide.