Camellia Oil in J-Beauty
January through March is the blooming season of the Japanese camellia, or tsubaki. These striking blossoms are one of the most recognizable symbols of wintertime in Japan, and they’re not just nice to look at—the oil extracted from their seeds is a staple of Japanese beauty products with a long, rich history.
Combing Through History
The use of camellia oil for cosmetic purposes dates back to the Heian Era (794-1192 C.E), when noble women would apply oil pressed out of camellia flower seeds to wooden combs and run them through their hair. Pin-straight, deep black hair was the pinnacle of beauty in Japan, and the oiled combs helped to darken women’s hair and keep it shiny and straight.
Later, during the Edo Period (1603-1868), women started putting their hair up in more elaborate buns. Camellia oil was useful for molding hair into these elaborate updos and keeping it in place. All the while, geishas used the oil to remove their heavy makeup and wash their faces, and the practice of oil cleansing is still common in Japan today.
Even after Japan heavily Westernized themselves during the Meiji Restoration, Japanese women still prized their hair, and they continued using camellia oil to keep it lustrous and healthy. Today, the oil can be found not only in hair care, but in skincare and cosmetics as well.
What Does It Do?
Besides giving Japanese women their coveted shiny, dark hair, camellia oil actually has a lot of health benefits. Camellia oil is very high in oleic acid, a natural compound that keeps our skin dewy with a healthy glow. It does the same thing to hair—it seals up hair follicles and strengthens the whole head of hair by coating it thinly and preventing dryness and breakage. Anybody of any gender can apply camellia oil in a thin layer to their palms and gently spread it through dry, clean hair to start seeing results.
What’s good for the hair is often good for the skin as well. Camellia oil is rich in Vitamins A, D, and E. These vitamins work together on the skin to promote cell growth and reproduction, as well as moisture retention and prevention of signs of aging.
Not only are camellia seeds packed with vitamins, they’re a great source of omega fatty acids. Specifically, Omega-3 and Omega-6 fatty acids aren’t naturally created by the skin, so we have to get them from outside sources. In theory, our diets should suffice, assuming we eat enough fish, nuts and seeds. Many people, though, are deficient in these essential fatty acids, and their skin suffers for it. If your diet isn’t super balanced, but you want to keep your skin healthy, camellia oil is sure to get your skin all the fatty acids it needs to look great.
Where Can I Find It?
This is the tricky part. Pure camellia oil is tough to come by at a reasonable price in the States. If you find it on the shelves, it’s more likely to be in the form of a serum with other ingredients, or infused into a cleanser, hair mask or moisturizer. There’s nothing wrong with that, but it’s definitely not the authentic Japanese camellia oil experience.
If you want the real thing, a surefire way to get it is to order it straight from Japan. Be sure to look for genuine Japanese sellers like Oshima Tsubaki or Sakurajima, and be wary of vendors outside Japan selling camellia oil for cheap. Chances are, what they’re selling is regular tea oil—definitely not the real thing.
If you want to try one of those infused products, though, go for it! Cult-favorite, Japanese-inspired beauty brand Tatcha has a number of skincare products containing camellia oil on top of their signature formula made from Japanese superfoods. Shu Uemura’s nourishing hair oil is a top seller. Go to any online beauty store and search for camellia oil, and you’re sure to find plenty to choose from.
Speaking of which, Keshoume naturally has a wide selection of skincare, hair care and makeup made with camellia oil, so check out our stock—you might find just the thing to round out your beauty routine.
Rowan Thompson - March 8, 2021
“Japanese Haircare in the Old Days! Finding Traditional Beauty Products in Tokyo.” THE GATE, 7 Jan. 2020, https://thegate12.com/article/264.
Sugai, Fawziyya. “Tsubaki Who? Why Camelia Oil Will Make You Remember Its Name.” Coup De Coiff - Clean Beauty Solutions Inspired by Ancient Rituals, 22 Mar. 2020, https://www.coupdecoiff.com/beauty-in-the-kitchen/tsubaki-oil.