Skip to content

Is Jojoba Oil REALLY just like sebum?

January 26, 2014

It is amazing what you can learn while surfing the internet isn’t it?  Well, when I say ‘learn’ I should probably say find but these days that line has been blurred somewhat – information paraded as fact flung at us from all four corners of our internet search will do that for you.  So I wanted to look at this little fact and see if I could challenge myself to learn something. It wasn’t hard…….

My experiment started like this:

1)  Google ‘Jojoba oil similar to sebum’ or equivalent…….. The brackets are important, we want the whole phrase.

Results:  258,000 hits for that.  WOW, it MUST be true. PLUS the sentence had an auto-fill suggestion for me while means that people must search that all of the time. AWESOME.

But what about this:

2) Google ‘Jojoba oil different to sebum’

Results:  DAM this is now confusing,  I got 282,000 hits for that.  But wait,  they aren’t telling me that Jojoba is different to sebum at all,  a quick scan through the first page reveals that they are telling me that it is similar and that is why it is good.

3)  So what about I change to Google Scholar and type this: ‘jojoba oil differs to sebum’

Results: No good, I am typing the wrong thing.  1500 ish results but not looking like they have the info I need.

4) Still in Google Scholar type: ‘Jojoba Chemical Constituents’.

Results:  Woohooo baby, I’m getting somewhere!  Now I can see papers from the American Oil Chemists Society, Food Chemistry Journal, Agricultural and Food Science Journals and more.  This is awesome!

However, the above will only tell me about the chemistry of Jojoba, it won’t tell me much about sebum and it is highly unlikely to answer my BIG question ‘Is Jojoba Oil Really Just Like Sebum’ in one simple ‘yes’ or ‘no’.


This is a good example of research bias and the internet is the perfect place to get sucked into that vortex.  Type in a question and GOOGLE will give you an answer, but does it?   Usually it returns thousands of results (If you are lucky) based on a few small facts and lots of extrapolation and bias.  It doesn’t necessarily teach you anything but we don’t care about that because it reconfirmed what we already knew (or wanted to know).   We went looking for confirmation of our answer rather than searching for the evidence and that is the biggest and oldest mistake in the science book.

Don’t worry, we all do it……


So what happened next?

Jojoba Oil

I spent around 10 hours on Google Scholar downloading and reading reports and papers that analysed human sebum (from new borns, babies,  adults and the elderly – our sebum changes during this time).  I realised that the important thing was gaining an understanding of the relationship between sebum chemistry and its purpose be it anti-microbial, protective, lubricative or as a carrier for the excretion of toxins.  I could then work out what properties of this human-made oil would be useful to have more of and when and how that should be delivered vs the bits of our human oil that really couldn’t be replicated usefully via something we slap onto the surface.

Then I did the same for Jojoba Oil and I discovered some interesting nuggets of information.  Jojoba is a ‘wax ester’ oil rather than your usual vegetable oils which means that the fats that are found in Jojoba are chemically bigger (heavier, longer) than those typically found in veggies.   For example your  Olive, Almond and Coconut oils tend to comprise mainly of fatty acids sized from C18 and under range (18 carbons in a row)  which make them pretty oily in nature – slippy, greasy, sometimes shiny, won’t mix with water – whereas Jojoba has most of its fatty acids in the C20- C22 range (up to 65%) which might not seem like much but chemically it is significant.

The C20-C22 fatty acid profile of Jojoba oil is what made people first think that Jojoba is chemically similar to sebum. This is because our sebum contains a good proportion of fatty acids of this size and shape – between approx 15-30% in an adult.  But interestingly enough the sebum of a newborn has practically no free fatty acids at all and neither do any of the other mammals that were tested in a study that I found from 1971 in the Journal of Investigative Dermatology.

It seems likely that the fatty acids found on the skin were esters that have been broken down by the bacteria and other chemicals that exist on the surface of the skin – they didn’t start off that way and are not found in sebaceuous glands at all!

Thinking about this for a moment leads me to the conclusion that these fatty acids are actually nothing to do with ‘moisturisation’ but instead play a part in another type of protection – from micro-organisms.  That said I have no idea whether the fats feed the good bacteria or kill the bad……….

But Jojoba Oil isn’t just fatty acids and neither is sebum!

The thing that makes jojoba oil special isn’t its fatty acid profile, it is its mono ester waxes, these are the real liquid wax bits and make up up to 40% of the jojoba oil.   These are not found in your typical vegetable oil and this, plus the fact that jojoba seeds contain no glycerin bound with the fatty acids, is what makes Jojoba so special!  These C40 ish mono-esters are what makes it so stable, waxy, protective and cushiony feeling – all great attributes for the cosmetic formulator and properties that in the 1930’s when discovered by the University of Arizona lead to Jojoba being named as ‘the whale of the desert’.   Jojoba oil is more similar to Whale Squalane than it is to human sebum (although Jojoba is more stable due to the lack of glycerin and other subtle differences) and its discovery and chemical identification helped us as an industry to make the move from animal to vegetable.

Our adult sebum contains around 20% monoester wax, babies have around 10-15% .  In humans these waxes are around C20 long which is a fair bit shorter than our Jojoba friends.  Worryingly rat sebum is more similar to human sebum in terms of monoester composition than Jojoba – not quite as easy or cruelty free to market though……

But there is more to sebum than fatty acids and mon0 esters…….

And this is where things start to get more complicated still!

Human Sebum contains Squalene (approx 12% in adults and less than 5% in newborns).  It is an essential component in skin lipids and is also important in the body for producing cholesterol and is also involved in the synthesis of Vitamin D.   On the skin squalene is thought to play a role in protecting us from UV rays due to its ability to quench free radical reactions thus minimising inflammation and irritation.  Jojoba oil doesn’t contain Squalene, olive oil does but olive oil……..

There are also many more chemicals floating around in that greasy coating that we like to strip off, clean and replace with something else. Many chemists have tried to re-create this natural wonder stuff but nobody has quite managed it yet.  Here is a link to one such example:Human Synthetic Sebum Formulation.

OK, so after all of that can we now say yes or no to our question?


It is nice to have a straight answer.  An EASY answer, one which we can make a sales pitch, marketing campaign, facebook post from?



Jojoba oil isn’t really like sebum at all really, well it is in some ways but isn’t in others and quite possibly the part that it is similar in doesn’t matter as much as the part that it is different.

But I don’t think that matters.

Jojoba is an amazing liquid wax with great skin-feel and compatibility.  I think that focusing on a select few chemicals in a complex mix is cute but nothing more………


Jojoba’s  not really like sebum,

but I don’t mind one bit!

I’ll use it in my moisturisers, serums, balms and lip stick.

Jojoba’s chemistry is complex,

Filled with things we can’t comprehend,

But that doesn’t really matter because Jojoba is my friend 🙂

Amanda x

PS: I believe that the definition of ignorance isn’t about not knowing stuff, it’s not knowing what you don’t know and not caring to find out.  But then again I know nothing.

35 Comments leave one →
  1. February 1, 2014 2:13 pm

    Great article I just end started researching jojoba to.I have really dry hands and my nails tend to chip.I also would love to have my nails to hold polish.I read another good blog where u can buy oil nail kit but it’s high. Anyways I would love to know can I just buy jojoba oil? There’s cold presses organic an oil ? I have been looking at ebay and amazon idk what to get lol.

  2. April 20, 2014 1:52 am

    Ahhahahahha. I loved this article. Thanks for posting it. Finally, someone who’s got a mind of his/her own and isn’t just repeating what everyone is “teaching” her.

  3. amara permalink
    May 14, 2014 9:36 pm

    Thanks Amanda for your info,,u seem to have genuinely done ur research.n that’s what we need more of in this internet day n age..I was really impressed reading ur article.

  4. Kitty permalink
    January 22, 2015 12:23 pm

    Great article. It really cuts through the BS.
    Thanks Amanda!

  5. hirsuteforhappiness permalink
    March 7, 2015 7:35 pm

    This is great, now following this blog as it refreshing to see someone actually thinking things through

  6. May 8, 2015 1:52 am

    Thanks for posting this, I was conducting my own research on jojoba this past week and started looking into this same claim. it shouldn’t be amazing but it is that people will swallow whatever is fed them.

  7. Deborah Zell permalink
    January 3, 2018 3:29 am

    Hey there,

    Thanks for the analysis – it was great finding your write-up! There’s a lot of attention on squalane oil, synthesized from olives, etc. I’m trying to figure out if jojoba, coconut or squalane is better for my skin, or some combination of all three, or if they mix well, etc. Could you point me to a write-up or consider doing one?



    • RealizeBeautyEd permalink*
      January 3, 2018 7:20 am

      Hi there Deborah, By the time you take squalene from a vegetable it is (or should be) predominantly Squalene and as such the source is no longer as relevant unless you particularly want to say that your squanene is from one or another source. The chemistry of the ingredient should be nearly 100% Squalene though and interchangeable between sources. Turning that into Squalane involves hydrogenation and that can introduce some differences in quality between processors though so really the question to ask or be aware of is the manufacturing process and quality of the final squalane rather than focusing on the origin of the squalene. Fully or partially hydrogenated are options and the presence of trans fats might be something you ask or look for but to be honest again, this is all a bit splitting hairs over something very minor in most cases.

  8. Phil permalink
    January 26, 2018 8:21 am

    ‘jojoba oil differs to sebum’

    ‘Jojoba oil different to sebum’

    here’s an elemental Google analysis

    “differs to”
    About 400,000 results (0.46 seconds)
    “differs from”
    About 40,800,000 results (0.56 seconds)

    “different to”
    About 34,400,000 results (0.47 seconds)
    “different from”
    About 222,000,000 results (0.71 seconds)

    but if you don’t care about useful statistics…

    • RealizeBeautyEd permalink*
      January 26, 2018 1:42 pm

      Thank you for focusing in on my use of grammar. You don’t know how much that means to me…..

    • Raj permalink
      January 9, 2021 2:06 pm

      Not that anyone asked you..

  9. February 9, 2018 6:56 am

    Very Very Glad I found this article, I was actually writing an article of my own in regards to using plant based oils in absence of proper Sebum production and here I am! You can never stop researching and you never should! I look forward to reading more of your articles!

  10. Sslina permalink
    March 2, 2018 8:13 am

    Great article, I’m impressed with the effort you put into finding an answer to whether jojoba could indeed be compared to sebum.

  11. msfullhair permalink
    April 11, 2018 7:32 pm

    Thanks so much for the article!

    One of the best AND informative articles I came across about a myth of jojoba oil and sebum. You saved me a lot of research time.

    Thanks again!

    • RealizeBeautyEd permalink*
      April 13, 2018 1:06 pm

      Well how lovely! Thanks

  12. Good Vybs permalink
    November 19, 2018 3:03 am

    Thank You! Ive been researching jojoba oil for the past few days because I need to change my skin routine. I thought that jojoba oil was just another skin care and cosmetics industry scam but this has made me think otherwise. Im the type of person that likes to research and read scientific articles before trying something. You just helped me narrow down my research. Thanks!

  13. Sonja permalink
    February 17, 2020 8:50 am

    I really enjoyed reading this! Finally some truth.

  14. October 11, 2021 4:49 am

    So, what oil IS closest to human sebum?
    I hear the Japanese used camellia, which was high in oelic acid, 80% ish?

    • RealizeBeautyEd permalink*
      October 11, 2021 7:23 am

      That question kind of misses the point of what I’m saying which is that there isn’t one.

  15. February 21, 2022 3:26 pm

    Beautiful. Been looking for this information. Jojoba oil has been used since 1970’s from what I found out. It is economically efficient so I believe it’s being used a lot than other oils. (My opinion)

    • RealizeBeautyEd permalink*
      March 13, 2022 3:01 pm

      It’s been popular in skincare for some time and looks likely to continue to be so given its excellent skin feel, useful chemistry, relative stability and ease of farming. Hope you continue to enjoy it.

  16. Peanut permalink
    September 30, 2022 3:52 am

    Is it true that jojoba oil is more occlusive than petrolatum?

    • RealizeBeautyEd permalink*
      September 30, 2022 6:43 am

      Is it true that petrolatum is always occlusive? What makes something occlusive? What options does a formulator have to manipulate occlusivity? I would start answering this by looking at the chemistry of the ingredients, how they are typically used and the potential for the skin to respond metabolically

  17. RealizeBeautyEd permalink*
    July 18, 2016 9:29 am

    In my article I do point out that it is not like sebum after all.


  1. Selecting A Good Oil – Good enough to eat. | Realize Beauty
  2. Recipe: Easy & Natural Moisturizing Spray – The Honeydew
  3. Jojoba oil | WIPE YOUR ACNE
  4. Whole Lot of Good With Jojoba | TropicalTopics
  5. Jojoba oil –
  6. 5 Mixed Race Hair Care Tips for Parents of Biracial Children (from a Biracial Hairstylist) -
  7. Food for Skin – Pure Cold-pressed Jojoba Oil – Touch of Organic Beauty
  8. L’huile de jojoba pour les cheveux, un soin tout en un
  9. Jojoba Oil Vs Olive Oil: 6 Ultimate Differences & Uses - The Oil Virtue
  10. Jojoba Oil Vs Coconut Oil: Comprehensive 21st Century Guide - The Oil Virtue

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: