Is Jojoba Oil REALLY just like sebum?
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?
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 🙂
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.