Tuesday, October 27, 2009


I realized I'm going to be writing a lot about our friends, the phytosterols, in the next few weeks, so I thought I should take a moment and post a little about them...

Phytosterols are plant based sterols like cholesterol that give structure to the plant's cell membrane (the way cholesterol does for our cells). Phytosterols can be converted into Vitamin D and cholecalciferol, both of which have wonderful effects on our skin. You'll find the sterols in the unsaponifiable portion of the oils in fats - the part that won't turn to soap when you add a base to them.

Phytosterols aid in helping our skin's barrier mechanisms recover by penetrating into the skin, rather than occluding the skin, and our body will synthesize some of these phytosterols as it would cholesterol. And it can help cholesterol absorb better when we apply it! As our skin consists of about 25% cholesterol, adding an oil high in phytosterols can go a long way in helping damaged skin recover from the abuses we put it through every day (but don't go claiming you're healing anything!)

Phytosterols can have a huge effect on skin damaged or harmed by environmental influences, such as wind chapping, sun damage, sun burn, and so on. They reduce inflammation and itching. And, of course, they help to moisturize dry skin by reducing transepidermal water loss (TEWL). In hair care products, they can offer softening of the hair strand and reduction of electrostatic charges, so no more fly-away hair for you!

Studies done on the phytosterols and polyphenols (more about those tomorrow) in olive oil show they can help repair skin damaged by the sun.

So what does this mean to us as lotion makers? Adding oils high in phytosterols can increase the efficacy of our lotions by preventing TEWL, by helping repair damaged skin, and reduce itching and inflammation (again, remember you can't make these claims without significant testing!). How awesome is that?

Join me tomorrow for fun with flavenoids!


Denise Tomczak said...

Hi Susan! Thank you so much for so generously sharing your knowledge. Chemistry is all Greek to me, but I am learning. I have two questions: First, Do the phytosterols that behave like cortisone do so to the extent that prolonged use can destroy collagen in the skin (like hydrocortisone cream)? Second, In the Exotic Oil Comparison Chart, Calendula Oil and Sweet Almond Oil are in the same row. Is this a mistake or do they have the same profiles? Thanks! - Denise Tomczak

Susan Barclay-Nichols said...

Hi Denise. No, I've not heard that phytosterols can destroy the collagen in our skin. And the calendula is generally mixed with sweet almond oil, so you can't really separate the two things when you're using them in the oil. You don't find calendula on its own in oil form.

Tamryn said...

Hello Susan, Thank you so much for this incredible wealth of information! I am wondering if you may be able to point me in the direction of a post of yours/ book/website that I could study to learn more about phytosterols, polyphenols and fatty acid profiles. I'm interesed in knowing about the specific elements that make up the therapeutic benefits of oils and butters. I see that in your comparison charts You have some of them listed and explained in brief, thank you for that! In fact it was those charts that made me want to know so much more! Sending all my best!

Susan Barclay-Nichols said...

Hi Tamryn. Did you check out the emollients section of the blog? I have information on different polyphenols and fatty acids listed there. As well, do a search for some of the things that interest you as I might have written about them, but haven't yet categorized them in that section.

Here's a post on how I research ingredients and here's a post on my references. I hope this helps you find some research materials.