Not long ago I wore my hair in a naturally curly tiny ‘fro about 1” in length. With a no-nonsense hairstyle like that, little refinements go a long way. I had been working to clarify my curls using a product that didn’t flake onto my clothing, turn white (a hideous look on dark brown hair) or harden my hair. I also was looking for a product that delivered what its packaging promised. Low and behold I came across an exquisite gel in a spa, which has since (unfortunately) gone off the market. What I remember about it is that it was all-natural and contained very few ingredients. The key active ingredient was meadow foam oil. For many NaturallyCurly.com readers, products containing meadow foam oil may also be just the ticket to simple, healthy, sexy-looking curly hair. To begin to understand why it is such an important oil for us, let’s explore the plant that yields the oil.
Useful Qualities of Meadow Foam Oil
As a light-colored, odorless triglyceride, meadowfoam seed oil is drenched in long-chain fatty acids, great for hair-care products because it’s moisturizing, without that greasy feeling we deplore.
“It is a good moisturizing and rejuvenating compound,” confirms Dr. Ali D. Ghannad, vice president of research and development for Farouk Systems, which uses the oil in styling aids and conditioners. “It’s excellent for shine. It adheres to your hair shaft.”
The oil is actually extracted from the crushed seeds of the meadowfoam plant, which is native to northern California, southern Oregon, and Vancouver Island, British Columbia. An English botanist first classified the meadowfoam plant (also known by its scientific name, limnanthes alba) back in the 19th century, when Europeans used to import it as an ornamental plant. After all, it was named after its beautiful, creamy white flowers that resemble a meadow of foam. It also grows more than a foot tall, with one or more branches sprouting from its base.
Many different types of cosmetics and personal care products contain meadow foam. Since meadow foam oil has the ability to remain on the skin for a long time, it is useful as a night cream. It is used in mousse and gels because of its good slip. Meadow foam oil is included in shampoos and conditioners because of the shine it lends to hair as well as, moisture retention frizz control, and conditioning ability. Other products that feature meadow foam oil: sun tan lotion, eye shadow, mascara, hand/face/night creams, cuticle repair lotion, face powders, lip sticks, rouge, shaving cream and body oils.
“It’s highly resistant to oxidation,” says John Davis, co-founder and director of AG Hair Cosmetics. “Any time you can prevent oxidation in hair you are going to keep hair and hair color more vibrant. If the color molecules start to oxidize you start losing color and it fades.”
Products Containing Meadow Foam
As a relentless researcher of hair-care ingredients, Curl Junkie founder Marsha Coulton began to notice the products that added the most shine and moisture to her curly locks contained meadowfoam seed oil. And when she decided to concoct her own line of curly products, she wasted no time ordering a batch. The testing began. What she found was an ingredient that was not only effective, but also “very efficient.” “It helps to provide shine but doesn’t weigh down the hair tremendously,” Coulton says. “It also helps to cut down some of the frizz and you don’t need huge amounts of it.”
Coulton now uses the seed oil mainly in her styling aids. “It’s better in a styling product that is going to stay on your hair,” she explains.
Botanical Background of Meadow Foam
Meadow Foam (Limnanthes alba)
The 10” – 18” plant grows wild near vernal pools (small ponds that come and go with the seasons). The flowers are 1 ¼” wide, a canary yellow with white tips. The flowers are very fragrant, and they readily reseed. They need consistently moist soil to grow and have been found to grow well in other areas; for example, they have been tested for commercial production in Virginia. Other names for this plant are ‘Poached Egg Plant’ and ‘Fried Eggs’.
What is Meadow Foam Oil?
Meadow foam oil is a light golden, odorless oil extracted from the seeds of the meadow foam plant — either cold pressed (preferable, as this doesn’t require additives) or the extraction method. The 2-3 mm seeds contain 25-30% oil by weight. While the full scientific explanation might not appeal to all, a cursory glance into the science of the plant will help all understand what is so good about this oil.
Meadow foam oil consists of a unique, long chain of fatty acids, which are chains of 20 or more carbon atoms. The oil is approximately 98% fatty acids. It is very stable oil due to the presence of a, b, and g-tocopherols. The main constituents are ecosenoic acid, euric acid, docosadienoic acid. Here are the qualities of each:
Tocopherols — vitamin E, antioxidant, nutrient that stabilizes natural oils and aids their longevity
Ecosenoic acid — a fatty acid
Euric acid — monounsaturated fatty acid
Docosadienoic acid — a class of polyunsaturated fatty acids with 22 carbons and 2 double bonds
*This combination of constituents yields very rich, long lasting, non-greasy oil.
Now that you have meadow foam on the mind be sure to check for products that contain it — you’ll find plenty of natural products that do. There are many reasons for its popularity including the following list of meadow foam oil’s attributes:
- Adds stability to beauty formulas containing less stable oils such as sweet almond oil, kukui nut, evening primrose, borage and hemp.
- Makes a good addition to soap (combines moisture with cleansing action)
- As a binder it anchors scents and fragrances when used in bath salts, soaps, massage oils and other personal care products.
- Prevents moisture loss in skin and hair
- Has good slip (grip; molds well to hair and skin)
- Conditions hair
- Adds shine and luster to hair
- Reduces wrinkles and other visible signs of aging
- Stable regardless of heat, cold or other environmental conditions
- Resistant to oxidation
- Its medium to thick consistency has properties of a carrier oil
- It's a mild oil that works well on sensitive skin
- Has higher quality triglycerides (fats) than most other vegetable oils
- Add fullness and body to fine or thin hair
Those of you familiar with my previous articles know that typically I am compelled to speak on the place of each herb discussed in our environment—with the case of meadow foam there is plenty to make note of. It wasn’t until the 1950s that the United States Department of Agriculture started researching the meadowfoam because it was looking for a renewable source of raw materials. Towards the end of the 1960s, growing trials began at a dozen sites, and within the next decade growers began considering it as an oil seed crop, Commercial development of meadow foam began in 1980 on an experimental 35-acre farm in Oregon. The Japanese cosmetics industry joined in. By the early 1990s, it was catching on in the states and Europe as well—for reasons far beyond the oil’s moisturizing benefits to the hair and skin.
Today, meadow foam is used as an alternative crop on some farms. Since grass seed farmers are no longer allowed to burn their fields in many places, they can plant meadow foam as an alternative crop. This brings additional income to farmers. It is relatively kind to the environment since it can grow well on its own as a wildflower. In commercial production it still requires less pesticides and fertilizers. Meadow foam oil can also be transformed into a liquid wax ester that is a suitable substitute for sperm whale oil and jojoba oil. For all these reasons coupled with its numerous useful qualities you will find meadow foam oil (and personal care products containing the oil) carried by numerous natural ingredient suppliers, herb-crafting businesses, spas, boutiques, health food stores and gourmet markets. Find some and enjoy its many benefits!
Here is a list of a few online sources for meadow foam oil and products featuring it:
- Taria Curls Curlz in Control Coconut Frizz SmoothieOjon Hydrating Thickening Conditioner
- Ojon Hydrating Styling Cream
- Ojon Conditioning Volumizing Foam
- Ojon Leave-in Glossing Cream
- Curl Junkie Guava & Protein Curl Creme
- Curl Junkie CoffeeCoco Curl Creme
- Curl Junkie Curl Rehab Hair Oil - Fine Hair
- Fairy Tales Curly-Q Natural Curl Maker
- Blended Beauty Natural Hair Oil
- Naked Herbs features a full line of aromatherapy bath oils by Desert Mermaid that all contain meadow foam oil.
- Mountain Rose Herbs carries the oil in various sizes.
- After the Rayne product designer Nikie Brown creates a shampoo bar featuring meadow foam oil.