tamanu plant

Tamanu oil has become a highly prized raw material, popping up in a variety of cosmetics and hair-care products because of its ability to regenerate, strengthen and protect.

Known as Calophyllum inophyllum L., Clusiaceae, it is brimming with essential fatty acids and nutrients, gaining a reputation as a miracle oil.

This article describes Tamanu oil, where it comes from, its traditional uses as well as how it may be useful to those of you with kinky, curly or wavy thick hair.

Tamanu Shrub

Tamanu shrub is indigenous to tropical Southeast Asia; growing in Thailand, Vietnam, Myanmar, Malaysia, South India, Sri Lanka, and the Melanesian and Polynesian islands. This dark-barked shrub grows up to three meters tall and has shiny elliptical, beautiful leaves with a tendency to crack. Twice a year Tamanu blooms, perfuming its environment with fragrant, white flowers. Later these flowers transform into clusters of yellowish green-skinned spherical fruit. The fruit’s pulp is pleasant, with flesh tasting much like an apple but with a large nut nestled in its flesh.

The nut is of primary interest to those utilizing the tree for cosmetic reasons. It contains a pale kernel, called ‘punnai’ in certain areas of the Pacific. The kernel is sun dried for several months, becoming sticky, dark, thick and rich oil in the process. This precious oil is cold-pressed, yielding greenish yellow oil with some similarity to olive oil and a nutty smell. The oil is expensive because the trees are very slow growing, and 100 kilograms of its fruit is required to yield just 5 kilograms of cold pressed oil. This is equivalent to the full yield of the nuts of one tree.

Folk Uses of Tamanu

There are many traditional uses for Tamanu oil in the journals of folk healers where it grows. It primarily it is utilized for critical skin care. In Indonesia, its dark leaves are soaked in water; the resulting infusion is a blue brew that is applied to irritated eyes or consumed internally to treat heatstroke. In the Philippines, its rich elixir soothes hemorrhoids. Some groups of Filipinos also use Tamanu sap along with sulfur to formulate an ointment for boils, open sores and wounds. Similarly, the Manus people of Papua New Guinea infuse the leaves over an open fire. Once they are softened, they are applied to a number of skin disorders including boils, cuts, sores ulcers and acne or other skin breakouts. On Dobu Island the leaves are used to make a tea, which cleanses skin rashes.

Centuries ago, Jamaicans used a type of Tamanu species to treat wounds and sores. Fijians use Tamanu oil for joint pains, arthritis, bruises, oozing wounds, chapped lips and preventing diaper rash. In many places where Tamanu grows, it is recognized as an analgesic for sciatica, rheumatism and ulcers. Pacific islanders also apply Tamanu oil topically to scrapes, cuts, burns, insect bites and stings, acne and acne scars, psoriasis, diabetic sores, anal fissures, sunburn, dry or scaly skin, blisters, eczema, diaper rash and herpes sores. The oil is used for several foot disorders, cracking skin and foot odor.

Like elsewhere in the world, Europeans use it on an array of skin disorders including mucous membrane lesions, chapped skin, surgical wounds, skin allergies, cracked skin, bedsores, wounds, rashes, abrasions, athlete’s foot, boils, and infected nails. It is highly touted as a treatment for puffy, wrinkled eyes with dark circles underneath.

The fact that is can be used on chemical burns makes it a welcome addition to African-American and Latina hair care or for others who chemically or heat-straighten their hair. Tamanu oil’s ability to regenerate and act as an anti-inflammatory and antibiotic make it a welcome addition to the curly hair care arsenal, particularly in protective and healing formulas for those who use heat or chemical formulas on their locks. Many of us with kinky, curly and wavy hair seek natural ingredients to help with hair growth or to stop breakage — in this area Tamanu oil shows promise. Not only is Tamanu oil recommended for skin disorders or scalp burns, but its regenerative properties make it the oil to reach for when trying to recover from hair loss. It is a wonderful aid for sisters seeking relief from brand-new, super tight cornrows, or micro-braid extensions, which often produce a burning, itching, irritating sensation on the scalp or even freshly twisted locks as well as on Nubian Knots.

Tamanu contains chemical constituents that are scientifically proven to help restore and regenerate. In shampoo products, the saponification process releases calophyllic acid from the oil, which is highly restorative. Look for shampoos specifically containing Tamanu. Tamanu promotes new tissue formation, accelerating healing and healthy skin growth.

You will notice Tamanu goes by many names so always look back to its botanical Latin name. It often is called Foraha oil.

It can be obtained from most online fixed oil suppliers, soap-making suppliers and handmade cosmetic suppliers and at your local health food stores. It typically is applied directly to skin undiluted, although you may want to dilute it to save money. There have been some scientific reports of adverse effects from topical application (contact dermatitis”>, so do a 24 hour pre-test before using. Apply a small bit to the wrist and see if there is a reaction the next day.


For thick, dry hair, Tamanu oil can be applied directly to the hair directly after shampooing or as a deep-moisturizing pre-wash. Because of the extremely high cost of pure Tamanu oil, consider diluting it with a quality, nourishing carrier oil such as jojoba oil, safflower oil, avocado oil, hempseed oil or grapeseed oil. Because of its extremely pungent nutty smell, masking it with a few drops (dropped from a dropper 2-3 drops”> of lemongrass, ylang/ylang, patchouli, bois de rose or geranium would work well.

Products Containing Tamanu

  • John Masters Honey and Hibiscus Reconstructor
  • Innersense Sweet Spirit Leave-In Conditioner
  • Shea Terra Organics Tamanu Oil
  • Aveda Be Curly Shampoo
  • Aveda Be Curly Conditioner
  • Aveda Be Curly Curl Enhancer
  • Aveda Be Curly Curl Control
  • REN Tamanu High Glide Shaving Oil
  • Sundari Neem & Tamanu Corrective Moisturizer
  • Sundari Neem Healing Treatment
  • Innersense True Embrace Body Lotion
  • Innersense Blissful Body Butter
  • Innersense Harmonic Healing Oil
  • Monoi Kemeri Tamanu SPF3
  • New Chapter Organic’s True Tamanu Tropical Topical Skin Rescue
  • Scar So Soft
  • Lauren Hutton’s Tamanu OIl Set
  • Boots Eastern Calming Massage Oil
  • Boots Calming Sandalwood, Amber & Tamanu Bath Soak
  • Mode de Vie Shea Butter Body Lotion with Tamanu Oil
  • Molton Brown Heavenly Gingerlily Moisture Bath & Shower
  • Green Fire Herbs Healing Bath Oil
  • Aveda Outer Peace Acne Relief
  • John Masters Organics Rose & Apricot Antioxidant Day Cream
  • John Masters Organics Linden Blossom Face Creme Cleanser
  • John Masters Organics Green Tea & Rose Hydrating Face Serum
  • John Masters Organics Vitamin C Anti-Aging Face Serum
  • L’Anza Healing Moisture line

Raw Sources

Shea Terra Organics, (foraha from Madagascar”> 8400-C Hilltop Road, Fairfax, VA 22031 (checks must be made payable to African Shea Butter Co.”> call 877-427-6627; fax 703-846-9883


Cozy Friedman


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