How does Amyris work in skin cleansers?

Amyris oil is commonly used to give skin cleansers a particular fragrance. See more pictures of unusual skin care ingredients.

If you've ever popped open the top of a skin cleanser and smelled its scent before even applying it to your body, you're probably not alone. After all, scent is an important factor in the choices consumers make. You're likely to detect whiffs of your wash's fragrances for hours after stepping out of the shower, and you don't want to walk around with a smell you consider unpleasant. What gives skin cleansers their particular scent?

One of the ingredients that gives personal care products like skin cleansers and perfumes a certain aroma is Amyris oil. Amyris oil is an essential oil widely used in aromatherapy and personal care products. It's most often used in perfumes as a fixative, a substance that retains the perfume's scent for longer periods of time. Through a process called steam distillation, people can extract oil from the wood of the plant known as Amyris balsamifera. The popularity of Amyris in cleansers and other cosmetic products is due to its similarities to sandalwood, an admired but expensive alternative. It's so similar, in fact, that people sometimes refer to the Amyris balsamifera plant as the West Indian sandalwood. Its most prominent characteristic is its woody scent. Most cosmetics companies mix the oil with other fragrances in order to create a more unique aroma.

Amyris is considered safe in low concentrations, such as those found in skin cleansers and other cosmetic products. However, it has been shown to affect the brain and nervous system in some animals at higher concentrations [source: Environmental Working Group]. Since you probably won't ever encounter Amyris in extremely high concentrations, however, it shouldn't be something to worry about.

See the links below to find out lots more information about the ingredients used in skin cleansers and how those ingredients work.

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  • Environmental Working Group. "Amyris Balsamifera (West Indian Rosewood) Bark Oil." (Sept. 7, 2009)
  • Harbourne, Jeffrey and Herbert Baxter. "Chemical Dictionary of Economic Plants." West Sussex: John Wiley & Sons. 2001. (Sept. 7, 2009)