How does may chang work in skin cleansers?

Some use may chang as an astringent to remove excess oil from skin. See more pictures of unusual skin care ingredients.
© Gagne

Whether it's wafting from a lotion, a soap or that bottle of stuff you use to clean your furniture, the odor of lemon is pretty much unmistakable. However, even when your nostrils say "lemon," you can't always be certain that little yellow fruit is responsible for what you smell. Some other plants can evoke that familiar, citrus aroma, and may chang is one of them.

May chang, also called Litsea cubeba, is a small tree that grows in China and adjacent regions of Southeast Asia. It grows naturally in these areas, but people also develop it commercially due to the demand for its lemon-scented essential oil [source: FAO]. Distilling the fruits of the may chang tree creates the oil, and manufacturers then use it in a number of aromatherapy and skin care products, including skin cleansers, scrubs and toners [source: Cosmetics Database].

People often use may chang for its antiseptic and astringent properties, which is why you might find it in products that target oily or blemish-prone skin [source: FAO]. Antiseptics tend to interfere with the growth of microorganisms, and since bacteria on the skin can cause acne problems, this quality may make may chang useful in preventing and fighting pimples. As an astringent -- a substance that tightens skin tissues and dries secretions -- may chang might be useful for removing excess oil from skin and reducing the appearance of enlarged pores. Some experts also recommended it as an anti-inflammatory, so it may help soothe skin irritations, too [source: Fitoterapia].

These properties, in addition to may chang's desirability as a fragrance, make it a popular addition to natural skin care products. However, remember that essential oils can be very irritating to skin unless they're diluted well -- most products only include a very small amount of the oil. Always test any product on a small section of skin before using on your face.

For more information about skin care, follow the links below.

Related HowStuffWorks Articles


  • Encyclopedia Britannica. "Antiseptic." 2009. Encyclopedia Britannica Online. (Accessed 10/14/09)
  • Encyclopedia Britannica. "Astringent." (Accessed 9/15/09)
  • Environmental Working Group. "Litsea Cubeba (May Chang) Essential Oil." (Accessed 10/14/09)
  • Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. "Flavours and Fragrances of Plant Origins." FAO Corporate Document Repository. (Accessed 9/3/2009)
  • Fitoterapia. "Effects of methanolic extract and fractions from Litsea cubeba bark on the production of inflammatory mediators in RAW264.7 cells." Volume 75, Issue 2. March 2004. (Accessed 10/14/09) 4BX5TYN-5&_user=10&_rdoc=1&_fmt=&_orig=search&_sort=d&_docanchor =&view=c&_searchStrId=1048019001& =C000050221&_version=1&_urlVersion=0&_userid=10&md5=5be78b3a87 949cca453ff79fec2ce889