Many early skin creams were described as skin foods. They were said to penetrate and feed the skin, plump it up, reduce wrinkles and generally make the face look younger. The ingredients in skin foods that ‘fed’ the skin were oils and fats with the best skin food generally considered to be lanolin, described as being ‘very penetrating’.
Animal fats and oils were believed to be better than those derived from plants as they were thought to be more readily absorbed. Some of these, such as fish and turtle oil, were also known to contain oil-soluble vitamins. The main problem when using animal fats and oils in cosmetics was their odour which was often difficult to disguise, so new plant oils were always given due consideration.
The avocado Persea americana – old nomenclature: Persea gratissima – is a native of Central and South America. It was used by the Aztecs, Incas and Mayans as a food but they also spread the fruit pulp on their skin like a modern face mask. In the 1830s, avocado trees were introduced into Hawaii and Florida, then into California in the 1850s. However, it was not until the twentieth century that varieties suitable for commercial farming were developed in the United States (Schaffer & Whiley, 2012, p. 18) with California becoming the main fruit supplier.
In the 1920s, avocados were more commonly known as ‘alligator pears’ but the American Pomological Society and the U.S. Department of Agriculture suggested that the more marketable name ‘avocado’ should be used (Popenoe, 1934, p.109). The members of the California Avocado Association – originally established in 1915 as the California Ahuacate Association – eventually agreed to using the term avocado as well but trademarked the name ‘Calavo’ to distinguish Californian avocados from those grown elsewhere.
Although selling fresh fruit was the mainstay of the avocado industry in the United States, American growers tried to find other uses for scarred or blemished fruit that could not be sold in the whole fruit market, including the possibility of extracting avocado oil. Most of the research in this area was done by the United States Department of Agriculture and the California Avocado Association working in conjunction with various Californian universities.
It may be possible to utilize the cull[ed] avocado fruit, which at present goes to waste, by making use of the fatty oil contained in it. This oil probably would not find a market as an edible oil on account of its color, but experiments have shown that it would be valuable for the manufacture of soap.
Extracting avocado oil in the 1930s involved peeling the fruit, removing the seed, slicing and drying the fleshy portion of the fruit, and then extracting the oil by hydraulic pressure, or later by organic solvent (e.g., petroleum ether). This made the oil expensive to produce and, along with its green colour, convinced most investigators of the time that it would be unsuitable for use as a cooking or salad oil.
One of the suggested uses for avocado oil was cosmetics and initial reports appeared very promising. Apart from its green colour it compared very favourably with lanolin as it had good skin penetration, a high vitamin content, low odour, and excellent keeping qualities. It also produced finer emulsions when used in skin creams and lotions.
Among the properties of the oil which make it valuable as a cosmetic ingredient are the following: 1. It is one of the most penetrating oils known, rating with lanolin in its power to penetrate the skin tissue. It thus serves as a “carrier” for other valuable substances which lack penetrating power. This property makes it of value for use in tissue or nourishing creams, massage creams, all-purpose creams, massage oils (muscle oils) and other preparations where penetration and lubrication are essential. 2. Manufacturers who use Avocado oil in high grade toilet soaps attribute its superior lathering and cleansing properties to the oil. 3. Being rich in vitamins A and D (oil soluble), when properly prepared, it presents an advantage over most other vegetable or fruit oils available for cosmetic use [and] … avocados are a rich source of vitamins A, B, D, and E. … The oil has none of the objectionable odor of turtle or cod liver oils, which makes it suitable to replace these oils.
Avocado oil appears to be the exception to the general rule. Although a vegetable oil, it has high penetrative qualities and a high vitamin content. It is stated to contain vitamins A, D and E in addition to lecithin. The odour is only slight and would not be difficult to cover. In fact the oil appears to have all the desirable properties of a skin food, while having no undesirable ones, such as the unpleasant odour characteristic of turtle oil.
It would appear however that Avocado Pear oil has very “penetrating” properties, and that it also possesses the power of reducing surface tension with consequent production of a finer emulsion. In consequence of the above facts its use appears to be conducive to creams of a type less greasy, than with many other oils.
Although avocado oil was more expensive to produce than many other vegetable oils, e.g., olive oil, researchers working for the California Avocado Association tried to put a positive spin on its high cost by suggesting that using it in skin creams would give them a certain cachet.
The fact that Avocado oil is the highest priced oil used in cosmetics has proved of benefit to manufacturers who use the product, as it stamps their cosmetics as “quality” items.
Despite this attempt to give avocado oil an elite status most cosmetic firms that used the oil in the 1930s were small-time operations, many of which were based close to avocado producing areas in the United States. Examples include: Ruth Rogers and Sara Cooley, both founded in Hollywood, California; Sunclyme established in Miami, Florida; and Avocreme which started up in Honolulu, Hawaii. The main exception to this rule was Coty, who, in 1936, introduced an Avocado Soap and Avocado Beauty Milk using Calvalo (Californian) avocado oil.
Coty “Avocado” Beauty Milk
A Beauty treatment in itself!
It is a perfect cleanser. It is a deep tissue food. It is a perfect powder base. It incorporates, for the first time, the marvellous oil of the Avocado Pear. Use it regularly during Summer to care properly for your complexion.
The use of avocado oil in cosmetics increased in the second half of the twentieth century as supplies of avocados became more plentiful (both in the United States and elsewhere), more cost-effective extraction techniques were developed, and plant-based cosmetics and toiletries became more popular. Avocado oil’s high vitamin E content and emollient properties became increasingly appreciated when cosmetics made from ‘natural ingredients’ came into vogue in the 1970s. It was incorporated into a wide range of skin-care and hair-care products including hair conditioners, face creams, hand lotions and bath oils. For example, Coty’s Air Spun Avocado Skin Care range from the 1970s included Cleansing Creme, Freshener, Creme Moisturizer, Night Creme, Lotion toner, Milk Cleanser, Conditioning Moisturizer, Hand Creme and Nail Creme.
The properties that make Avocado oil an interesting cosmetic and soap constituent are as follows:
1. It is one of the most penetrating oils known and compares very favourably with lanolin in this respect. It is thus valuable in tissue and massage creams, muscle oils and other products where lubrication and penetration are essential.
2. Its high oil soluble vitamin content.
3. Its tendency to reduce the surface tension of liquids thus forming finer emulsions.
4. It has exhibited skin healing properties.
5. It is rich in lecithin and phytosterine.
6. Therapeutically, vegetable oil creams are more desirable than mineral oil creams and are more soothing to the skin.
Avocado oil could be used in almost any cosmetic formulation that used an oil as an ingredient. However, replacing mineral oil with avocado oil – to make a cosmetic more ‘natural’ – generally required some adjustments to the proportions of other ingredients as using avocado oil would usually make an emulsion stiffer (Poucher, 1974, p. 46). An example formulation for a skin cream is given below:
AVOCADO OIL CREAM
Stearic Acid 14.0% Cocoa Butter 2.0% Cetyl Alcohol 0.5% Sorbitol 3.0% Avocado Oil 3.0% *Amino Glycol 1.5% Water 76.0%
Melt the stearic acid, cocoa butter, cetyl alcohol, and avocado oil together in a separate container. Heat both of these containers to the same temperature, about 80°C., and pour the fat melt into the water mixture with mechanical agitation. Stir until the cream has cooled to room temperature.
An earlier recipe for an Avocado Beauty Milk is as follows:
Avocado Oil 4.0 Tea seed oil 8.0 Stearic Acid 5.0 Triethanolamine 1.0 Mineral oil (viscosity 65/70) 8.0 Water 88.0 Perfume a sufficiency
Apply with a small pledget of cotton, and allow it to remain on thr skin for some time. preferably overnight.
Using avocado pulp as a face mask – reproducing the ancient practice of the Aztecs, Incas and Mayans – also became a popular as a do-it-yourself home beauty treatment. This practice is frequently recommended even to this day.
Most avocado oil used in cosmetics in the late twentieth century was refined, bleached and deodorised, with the resulting product being an odourless, yellow oil. The introduction of cold-pressed avocado oil – first investigated in the 1980s but only becoming a commercial reality in the twenty-first century (Schaffer, Wolestenholme & Whiley, 2012, p. 525) – has opened up new possibilities for the oil, with virgin and extra virgin avocado oil now being sold as a culinary oil in supermarkets. It will be interesting to see how this development will affect its use in cosmetics, particularly in regard to the current vogue of applying natural oils directly to the skin.
Updated: 11th January 2017
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