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What is Jojoba Oil?

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  • Written By: Brendan McGuigan
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 02 December 2016
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Jojoba oil is an oil extracted from the seed of the jojoba shrub. It is a liquid wax, and has a wide range of uses, including as a fungicide, a moisturizer, a booster of human sebum, and as a basis for a number of products in the cosmetics industry.

Jojoba, Simmondsia chinensis, is a small shrub native to the deserts of the Southwestern United States, and northern Mexico. It is also sometimes referred to as quinine nut, coffeeberry, wild hazel pignut, deer nut, and goat nut. It is a good source of food for many animals year round, which is where many of its names come from. The scientific name, chinensis, comes from a misunderstanding by botanist Johann Link. He read the abbreviation Calif which was included with a specimen sent to him by a field botanist as reading China, and so named it based on that. Because of the rules of taxonomy, the original name must be used, leading to a somewhat misleading epithet.

Jojoba can grow up to 6 feet (2m) tall. It has oval leaves, which are a waxy grayish green. The flowers are yellowish green and have no actual petals. The fruit contains a hard dark brown seed, which is what the jojoba oil is extracted from, and which are also eaten by rabbits and various rodents. For most mammals, though, the jojoba oil is either toxic or a strong laxative.

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Most vegetable oils are triglycerides, and act fairly similarly to one another. Jojoba oil, however, is a very long straight-chain wax ester, making it more like whale oil or human sebum. For this reason, when the whaling industry disappeared and substitutes for whale oil were being sought, jojoba oil was immediately latched on to as one of the best replacements.

Once jojoba oil has been refined, it has no odor or color, and doesn’t tend to oxidize. This makes it a great carrier oil for perfumes, and also makes it a great moisturizer. The market for jojoba oil has continued to increase as whaling has decreased and the need for these oils has grown, and plantations have been established in a number of arid climates outside of North America, including Israel, Peru, and Argentina.

Jojoba has many different uses, both in its refined clear state, and in its natural golden state. It is an incredibly stable oil, so worries about rancidity are minimal. It is easy to apply smoothly, and doesn’t evaporate the way most water-based moisturizers will. It can be used as a very basic hair conditioner, or can be added to existing conditioner. It helps make drier hair shinier, and also moisturizes to prevent dandruff. Jojoba oil is also often used as a moisturizer for both the face and hands, again either by itself or in tandem with an existing moisturizer. Jojoba oil also functions as an excellent prep oil for shaving, massage oil, lip balm, and make-up remover.

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